[ formerly titled: The Top Stitched Blue Denim Dress. ]
The old, bright red stuffed Martian doll with its assortment of Velcroed noses, mouths, and googly eyes stared up at me from its cast off pose on the attic floor, resembling a mutated flounder soaked in Red Dye #4.
This attic treasure, unearthed alongside equally ancient, Spanky and Our Gang hand lettered school musical posters, cheap heeled shoes, the chunks, pieces, and too-skinny stems of a long discarded Shark vacuum, seemed to taunt me. I, on my birthday no less, had trudged up the too-steep stairs to tackle my loft’s hoard with only one, elusive find in mind: my precious sleeveless, top stitched denim dress.
Mum had made all our clothes, growing up. A master tailor and expert dressmaker, she’d created pleated cuffed slacks, purses, hats, fully lined three piece suits, wedding and ball gowns, drapes, sofa slip covers, and bedspreads. When I moved out at the tender age of nearly 26, most of my wearables came off the rack and not without accompanying angst; diagnosed with adolescent ideopathic thoracic scoliosis at age 13, I would forever be forced to buy ready made clothes that never quite fit.
Never, that is, with one exception: my favorite denim dress.
Mail order catalogs populating my PO Box for so many decades, this garment had likely originated at Newport News or some similar bargain outlet. But, the fabric was solid, hardy, stretch denim; the dress wore well and, most importantly, it seemed designed with my warped body in mind. Boat neck, vertical top stitching slenderizing the line and belted with a slim, faux alligator belt at waist, the dress hugged my wide hips only to flare out toward the hem in a flirty skirt just meeting midway through my knobby knees.
But, because my hips were wider than my compressed, crooked upper back, the excess fabric above the waist served to blouse out over the shoulder blades, masking their uneven protrusion to the right of my spinal curve. So few pieces of clothing – be they sweaters, blazers, or vests – so effectively concealed the deformity I grew to favor this frock, appearing in it everywhere all summer.
In recent years, and largely due to the pandemic, most of my clothes had hung unworn. Now, I’d been sorting through by color and cut, and noticed that my favorite denim wasn’t on any rack. Neither could it be found folded among the rest of the jean jackets and pants. And, this being the one outfit I always chose first, its absence was baffling.
Let fate on the day of birth remind an aging woman of her mortality. Add to that one orphaned at the vulnerable age of menopause, celebrating alone after yet another fractured, intractable disagreement with the man who couldn’t love her, I had plenty of time to contemplate and reflect. This dress, its absence looming with prescience, filled the firmament with telling import; I could trace back one wearing, to Miami, in 2015 and there’d been no man in my life since until he who had sent me tearing home from his place twenty odd minutes south, aborting our plans for the day. I calculated, realizing that dress had been in my possession from 2015 through til 2017 until now. From whose house had it disappeared?
We’d spent the past six years breaking up, reuniting, wrenching free again, meeting to eat. His mother ailed; his mother passed; he returned, this time to stick. Over all those years, more than one strange article of clothing had tempted question – tossed casually on an unmade bed, folded in clean laundry, or stuffed under a sofa cushion during a drunk. Had my best dress been flat out stolen, or just relegated to the suspected cheat heap?
Seven hours remained, of this solitary birthday. Carol Burnett was turning 90, and the world of celebrity had a big TV party planned for the evening. Carol was my kindred; she’d famously declared, on The Tonight Show, that yes, she’d be more than happy to get married again – as long as he lived in his house, next door.
I’ll crawl back up to the attic, then back down through the bedroom for one, last meticulous treasure hunt before curtain time. If the missing denim does turn up, he’s off the hook; if it doesn’t, I’ll finally have all the proof I’ve been seeking for so long that the truly loving man I deserve is somebody else, out there, dressed and ready.
The Martian on the attic floor won’t have to say a word.
p.s. but if, this summer, you see a sleeveless denim with flirty skirt and a sq………. call me.
(I think it’s an Allegra K.)
UPDATE: Pulled out the last plastic bin, known to contain only dad’s old things. Hanging behind it – in the dark – was the denim dress.
Thanks, Mum. You’ve done it, again.
Copyright 4/26/23 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Happy Birthday, to Carol, to Channing, Melania, and me. All rights reserved.