Writer’s Note: This piece was inspired by the poem ‘What Do Women Want’ by Kim Addonizio. I was in a poetry workshop, and when the instructor read this poem, I wrote down the first line, ‘I want a red dress.’ Later in the workshop, she asked us to pick a color and write a list of unlikely pairings. Maybe because I had written down that line earlier, I came up with ‘as red as a scream.’ I filed it away with my list of words and phrases I like and that someday I will try to shoehorn into a poem or a story. Then I forgot about it.
Months later, I was flicking through my notebook and saw those two lines. My son had just had his Prom, so that was at the forefront of my mind. I have three sons and one daughter, and I was surprised at how much easier it is getting a son sorted for Prom than a daughter. A tux is pretty straightforward, but finding THE dress for my daughter took hours, and at times there was definitely some tension. So that was my way into the story. The mother in the piece is more like my Nana than my mom; I can imagine her rolling her eyes and saying red dresses are only for hussies. Thank goodness times have changed!
On the radio, some woman reads a poem about what women want. It’s a red dress, and I know she’s right. I look at Ma and say, “Do you remember my Prom dress?” Ma nods. She had picked a demure, pink dress when I wanted one as red as a scream. I tried it on, and I could feel my bones balk. The factory-made lace was as unyielding as my Catholic upbringing, but at least the puffed sleeves emphasized the tinyness of my waist. Finally, Ma says, “I swear I could hear your future giggling underneath that voluptuous skirt.”
Ma tuts as I pour what-ifs from the gin bottle, and my ghosts drift around the bedroom like a miasma. Suddenly, they start to wail. You see, my ghosts have formed a celestial band called ‘The Ex-Lovers,’ and they love nothing better than to perform for an audience of one.
My young husband sings about everything he lost when his Friday night slammed into a tree. He left me with a mortgage I couldn’t pay, so I had to move back in with Ma. Then there’s Hank, who helped out around the farm and put down Jip, my dog when a cow kicked him in the head. He’s playing a double drum retort about how he lost Jesus and his life when he joined the army. And, finally, there’s Joe, as pushy as fertilizer, playing bass. I thought I could hold my breath and let him take care of me. But he drank and lost himself completely.
On the radio, Muddy Waters is singing, so I switch stations. The band groans, but I say, “Y’all know I’ve never liked the blues.” Ma snaps, “The blues are about things you’ve lost. You move on too fast to stop and count your losses.” She’s wrong, but there’s no point arguing. I open my wardrobe. “Hell yes,” I say, taking out a new red dress. Mickey will be waiting for me in the café, nursing one cup of coffee with his hat pulled low over his eyes.
Jip barks his approval as I shimmy the scarlet satin over my hips. As I roll on my stockings, Ma rolls her eyes. She tries to pick up the broom to sweep me out of her house like she has tried a thousand times since she died.
Adele Evershed was born in Wales and has lived in Hong Kong and Singapore before settling in Connecticut. Her prose and poetry have been published in over a hundred journals and anthologies such as Every Day Fiction, Grey Sparrow Journal, High Shelf, Reflex Fiction, Shot Glass Journal, and Hole in the Head Review. Adele has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net for poetry, and the Staunch Prize for flash fiction. Finishing Line Press will publish her first poetry chapbook, Turbulence in Small Places this year; and her upcoming novella-in-flash, Wannabe, will be published by Alien Buddha Press. Find her on Twitter @AdLibby1.