She had placed the dress on a hanger. This was notable in itself, as most clean clothing usually ended up in a heap in the closet floor mere inches from the hamper. There was no thought behind this, no rebellion. It was, for the most part, sheer disinterest in the banality of it all. Putting clothes away was boring. As long as they were accessible and not terribly wrinkled when needed, there seemed little point. “Hanging” clothes were mostly for going to special occasions like church or school concerts. Worst were the times the hanger clothes were expected, right after the dining room was dusted, the good dishes set out, and delectable, otherwise forbidden bakery treats were procured. This meant tedious dinners with aunts and uncles – the titles were honorific — who barely looked at Bridget, instead devoting time guffawing too loudly over glasses of wine while sloppily praising Bridget’s mother: the Beauty, the Brains, the Hostess. Mostly the beauty, as the chicken was usually dry and Mother’s eyes went dead when conversation drifted away from her, which mirrored those of whichever member of the Gardening Tea Club had spoken most convincingly and with perceived deference to Mother.
Sharon’s eyes took on a strange light when aunts and uncles told Bridget she looked just like Mother. Bridget enjoyed the compliment, but only because she saw how beauty was power, and she longed to be considered beautiful. It seemed a cruel twist that her only pathway to beauty was by mirroring her mother. On the rare occasions that aunts and uncles asked Bridget to engage in the conversation of the day, she spoke passionately and quickly, with her mother’s conviction…a conviction much more palatable when coming from a sixteen-year-old than a forty-two-year-old.
The dress was a surprise. Mother had insisted that Bridget accompany her to the mall, as Bridget was “showing through” her old clothes. Bridget knew this meant more shapeless (albeit colorful) dresses, blouses, sweaters, and skirts. She hadn’t expected her mother to take her to the intimate’s section of Macy’s and select some shapeware “for smoothing.” When Bridget balked, her mother took her to hosiery and purchased several pairs of control top pantyhose. Her mother stared at the size chart on the back of the package of DKNY Opaques for long minutes while Bridget stared at the disembodied plastic leg modeling tastefully naughty herringbone sheers. “Size Small,” Mother decided, giving Bridget a studied once-over, “you’re short.”
Bridget inner burn was equal parts anger and embarrassment. Already mid-way through her teen years, Bridget knew she would never have her mother’s lithe figure or tempered curves. Bridget was destined for a life of curves, battles against excess, and cartoonish proportions. Her belly and rear were ballast for her wide shoulders and ample chest. Bridget would never be approached in the mall and asked to model at a department store runway show, as Mother had been. She’d never be mistaken for a ballerina, either.
Perhaps sensing Bridget’s flush, Mother said, “These will highlight your small waist,” as she grabbed the bag of pantyhose off the counter, flinging her credit card into the depths of her purse, only to be panicked over later. No matter how many times Father suggested that Mother take a moment to put the card back in her wallet, Mother never did. This inevitably led to long, impatient minutes of Mother digging under receipts and lipsticks and notepads in her giant bag, hoping to uncover the missing card long after the salesclerks asked. The clerks, for their part, never found this amusing, nor did they think Mother’s self-depricating commentary and wordless tongue clucking a good use of their time. Bridget wondered if these were the moments that sales people hated their job, if her mother had become nothing more than the high class ladies she claimed to abhor for their phoniness and empty uses of time. Bridget always wandered off to another part of the department under the guise of touching a particularly beguiling fabric.
Bridget looked down at her feet as she followed Mother out into the fluourescent sprawl of the mall, only looking up, surprised, when Mother stopped in front of a display in a window of one of the teen clothing stores Mother usually dismissed with a hissed, “Trashy.”
There was the dress.