The Crimson Dress

September 25, 2008
By Samera Ali, London, ZZ

Since that day, I saw the flashes of red everywhere. I was walking home from school when my gaze was drawn to the shop window at Henny’s. Serendipity. There it hung, in all its glory. The crimson dress. My friends thought it was too sluttish, I thought it was gorgeous and elegant. It flowed to the ground, tucked in perfectly in all the right places. If only I had been blessed with the figure to pull it off.

Last night I dreamed I was wearing it…except it wasn’t me. She was older, and more beautiful than anyone I’d ever seen before. She haunted my dreams frequently now. There was something familiar about the ebony hair that cascaded down her waist, framing her heart-shaped face. Sometimes I’d see a glimpse of my own eyes reflecting back. Wishful thinking.

The next morning, my father and I ate our breakfast at the table with silence as our companion. It had been this way since as far as I could remember. I had no memories of my mother; she died when I was a kid. Dad didn’t keep any of her stuff, he said keeping reminders will only bring sadness and stop us from moving on. I didn’t tell him about the ruby necklace I found under the floorboard in the kitchen years ago. My father and I settled into the same monotonous routine over the years, he’d grunt out a few questions about school then go back to tapping away at his laptop. He really did me a favour teaching me independence from an early age. Thanks for that, Dad.

As usual, on the way to school I stopped to admire the dress. It turns out I wasn’t the only one. Inside the store, a stunning blonde woman was stroking the silky material, like you might do a lover. She was nodding her head at the sales lady next to her. I felt panic spreading through my body like a virus as she lifted it off the display and took it to the counter. I pressed my forehead against the cool window, barely registering the peculiar glances I got from strangers. Please don’t let her take it, I thought frantically.

But of course, she did take it. All wrapped up in a fancy box.

Time slid by slowly; I didn’t pay much attention to anything until my art class. And in art class, I expressed my grief for the dress I never had through my work. There was something special about it…if only I knew what it was. I drew and painted, using everything I could get my hands on, crayons and colour pencils diminished in my hands. When I finally stopped to stare down at my master piece, my heart beat tripled.

It was her, the mysterious lady from my dreams. Wearing the red dress…and my ruby necklace. Choked with emotions I couldn’t describe, I ran out of the class like a bat out of hell.

Ignoring the laughter and taunts from the other kids, I rushed into the girl’s toilet and shut myself in a cubicle. The memories I’d been forced to extinguish came back in a rush. In a flash I recalled the electric shock therapy I endured to erase parts of my life…and the woman whom I spent years wondering about. She was my mother and she died at the hands of my father. The dress she was wearing was as red as the blood that surrounded her. In my mind I saw him yank it off her neck and hurl it to the other side of the kitchen where it slipped in between the loose floorboards. I remembered crying and begging him to stop and listening with despair as my mother made similar pleas.

No one would ever believe me; I remember thinking inside that cubicle. And I was right. Why? Because I’ve been telling my story to everyone I met since the day they brought me to this psychiatric hospital two years ago. They called me “crazy”…but who wouldn’t be after going through something like that?

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