The Tattered Dress
The eerie sound of her high heels tapping against the tile flooring causes a shiver to run through Megan’s body as she casually strolls down the brightly lit corridor of the shopping center. Missing the flurry of noise and commotion from the other shoppers, Megan wonders if the building has closed around her; however, since it is only two o’clock pm and the mall does not close until nine tonight, she knows it is open and ignores the unfamiliar feeling of inhospitality arising from the building’s emptiness. Megan continues perusing the brightly lit display windows.
Lovely tops made of lace, chenille, and other materials she doesn’t recognize, draws her attention and the brightly lit merchandise entices her to stop in and try on the gorgeous garments. Lou Vuitton has a sale on its handbags; Victoria secret a sale on its spicy undies; and one store displaying an anorexic model, wearing undersized shorts on her basketball size bum, publicizes a half-off sale on everything. Melancholy sets in on Megan as she glares at the beautiful dresses and exotic shoes she has no money to buy. A single parent, and through many the years of poverty, Megan has learned to draw upon her determined reserve and resist the lure of entering the stores, knowing that if her fingers caress the soft fabrics, she will breakdown and buy the item for herself. Since she only has a few dollars left from her paycheck, after she pays her rent, utilities, and daycare costs for her son Rodney, she cannot possibly afford to buy anything today.
Still unable get over the strangeness of her surrounding, Megan curiously looks around the empty hallway; she wishes she had not agreed to run the errand for her boss to pick up a bobble for his mistress from the exclusive mall jeweler. Conflicting with her moral values, Megan never agrees to help him with the illicit affair, and often casually expresses her disapproval of his dishonesty, but Mr. Crowne never bothers to give her words any consideration. He follows the whims of his manhood and not the commitment which he has made to his wife. And although she refuses to assist him in his cloak and dagger adventures, Megan finds herself always comforting the lovelorn Mrs. Crowne when she calls looking for her AWOL husband. Today, bribing her with overtime, which she plans to use to buy her son an imitation transformer toy for his birthday, Megan guiltily overlooks this indiscretion.
Bluish white light streams down from decorative skylights illuminating the plethora of eateries, candy stores, and other delicacies. As well, doves resting atop of gleaming silver beams, running along the top of the ceiling of the eatery, coo out soothing sounds almost drowning out the mellifluous classical melodies coming from speakers. As she enters the food court, the odor of cinnamon buns fresh out of the oven wafting throughout the area causes her stomach to growl and her mouth to water making her long for one. Megan does not have time to stop because she only has forty-five minutes left before she should return to the office and due to the heavy traffic, it will take her at least thirty minutes to get back. The food court, like the rest of the mall, is empty, not even ghostly apparitions preparing the delicacies is present. An unnerving unrest arises within her, but she continues her pursuit for the jeweler.
A dimly lit corridor to Megan’s left catches her attention, and she strolls down the dark hallway; no elegant shops are about, only broken concrete walls on both her right and left. “Under Construction.” Words written in red handwritten lettering on the right wall creates a curiosity within her, removing the wariness that Megan felt since entering the mall. A bright light spilling out into the hallway ahead, peaking her interest further, summons her forward and she wonders what new store is now open; Megan guardedly moves toward the glow.
Finally, she reaches the window having the bright light; the gleam of radiance dissolves into a soft white luminosity, and Megan sees the most beautiful dress she has ever seen. It is no formal gown, no party dress, only a simple white dress, indescribable but exquisite at the same time. Its fabric, apparently hand spun, looks to come from a beautiful exotic silk, one she was not familiar. Like a fairytale garment owning magical properties, its threads emit a faint rainbow hue creating a fairy-tale glowing color around the simple frock. A flared skirt attached to its sleeveless spaghetti straps top appears to weightlessly hang as if blowing by a gentle wind.
