Lives of Dresses, Vol. 6


You know, sometimes, when you're being worn, you don't pay all that much attention. I mean, you're there, where else would you be, but you're not all the way there. Me, I was thinking about whether or not we'd walk home and get me all sweaty on a day that was too warm for late April, or if we'd try to get on the streetcar, which would still be hot but take less time. So I didn't realize anything was happening other than a regular old day at the office until I felt the drops.

She was typing–she did a lot of typing–but it was much slower than her usual rat-a-tat pace. There would be the crash of a single key hitting the platen, then a drop, then a pause, then the crash again. For a minute, I wasn't sure what the drops were–had she spilled coffee, and, more importantly, was it staining me? It was only when she started rummaging in the desk for a handkerchief that I realized she was crying. Crying! That's one of the worst things you can do in a dress, you know. Every time you cry in a dress you grind sadness right into it, deep down into the fabric, and it never comes out. Laughing in a dress — now that's good. The laughter lodges between the warp and weft in little bubbles, like champagne. And kissing, kissing in a dress sets up a kind of vibration in the fabric that keeps wobbling there forever. But crying, even the drip-drip silent kind, that just grimes a dress up. I hate it. She'd never cried in me before.

She put the handkerchief on the desk and started typing again, same as before. Crash-drip-crash. Crash-drip-crash, until the door to the office opened and Miriam came in. I like Miriam; she's kind. She wears bright patterned dresses, which is good because they hide the ink drips and salad-dressing spots that seem to always happen to office dresses.

"Aw, honey. I came as soon as I heard."

She looked up from her typing and said, "There's nothing to hear. Not about me, anyway."

"You know if he had a choice it would be about you. But the name on the door reads Wilton, Simms, and Wilton, and the way it works is that the first Wilton gets to tell the second Wilton what to do. Up to and including 'doing' Miss Simms."

"Miriam!"

"Well, you know it's true. Her daddy bought him for her sure as that car she drives into walls and that pony she falls off of and whatever else she wants and can't handle. Money might buy her a husband, but it won't buy her happiness."

She still had her hands on the typewriter and she hit a few more keys, but the drips stopped.

"Come out with me and Johnny tonight. He has a friend in from Kansas City; I think you'd like him. His name's Bill and he has an aw-shucks face and he'll buy you cocktails and wish they were ice-cream sundaes. He's exactly what you need after all these San Francisco sophisticates."

"I have to get this into the paper before the edition closes. Social column runs tomorrow, you know."

"Social column? What … he asked you to type the announcement? He's not just a weak fool, he's a cruel weak fool. I'm sorry … I know you had hopes of making a man out of him. But you can't build a house out of marshmallows."

"I think that's what's the worst part." Drips again. Now I was spotted all up and down the front like a leopard.

"Now, I tell you what. You finish that, and you type one more thing, and then you come out with us tonight. I won't have you moping in your room, thinking about that newspaper coming out tomorrow."

"I don't have anything else to type, after this."

"Oh, yes, you do. You know Alyce Chanteres, over down at Bateman's? She's quitting to go on that China trip with her aunt, and if you go down there first thing tomorrow you'll get her job. Her cousin's the man who does the hiring and she'll make it right. You know she will. They pay better, too. So you finish that nasty piece of commerce you're working on now and then type out your resignation. I bet he thought he'd still have you here to gaze upon every day, as a relief from that beak he'll have to look at across the breakfast table! Won't he be surprised to find that on his desk in the morning instead!"

"Is Alyce really going now? I didn't think it was settled."

"Saw her at lunch. She said I was the first person she'd told, since her aunt decided for certain last night that'd they'd go."

"Well … "

"If you don't type it I'll type it for you." Miriam went to the other machine and twirled in a piece of paper. She spoke as she typed, doing both with the same flourishes. "Dear Mr. Wilton, Jr.: Herewith is my resignation, effective immediately. Sincerely, Candace Lennington." "Oh, won't the old man be cross when Junior has to explain why you left!"

