Christina Briley
Seamstress designer Writer Dancer researcher earthling  



What happens when a bridal seamstress writes a love story with a Dorian Grey twist? You get something like this:


     It was a lovely wedding, wasn't it? Nathan had to describe everything to me—my eyes, you know. I understand Holly's gown was magnificent. So, you agree, do you? It was mine originally, back a zillion years ago when Nathan and I married. It's quite the tale if you feel like listening to me chatter. My father always said that he didn't mind all my talking, since I never take myself too seriously. So you must be sure to tell me if I'm boring you, and I promise I'll shut up.
     It was truly a beautiful gown, even twenty-five years ago when I wore it. I had waited so long for Nathan's proposal, and I took all my years of sewing, all my love of family, and history, and him, and poured them into it. It's a very classic style, very 1890's with the leg-o'-mutton sleeves and all; hardly the if-ya-got-it-flaunt-it bridal look that you see so much these days.
     I remember how soft that high neckline of shirred silk was against my neck, and the feel of those great clouds of sleeve as they brushed my cheek each time I turned my head. And how the silk shirring in the lower sleeve hugged my arm as it scooped down over the back of my hand. Did you realize that those tiny ivory buttons running up either side to the elbow are hand carved? The flounce across the shoulders wasn't originally as elaborate as it is now, but the delicate embroidered flowers were always there, as were the four lace points hanging front, back, and over the sleeve tops.
     I backed the silk in the bodice with muslin for strength, and boned the seams so it would lie smooth and snug as it flowed past my waistline to that dropped vee waist. I made the skirt flat in the front—showed off my trim tummy very nicely, thank you—but I put pleats and gores in the sides and back so it would sweep into a full train. You should see the yards and yards of crinoline ruffles I put underneath to support it! That way the train didn't drag on the floor but gently kissed the carpet and swirled behind me at every turn. Over all this fine silk I scattered a discreet sprinkling of capiz shell sequins and iridescent beads—'though I'm told there's quite a bit more than just a sprinkling now!

     Forgive me, I do go on, don't I? But wedding gowns were what I did, and for a long time I had thought that I would never be doing one for me.
     My early adulthood was a rough time. After I lost both my parents to cancer, I had to wade through mountains of papers and clothes—and junk and torn insulation—to clean out the attic of the family home. Sure, the place had been in the family for generations, but what was I going to do with it? I was an only child from a string of only children and I had no marriage prospects in sight. I kept what I could of my ancestor's leavings, sold the house, and bought a condo.
Of course, Murphy's Law being what it is, as soon as I set up a cozy little home for one, an old platonic relationship suddenly caught fire. Hell, it went nova! It was miraculous and wonderful, and marriage no longer seemed some abstract concept. But I worried.
     "Where's the catch, Nathan? Why hasn't someone like you been snatched up a long time ago?"
     "I wasn't in any rush to get married. Maybe I just haven't met the right woman."
     "Well, I'm not fool enough, or vain enough, to assume I'm the right one. Have you got something in particular against marriage?"
     "Nope. I'm just enjoying what we have now," he replied smiling. Nathan wrapped his arms around me and I resolved to give it time.

     It took more time than I had expected, though, and despite my determination not to push, I couldn't seem to help myself. Eventually, every intimate conversation invariably ended with a gentle parody of an old fairy tale:
     "And do you love me, 'Beast?' Will you marry me?" I asked him one more time, promising myself it would really be the last time this time.
     "Ah, but what is love? The word has been so abused it has no meaning. But you
are a 'Beauty' and I am crazy about you.
     I used to laugh, some of the time, at his knack for dodging my questions. Other times, my frustration with his vagueness about our future had me reduced to tears. But whatever my reaction to his non-answer, he would always hug me tightly and kiss my hair.

     It wasn't as if I didn't understand how much he enjoyed time to himself. Lord knows, a day to myself, with all my seamstressing jobs caught up, was a rare pleasure and I relished it. But oh, to wake up next to him each day and feel his presence in my life would be heaven! I guess he finally reached the same conclusion.
     "Do you love me, 'Beast'? Will..."
     "Will you marry me, 'Beauty?" Nathan cut in hesitantly.
     God! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I guess I did both. And hugged him and kissed him and we both grinned ear to ear like fools.

     That was the beginning of my creating "it", of creating the gown.