Megan gazes in awe, lost in her desires to own the simple dress. Self-discipline escaping her, she enters the opening in the wall with thoughts of giving her paycheck as a down payment; she prays the merchant has a credit plan because she has no credit cards. Forgetting about her rent, her son, food, and the errand her boss has her on she steps into the brightly lit opening.
The store is empty, and nothing but an old man dressed in a brown tunic and brown corridor pants is present, he glares peculiarly at her. Long hippy hair, black with streaks of gray, hangs to his shoulders and his grayish skin glimmers slightly as if he is sweating. Megan cannot see his eyes, they are not hidden under his bangs or disguised by the bright light, and although logically she knows that they are there, she cannot discern their color or attributes. The old man turns to her; his kindly red lips turn up amicably when Megan approaches him, and she wonders how such a simple man can have such a beautiful dress.
Politely he says, “you can’t have the dress.”
Megan does not have a chance to speak before he tells her she cannot have the dress; she wonders if he thinks her too poor to own the dress and asks curiously, “Why?” Disappointment in her voice, her words slightly quivers when she speaks.
“Its cost is beyond any that you can pay,” he comments calmly, “come back when you are ready.”
“How do you know I can’t afford it,” Megan replies offensively?
“You will promise me all you have, but I will not take it from you.”
“What is so special about that dress? Surely, it cannot be worth more money than I want to pay.”
“Of course not, its value is not in money or wealth,” the old man tells her with a sincere sorrow in his heart, then turns and walks away. “You come back, I will hold it for you.”
“When?” Megan asks. The old man does not answer her only continues looking away snubbing anything she says. Confused and saddened, hesitantly Megan leaves the empty room; she glares at the display window to look at the dress one last time and watches the lights in the display window dim, and the lovely dress fades out of her view.
Continuing her search for the mistress’s bobble Megan heads back towards the food court; she hears a sharp, raspy voice call out to her. “I have that dress in my store.” Quickly she turns around to see a handsome young man dressed neatly in a designer suit beckoning to her. “Come this way, I got what you want,” he says brashly, smiles, and then winks at her.
The young man’s eyes dark eyes are troubling, and as Megan approaches him, he leers disturbingly at her causing a fearful discomfort to rise within her. Megan stops and says, “thank you anyway, but I am in a hurry.”
A grin comes across his face; quickly he holds the lovely dress up baiting the woman; he knows she wants the dress badly and seconds later hiding the dress from her view, he motions for her to follow him.
Megan follows the man, the want to buy the dress her focus now, she disregards all judgment and the small voice within. “Go back Megan; you don’t know this man.” Moments later reaching the end of the dark corridor, the food court no longer in view, the man turns to the right and stops. Smirking mysteriously at her and as if performing a magical trick, again he summons the dress to appear before her.
Megan’s eyes light up, and she scrutinizes the lovely dress; from all appearances, it looks like the dress she just saw in the window. The beautiful white silken material has the same exotic rainbow hues, and its flared skirt waves daintily as the young man dangles the dress in front of her. She touches the hem of its skirt; the soft, luxurious material mesmerizes Megan, and she imagines herself in the lovely dress. How much is it? Do you take credit?”
“No credit,” the cocky young man smirks. “Only cash, and I know you got enough.”
“I have my debit,” she says anxiously “I can pay with that.” Images of herself in the lovely dress continue to surface in her thoughts, and she cries out before he responds, “please, I can pay, I promise.” Slyly he chuckles at her, and a coldness develops in his dark eyes; chills run up Megan’s body, and she shivers slightly. “That old man back there, he will not let me buy his dress.”
“You don’t need him, I told you I would sell you the dress,” He says grinning at the girl. “His price is too much; I got a deal for you.”
“Wonderful, how much then. Just let me know,” Megan cries happily.
“Give me your debit card, I will take the fifteen hundred in your account and the two-grand cash you carry for your boss,” the young man says swiftly handing her the dress.
