The Dress

When my commute to work was super long, I used to daydream up short stories.  This is the first in a series called Receipts.  I came up with the idea when I was sorting through receipts and I kept putting aside ones that had vivid memories attached to them.  I want to write the stories behind those receipts.  I’d love any feedback that people have on this.

I’m racking my brain trying to figure out why *my* grandpa is taking me to the mall.  Maybe he really is losing it.  I know they say the loss of a loved one is especially hard on the elderly, but how does that translate to him taking me to the mall?  Maybe this is some misguided retail therapy?  Maybe he wanted me to help him buy electronics?

When my dad called me downstairs to say that I had a visitor, grandpa was the last person I expected.  He hadn’t left his house for months after grandma died.  He yelled at caregiver after caregiver until most of our family members stopped going to his house and only hired help could stand him.  Honestly, I was a little bit frightened to go to the mall with him.  This car trip wasn’t helping ease that fear.

I looked over at him and studied his face.  He looked very determined.  Every movement was measured.  I could tell that he was rusty at driving but he was doing his best to hide it.  If it hadn’t been for the printed directions taped to the dashboard, I would have more doubt that we were going to the mall.  He kept whispering the directions over and over like he was afraid that he would forget where we were going.  I guess that’s what old people have to do to keep their sanity.

After we finally parked in the handicap spot, I could see his hands shake as he took out the keys.  Was that a sign of Parkinson’s?  I thanked my lucky stars that we got here safely in the first place.  He grabbed my wrist like I was five years old and couldn’t cross the street by himself.  I wrestled an urge to yank it away because what if *he* was the one who needed it for support.  Does he look shorter than he was before?  I’ve never noticed much about my grandpa before.

We walked into a department store, and I felt like I needed to finally break the silence.  “Grandpa?  Why are we here?”

He answered gruffly: “I need to buy you clothes”

I looked down at my outfit for the day — jeans and a t-shirt.  Nothing too revealing or scandalous.  What could he hate about this?  I looked at him — did he always have an iron burn on his collar?  Was he wearing socks?  No, he was definitely not wearing socks.  Who dresses him these days?  “Uh, grandpa, I have a lot of clothes, are you sure you don’t want to get some stuff for you? Maybe socks?”

Wordlessly, he walked away.  I hurried to catch up and followed him in silence.  What a nightmare.  I don’t know if he can even hear me half the time I talk.

His gaze fell upon the racks and racks of glitter and glam: the dress section. I can only describe it as hurried shuffling as he bee-lined towards the dresses.  He grabbed a teal sequined dress with a fluffy tulle bottom and then looked me up and down and said, “This one?”

I could feel my face falling as I mumbled, “I’m not a size 2.”  Great, even my grandpa thinks I should be skinnier.

His face flushed red as he shoved back the dress and matched my mumble, “uh, you go pick and show me.”  After a couple of awkward seconds, “Please?”

I absentmindedly picked the next closest dress in my size – a purple peplum.  I showed it to him and he growled at me, “No. It doesn’t spin.”

I rolled my eyes and counted to ten.  Okay.  The dress apparently has to spin.  I turned and picked the next closest dress — a gold and black dress with a huge skirt.  I brought it to him and he shook his head so hard I thought he was having a seizure. He yelled, “No, no, no.  It can’t be gold!  It has to be silver.  No gold.  No!” I recoiled instantly; it reminded me of the last time I saw him and he yelled at me for accidentally breaking a cereal bowl.  This is my personal hell.  Old people are so unpredictable.

He walked away towards a sales associate and I started to pick random non-gold dresses that spin.  I started to debate whether or not I should try to find the dress that fit whatever he wanted or lie to him and say that I don’t wear dresses.  I can’t believe my dad put me up to this.  He said I could always text him and he would no questions asked bail me out of anything.  Does this count?

That poor sales associate.  He was gesturing wildly at some crumpled up piece of paper, and she was trying to placate him.  Somehow, she got him to sit down in a bench by the fitting room, while she kept eying me up and down like I was some bitch spoiled brat.  Whatever.  She doesn’t know me.  She flitted around the dress section easily picking things out of the chaos of dozens of clothing racks.  Every time she showed something to my grandpa and he liked it, I felt these gut wrenching pings of jealously.  I wish I could make his eyes light up like that.  I used to be able to when I was little and he would come to every single ballet recital and baseball game.  Everything is different now.

I was spaced out thinking about the past when the sales lady tapped on my shoulder.  “Miss?  Your grandpa would like to see you now.”  She lead me to him, and he nodded at me just once.  We passed him and she guided me to the dressing room.  “Please let me know if you need any help, miss!  If you need a different size or someone to help zip, just anything!  I put our favorite in there first!”  The fake, bright enthusiasm made me want to barf.

A single dress was hanging in the fitting room.  It was scarlet red with very tasteful silver accents.  It was gorgeous.  I stared at it skeptically — it couldn’t possibly fit me.  It might physically fit me but I would look so out of place in it.  Maybe if I put it on and it doesn’t work, we can go home.  I threw off my clothes and slipped into the dress.  Somehow, everything zipped up perfectly.  I glanced up at the mirror, and the entire world slowed down.  I looked pretty for once in my life.  I was knocked out of my daydream as the sales associate knocked on the door.  “Are you ready to come out now?”

I stepped out, nervously hoping that he would like it.  As I came into his view, he broke out into a crooked smile.  Success!

He gestured for me to sit down next to him and pointed to the crumpled paper which was a photograph of my mom.  “You look just like your mother.”  He pulled out a box that held the silver necklace and earrings that my mom wore in the photograph and helped me put them on. “They wanted you to have this.”  Tears instantly sprang to my eyes.  I was trying to covertly wipe them when he continued. “When she was in the hospital, she made your grandmother promise to take you shopping for the perfect dress.  Your grandmother… your grandmother talked about it every day.  She looked through all the magazines.  She talked to all of her friends at the salon about it, how she couldn’t wait for you to spin and spin under the moonlight.  She circled the whole month of March as a dress shopping month!  A whole month!”  He chuckled lightly and paused. “and then she died.  Everything in my world died when she died.  Nothing mattered anymore until I overheard my nurse talking about how she only puts up with me so that her daughter could buy a dress for prom.  I knew I had to do right by my wife and my daughter.  I just hope I’m not too late.”

I held his hand as we both sat there and cried.  I cried for my mother and my grandmother and I cried for how hard it must be for my grandfather.  He didn’t have Alzheimers, Parkinsons, or some other old person disease.  He had a broken heart that matched mine.

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