     My family couldn't be at my wedding, yet they would be. Generations of their handiwork and keepsakes would be there to represent them. I knew all the family history and I would dress myself in it. For the body of my gown, I had the bolt of silk that Grandma Watt had had shipped from the Orient for her wedding in England, a bolt that had gone unused when the formal wedding became a quickie, dockside ceremony at the outbreak of WWI.
     My shoulder flounce…well, my shoulder flounce was actually a small tablecloth that poor Grandma Briley had embroidered and inset with hand-tatted lace. My mother always said how sad it was about Dad's mom, and how penicillin could have easily cured her sinus infection had it been available in the twenties. But it wasn't, and the doctors' surgical solution killed her. Which left the nanny to raise Beatrice's toddler son. It was one of Nanny Nora's tattered flapper sheaths that provided my gown's hundreds of iridescent beads, though the frock itself had long since crumbled under the weight of all those glass spangles.
     Great-Grandma Mary Louise—frugal, conscientious ML—had been the type of woman who carefully strips the buttons off of every worn-out garment before it lands in the rag bin. I found the mother lode stashed away in her cherrywood sewing box, and I picked out dozens of the nicest, not-quite-white buttons to use along the wrist and back openings of my dress.
     Annette Tryphena, another ancestor in that generation (but I'm guessing a more lighthearted one), had had a debutante ball-gown that fell prey to silverfish during its stay in the attic; that was the dress from which I salvaged my capiz shell sequins.
     Every ingredient in my gown—every bone, button and fiber—had a story. Even the muslin lining was from old cotton sheets that had survived from my mother's trousseau. And the bones in the bodice were actual whalebones from Great-Great-Grandma Harriet's "churchin' bodice." I might have used the bodice itself, a beautiful copper and green changez silk passed down through the years, had not Harriet been so much smaller than I!

     I'm afraid I really did let it become something of an obsession. Those free days I had enjoyed before now became a chance to immerse myself in the damn gown. Eventually, though, there was nothing more to add, not a bead or button to sew on, nor a nip or tuck to take in. It was perfect, with a fit that bordered on the unearthly.
     It all faded to nothing in my mind, though, on the day of the wedding. I could have been stark naked and I wouldn't have cared. Nathan was there and he was mine. We were both nervous and giggly, and so very happy.
     I still remember whispering to him as we reached the altar: "Will you use the 'L' word now, Nathan, or shall I tell the minister to say 'like, honor, and obey'?"
     He bit his lip and looked trapped. When you think about it, he certainly was, wasn't he?
     But then he broke out with the most glorious smile, as if some wall was at last coming down, and he squeezed my hand as he leaned close and whispered: "Yes, 'Beauty', I really do love you. Now hush."
     I couldn't help but give him a hug, much to the amusement of the minister and the congregation, and I just about crushed my bouquet. But then we settled down and got on with the service and were at last husband and wife. The reception was fun and exhausting and I spent lots of time explaining about the creation of my gown—although it was a much shorter story then. Going home with Nathan to start our life together was so wonderful. I suppose that sounds cliched, but I don't know how else to put the feeling into words.

     It wasn't long after the wedding that we both got something of a surprise.
     "Yes, Gorgeous?"
     "Are you sure you don't want children?" I asked him. "Or are you just trying to be considerate of me because I said that I didn't want to tie myself in knots trying to get pregnant at my age?"
     "Years ago," Nathan explained, "I used to worry about 'What if I don't get married and have children? Isn't that what everyone does?' But then I got used to the idea of not having children when I went so long without finding the right woman. I'm very happy with it just being the two of us. Besides, I'd make a lousy father."
     "Well, Sweetie, fortunately, I don't agree that you'd be a lousy father at all."
     I'll never forget the look on his face when he realized what I was telling him. It was the most amazing blend of wonder, joy, and abject terror.

     By the time Holly was born, the day before our first anniversary, Nathan still had doubts about whether he would make the grade as a father. But the terror had been reduced to a certain wariness, and he had developed a genuine awe at the new life that we had created.
     "She's so tiny! And so beautiful, like her mother." Nathan declared as he visited us in my hospital room.
     "Thank you, Sweetheart. But let's face it, I'm a mess. C-sections take a lot out of you. Oh ugh. Did I just make a horrible pun?"
     "Well, if you hadn't noticed how bad that line sounded, rest assured, I would have told you," Nathan replied laughing. He stopped laughing and, taking my hand, leaned forward and spoke tenderly, "All the same, you've never looked more beautiful."
     "And you, dear, are full of it. And I love you nonetheless. Or perhaps, I mean all the more. Just shut up and kiss me."

