Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2010 Results




Taffeta

Copyright © Deirdre Oliver 2010


The first time I ever felt really afraid was when Lucy, my best friend, soul-mate and chosen sister, decided to break all the rules of modern day relationships, and get married. Married meant wedding. Wedding meant bridesmaids. Bridesmaids wear taffeta.

Taffeta is a fabric with attitude. It stands alone, makes its own shape and shows no mercy to those of us whose figures need all the help they can get. I promised myself at the age of fourteen when my mother made me a pale pink taffeta party dress, that I would never wear it again as long as I lived.

I mean, how do you cope with a dress that makes so much noise you canít hear a word thatís said around you? Not that there were very many words at the school dance, though I always fantasised that I would have been asked to dance, if I could have heard the invitation.

Mine was the loudest dress in the room. I wanted to join the 'cool' set and giggle and flirt with the boys. I knew there was no way I could actually do that, but I didnít get a chance to try because they looked me and my pink dress up and down and started giggling and pointing at me. I couldnít hear what they were saying but it sent me fleeing to the girlís loo for the rest of the night.

Lucy, the bride to be, had a fondness for watermelon pink. She often wore it as a teenager. I hated going out with her when she did because, with my curly red hair and pinkish complexion, I looked like the ugly sister.

No. Taffeta is the closest thing to purgatory, and even the thought of it in watermelon pink gives me night terrors.

But, there I was, grin pasted into place by the makeup 'arteeste', flowers threaded through my curly red hair in, you got it, watermelon pink. They matched the watermelon pink taffeta bridesmaid dress I was trying to get into. The skirt was sort of all right, except for the noise; the bodice, and I say 'bodice' in the historical sense when steel stays dictated your body shape, was described by the prissy, very wealthy dressmaker who charged six monthís rent for it as 'form-fitting, so as to set off the fullness of the skirt.'

Unfortunately I was not in the country when watermelon pink taffeta was decided upon. When I did find out I thought seriously about emigrating. But Lucy was my best friend, and though she should have known more than anyone about my struggles with my body shape, she must have waved vaguely at Kirsty, Emma and Kate and said, "Sheís sort of like them". She was clearly mad.

Kirsty, Emma and Kate were among the two percent of people who can wear watermelon pink, taffeta or not. They were beautiful girls with tan skins, dark hair, no bulging flesh anywhere. No boobs, I thought uncharitably. I knew they were very nice girls under ordinary circumstances, kind to animals, got on well with their parents and siblings, and were good lunch friends, but as they swirled about in the 'fullness', looking as graceful as ballerinas, I hated them. The only hope I had was that they were so gorgeous everyone would look at them and I could retire graciously to the under-stairs cupboard.

As for the 'fullness' of the skirt setting off anything, all it set off was the spreading nature of my bum. "A proper female shape," someoneís aunt said once at a party. I wanted to kill her but she blended and I couldnít work out which one she was.

Then there was the bodice. The vague wave at Kirsty, Emma and Kate wasnít enough. But by the time reality hit, it was too late. The dressmaker said so as she shrugged and took my money that paid for her week in Positano. Italy, not Queensland.

So there I was having a watermelon pink, 'form-fitting', pleated, 'folded' said the dressmaker, bodice being gradually strapped around my chest. The dresser pulled the zipper up centimetre by centimetre, for approximately ten minutes. When she got two thirds of the way up and I was breathing in as far as I could, she suggested I lie face down on the bed.

Can you imagine anybody lying face down on a bed with a hooped 'fullness' of watermelon pink taffeta skirt, standing up like a tent, with legs sprouting from the central tumescence of accompanying tulle petticoats, 'to make it sit right'? íSit? That involved bending in the middle. In this dress there was no sitting.

On the bed, one knee in the centre of my back, straining and sweating, the dresser eventually managed to get the zip all the way up. Then there was getting up. First I had to roll over onto my back. A hazardous manoeuvre; one way I stayed on the edge of the bed, the other I would roll onto the floor from where I would need a hoist, or two strong men to get me up. But the courageous dresser grabbed my hands and together we managed to get me off the bed without bending in the middle.

I was firmly strapped in. I think a straitjacket experience might be similar but you can probably breathe in those. There was one other real problem, apart from not being able to breathe and walking like someone with a flagpole up her bum: my breasts were mostly under my chin. Just the nipples were actually in the bodice. The rest formed a rampant cleavage that bore no similarity to even abnormal female anatomy. I had to feel for my bouquet because I certainly couldnít see below them.

I looked in the mirror and shuddered and tentatively suggested a little bolero or a stole or something, but nobody was interested. All I wanted to do was run. Fat chance.

Lucy drifted in. She looked beautiful; more than beautiful, radiant, as they say in ads for bridal wear. Sleek in ivory satin, her hair glued into the right shape to pin the veil to, crystal at her throat, and a huge bouquet of lilies and white roses. She didnít seem to see what I was seeing in the mirror. She just said, "You look lovely, Joanna," and floated towards the car, her father in tow.

Her mother checked out the girls, nodding. She stopped nodding when she got to me, but managed a grimace and moved on quickly.

I took as deep a breath as I could under the circumstances and followed them to our car. I hoped and prayed that I might fall down the front steps, which was quite possible since I couldnít see them, and do enough damage to be taken to hospital. But I didnít and since I could only bend a maximum of fifteen degrees I had to be levered into the car first so with everyone sitting around me I couldnít even fall out of the car.

We arrived at the church. I panicked. I couldnít go in there looking like this! I couldnít go anywhere looking like this. I tried being crippled by a spinal spasm, claimed my hands had cramped and frozen to the seat belt. They levered me out anyway. At the door I knew what Cinderella felt like at midnight, and she had a pumpkin to go to. I was the bloody pumpkin, in watermelon pink taffeta.

We lined up. I tried to work it so that I stood in the middle but failed. Lucy wanted me to be head girl. I had to do the bridesmaid things like holding the bouquet. Still, if I managed to slow down enough I might be, as least, nearly flanked by Kirsty and Emma with Kate behind me. With her there, maybe nobody would notice my 'fullness', at least from behind.

When Lucy stepped out of the car I knew no one would notice me from the front either.

As she passed us to head the queue she air-kissed Kirsty, Emma and Kate. When she got to me, she gave me a hug and her whisper brushed past my cheek. "Thank you, Jo."

Friendship goes only so far, and, while a strapless, watermelon pink taffeta dress is at the cutting edge, Lucy was my friend, soul-mate and chosen sister. Some things you just do.

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Bio:
I have written two and a half books, a sit com, three screenplays, and sundry short stories. Some of these are not funny. I have had quite a few short story awards here and overseas. I have had two plays produced, one in the 'Short and Sweet Festival' (Sydney, 2008), and a longer work in last yearís 'Fringe Festival'. I am currently working on two new full length plays, re-writing a third, studying 'Myths and Symbols' at the CAE and writing a collection of very short illustrated stories about life in the suburbs from a dogís point of view. I live alone with my cat, Lily, and a computer that I don't understand. (I don't understand the cat either.)