I’d kept it all these years just in case we had a girl. I unzipped the bag and it opened like a tired eye, revealing a sliver of swirly flowers, beadwork and off-white silk. I sniffed it to see if I could inhale happy memories. It just smelt of plastic.
My dress. The dress. How could these brides trash their dresses through choice, I thought? I saw them on telly wearing their gowns to wade through bogs or stand like medieval criminals as their friends pelted them with lurid paints.
“We’d better go. Are you ready, babe?” Phil shouted up. I’d let the minutes tick by deliberately. Nothing good would have come from trying it on.
“Coming.” The cheer in my voice had been rehearsed over the previous cloying days. I zipped up the bag and hugged it to my chest.
Pulling up, I was comforted by the tidiness of her house. The obvious care behind every invisible weed and each multi-coloured floral basket. The image of sharpened scissors scoring through my dress until only its component parts were left seemed less…extreme. Phil’s eyes asked questions I couldn’t answer as I swallowed down the pressure in my chest. He hadn’t found the words, yet.
The lady, Mary, was soft around the edges. White candy floss hair, pastel-coloured clothes and open arms. Something about her smile moved me, bringing nearly-tears to the surface. She asked about her. Didn’t avoid it like everyone else or look at me differently. I could tell she was listening when I told her that she had existed. She was ours.
When I handed over the bag, she took it like she was trying not to hurt it. She hung it up and peeled off the outer layer like a cocoon. It was a strange mirror. An old me.
“Ah love. It’s beautiful,” Mary said. “I promise we’ll do it justice. You can trust me.”
Phil and I sat on the edge of Mary’s sofa a week later as she walked in, balancing a white box on her palms like a religious offering. We didn’t speak as she lowered it onto the coffee table and lifted the lid. Inside, a tiny dress the size of my arm. The same delicate lace around its collar. Pearlescent beads stitched into a belt across the middle. The same liquid silk.
So, my girl would wear her mother’s special dress in the end.
Janelle lives in Manchester and writes short fiction when she’s not working in communications or singing. Her work is published on FlashFlood Journal and Reflex Fiction. Her story ‘Late’ appears in William Faulkner’s Typewriter, an anthology by students from Comma Press’ Short Story course. She blogs at janellehardacre.co.uk and tweets @jhardacre1