     The wonderful thing about marrying a man who's been on his own for so long is that he's not helpless. Now, he may have felt inadequate as a father at first, but he set about remedying that with enthusiasm. Actually, I'd had very little experience with babies myself, and the two of us equipped ourselves with a good baby book and the phone number of a helpful, experienced neighbor and started learning how to take care of little Holly. For the first days, though, poor Nathan drove himself crazy trying to pamper me and manage as much of the baby's care himself as possible.

     The days went by and we became old hands at caring for the baby. The enormous responsibility of nurturing this fragile, little life gradually became less overwhelming. We were determined that one of us be home to raise Holly and it ended up falling to me. After all, as the baby got older, and the need arose, I could always take in sewing at home as I had before.
     Even as we fell into the traditional, old, at-home mom and working father routine, the magnetism between Nathan and I never seemed to dim. If anything, it grew stronger.
     "How is it your lips just keep getting more delicious?" I sighed to him after a lingering kiss over a sink of dirty dishes.
     "It must be contagious," Nathan replied.
     "And how am I supposed to get enough sleep between 4 AM nursings and this warm, magnetic body in bed with me?" I complained. "We need a bundling board between us."
     "I think it would take a battleship," Nathan teased.
     And we chuckled and hugged, soapy hands and all.
     "God, aren't we nauseatingly sweet?" he asked, and I threw back my head and laughed for the sheer joy of loving him.

     Holly was six months old when I thought that, just maybe, I might be back to my old figure. The scale said I had ten pounds to go, and my old jeans were still less than comfortable, but I was so tired of feeling flabby. It occurred to me that my wedding gown would be a good test. After all, it had fit like the proverbial glove when I last wore it.
     I brought the box down from the attic and gently lifted the dress from its cocoon of blue tissue paper. I slid the dress over my head. The silk whispered against my face; it caressed my arms, my shoulders, my breasts as it settled over my body. I reached behind me awkwardly to guide each second or third button through it's loop, fastening just enough of them to see how the gown fit.
     I stared in the mirror at the result in amazement. The fit was as perfect as before. The dress neither pulled nor gapped anywhere. It seemed to be infinitely forgiving of every extra pound, for neither my slight post-pregnancy pot nor my milk-filled breasts affected the fit in the slightest. And it still looked as stunning, no, more stunning, then it had eighteen months ago. My current figure was not the lithe figure it had been then, but rather that of a voluptuous, handsome woman, and the dress highlighted every curve. How could it have flattered me previously as beautifully slender, and now as exquisitely curvaceous? Just then something caught my eye.
     "What in the world?" I exclaimed aloud.
      Across the skirt front, a few inches below my navel, was a glaring pink slub, one of those spots where a clump of extra fibers gets caught in the fabric as it is being woven and leaves a ridge. In this case the fibers were a pale, fleshy, pink. I was embarrassed to think that I had gone through my wedding with that horrid mark there, that I could have been careless enough in the first place not to have noticed it while I was making the gown. Had anyone else seen it and been too polite to say anything? Or perhaps this was something to do with the silk aging over the past year and a half?
     I bent over to look more closely at my abdomen and realized that there was more than just the one flaw. Toward the sides of the upper skirt panel were a smattering of silvery-blue fibers, just barely visible, running through the weave of the fabric.
     "Perhaps this is something to do with the fabric aging and discoloring," I muttered to my reflection. "But it seems odd that it should happen now, after all those years the fabric had already lain in the attic before I used it. Still, that seems more likely than these marks simply going unnoticed before."
     Just then Holly woke from her nap and started wailing. I struggled out of the dress as quickly as I could and tucked it back in it's box, all the while calling out to the baby in the other room: "Hush, Sweetie. Mommy's coming."
     Concerns about the scarred dress soon faded at the sound of Holly's happy gurgles with the arrival of food.

     By the time Holly was three, she had grown into a lively, inquisitive child. Shy around strangers, she was anything but that at home. Nathan and I adored her all the same—and we still adored each other as well.
     My figure had eventually come back, more or less completely. As I was getting ready for bed one evening, I stood in front of the mirror, nude, making a rather pleased appraisal of my body. I felt Nathan's arms around my waist and tilted my head back to brush his cheek and comment to him: "Not bad for an old mom, eh?"
     "It never was bad. But even if it had been before, it is definitely spectacular now." His arms tightened about me and he attempted to turn me towards him.
     "Now, just a minute, sir. I'm still looking." I gazed in the mirror again. "And look, the scar across my abdomen from Holly's delivery has faded. It's not that horrible, angry, pink ridge anymore. Even those spidery, blue stretch marks are barely visible." I caught my breath, there was something in the back of my mind, some connection with the scar that I couldn't quite place.
     Nathan leaned forward and kissed my neck. "The scar was never 'horrible'. It's merely a part of you, and I love every part."
     I turned to kiss him and pushed whatever it was that nagged at me out of my thoughts. Very shortly, there were other things demanding my attention.

