the dress

February 17, 2015

Isabelle brushes her bangs out of her face and stares at her reflection. It stares blankly back. She has a lot of work to do to make herself look presentable for today. Her eyes are puffy from falling asleep crying again and underneath them lay dark bags from yet another restless night’s sleep. Her eyes flick to the reflection of the dress hanging behind her on her closet door before closing tightly as she releases a calming breath.


March 29, 2004

Easter egg blue blurred in her vision as she spun around and around, looking at how her skirt billowed around her. Just like the skirts on the pretty princesses she watched on TV did. Her head felt swimmy and the ground seemed to be tilting. And, suddenly she was on her butt on the ground of the Belk fitting room with a soft “oof.”

“Isabelle. I need you to calm down for a little bit.”

Isabelle glanced up at her mom, shaking her head a little bit as her eyes seemed to wander dizzily on their own accord. She shot a toothless grin at her mom.

“I want this one, mama. It’s poofy and blue and comfy. It spins! Tell the Easter Bunny that!”

Her mom eyed her warily, aware of how often her daughter changed her mind.  “Are you sure this is the one you want?”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” She said excitedly, hopping to her feet and spinning once more around her mom. “Pretty please?”

“Okay, then. I guess this is the one. You look very pretty, little may.”

After changing back into her overalls, she skipped after her mother to the checkout desk, watching her pay for her Easter dress, and briefly wondering why she paid for it even though the Easter Bunny was the one to give her her Easter church dresses. She didn’t dwell on it long, for, her mind was already on showing her Grandma the dress. She begged and nagged her mom until she caved, strapping her into her car seat and driving her in the direction of their house, which was two houses down from Grandma and Grandaddy’s farm, and one house away from her cousin’s house. Her feet kicked excitedly all the way home from Belk as she babbled on about how perfect her new dress was. Her mom had hardly parked the car in the gravel driveway before Isabelle was out of her car seat and running to the sliding glass door around back, letting herself in, and shouting for her Grandma. She found her sitting in an old leather recliner, reading a Bible, a pack of ice sitting on her knee.

“Gramma, Gramma. Let me show you my dress. It’s so poofy and pretty and poofy!”

Her Grandma chuckled deeply, closing the Bible and setting it on the side table along with the pack of ice. Isabelle was momentarily distracted by the action. She didn’t catch the look that passed between Grandma and her mom as she walked through the door behind her, carrying her dress.

“What’s wrong? Do you have a booboo? Want me to kiss it?”

“Don’t worry about it, Sweet Pea, my knees just hurt a little bit, that’s all. Let’s see this dress.”

She skipped to the back bedroom with her mom to change, nearly ripping the soft tulle in her haste. Ignoring her mom’s warning to be careful, she bolted down the hall and back into the living room where her Grandma stood waiting. The smile that graced her face made Isabelle feel proud, in a way. And, when her Grandma asked her to do a twirl, she didn’t hesitate on spinning wildly in circles. She stopped, stumbling a bit to the left dizzily.

“Do you like it? Am I pretty, Gramma?”

“Oh, I love it, Sweet Pea. You look just like a princess. Even prettier.”


February 17, 2015

She opens her eyes, looking up to the ceiling to keep them dry and blinking quickly. She decides to get to work on her makeup; starting, first, with concealer to cover the marks under her eyes. Opting for waterproof mascara, she swipes it on, knowing her eyes won’t be dry today.


December 10, 2010

Isabelle flinched away from her friends harsh prodding, opening her eyes and taking the eyeshadow brush from her.

“OH-kay… I think I’ll take it from here. Before you poke my eye out.”

She bent over her vanity and put the finishing touches on the purple eyeshadow that matched her purple and black polka dot dress fantastically. It had to look perfect. It was her first ever middle school dance. She wanted John Phillips to notice her. To ask her to dance. She stepped away from the mirror and looked at her full appearance: dress, converse, big black bow, Shirley Temple curls, and all. Perfect. She turned to Sarah, who was shoving a tube of cherry lip gloss into her sequined clutch.

