Dress Memory19

In search of lost time

This is the only dress that I had to have so badly I put it on lay-by. I paid it off just in time to wear it at my 29th birthday and then I flew, fled to India a week later.

I arrived at my brother’s place at the start of the monsoon, when we had to wade through knee-high water to reach the rickshaws from our front door. We drank lassis at the German Bakery and at sunset we sat on the balcony sipping Bombay Sapphire, watching the sky get crushed into a syrupy cassis.

Then my brother went away for summer and I was left on my own. I read three volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu and cooked up magnificent curries with chapattis and raita. In the late afternoon, as eagles outside stitched up the day with soaring needlework, I sat in the rocking chair and started to mend my own memories like an old woman. I tore them up and sewed them into a better fit. I glamorised the past and fantasised about the bright future—everything would be so different when I got back.

The humidity got right down into my bones, sucked me dry. I closed the doors, turned on the air-conditioning, shut the noise of the world out. Turned the stereo up and screamed along to the songs. The sound of my voice was all I had so I listened to it.

I got sentimental. The familiar sad yap, the nip at my ankles had followed me there—I didn’t know how to make it scram. My mind kept going back to this dress, my war bride. I found a tailor’s shop on Mahatma Gandhi Road, where croaky sewing machine motors barked in unison, and I asked to have three colourful copies of the dress made, exactly like the old one. Each one came back gorgeous, perfect.

By the time I returned to Australia they were already falling apart. I threw this original dress back over my head and tried to wriggle into it, but of course I couldn’t do the zip up; it didn’t fit anymore. I blamed the chapattis and raita.

Not long after, a bomb exploded in the German Bakery and killed seventeen people. I heard the news over Facebook—my brother had been sitting a hundred metres away at the time but he was safe.

I closed my computer, pushed back my chair and stared down at my feet, blinking away tears. The brand name ‘Singer’ was woven into the base of the old sewing machine table I used as a desk. Below it, the pedal that makes the machine move, and then further down on the ground I could feel that thing was still at my heels: my past, my pet.

I gave it a little pat and told it to stay.


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Image by Lee Sandwith © 2011