     Holly was ten when she discovered the big white box in the attic. Prior to that, attic and basement had been pretty much off limits to her. But now her explorations had discovered this silken treasure, and she demanded I bring it down and take it out so she could see it properly.
     "Ooh, Mom, you really wore this?"
     "Excuse me? Yes, I really wore this. Is it that unbelievable that I should wear anything especially lovely?"
     "It's so beautiful—and fancy—and you don't usually wear fancy stuff."
     "That's 'cause I'm busy doing mom stuff, and sewing. It'd be a bit much for hanging around the house, don't you think?" I said with a chuckle. "I do dress up when I go out with your father, though."
     "But not like this. This is a fairy tale dress. This is magic!"
     I smiled at her enthusiasm, and I remembered all that had gone into the dress, and how magic my bond with Nathan seemed. "Perhaps it is magic..."
     Abruptly, that nagging, can't-quite-place-it sensation hit me again—something about the dress—but I ignored it and instead asked Holly: "Does that make me an enchantress, since I created it?"
     "It's Magic Mommy!" she announced in delight. "Put it on, Magic Mommy, put it on. Please?"
     The dress slid on as always; old memories and sensations from previous wearings were as fresh and vivid as if only a moment had passed. I was surprised at how easily the buttons glided through the loops for Holly's young fingers. Now, standing before my dresser, with it's big antique mirror on top, I saw once again that perfect fit.
     "Ohh..., Mother..." Even Holly was speechless.
     Moments passed. Then Holly whispered: "Do you think I can wear it when I get married?"
     That uneasy twinge again. I paused a moment and then said casually, "Oh, probably."
     I tore my eyes away from the image in the mirror and looked at her awestruck face. At that, I giggled. The lovely child looked so dumbstruck and so hopeful. I chided myself for my earlier reluctance and said: "Of course you can wear it, if it fits, or maybe we can make it fit. I'd be honored to have you use it."
     I bowed in mock seriousness to my daughter. Barely had I straightened up when she threw her arms around my waist. The hug she gave me practically knocked me off my feet altogether.
     "Holly! Please! Be careful!" I turned back to the mirror and smoothed the fabric over my hips.
     Funny—now the marks on the skirt front were barely visible. You'd never see them unless you were looking for them. That was good. I had no more of my grandmother's silk left and had had no idea how the marks might be removed, short of replacing the whole skirt front. And now Holly might someday wear it.
     "It does shine beautifully, doesn't it, Sweetie? I'd forgotten myself just how much."
     A glint of something extra caught my eye. "What's this?" I leaned forward to examine a spot on the bodice in the mirror. The area just peaked out from under the shoulder flounce and I lifted the extra fabric to see the bodice itself better. "That wasn't there before, was it? How could I have made such a stupid blunder?"
     "What is it, Mom?"
     "Oh, nothing. Just a little mistake I must have made when I made the dress." I responded distractedly.
     But this couldn't be just some mistake. There on the left breast was a clump of capiz sequins and iridescent beads that was clearly not right; it was a clump that I could not possibly have put there by accident. After all, I did all the beadwork by hand! I could hardly have done
that without noticing. Yet it was there, nonetheless. The spot twinkled and sparkled in the light from the window. It was truly lovely, yet it stuck out as overdone against the rest of the dress.
     "I'll have to remove these extra sparkles sometime, if the dress is ever to be worn again. There's no rush, though. It'll be quite awhile before you're ready to use it," I mused, and reached over to pat my daughter's head.
     Still puzzled, and a bit uneasy, I packed the gown away once again. This was just too weird. First, those odd flaws—now this. Perhaps "Magic" Mommy wasn't that far from the truth.