“How do you know how much I have?” she asks. The young, self-assured man knows what's left in her account, and he knows about the money she has belonging to Mr. Crowne; Megan peers inquisitively at him.
The young man shrugs his shoulders, winks knowingly at her, and states, “let’s just say I am psychic darling.”
Megan caresses the silky material with her fingers; the dress is perfect; her desires are choking out her common sense, Megan gives the young man her debit card and the cash. She knows better; Mr. Crowne will be furious if she does not return with his mistress’s gift. Megan won’t have money for her bills; however, she will worry about the consequences later. She can tell her boss she lost the money, and of course, her parents can always help her with her rent. The young man grins at her as he empties her account.
The Tattered Dress
The next day, bursting with excitement over her new purchase, Megan wears her beautiful dress. The garment’s fit flaunts her lovely shape, its snug bust line curves around her plump perky breasts, and its silky bottom drapes softly across her rounded bum. The rainbow hues in the material heighten the shape and allure of her long brown legs; she feels beautiful. As she strolls happily to her desk, she shows off her new dress making sure to stop and chat with the other girls along the way about her rare find. Before Megan can sit down, Mr. Crowne calls her into his office, and she notices a lustful leer growing upon his face.
“That’s a new dress? You are beautiful today Megan I want to tell you,” Mr. Crowne says to her. The white dress she has on today makes her very sexy, and his judgmental uptight secretary seems to have vanished overnight.
“Thank you, Mr. Crowne,” Megan replies noticing that he is glaring lecherously at her. As she speaks, she watches him stand up and begins approaching her. “I lost the money yesterday, so I could not get the gift. You were not here when I returned so I could not tell you. I promise I will pay you back when I can,” Megan tearfully pleads.
Other methods of payment on his mind, the two-grand missing for his mistress’s gift is little importance to Mr. Crowne; he glares ravenously at Megan. “Damn that white dress is making you look too lovely; nicer than I have ever seen,” he comments. His loins growing weak, a yearning to touch her develops within him, and gently he starts caressing the curve of her shoulder, rubbing his fingers across the soft material.
“I am sorry Mr. Crowne, you can take the money out of my paycheck.” His stroking her shoulder unsettling Megan, she backs away from him.
“No, no, these things happen. Its only money and you have been my secretary to long for us to let that come between us.” Mr. Crowne moves closer to her and runs his hand down her back until he reaches her bottom. “Let’s make a deal,” he grins, “Maybe we can go to lunch sometimes, and you don’t have to pay me back.” Megan glares at him; her brown eyes fill with tears. “Come on Megan relax, it's natural. We can start with lunch, and you know see what happens from there.” He winks at her and continues caressing her bum. “Of course, my treat,” he grins, steps closer to her, snuggles his face into her neck, and inhales her spicy perfume. “You smell nice too.”
The money is gone; she stole it, and she has no extra to pay him back because her paychecks are already short. No dummy, Megan knows that food is the last thing on Mr. Crowne’s mind. “Lunch will be fine,” Megan replies trying to keep back her tears.
A couple of days later, unable to pay her bills Megan begs her parents for rent money and daycare expenses. After having to hear a three-day lecture about her irresponsibility and how social services will take Rodney from her, finally, her parents agree to give her the money. This cash, only a small reprieve for her, Megan decides she will visit her parents daily to make sure that Rodney eats since she has no money left to buy food.
Weeks later, before wearing the lovely dress again, Megan decides to wash the gorgeous garment; wanting to keep up it beautiful she follows its washing instructions correctly. “Hand wash in lukewarm water.” Carefully hand washing the silky fabric she lays it out neatly to dry, but to her surprise, the next morning the lovely garment is gone, and only shreds of tattered white satiny material remain. Megan fumbles with the shreds of fabric, there is no resemblance of the dress left in the pieces of material. She tries to find the young man who sold her the dress, but she cannot locate him, and the dark corridor off the food court is no longer there; this makes her question her sanity as well.
