The Dresshttps://i2.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/IMG_2669.jpg?fit=1920%2C1089&ssl=119201089Chella CouringtonChella Couringtonhttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Chella-Courington.png?fit=96%2C96&ssl=1
I read about a woman who threw out or donated 2,020 possessions last year and thought I’d donate one a day. Monday, I left a toaster on the curb. Tuesday, three books went to the Assistance League. Wednesday, I pulled out the dress.
My peasant dress purple with yellow roses and red gerbera daisies cascading down the front. Lace stitched just below the bust, around the neck, and on the edge of the three-quarter sleeves. The dress I had worn to Evie McConnell’s twenty-first birthday on an October night forty years ago in Montgomery when stars shimmered, and I had blushed while Ned Warren wrapped his hand around my waist. Tall, curly-haired Ned had convinced me that virgins were southern past, closet skeletons of his mother’s era. The dress was still soft as I laid it on the bed, folded the sleeves across the bodice and the bodice against the ankle-length skirt, and folded on and on until the yellow roses disappeared and the gerbera daisies were no more than a red speck on a wad of old cloth that I dropped in the outdoor trash.
The next morning I planned to give away the peacoat, but when I opened the closet, there was the dress. Same flowers, same lace. That night forty years ago returned without blushes and shimmery stars. When Evie’s party had been over and the band packing up, Ned with his short legs and beady eyes had caught me by the waist and pushed me behind the azaleas, his palm over my mouth, the other hand racing up my leg. I hung the dress on the shower rod and, with the sewing shears, cut the dress into one-inch strips from the hem to the bust. Then I cut off each sleeve and shredded them separately, saving the bodice for last. After putting the pieces in a plastic bag, I drove into town and dropped them in a community dumpster.
The third morning I stayed in bed longer than usual, reading the news on the iPhone between glances at the closet. When I slid back the door, there it was. The thrown-away-cut-up dress–the stain’s outline still visible. Ned had called three days after Evie’s party and apologized for messing things up. He had asked me to the drive-in Saturday, and I told him I had to wash my hair. Gathering the dress, a book of matches, and a bottle of Bacardi 151, I walked outside and set fire to that damn thing.
The next morning, the faint smell of smoke greeted me at the closet door. I took the dress out and pulled it over my 64-year-old body. Hippie chic was making a comeback. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was me in a dress that no longer fit.
Chella Courington (she/her) is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, New World Writing, and X-R-A-Y Magazine. Her flash novella, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), is featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction. A 2020 Pushcart and Best Small Fictions Nominee, Courington lives in California. Find her online at chellacourington.net