     It was on a night soon after, that, as dawn approached, I found myself sleeping uneasily. I kept half waking—enough to know something was interfering with my rest but not enough to understand, or try to fix, whatever it might be. When I finally awoke completely, I realized my breast ached, beyond anything that could be considered normal.
     "Nathan, wake up, please," I whispered, fighting back tears of pain and terror.
     He sleepily turned toward me and I buried my face in his neck and sobbed. Wide awake now, he drew back his head to try to see my face, while at the same time pulling the rest of me tightly into his embrace.
     "What in heaven's name... Darling, what's the matter?" Concern was evident in his deep, blue eyes.
     "My breast.. there's a hard lump in it. It feels almost like it did when I had that infection, when Holly was a baby. But I haven't nursed her for eight years! God, Nathan, you know how my mother died."
     "Oh, Rachel, please don't. Don't jump the gun. It's too early to call the doctor now, but as soon as the office opens we'll phone him. I'll call in sick to work, and help with Holly, and get you to the doctor so we can see just what's going on here."
     "Thank you, Hon," I sniffled. "Are you sure it's okay for you to skip work? I'm sorry to be a bother."
     "For pete's sake! Give me credit for having my priorities straight, won't you? And you, Darling, are never a bother. Now just try to relax and let me hold you."
     And he stroked my hair as my tears gradually subsided. There was too much warmth, too much comfort, too much rightness to being in his arms, for me to stay distraught about anything for very long.

     The doctor tried to be reassuring—but failed. No fluid could be drained from the lump so a cyst was ruled out. There were various possibilities but it would be necessary to schedule a biopsy to find out. I knew all too well that the suddenness of the problem, and the accompanying pain, did not rule out cancer. Exploratory surgery would be in three days.

     Suddenly, every moment seemed precious, and things I had put off for ages seemed urgent. My priorities were stood on their head. The dress—I had to fix the dress, so Holly could wear it one day.
     I brought it down from the attic. This…this was something I could do, something I excelled at, something I didn't have to leave to others while I sat around and waited feeling helpless. Fabric and thread; this I could control. I pulled the gown out of the tissue paper and examined the bodice. The spot on the breast seemed even more elaborately beaded than it had that day I showed it to Holly. The workmanship was beyond anything I remembered doing.
     "Ah well. This isn't the first time I've looked back at something I did long ago and been amazed at what I'd pulled off," I spoke lightly to the empty room.
     Looking more closely at the dress, it seemed as if the spangles actually grew out of the fabric itself. I shrugged off the feeling that I was looking at something supernatural. "This is going to be a bitch," I muttered, thinking how hard it would be to remove the extra trim without damaging the dress.
     It took awhile. I had to clip these tiny, nearly invisible threads, and then try to tie off any ends that, if left untied, might result in the loss of the sequins that actually belonged. All the while, my poor, sore breast kept twinging. By the time I was done, my shoulders ached from hunching over the dress, and my eyes hurt from the strain. But the dress was fixed and the pain in my chest was forgotten.

     My visit to the hospital was bizarre. Surgery was scheduled for eight o'clock and I arrived at 6:30 as ordered. I suddenly had this feeling I was making mountains out of molehills and I really didn't need to be there. When I mentioned this to a nurse she pooh-poohed it as cold feet. Yet when she tried to find the lump to be biopsied, she couldn't. Up until then I hadn't realized myself that the pain was gone as well.
     As the nurse left to find the doctor, I tried to remember when I had last noticed any pain. "Oh, Lord. My wedding gown..." The pieces suddenly fell together. "The marks on the skirt were the marks on my stomach. And the sparkles on the breast..."
     I felt desperately nauseous. In that moment, I was absolutely certain that I had cut away my own cancer with a seam ripper and a razor blade!
     The rest of the visit went by in a blur. I just wanted to get out of there. I needed to think; I needed to figure out if I was going crazy. And if I wasn't crazy, was the dress good or evil? If my theory was right, then the thing certainly gave me a good case of the screaming-meemies.
     Getting released from the hospital seemed to take forever, but they finally sent me home. Manual exams and mammograms simply could not find anything to biopsy.
     "We'll keep an eye on it." my doctor told me. "I suspected all along it might just be an infection."
     Yeah, right, I thought to myself. Wouldn't it be nice if, just once, a doctor would say to you: "Hey, beats me. I haven't a clue."?

     "So, it was a false alarm, right?" Nathan asked as we drove home.
     "I guess..."
     I wondered if I should tell Nathan about the gown. Certainly not with Holly in the car, listening. It would frighten her. But should I tell him at all? We'd always shared everything. But this? He'd either be worried about the dress, or worried about my sanity. Or both. Maybe someday I'd tell him, but not yet.

     Eventually, I came to treat the dress as I would any other thing that worried me, but about which I could do nothing. I pushed it to the back of my mind—and to the back of the attic—where it sat ignored, but not exactly forgotten. It would appear in my thoughts at odd moments, and I would wonder if any more changes had appeared. What did the gown look like now, up there in the attic among it's layers of tissue paper? Should I pull it out and look?
     In my mind's eye I would go through the motions, would take the dress out, examine it, imagine I saw more marks, more additions to the design, more reflections of time's effect on my body. But that was as far as I went toward actually checking on the thing. Like the dream where a person dreams that they are getting up and starting the day, only to keep waking up just enough to realize that they haven't really moved at all, so the dress never really left its box. And I never could bring myself to tell Nathan about it either.

