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The Dress MAG
She was five foot, seven inches tall. She had always considered that a good height – just tall enough to be intimidating when she wanted to be, and short enough to blend in. But faced with the revelation staring at her from between the doors of her closet, she had to admit that she felt … well, huge.
The dress hung with what could only be considered arrogance on the right door, its overpowering elegance belied only by the frumpy ruffle at the bottom. It looked like something Audrey Hepburn would have worn if she'd been spliced with Paris Hilton. The fabric looked expensive (she hadn't been able to make herself touch it yet), a deep matte violet, no adornment except for the incongruous ruffle, cut in a very simple '60s style. The frill seemed to be thin yellow polyester. Except for the latter, it was a very pretty little thing. The only trouble was, it wasn't hers.
To the right of the mystery dress, stacked in a pile, were at least a dozen more articles that stuck out against the ubiquitous neutrals of her wardrobe. Something neon pink, something gauzy and red paisley (a shirt? Or pants?). All seemed to be made of far too little fabric, as if their wearer was barely there. These were integrated completely, between her summer shoes and her pair of rain boots, her fall jackets and skirts – and she hadn't any idea how they got there.
She'd woken up that morning after, mild unease following her from the night before, hair a mess. She felt wobbly and ill and unsteady. She'd made herself a cup of the strongest coffee she had, rubbing the last attempts at sleep from her eyes as she drank. Feeling more human, and caffeinated, she'd checked the phone for messages, wincing at the slurring drunkenness of Mason's latest bid for getting back together (when would he give up?) and rubbing a hand across her face as the stuffy voice of Dr. Price came on, reaffirming that she had an interview the following week.
Everything had been perfectly normal (except for the hangover) when she'd opened her closet to get dressed and had been confronted with an unfamiliar rainbow. She'd stopped, blinked, closed the doors and reopened them as if this intrusion might just be a trick of the light or a symptom of the mild headache. It wasn't. She knew the door had been locked all night (she kept the keys under the planter by the front window of the apartment) and said window was closed at all times because of the construction next door.
She took a deep breath and pulled the dress down, trying to touch it as little as possible in case of … she knew not what. The fabric was expensive, soft with the self-assured sleekness of cashmere. The ruffle was slippery between her fingers, and stretched. The whole thing smelled delicious – like the perfume she imagined the one percent wore (notes of cinnamon and cash). As she gingerly placed the stack of other garments on her bed, she marveled at the overwhelming urge to press them against her cheek to see if they really were as comfortable as they looked.
The doorbell rang. She was amused to find herself instinctively grabbing all of the clothes and shoving them gently under the bed before running to answer it. Shafts of sunlight streamed through the window, lighting up the disheveled face at the door. He winced in its brightness, although he must have been in it all the way here.
“Mason?” He looked like hell. What was he doing here, she wondered. She'd really given him the what-for last night at the party. He'd stalked away under the cheap fairy lights with which they had festooned the bar for her going-away party, and then there had been that message on the machine.
“I need to talk to you.” He watched her face, the play of surprise and edge of hostility, and his own broke into a scowl. “Just a minute, I promise. Then I'll get out of your life.” His bitterness didn't surprise her; she pulled the handle and he stepped in. As if her day couldn't get any worse.
“Did you find the clothes?” he snapped as soon as she turned to him.
“That was you?” She processed the logistics. “How did you get into my apartment? And why did you leave those things?” She was baffled, knew instinctively that they were stolen, that he could never afford any of these, and stared him down, an intimidation trick she learned from her grandfather, the military sergeant.
He didn't quail. Damn him, she thought as her nausea returned in full force. His bleary, hung-over eyes surveyed the apartment in flagrant disregard of the circumstances and her curiosity, bringing her own headache back to the forefront of her mind.
“They're my ex-girlfriend's. She was a model. I wanted to make you feel fat and inadequate so I used Roberto's key,” he said savagely, aiming to wound, trying his hardest to strike her with his words. I'll have to apologize to poor Roberto, she thought, thinking guiltily of what Mason might have put her poor neighbor through. She sighed.
“I'll get them for you. Go home, Mason. You shouldn't be around here anymore.”
She turned, leaving him in the foyer, and returned a moment later with the clothing stacked neatly in a cloth grocery bag.
“Thanks,” he spat.
“Get out,” she said tiredly.
“I hate you.”
“The diagnosis isn't my fault.” His eyes grew wild and she took an instinctive step back.
“How could you do this to yourself?” he yelled. “How could you do this to me? What the hell were you thinking?”
“Mason, I broke up with you. This is none of your business anymore.”
“The hell it isn't! Don't you get it?”
“You're being pretty bloody cryptic, so no!”
“You are completely sick in the head.” This made her angry.
“Just go, okay? Just go! Get the hell out of my life!” She found herself pounding her fists against his chest as hard as she could, tears running down her face.
“Oh, right, yeah, your life. The whole next year of it? And after that, when you're gone?”
“Leave me alone,” she whispered.
“No! I'm in love with you, you stupid idiot! I can't leave you alone even though I want to, even though I should, I'm just some sick masochist who fell in love with a girl who got cancer. I disgust myself!”
“You're not in love with me. You're in love with playing the Heathcliff to my Catherine, the Sinbad of the Skies to my Arianna M. Ether. You want to be a Branwell Brontë; the woman is insignificant. Go languish for love someplace else!”
She saw the truth of her words bite him hard, and he coiled to strike back.
“You just wanted a poetic death.”
“Radiation isn't poetic, you bastard! Do you think I want to die? I'm thirty years old!”
“You chose this!” This was so totally evil that she slapped him as hard as she could across the face.
“You want to get angry? Get angry! You want to hate me? HATE ME! But don't tell me it's MY FAULT!” She felt the bile rising in her throat and sprinted to the bathroom. Mason came in quietly, standing awkwardly in the doorway before leaning over to hold her hair. She tried to bat him away, but she was suddenly so weak and tired that she gave up and let him stroke her bangs back from her forehead, rhythmically, gently, unlike anything he had ever done.
When she had finished, he stood too close behind her in the cramped bathroom as she brushed her teeth. She watched him in the mirror, his lank and sandy hair falling in his eyes, his body tense and undecided. She rinsed the brush, gargled, and stepped out first. He followed her down the hall (the sight of him there was intimately familiar to her, product of many years' worth of repetition) and stopped in front of the door. His overblown persona had been ripped away, she noted unhappily, to reveal the scared and lonely child he had tried to drown in alcohol and literature. He looked very young.
“Do you remember that time we …” he began.
“No.” She refused to. He looked at her, seeming to memorize her sloppy jeans, holey pyjama top, and haystack hair. Then he opened the door and stepped through, taking something from his pocket and tossing it to the ground on his way out.
“Sorry to Roberto,” he said. The door closed, and she locked it to the sound of his receding footsteps. It was only then that she noticed the bag.
“You forgot your dress,” she whispered to the emptiness.