Laura Widener is a wife, mother, and coffee addict living in rural Georgia. She completed her MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University. Her forthcoming work will be found in Riding Light, and her previous work can be found in TWJ Magazine, Morpheus Tales, and more. Visit her blog at www.incessantpen.wordpress.com. She won an honorable mention in the 2016 Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize with her piece, “Mother’s Dresses.” Check our web site in January for details about the 2017 contest at www.spiderroadpress.com.
On two days of each year, I aim for the corner of the closet and sift through dresses of my dead mother. There are five of them; saved from the donated garbage bags plump with cloth representations of a life forgotten by the world. The dresses are hideous by today’s fashion standards. But then again, I never claimed to be a fashionista and neither did my mother. She had a knack for rather loud patterns, mostly floral. The fabric hugged her ample body, and aside from a jumbo hair bow and clown-like eyeshadow, she resembled a sofa, although I never dared to say it. Heat and chemicals tamed her thin hair into a mane of rigid curls and waves. Her very essence emanated big and loud things. Sometimes I still hear the tink tink of her bracelets clanging together during her animated speech. Or the smell of department store perfume applied in a cloud
so heavy that it made my eyes water.
The five dresses hang limply on plastic hangers. Three are floral, although not even pale pink flowers or hunter green leaves can breathe life back into the cotton. One is faded green with camel-colored crosses. The last is a palette of browns, grays and greens with a continuous pattern depicting horses and their riders galloping and jumping fences. Red coats of the riders is the only splash of color distinguishing this dress from sewage. It shouldn’t be an image on a wall, let alone one woven into fabric and hanging on a human body. Yet here it is in my possession, among a hanging textile shrine to my mother.
I remember her wearing these five dresses the most out of her nonsensical wardrobe. Her style wasn’t any different between the grocery store and a school meeting. The venue didn’t matter; her mood did. She owned pants and skirts, stretchy fabrics of blacks and plums; t-shirts from family vacation spots; and blouses of a wide array of patterns, all with deep necks that showed just a glimpse of cleavage. As I stuffed them into bags, the stale smell of the funeral home barely gone from my nose, I knew I wouldn’t miss them.
But I couldn’t let the five dresses go.
Those five dresses represented the best of my mother. Because on the days that she slipped them over an imperfect body and dolled herself up for no particular reason, those were the days she truly lived. She pushed her chin up, hoops dangling from her ears, seeming to prance as she moved, and confidence seeping from every inch of her. During those days, she eased off the role of mother and into the territory of best friend. We spoke without consequence, indulged without
care, and lived absorbed by the present.
After 25 years in my mother’s possession and now 10 years in mine, I imagine the vibrancy of the fabrics in the dresses’ youth. Despite its ugliness, I slip the horse dress off the hanger and onto my body in a slow and deliberate manner, as if it were my most prized possession. I don’t tease my hair or drown myself in makeup and perfume. I don’t pretend to be her. Instead, I let the fabric hug me just as it hugged her, reveling in the closest thing I have to her touch. I do this as I make the long walk from my empty apartment to her headstone, under the judgmental stares of passersby, and I wonder if she ignored them as easily as I do.