“Dress Blues”

cropped-dress-blues-image.jpgHere is a flash fiction piece I wrote that earned an Honorable Mention and a $10 Amazon.com gift card from the site Women on Writing. It’s about a 3-minute read, so not too much time out of your day. 

Betty’s door opened just as she was lowering her sewing machine’s presser foot onto the cuff of an ivory wedding gown. Betty glanced up from the Bernina at the young woman standing there, who turned away to scold a grumbling boy in the hallway. “Bridger! Come on.”

Betty’s glance registered the woman’s ironed jet-black hair and orangey face that mismatched her smooth white neck. She wore a tank top and those spandex pedal pushers for exercise. Draped over her arm were skinny jeans–the kind with bleach stains and holes in them on purpose, for fashion.

“It smells funny in here. Is this a clothes store?” Betty heard the boy ask his mother.

“No, all this stuff needs fixing. Clothes stores don’t look like this place. Come on.” She strode over to Betty. “I’d like these hemmed please,” she said, lifting the arm with the draped jeans like some fancy waiter with a white napkin. Her other hand gripped the boy’s shoulder, while he pinched his nostrils shut.

Betty kept her eyes on the satin cuff, adjusting and readjusting the Bernina’s presser foot between two beaded flowers. “Go ahead and put them on, to see how much to take in,” she said. Then she lifted her gaze to Rachael Ray on the TV above her workspace.

“Um, where’s your changing room?” The woman looked around at the wood paneled walls lined with cheap bookcases, metal desks, and treadle sewing tables. Piles of shirts, jeans, and slacks covered every flat surface, while taffeta gowns and nylon-blend uniforms spilled from rolling garment racks. Instant soup and an electric kettle stood beside a spoon and yellow plastic bowl on dusty wire shelves.

Betty pointed to a corner behind a partitioning wall. The woman sat Bridger behind Betty, under a rack of full dress uniforms, and gave him her phone to play with.

Betty had run her own one-woman business over forty years, ever since she’d been widowed with two little kids. She had dropped out of high school pregnant to marry Frank. She couldn’t retire anytime soon, but she restored high-end clothing like military and bridal formalwear and those overpriced prom dresses for spoiled girls. She also did alterations, but only because she could charge $20 for ten minutes of work.

The woman stood before her, facing the full-length mirror. Betty bent at the waist and slowly slid out of her swivel chair, placing her right knee and hand on the carpet, then her left. Betty’s doctor had told her she shouldn’t work anymore. She had woken up one morning unable to lift her chin off her chest or turn her head for the kinks. Crouching to measure and pin the hem, she asked, “You gonna wear any high heels with these?”

“Yes,” the woman replied absently. She peered at her reflection, dabbing at her eyeliner with a polished pinky.

“Mom? Mommy! I can’t play my game. Dad’s picture keeps popping up.” The woman sighed, finally turning away from the mirror. She took the phone into the hallway, closing the door behind her.

Betty tuned out the same old State Farm insurance commercial to listen to the woman’s high-pitched whisper outside the door. They can’t send you back there, Jake. You’ve hardly gotten out of bed all month…I’m not criticizing. Please tell your CO…It’s an illness, like heart disease or a bad back.

Betty felt a breath at her shoulder. She swiveled to find Bridger there staring at the TV. Behind him, military dress coats lay scattered in a tall mound.

The door opened and the woman rushed past Betty toward the changing area. “Sorry, I can’t do this today. Bridger, let’s go.” She stopped short at the mound of coats. “What happened? Bridger! Did you do this?”

The boy sat down on the floor. “I don’t want Dad to go away again.”

Betty rolled her chair over. “Hey Bridger? Hand me that three-button coat there, will you?”

He tossed her the Air Force Blue and sat back with a scowl.

“This one here is Air Force. See these silver pins that spell ‘U.S.’ on the lapels? I started fixing soldiers’ uniforms when my husband was a Marine. He went to Vietnam.” And he’s still there, she thought to herself. “That was a long war. So is this one.” Betty looked at the woman, who nodded and picked out a Dress Blue coat to hang up, smoothing its red-trimmed collar.