Iowa Writes

MELISSA STANGER
Jessicas (Part 2 of 3)


        "Mom and I are going shopping today," Jessica announces from the doorway and I jump in my seat. She must have slithered in when I wasn't paying attention.
        Oh, I say.
        Jessica grabs her own magazine before she belly flops onto her bed, kicking aside a bunch of throw pillows and old stuffed animals in the process. It's the most recent issue of some gossip magazine that girls our age like to skim through. She reads down the bridge of her nose and sniffs every couple of pages. Jessica holds up the magazine in my direction. On the page is a clingy red dress with a low back that one of her favorite celebrities is wearing while gazing over her shoulder in a way that's supposed to be demure but comes off as wanton.
        "I'm going to buy a dress like this," she says. "Isn't it pretty?"
        She looks at me and I see myself.
        It's pretty, I tell her.
        Jessica looks at the page again and sniffs.
        "I think I'd look really good in that," she says, resting her chin on the glossy pages.
        She would look good in a dress like that. I picture her wearing it to a party and smiling a lot, a timid cup of spiked punch in her manicured hands hiding her simmering anxiety over talking to boys older than she is. I wonder if I could pull off a dress like that, but I don't think I could. I close my magazine and just sit there, hugging the only pillow to my chest. Jessica continues thumbing through the pages, flipping back to the dress every half-minute. She pricks up her ears and tosses some hair over her shoulder.
        "If you're staring at me," she says, lifting her head slowly towards me, "then stop it."
        I look away.
        "I'm not staring," our mother says.
        Jessica and I both look up at her. She's peeking her head around the door frame, one leather-gloved hand gripping the side of it and the other wrapped around her sunglasses. She smiles at Jessica.
        "Ready to go, Jess?" she asks.
        Jessica's coat is hung over the bed knob. She turns up the corners of her mouth at me before she grabs the puffy layer and swings it around her back, sliding her arms into the sleeves.
        "Absolutely," she says.
        Our mother looks wanly toward my bed, looks at Jessica, and smiles.

        "Mom and I are going shopping today," Jessica announces from the doorway and I jump in my seat. She must have slithered in when I wasn't paying attention.
        Oh, I say.
        Jessica grabs her own magazine before she belly flops onto her bed, kicking aside a bunch of throw pillows and old stuffed animals in the process. It's the most recent issue of some gossip magazine that girls our age like to skim through. She reads down the bridge of her nose and sniffs every couple of pages. Jessica holds up the magazine in my direction. On the page is a clingy red dress with a low back that one of her favorite celebrities is wearing while gazing over her shoulder in a way that's supposed to be demure but comes off as wanton.
        "I'm going to buy a dress like this," she says. "Isn't it pretty?"
        She looks at me and I see myself.
        It's pretty, I tell her.
        Jessica looks at the page again and sniffs.
        "I think I'd look really good in that," she says, resting her chin on the glossy pages.
        She would look good in a dress like that. I picture her wearing it to a party and smiling a lot, a timid cup of spiked punch in her manicured hands hiding her simmering anxiety over talking to boys older than she is. I wonder if I could pull off a dress like that, but I don't think I could. I close my magazine and just sit there, hugging the only pillow to my chest. Jessica continues thumbing through the pages, flipping back to the dress every half-minute. She pricks up her ears and tosses some hair over her shoulder.
        "If you're staring at me," she says, lifting her head slowly towards me, "then stop it."
        I look away.
        "I'm not staring," our mother says.
        Jessica and I both look up at her. She's peeking her head around the door frame, one leather-gloved hand gripping the side of it and the other wrapped around her sunglasses. She smiles at Jessica.
        "Ready to go, Jess?" she asks.
        Jessica's coat is hung over the bed knob. She turns up the corners of her mouth at me before she grabs the puffy layer and swings it around her back, sliding her arms into the sleeves.
        "Absolutely," she says.
        Our mother looks wanly toward my bed, looks at Jessica, and smiles.
        The magazine is still open to the picture of the red dress, facing sleepily up at the ceiling. I bite my lip, considering it, and hurry after our mother and Jessica, who have started down the stairs. I follow them out the door and into the car. There's mist on the windshield. Jessica is in the passenger's seat, fiddling with the radio until she finds something she likes.
        "Ready?" our mother asks, adjusting the mirror.
        "Ready," I say.
        Jessica turns around and glares at me.
        Our mother looks at Jessica, waiting.
        "Ready," Jessica says.
        Our mother backs the car out of the driveway and turns down the road. There's only a smattering of cars on the road and a handful of ambitious joggers even though it's that part of March where people pretend it's spring but it's still really winter. Our mother hums along with the radio. There's no traffic, so she's in a good mood. She used to sing on long car trips, but one time I told her to cut it out because I said she had an ugly singing voice. Or maybe it was Jessica who said it, but now she only hums, or sometimes whistles, when she feels like it.
        "Your birthday is coming up soon," our mother says. "Do you know what you want yet?"
        Our birthday. It's seven days away, I think. Seven days, six hours, and 14 minutes.
        Jessica grins.
        "Yeah," she says, drawing out the word, feeling it in her mouth. "I saw this dress in my magazine, and I thought maybe, if we find it, I could wear it next weekend at my party? Do you think they'd have it at Bloomingdales? Or Macy's?"
        "Why don't we go take a look?"
        Our mother arrives at the shopping complex to a circulating ecosystem of cars all vying for the same thing. She rabbits the car around other people pulling in and out of spots and remorseful pedestrians toting their impulse buys. She mutters something about someone's parking job just before an SUV makes its exit and she beelines for the space. The car just barely squeezes in without scraping its neighbors. We all have to suck in our guts and squeeze our way to the heart of the strip mall. I follow Jessica and our mother as they take a jaunty walk toward Macy's.
        Jessica turns her head and sees me behind them. She opens her mouth.
        "Don't you —"
        "The car!" Our mother fumbles for her key and beeps it to lock the doors. "Thanks, Jess."
        Jessica shuts her mouth again and squints at me, quickening her pace. At the door a woman in a tailored suit rushes forward, burning with the desire to sell. She has her hands clasped behind her back and her hair up in a sharp bun. Her eyes seem to be assessing how much money she can convince us to spend.
        "Welcome to Macy's," the woman says. "What can I help you find today? I'm Victoria."
        "Hello," says Jessica with her smile.
        Victoria is captivated instantly. I feel a bit sick and wander away, browsing through racks of colorful sweaters as I go. Victoria's lips part slightly and looks startled when our mother addresses her.
        "My daughter's looking for a dress for her birthday. Right, Jess?"
        She puts her hand on Jessica's shoulder.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MELISSA STANGER

Melissa Stanger attended the Iowa Young Writers' Studio in 2006, which planted the seed for a lifelong dedication to writing.  A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she currently works as the associate editor of lists and rankings at Business Insider. She also writes about and has a passion for craft beer, and is a homebrewer in her spare time.

Jessicas will appear on the Daily Palette in three parts.  If you missed Part 1, be sure to check out yesterday's page.

This page was first displayed
on June 10, 2015

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