Iowa Writes

MELISSA STANGER
Jessicas (Part 3 of 3)


        I come to a cashmere sweater and gently massage it between my fingers. It reminds me of the velvet in our mother's jewelry box — that same exquisite jolt of the nerves I get that runs through to my belly, like a warming. Like drinking a hot cup of tea, or cocooning in a blanket. I want to feel like that forever.
        "Stop touching everything," Jessica whispers in my direction.
        Our mother recoils her hand in an instant.
        "Sorry," she says. I can tell she's offended, but she apologizes to Victoria with her eyes, as if to say, teenagers, right?
        Victoria looks in my direction and clears her throat, her eyebrows knitted. "Is there —"
        "No," Jessica says. "I mean — yes . . ." She looks at Victoria, and says, "it's a red dress," and describes the picture from her magazine.
        "I think I know it," Victoria says and winks in solidarity, like she understands who Jessica is but she doesn't at all; it's a desperate gesture that comes off in a way that says she's trying way too hard. She leads Jessica and our mother away through a labyrinth of garments.
        I linger in the cashmere a little longer before chasing them down the aisles. We all immediately spot the dress that Jessica has had her eye on. Jessica clasps her hands together and floats toward it. I come around the other side to get a better look so that Jessica and I are each standing on opposite ends of the dress. Admittedly, it's a gorgeous and sinful dress, and completely right for her. I feel my heart lurch and grow heavy.
        "It's even prettier in person," Jessica says.
        She runs her fingers along the silky trim. Rhinestones adorn the top of the bust, with thin straps and a gathered waist that teases a wide-open back. I reach out to see what it feels like but Jessica snatches it off the hanger.
        "It's for my birthday," she hisses, then, "this is it!" She smiles at our mother.
        "Oh good, you found it," our mother says, but she sounds useless. Jessica turns to Victoria.
        "Can I try it on?"
        Victoria seems relieved to be needed.
        "Of course," she says. "I'll take you to the fitting room."