     "You know, Nathan," I spoke softly as we lay together one evening, his face nestled in my hair and every curve of his body fitting perfectly against the back of mine, as if we were two spoons nesting together in the silverware drawer, "Science may eventually explain everything about our lives: the workings of every organ, the cause of every illness, be able to attribute every emotion to some chemical secreted in response to some genetically encoded instruction, but I shall never, ever, stop believing that life is a miracle beyond explanation—that we, what we have between us, is a miracle. Ghosts and magic and haunted wedding gowns all seem perfectly reasonable by way of comparison."
     "Haunted wedding gowns? Did I miss something here? Where did that remark come from?" Nathan lifted his head and peered over my shoulder.
     "Oh, it was just a thought, I'm really too tired and too comfortable to bother going into it now." Losing my nerve, I struggled to back away from the subject. "Maybe I've just been seamstressing too long," I said with a shrug. "Speaking of doing things for too long, isn't marriage supposed get boring after so many years?" I rolled over to glare at him in mock accusation. "Why aren't I sick of you yet?"
     "Maybe we're just not doing this marriage business right." He ran one finger lightly down my neck and across my collar bone. "What do you think, should we keep practicing?"
     "Mmmmm... Let me think about this. It's such a tough decision."
     If Holly was still awake, she must have wondered what her loony parents were giggling about this time.

     Unfortunately, Fate, and her blasted whims, were not yet done with my family.
     "Age-related Macular Degeneration," I explained to Nathan. "The doctor called it AMD." I forced a little smile. "I'm a bit young for it, but, hey, why should life stop throwing me curve balls now?"
     I struggled to look into Nathan's eyes, to see the concern and affection I knew would be there. But with my tears added to the haze that had been gradually eating away at the center of my vision, I couldn't even focus on the outline of his face right then.
     "And there's nothing they can do for it?"
     "Nope. It'll just keep slowly progressing until my eyesight's completely gone. Guess my seamstressing days are over, huh?"
     Squelching his own heartache and putting on his best formal accent, Nathan announced brightly, "Ah, a lady of leisure! Then we must find something to fill up your time, something worthy of your grace and beauty." And he swept me up into an exaggerated formal ballroom pose.
     His posture was over the top, and his nose stuck up in the air, and I realized that there were still plenty of things for me to enjoy, two of the nicest being his touch and his sense of humor.
     I merely smiled, a genuine smile this time, and replied: "Fine. Just don't lead me into any walls."

     Gradually, we adapted. We were okay financially and Holly got her driver's license about the same time I had to give up mine. She was very agreeable about trying to work errands for me in around her burgeoning social life. Somehow, the extra challenges made life and family seem more precious than ever.
     The wedding gown lay in the attic, virtually forgotten, until, at twenty three, Holly announced she was getting married.
     "Holly! That's wonderful! I hope you and Marc will be as happy as your father and I have been."
     I felt her face against mine and her arms around my shoulders as she bent to hug me where I sat in my favorite chair by the parlor window. In the tiny bit of peripheral vision still left me, I could see Nathan across the room, clasping Marc's hand. A moment later I felt a familiar touch in the center of my back and knew that Nathan had come to stand beside me.
     "Mother, I have wanted to wear your wedding gown for my own wedding since I first saw it. You said once that I could. Is it still alright?"
     All the worries and fears and memories and joys that were tied up in the dress, ones that I had kept under wraps for years, abruptly came flooding back. "Oh, Holly...I don't know. I...I guess, but..."
     I wanted to honor my promise, and it would be so right to pass the dress on to another generation, but could there be harm to either Holly or me if I did? Something else occurred to me.
if it fits. I obviously can't alter it myself and I'd be afraid to let anyone else work on it."
     "You're sure? I don't have to wear it if you don't want me to."
     I couldn't be quite certain from her tone if she was genuinely concerned about my feelings, or if there was a touch of sarcasm there that I should be reluctant to grant her her heart's desire for no apparent reason.
     "Yes, I'm sure." And I was. I was also sure that whatever minor differences there might be in our figures would not be a problem once the dress actually became hers. "Why don't you run up and get it out of the attic? Meet me in my bedroom and we'll try it on you right now."
     When I reached my bedroom, after chatting with the men for a few more moments, Holly was already pulling the dress out of the box. I could hear the silk whisper to me and the memory of its touch made my skin tingle. Though Holly had thought the dress magical as a little girl, right now she was too excited to notice anything unusual about it other than it's obvious beauty.
     "It's so lovely, Mother. I can't believe you made this. It just
has to fit."
     "Well, slip it on and we'll see. I'll do up the buttons for you."
      Even without much sight left, I had no trouble slipping the ivory buttons through their loops. But the whisper of the silk kept calling me and I ached to put the gown on myself. Perhaps blindness doesn't improve your hearing, but it does make you focus on sounds more, and it was all I could do to block out the rustle of the fabric. "So, how's the fit? I really can't tell with my blasted eyes."
     "It's actually pretty good. Not perfect, but I'll be able to wear it without any alterations. Honestly though, Mother, why did you bother to spend all the time to put these extra beads and sequins across the breast when it's under the flounce where no one's likely to see them?"
     I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach, as all the ramifications of her words hit me. I urgently tried to see what she was talking about, but with my failing vision it was like looking for shooting stars in the night sky; you think that you've glimpsed one out of the corner of your eye but when you turn your head to look, it's gone. If I couldn't even see the spangles, I had no prayer of tackling the delicate task of removing them. Visions of botching the job and ripping away my own flesh filled my head, and in that moment I knew I could no more risk another seamstress attempting the repairs than I could do it myself. I gave up worrying about what couldn't be done, and began to figure out what could be.
     "Holly, could you please put the gown away when you're done with it? You don't need to put it back in the attic, just leave the box here and I'll take care of it later. Right now I need to make a phone call. I just remembered I'm overdue for a check up."