Weeks later after returning from her one of her rendezvouses with Mr. Crowne, sitting at her desk, Megan considers her misfortune. “Its cost is beyond any that you can pay,” the words of the old man arise in her thoughts. She only wore the dress once and in its current tattered state, she will never wear it again. “Yes, it was too expensive,” she mumbles quietly to herself.
“Megan, come in here for a moment,” Mr. Crowne’s voice rings out over the phone intercom.
“Sure Mr. Crowne, I will be right there.” Her dignity and self-respect tainted, she is now her boss’s mistress, a terrible parent in her parents’ opinion, and all her bills are past due. Megan wept.
Over the years Megan ages, her son grows up and moves away with his family, and one day, in retirement, she sits quietly contemplating her life. Megan remembers the beautiful knock-off dress, the price she paid for it, and the lessons she learned. The old man and the authentic dress still haunt her; she decides to go to the mall.
Her tastes in clothing maturing, no longer does the flashy, overpriced window dressings tempt her; Megan walks through the mall heading for her favorite dress shop, “Tracy’s Boutique,” who has clothing for the older refined woman. As she approaches the food court, an eerie feeling of being alone once again comes upon her, and she sees a familiar dim hallway to her left.
“Under construction,” the red hand-written lettering is still present. Also, just as before, a bright light spilling out from an opening further down the hallway provides just enough light for Megan to see down the dark corridor.
Megan excitedly walks toward the light; she sees the old merchant standing inside the opening; he smiles at her and beckons her into the store. Over fifty years later, the old man has not aged; however, this time Megan can see his all-knowing caring eyes. Seconds later, the old man holds up the stunning simple white dress which she saw so many years earlier. The dress is still beautiful, and although Megan doubts its fit will be as perfect as it was when she was younger, she still desires to own it. This time though, she will not pay more than her budget, one hundred dollars.
“I am so happy you came back to see me.” The old merchant gently pushes the beautiful dress towards her. “I waited for you.”
The rainbow of hues emanating from the gorgeous white fabric is still mesmerizing to her, but before taking the dress, Megan says, “thank you, but I don’t have a lot of money. I’m retired now you know.”
“You can afford my dress now,” the old man remarks. “Many years have passed since we met and you have learned many lessons.”
A warmth coming from the old man reaches out to Megan, and she smiles as unexplained feeling of peace grows within her. “Well I purchased this dress before, and it could not take one washing before tearing up,” she smirks softly. Unsure why, but she tells the old merchant the story of the tattered dress.
“That was not my dress,” he comments.
“Yes, I know, but it looked the same…” Megan stops talking. Like a knockoff designer purse, she knows now that the clothing she bought so many years ago was not the same dress she is gazing at now. Older and wiser now, she notes it was a poor imitation of the lovely garment, and she wonders why she did not see it then.
“And now you have learned, there are no shortcuts.”
“Yes, I guess so,” Megan replies laughing because she does understand what the old man is saying.
In her youth, she could never love or appreciate the true beauty of the dress; she only knew it would make her feel sexy and attractive. She wore the knock off once and honestly for the short time she owned it, the garment accomplished what she wanted. Nevertheless, it changed who she was in many ways, and she paid the greatest price for it; she sold her soul. Now older, she desired the same dress, but this time she is ready to own it because of its real beauty and rareness, not for how it will make her feel or look. Today, she can own the dress and not have it own her.
“Now give me your debit,” the old merchant says smiling at her.
“How much?” Megan asks.
“Trust me,” he says.
The warmth and kindness coming from the old merchant are calming, releasing her tensions, and mistrust. Megan senses no deceit in him, she hands him her debit card, and watches the old man withdraw one dollar from her account, then offer her the dress. Megan steps into the change room, puts the dress on, and leaves the old man in the empty hollow. She walks out of the mall feeling not only beautiful, but blessed, and special.