Secret Lives of Dresses Vol. 10

Sometimes, when the hunched shoulders of the mountain behind her cast their long shadow over the little ranch, she stands in the doorway, and looks down to where the road disappears into the butter-light of the valley.

She doesn't just stand there, of course; she's always doing five things at once. But when she stands in the doorway, looking out, the cup she's drying gets very, very dry.

She doesn't do it too often, or at least not too often when she's wearing me. I don't know what she does in her other dresses. Maybe she does this once a month, when the light's right. More often in the winter, of course, when the shadows are longer and there's less to do on the ranch.

She'll stand there, drying that cup, and looking off down the road. I don't think the road has a name, or at least, I've never heard one. It's the only road, so calling it "the road" is good enough. I've never been down it. I came up it in a box, carried by her husband, who picked me up at the post office in town, or so I guess. He gets the mail, if there is any, every month or so. I wasn't really paying attention on my way up. I would have if I'd have known I'd never see much of anything but the kitchen of this ranch.

It's not a bad kitchen. It's very clean, and everything's handy, and the stove is good, but there aren't any extras. Not a frill, not a speck of paint not necessary to keep things decent. No curtains; you don't need curtains when you've got no neighbors. The floorboards are polished only by use, and the walls are whitewashed every year whether they need it or not. But there are no pictures on them.

It's quiet here. Well, not exactly quiet; her husband's voice booms, and of course the children chatter like the magpies they are. But she's quiet. I hardly ever hear her voice. Sometimes I feel her chest rising to speak, but she almost always stops, unless it's just to tell the children, softly, to take their elbows off the table, or to stop speaking with their mouths full. The oldest is six; they're talking about her going to school in the fall.

If she's alone, she'll hum. I like it when she does that. It feels good. She never sings out loud, though, and I wish she would. I bet at least some of those songs have words.

Her being quiet makes me quiet, and the other dresses too. We never talk to each other. We hang in the closet on our own hooks, in our own thoughts. I think about the road, and what might be down it. You can't see another house from the doorway, and I've never seen a car go by on the road, or someone walking, even. Looking out that way, your husband out somewhere on the ranch and the children playing in the back yard, you might reasonably think you're the only person in the world.

She has a treasure, a good-luck charm she keeps in her pocket. It goes in every morning, and she puts it on her dresser every night. I can't believe the children haven't gotten to it, but so far they've left it alone. It's a little silver sixpence. How it got all the way out here, I don't know. Maybe it was her bride's sixpence, for luck? All I know is that when she looks out down the road like that, she'll sometimes put the cup down and hold the sixpence, tight, just for a minute. Then she closes the door and starts the cornbread for dinner.

I think someday she's going to leave the cup, and the dishtowel, and step out into the yard. She'll close the door carefully behind her, and just start walking towards the road. She won't look back. I hope she's wearing me when she does it.

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0 thoughts on “Secret Lives of Dresses Vol. 10

  1. that’s a wonderful story and beautifully told. I love that it’s inspired by the dress, or so it seems. I used to do this with paintings. I would pretend i knew what was going on and write a story about it. now I wish I’d kept those!

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  2. Damn, you’ve done it Again. brought tears to my eyes with a secret lives story…Having lived out on a lonesome ranch road like this, Ive known the women in that dress. Wasn’t me – I was always in my wranglers helping with the ranch not stuck in the house – but I know some of the women who were.

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  3. I love the whole thing. The resonance of the passage about how the dress hadn’t looked about when it was brought from town, but would have if it had known that it would end up not seeing much more than that kitchen, just kept rippling for me. I read it several times before moving on. The parallel between that and the woman’s life. Very powerful.

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  4. I literally caught my breath at the end. I love the butter light, and how the cup gets really dry, and I can’t believe the poor dress never even got to go sing in church, much less ride in a ferris wheel at the county fair.The description of the kitchen made me think of that scene in “Brokeback Mountain” when Ennis goes to Jack’s childhood home. Everything is so small and bare and chill, and the ground outside looks so hard, and the upstairs is painted all the same color blue – trim and everything – as though they could only afford that one can of paint. And the little chair by the window that Jack must have sat on when he was little and looked out, and wished the same wish as his mama was probably wishing at the kitchen door, that he could walk down that road away from that unhappy, angry father of his.

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  5. What a sweet dress, and a lovely story. Thanks so much.Reminds me of the dresses my grandmother wore when I was young.

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  6. Looking out the doorway – or looking out at the world via the internet… the strange parallels are humbling. Having been a farm kid, I know that my mother felt some of this early on. Now, I often feel the same, lost in a place that isn’t my own, craving the chance to get away to anywhere that is new…

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  7. Erin, you really are a gifted writer and I do hope that some day you will write a whole bunch more and compile them into a book. They are all so distinct, but always touching.

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  8. Secret Lives of Dresses #9 was Dec. 4 2006. The menu on the right side of the screen has December 2006 under the heading “Archives.” #9 is very, very good. Go read it now.

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  9. wonderful stuff. the brown polka dot is making my eyes water with joy, seriously. today i am wondering if my fantasticfind thrift story jeans are too belled for my particular age group. mind, they make the booty licious, so i don’t even care. they don’t cover the shoes, so i might be safe.so glad to know you’re out there! you’re blogrolled, because you rule.

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  10. What a wonderous post….I had the entire vision in my head. I think, tho, that the mailbox is at the end of the road, and I know that dry, dusty road is long, it’s at least 1/2 mile to walk it one way, and it’s always hot on that walk…it’s an old mailbox, it’s white, with little painted daisies, but it’s weatherworn, and has some rust where the paint has chipped. This was truly a wonderful read. I pictured Meryl Streep as the woman wearing the dress, and Clint Eastwood was sitting at her kitchen table having a cup of coffee. Thank you!

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  11. This post is like an echo of Bridges of Madison County which is such a great book — one of my favorites reads. And just like how I felt when I read the book, this post brings up the same emotion — it’s heartbreakingly sad. Thanks Erin! Again, another great post!

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  12. This is one of my very favourite blogs! And the Secret life of dresses strand is wonderful. There has to be a book, surely? With full colour illustrations, of course.All strength to your pen and your needle/machine!

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  13. How strange …. this story made me think about the same scene from Brokeback Mountain that Nora has described. Very strong writing. Absolutely brilliant.

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  14. I just discovered your lovely blog and these wonderful little stories and I’m so glad that I did. Each is so imaginative and beautiful! Your writing just carries me away! I know that I’ll be thinking about these stories all day! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  15. The dressed snitched on me.Glad you were able to find it–I put it away after my fourth child was born–I actually went from a size 0 to a 3, so I had to retire it to the storage box downstairs. Hubby must have sent it to the goodwill (the only *real* store I shop at).BTW, the reason I rarely step outside is so that I *won’t* run away.It’s really not so bad here.

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