Dress Memory24

Want to buy some illusions

It’s a long dress, almost to the ground. It’s my longing dress, the one I’ve been saving up, holding on to, waiting for the right occasion. Such romantic illusions. The tag is still attached.

Time makes things either more valuable, or just moth-eaten. I can never tell which way it’s gonna go.

I bought this at a vintage shop in Berlin in 2007 with my oldest friend, Andrea, who I met when we were both about five and we did ballet classes together. I hated those classes and quickly quit, but she never stopped.

Tiny white speckles, a constellation of memories.

Really early on, when she was still a coryphée, I saw her dance the role of one of the cygnets in Swan Lake—their glow, their bounciness, their synchronised head movements made me beam. I was so proud of her it brought tears to my eyes. It made me wonder where else one could possibly go after being a young swan?

(The obvious answer is a grown-up swan, but I didn’t really think of that then.)

Inside the shop in the dark afternoon, sputters of German conversation scattered about like little bonfires and warmed up the room. I tried on several way-too-expensive dresses in front of the only mirror.

I put this one on and turned this way and that, reaching high, my neck stretching like a duckling to discover the fit. I didn’t think it worked. Then I heard the muffled clip-clop of boots on the cobblestones outside, vivid and sharp as a ballerina’s footwork on stage when the music goes soft.

I looked up. Standing there outside the window was a woman and her little daughter, plaits hanging, grinning.

Their glow, their bounciness, their synchronised head movements made me beam. They were nodding and giving me their enthusiastic thumbs-up. What a shock every time you realise there actually is an audience out there in the dark.

I took the dress off and put it on credit card.

On those European streets, it feels like footsteps and years reverberate louder than anywhere else. Andrea and I clasped onto each other’s arms in the cold like cygnets; the dress bag slung over my shoulder like a wing. I would dread the arrival of the credit card bill, but at least we were still bouncing, glowing: synchronised movements after so many years.

Nothing lasts really, but there are things I hope to hold onto as long as possible, almost to the ground.


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Image by Lee Sandwith © 2011