     There was no miracle about the lump—lumps, that is—this time. And from the beginning, the news was not good. Chemo slowed the cancer a little but not enough. My hair fell out. I was weak and nauseous, and sometimes it was all too much. But Nathan was always there for me.
     "And do you love me 'Beast'? Would you marry me again if you had it to do over?" I sat enthroned in a pile of pillows on our bed while he perched on the edge and held my hand.
     "In a heartbeat. You are still my 'Beauty' and my love. Can I do anything for you? Would you like me to rub lotion on your back?"
     "That would be wonderful. But only if you want to, I'm afraid the skin is pretty unappealing these days."
     I scootched myself over to sit up on the side of the bed and pulled off my nightgown as he got up to get the lotion. When he sat back down next to me I could feel him hesitate before touching my back, and I knew he was staring at the angry red tumors that had erupted there. The nurse had mentioned them to me earlier and my fingertips had reluctantly explored their uneven outlines with a mix of morbid fascination and repulsion. I heard Nathan catch his breath and I placed my hand on his leg in shared anguish. A comment of my mother's when she was so ill came into my head: "Your father's doctor was right; dying is easier than watching". My grief would only last a while longer; Nathan's would be with him for years to come.
     A moment later, I felt the cool lotion on my skin; its chill soon gave way to the comforting warmth of Nathan's hand as he caressed the liquid into my back.
     "Have I told you lately," I whispered to him, my throat tight with sorrow, "How much I love you?"
     My only answer was the tear that fell to be rubbed into my skin with the lotion.