        I come to a cashmere sweater and gently massage it between my fingers. It reminds me of the velvet in our mother's jewelry box — that same exquisite jolt of the nerves I get that runs through to my belly, like a warming. Like drinking a hot cup of tea, or cocooning in a blanket. I want to feel like that forever.
        "Stop touching everything," Jessica whispers in my direction.
        Our mother recoils her hand in an instant.
        "Sorry," she says. I can tell she's offended, but she apologizes to Victoria with her eyes, as if to say, teenagers, right?
        Victoria looks in my direction and clears her throat, her eyebrows knitted. "Is there —"
        "No," Jessica says. "I mean — yes . . ." She looks at Victoria, and says, "it's a red dress," and describes the picture from her magazine.
        "I think I know it," Victoria says and winks in solidarity, like she understands who Jessica is but she doesn't at all; it's a desperate gesture that comes off in a way that says she's trying way too hard. She leads Jessica and our mother away through a labyrinth of garments.
        I linger in the cashmere a little longer before chasing them down the aisles. We all immediately spot the dress that Jessica has had her eye on. Jessica clasps her hands together and floats toward it. I come around the other side to get a better look so that Jessica and I are each standing on opposite ends of the dress. Admittedly, it's a gorgeous and sinful dress, and completely right for her. I feel my heart lurch and grow heavy.
        "It's even prettier in person," Jessica says.
        She runs her fingers along the silky trim. Rhinestones adorn the top of the bust, with thin straps and a gathered waist that teases a wide-open back. I reach out to see what it feels like but Jessica snatches it off the hanger.
        "It's for my birthday," she hisses, then, "this is it!" She smiles at our mother.
        "Oh good, you found it," our mother says, but she sounds useless. Jessica turns to Victoria.
        "Can I try it on?"
        Victoria seems relieved to be needed.
        "Of course," she says. "I'll take you to the fitting room."
        The fitting room, for some reason, is empty. It's the size of a large walk-in closet with mirrors on every side and little doors that each close off a stall for women to either admire or admonish themselves. Jessica steps towards the nearest one.
        "We'll wait out here," our mother says. "If you need any help —"
        "I know," Jessica says, casting the dress across the crook of her arm and reaching for the doorknob. "I'll be right out."
        I follow Jessica into the stall just before she latches the door.
        Before she can say anything I cut in, "Can't I just see what it looks like on you? It's our birthday."
        "No way," she says in a low voice, but when I don't move she lets out a hard, short breath and says, "fine — just give me some room to undress, okay? You're crowding me."
        I back into the corner and Jessica strips down to her underwear. Her body is winter pale, which makes the dress seem even bolder on her when she slips it on. She slides the straps into place on her shoulders and zips up the back, admiring herself in the mirror. She looks like a rose.
        "You're very beautiful," I say.
        Jessica smiles at her reflection.
        "Thank you," she says.
        Jessica unlatches the door and steps out to where our mother and Victoria are waiting. I hang back in the doorway. Victoria has pulled out a step stool in front of the 360-degree mirror and Jessica steps up and turns. The hem hits her just above the knee, and the back, just like it was in the picture, droops low and lustily down her spine. Victoria says "mmm" and nods her head and our mother sighs.
        "Jess," our mother says, "it's amazing. I wish I could pull something like that off. What do you think? Do you like it?"
        Jessica puts a finger to her lip, doing a poor job of hiding a smile.
        "Your daughter is gorgeous," Victoria says. "Are all of your children this beautiful?"
        I step out of the stall. Jessica looks stricken, her eyes large but downcast. They flicker briefly to our mother, who gives a paranoid glance over each shoulder. Jessica returns her gaze to the mirrors and our mother gives half a laugh, reaching out her arm and guiding Victoria's elbow back out toward the floor.
        "I'm a lucky mom," she says in a too-high pitch and ahems. "So what kind of shoes would you recommend with a dress like that?" And then she starts whispering to her out of earshot with one last look over her shoulder, until they disappear from the dressing room entirely.
        Jessica is still fixated on her reflection, but now I know she knows I'm there and she still doesn't say anything. She pulls her hair back loosely with one hand and turns three quarters one way, then the other way, lets her hair drop again, makes a pouty face.
        "I think they're talking about us," I say.
        She doesn't say anything, but lets one strap fall from her shoulder.
        "Can I try it on?" I ask.
        "Yeah, sure," she huffs, rolling her eyes. She steps down from the stool with a little prance.
        "Please? It'll be my birthday too."
        "No."
        "What about after you change out?" I ask. "Before they check us out at the register. I'll be quick."
        "I don't want it after you've put it on."
        "So we'll take a new one off the rack and get that one. That way it's really new. No one's worn it at all."
        Jessica is wearing down; she rolls her neck and rubs the bridge of her nose.
        "Fine. Before they get back," she says through her teeth. She unzips the dress and lets it pool around her ankles. In just her bra and panties, she steps one leg out of it so she can pick it up with the opposite foot and lift it at me.
        "Here."
        I take it and step in, pulling the straps on first before zipping it up and climbing onto the step stool. I hesitate half a second before looking up at the mirror. I see Jessica. I see me. She comes up close behind me, her body tense like she's worried I'll fall off the stool. I adjust the straps and she flinches.
        "Be careful with it," she says.
        There's a dry-leafed rustling and Victoria reappears at the mouth of the dressing room, our mother right behind her. Her eyes are pink, her makeup disturbed, but her voice doesn't waver.
        "Jess?" she says.
        Jessica looks at her, shifting her stiff shoulders in her direction. I forgot that she's wearing next to nothing, and I think she has too.
        "Jess," she says, "is everything okay with the dress?"
        Jessica looks at me, and I look at our mother, and I can't tell where she's looking. Jessica is still standing so close, she's nearly pressed up against me. Our mother's gaze is vague and unfocused. She's looking at Jessica. She's looking at the dress. She's looking at me.
        "The dress . . ."
        But it isn't Jessica saying it. It's me.
        I spin around once.
        "I love it," I say. I smile, and it's dazzling.
        Our mother relaxes, but she seems to age 20 years. Victoria looks ill and mumbles something about the cash register and leaves us there in the dressing room.
        Our mother looks at me in the mirror and grins.
        "It's yours then," she says.
        "You look beautiful," she says.
        "Thank you," I say.

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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 appeared on the Daily Palette in three parts.

You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

This page was first displayed
on June 11, 2015

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