“Ready to go?”


They descended the stairs where, naturally, her whole family was there waiting to get pictures of this “momentous” occasion. It was a big deal, after all. Her first middle school dance. Even her grandparents had walked across the two yards to her house to see her off. Hundreds of pictures were taken, and Isabelle, who pretended to be embarrassed by how uncool her family was, secretly loved the attention and smiled brightly for every single snap of the camera. Her Grandma, from her place on the couch with her ankle propped on some pillows and wrapped in a brace, asked her to do a little spin. She did as she was asked and did a few spins, watching as the black and purple skirt flowed out around her.

“Look at you, Sweet Pea. All grown up and going to a dance. That dress is very pretty on you.”

“Thanks, Grandma. You okay?” She motions to her Grandma’s bandaged ankle.

“I’m okay. It got a little swollen today, nothing you need to worry about tonight. Wouldn’t want a sour face to take away from such a beautiful dress.”

Isabelle nodded her head, mind already wandering to what John Phillips might think of her dress.


February 17, 2017

Isabelle walks mechanically over to the dress hanging from her closet door and pulls it off the hanger before dragging it over her head. Her hairs stands up with static from the friction and she fidgets with the hem, pulling it down and twisting it a bit to get it on right. It feels itchy and clingy against her skin. She picks at it glumly.



June 17, 2013

She let herself in through the sliding glass door in the back. Her back was slightly wet with sweat and she was a bit short of breath from jogging over. She couldn’t help it. She was excited. It was finally finished.

“Grandma?” She walked towards the back bedroom, calling out for her.

She approached the doorway to the last room just as she heard her Grandma call from within that she’s there. Crossing the door frame, Isabelle came face to face with what she had been waiting on for months. It hung from a hanger on the back of the door that lead to the bathroom. A soft pink fifties styled dress, specially made for her. She gasped softly, walking quickly to it and reaching out to stroke the material gently. Her Grandma sat on the bed, picking at the band-aid on the inside of her elbow from her insulin shot and watching her with apprehension. Isabelle turned to look at her, a grin splitting her face in two.

“Oh, Grandma. I love it! It’s perfect.”

“Well, are you going to try it on?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, hold up.”

She quickly walked into the attached bathroom and changed into the dress that fit perfectly to her form. It flared out at the waist – just the way she liked it – and reached to just below her knees. She admired it in the mirror; turning from side to side. A knock on the door reminded her that she needed to show it off. She opened the door and walked back into the bedroom did a twirl for her, as was their custom when it came to dresses.

“It’s even more beautiful on you than I thought it would be,” she said quietly, “Do you like it?”

She had the audacity to look nervous. As if Isabelle would hate it.

“Like it? I love it! It’s just how I pictured it. You really outdid yourself, Grandma. I wish I could wear it every day.”

She rushes over and smothers her in a tight hug before pulling back and kissing her on the cheek. “I love you.”

“Love you, too, Sweet Pea.”


She does a little spin in front of her vanity mirror, pushing down the disappointment she feels when it doesn’t billow around her like she usually likes. After pulling on the little black heels she finds in the back of her closet, she does a double check in the mirror, eyeing the all black ensemble with distaste. Grandma prefers bright colors.


February 14, 2015

Isabelle’s hands gripped the skirt of the deep purple ball gown tightly with sweaty palms; repeatedlyfluffing the material out and patting it back down nervously. Her scene was next and her stomach felt like it was going to roll out onto the stage before her feet could. Her whole family was here for the show tonight. Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends of family, and all. She had to nail this performance. So, when her time came to perform, she walked onto the stage and threw her whole self into the character, trying to make them proud. She wanted to be the best damn Fairy Godmother they had ever seen.