     Plans for Holly's wedding had gone on in spite of my illness, and now the wedding was almost upon us. I had had Nathan take the dress to a little hole-in-the-wall cleaners I knew of from my days as a seamstress, one that specialized in elaborate, heirloom, wedding gowns. The dress came back cleaned and pressed and more amazing than ever. Holly had a formal portrait sitting in our parlor with her photographer two days before the wedding, and I roped Nathan into being there. I wanted him to be my eyes so I could know how the dress looked now. How would it reflect the current condition of my body?
     "Mother, how in the world did you do this?" Holly exclaimed, as she swept down the stairs. "And why? It's absolutely gorgeous and beyond anything I could have imagined, but I would have been happy with it without you going to all the trouble!"
     "God, Rachel, she's right. It's spectacular, but how did you do it?" Nathan was clearly both awed and bewildered.
     "Let's just say it's my legacy to Holly. You know the story of how I used my ancestor's fabrics to make the gown something very special for our wedding? Well, now I seem to have found a way to make it even more special for our daughter's. It's Holly's gown now." With those words, the whispers that the silk had always had for me fell silent, and I knew that the dress would only share its secrets with Holly from this moment forward.
     "Come, Nathan, while Holly poses for the photographer, tell me what you see. I haven't actually gotten a look at the new, improved version of the gown."
     Gently, he led me from my usual chair to the parlor couch. There he sat with his arm around me, and his head close to mine, and quietly described how our daughter looked. "I know it's been some time since you've been able to see Holly clearly, but she's a lovely young woman now. Of course, she would have to be, with you as her mother."
     "Hopeless fool," I muttered. "Go on."
     "Her hair's the same shade of gold as yours, and all swept up with flowers in it. She told me she wouldn't wear a traditional headpiece since the business of lifting the veil at the end of the ceremony symbolizes unveiling property, bought and paid for. I wonder where she got that idea?" He asked mischievously.
     "I know, I know." And it suddenly occurred to me that had the gown originally had a matching veil with blusher that covered my eyes, I might have saved myself from blindness the way I saved myself from my first bout with cancer. But that was all water under the bridge now.
     "I guess you'd say she has my eyes," he went on. "You used to go on so about what a gorgeous, deep, blue they were, and that's how hers look. She's tall and slender and..."
     "And the gown?"
     "The gown is the same basic style as it was the day we got married, but it's so much more elaborate. It should be gaudy with all those beads and lace and sequins—yet, somehow, it isn't. The workmanship is so subtle that the trimmings seem to grow out of the fabric itself. The dress is radiant. The original embroidery on the shoulder flounce is highlighted by sequins that have no color of their own, yet somehow they make the threads themselves shimmer with delicate pinks and blues and greens. Tiny iridescent beads sit, as if dewdrops, on these now-fantastic flowers that your grandmother first embroidered so long ago."
     "Lord," Nathan interrupted himself, "I've been living with a seamstress too long. I sound like a fashion reporter!" He rolled his eyes in feigned disgust.
     "Go on, Love," I prodded with a chuckle.
     Nathan sighed and continued. "Looking at the skirt, I see long winding tendrils of lace applique trailing down silk panels that I remember as being smooth and plain. It seems impossible that these details were not woven right into the fabric all along, for they shimmer and move with it with no sign of a distinct edge. The lace and beadwork on the skirt continue up onto the bodice and wind around Holly's small waist before traveling up under the flounce and over the bust. It's here that the twinkles are at their most brilliant, a field of fairy dust with barely a speck of plain silk left peeking through. Across the back of the shoulders are random swirls of lace and sparkles and—and maybe, maybe they're not random..." Nathan paused and appeared puzzled. His hand across my shoulders idly traced the uneven pattern of tumors that could be felt through my robe. "Somehow, they look familiar."
     He suddenly jerked back his hand and pulled away from me. "Damn, Rachel! Is this some sick joke? What's going on here?"
     I flailed desperately trying to find his hand, and held on for dear life when at last I succeeded. "It's no joke. I didn't do it. Please, you have to let me try to explain," I hissed at him. Calming a bit, I quietly pleaded: "We're disturbing Holly's sitting. Help me upstairs where we can talk."
     The trip up the stairs was torturous. Even if Nathan had been able to carry me, he was too hurt and too angry to want me in his arms at that moment, and I could only travel a few steps before needing to stop and rest. I could feel his coldness towards me, and I longed to be in the safety of our room where I could try to make him understand about the ghosts that seemed to inhabit the dress.
     At last I reached our bed and Nathan grudgingly helped get me settled. Torn between his feeling that I had somehow betrayed him, and his desire to receive comfort from the one person he had always trusted, he finally lay down beside me and spoke sadly, "Now. Explain."
     And I did. I explained as I have explained to you. And while it was as unbelievable to him as I'm sure it is to you, he really had no choice but to accept it. What better explanation could there be? We wondered at it, and we laughed about the sheer incredibility of it. We held each other with relief, his that I had not betrayed him with some sort of sick joke, and mine that I no longer had any secrets from him. And we talked of our life together and our love for each other and my fear of dying and his fear of losing me. Until at last I was too exhausted to talk any longer, and I fell asleep in his arms.
     I did make it to the wedding this morning. You saw me there, of course. How could you miss me, the mother of the bride being pushed up the aisle in a wheelchair? I'm so glad it all went smoothly and I hope they find as much joy together as Nathan and I have found. Though it would be nice if they found a little less sorrow!
     I trust I haven't bored you. Maybe when Holly's life settles down you could share the story with her. Or maybe we should leave that to her father.
     Now, I don't want to be rude, but I am really exhausted—and cold. I just noticed how very cold I feel. Please, would you get Nathan for me? I think I need him here; I've never been cold with him next to me in bed. Funny, how that is...


If you enjoyed the story, pass it along. And let me know if you might even pay to see more of my work (like my novel)!

Back to top
Main Site (Twirling Jennies) Comments? Questions? Copyright 2011-2022 by Ruth Evans