"You're right. I'll do it." The crash-crash turned into the rapid-fire hammering I was used to, and then she was pulling the page out, folding it, and cramming it into the waiting envelope.

"Is that Bill tall? I hope he's tall." She smiled weakly.

"He's a regular giant, a beef-fed colossus bestriding Kansas and Missouri both. Now, go fix your face in the washroom and we'll get rid of that yellow journalism on our way to meet the boys."

Bill was very tall, but he was clumsy, and he spilled a drink on me. By the time I was cleaned it was time to put me aside for her light summer dresses, and then in the fall all of a sudden she was spending an awful lot of time checking for letters from Kansas City, and writing ones addressed to same. She didn't type them. When she left to follow the letters, she gave me to Miriam, since she wasn't going to be working in an office any more.

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0 thoughts on “Lives of Dresses, Vol. 6

  1. Poignantly beautiful and such a wonderful entry. Thanks for sharing with us, Erin. I think this is one of my favorites so far…and the dress? *gasp* It’s amazing. Holly

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  2. A classic!, I loved this! even better he was from Kansas!! ;)I married one of those “beef-fed colossus”!! Can’t wait to tell him his new name of endearment,Hugs,Janet

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  3. GREAT stuff, especially the snappy dialogue! I love Miriam. And the DRESS – what a marvel. It’s my size, too; too bad it’s not my color. I’d love to see it on a redhead, with a bottle-green hat and shoes…

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  4. thank you for that. it was the most theraputic thing i’ve felt all month. a dress like that deserves a story as well developed as this one.

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  5. He’s from Kansas City! I’ll be there tomorrow (finally), going home for an overdue visit. This is really great–I think it’s my favorite of these secret lives, and I love the dress, too.

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  6. I too think we are watching/reading the birth of a book. Your stories are wonderful. Take your time on each so that the last is as perfect as the first.

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  7. They just keep getting better and better. I had to wipe away tears after this one. The dress is a beauty.Finally, this:”Crying! That’s one of the worst things you can do in a dress, you know. Every time you cry in a dress you grind sadness right into it, deep down into the fabric, and it never comes out. Laughing in a dress — now that’s good. The laughter lodges between the warp and weft in little bubbles, like champagne. And kissing, kissing in a dress sets up a kind of vibration in the fabric that keeps wobbling there forever.”Is so true and so perfectly written, I can’t believe it.

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  8. Erin, you are really good. (By way of establishing some credential to comment on writing): I scored a perfect 800 on the verbal section of my GRE exams for grad school — I know writing, and I know good writing — and I do think you could collect and publish these. Think about it.

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  9. Such exquisite details on the dress! Amazing! I know that Candace is far better off now, and hopefully Miriam can get the crying out of this lovely dress.

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  10. This really is the blueprint for a wonderful novel! And that paragraph about what stays with a dress (quoted by Dane) got me thinking about my mother’s “going away” dress (1944) that is hanging in my garage right now.

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  11. Once again, utter brilliance in the “Secret LIves of Dresses” series! Keep up the excellent work, Erin! This site makes my day every time I check in!

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  12. What a beautiful dress and was a beautiful post.Seriously–the makings of a book.And I love reading these. Thank you thank you thank you.

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  13. Exquisite. I agree with lisa laree – you definitely have the makings of a book in these “secret lives” posts. You do a wonderful job of capturing the feel of each dress and making a world for them that absolutely comes alive for your reader.

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  14. today is the first day I have read all of these and I am totally addicted. I want to know if a movie is coming out after the book. I want to see these dresses in action!

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  15. I love Lives of Dresses! I even enjoy re-reading these wonderful stories, but I hope that you will hold some of them back. That way, when we can finally buy the book, there will be some surprises in there for us.

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  16. I just love these stories. They would make a lovely book to give to a girl friend. It also gives us a little taste of days gone by. janet

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