The rest of the show, after her big scene, finished quickly. The cast did their bows and she smiled extra big when it was her turn to bow. She felt like she could almost hear her family cheering extra loud just for her. And, before long, she was in the audience looking for them; finding it a bit odd that she couldn’t find any of them. She found it even more odd that people were staring at her with what could be read as pity.


She turned and saw her brother standing with his wife and her parents’ best friends, Dave and Kim. She meandered her way through the crowd, towards them; stopping every little bit when people complimented her performance. She finally reached them.

“You were great, Iz. You stole the show,” Dave told her with a big smile that, oddly enough, didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Thanks. Where is everyone?” She asked, looking around them; searching for the rest of her family. She wanted to show her Grandma the dress that she had been babbling about for weeks. Pictures didn’t seem to do it justice.

“They left,” her brother replied shortly.

Isabelle frowned, before laughing nervously.

“Left? What do you mean?”

She thought, perhaps, they went to the store down the street from the theater to get some flowers. She turned to look at them, smile fading when she noticed their somber faces.

“They had to take your Grandma to the hospital, Iz,” Kim said slowly.

Isabelle’s stomach did a front handspring and she felt sick.

“Wh- what? When?” She asked looking between the four of them frantically.

“They left in the ambulance during the intermission. If you go get changed we can meet them there,” Kim told her in a sad tone.

Isabelle nodded and turned quickly on her heel, pushing blindly back through the crowd towards backstage, already taking her headpiece off. Her Grandma had been to the hospital several times in the last few months. But, this time felt different. She struggled out of her dress; leaving it on the dusty ground as she pulled her leggings and t-shirt over her skin colored leotard. Her friends hung her dress and helped her pack her bag so she could leave as soon as possible. All the while, they were assuring her that her grandmother would be fine. She wished she could believe them. In record time, she was back out into the house of the theater, ready to leave. The ride to the hospital was an agonizingly long one; the nearest one being in the next town over. The drive gave her time to freak herself out until she was an anxiety stricken puddle of nerves. She hadn’t cried yet, which was generally her go to outlet of stress. But, her eyes burned from keeping herself collected.

When they pulled up to the hospital, she clambered out of the car hastily and quickly followed everyone in. When the nurse at the front desk looked at her strangely, she realized how ridiculous she must have looked. Her face was painted with stage makeup and bright purple, glittery eyeshadow to boot. She shot the nurse a sour look before continuing into the waiting room, where her dad was waiting for them. She and her brother rushed over to him. He wordlessly led them through the doors and stopped. He told them the news that had been tickling the back of her mind all night that she had denied. Her Grandma was dead. She was gone. She had been on the decline for years, and, that night was the end of her fighting.


February 17, 2015

Isabelle couldn’t recall a time that she ever dreaded seeing her Grandma. Today, however was a different case. She wanted nothing more than to turn around and walk right back outside of the Cotton Funeral Home doors. She wanted to take off the itchy, clingy, black dress. She wanted to burn it. She wanted to go back to February 14th and tell her Grandma to stay home, where she wasn’t an hour from the nearest hospital. She wanted, she wanted, she wanted. This wasn’t what her Grandma would have wanted. She would have wanted to see her twirl in a pretty, bright colored dress, not cry in a dress that was as lacking in charisma as she was in life. It was all wrong. All wrong. Her Grandma shouldn’t be there, in that box, and on display. It was morbid and dark and depressing. The opposite of everything she had represented in her family’s life.

She stood at the front with her family as people she had never met before came and offered their condolences. She studied everyone meticulously to keep her mind from the reality of the situation. She catalogued the dresses that women wore and wondered what her Grandma would have thought of them, ultimately deciding that she would have wrinkled her nose at them in distaste.

She resented that day and resented her ugly dress. And, the second she was home, she ripped it over her head and shoved it to the very back of her closet, hoping she wouldn’t need it again for a long time. She replaced it with the pink dress her Grandma had sewn for her. Finally feeling comfortable, and not quite as alone, she crawled into bed and went to sleep with no plans of getting out any time soon.


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