I remember it hurt. Looking at her hurt.
She looked at me through the clouded glasses as she tried to stop the tears from falling on the expensive satin of the dress. She was a vision in midnight blue. Her strawberry blonde curls were neatly pinned up in a bun. But one stubborn lock fell on her left cheek. Her nose resembled a ripe tomato on her pale face.
“Can I help in some way?” I asked as a worried friend.
“Just make sure nothing happens to this dress when I am gone. You will take care of it won’t you?” she asked in between sobs.
The well cut blue satin on her had been her mother’s and her grandmother’s before that. I had heard of jewelry and china being passed on through generations. But a dress was a peculiar concept to me.
“Yes I will. You can leave that worry to me.”
“Thank you deary,” she said with a grateful smile.
Rose had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. The good doctor had given her a month at most and had suggested she get her affairs in place before she got admitted one last time.
“You know Soaf, this baby has seen all sorts of days. My granny got her as a wedding gift from her husband back in the 1900s. It was the first of its kind. A daring design and perhaps the first above-the-knee dress my gran owned. Theirs was a love marriage, you see. Grandad was a jew and she a catholic. They ran away to Switzerland and got married. They didn’t ever hear from their folks since.”
“When my mom came out of the closet in the late 1900s, my gran passed it on to her. She said, ‘you wear this to your first date, you understand that? And take good care of it. It has seen me through a lot of troubles.’”
“Five years back, my mom passed this on to me when I got pregnant with Jamie. She said to me, ‘wear it when you get him home from the hospital and make sure you give it to Jamie when he gets old enough.’ But Soaf, Jamie is gone and I don’t have much long. Now you need to take care of this kid.”
I had tears in my eyes as she slowly got up from her arm chair, took the dress off and held it to her ear as if to hear its heartbeat. She handed it to me and got into a spare set of pajamas she had brought along with her.
“Do not ever wash it. It has the smell of all the women who possessed it. It will give you strength and comfort all at once.”
She left shortly after, never to return again.
Ten years later…..
The bed has been slept on. I can still smell him in the sheets. The toothbrush still decorates the bathroom sink and his razor calls for him, but in vain. My head throbs. I haven’t slept in two days.
Disaster struck in the form of a phone call from Pam, his secretary.
“Soaf, I am so sorry. Mike couldn’t get out in time. The building had collapsed by the time the rescue team could reach. I am so sorry…”
Two aircrafts had struck the twin towers on a bright sunny day in September. That was the end of it. It didn’t matter who your God was now. All that mattered was that you were alive.
Little Natalie came into the room with eyes brimming with tears and held me tight. We sat entangled for almost a full afternoon.
“Why ma? Why dad?”
I couldn’t answer her question. It would have been a lot easier if Mike had been an alcoholic or a rapist or a fraud. I could have blamed it on fate. But my boyfriend was a good man and prayed to his God religiously. What could I answer my daughter? Should I tell her that bad triumphs over good these days and that our Gods are temporarily unavailable.
We have a funeral for him today.
I put on the satin and bend my face down to smell it. It smells of all those brave women who wore it before me. I can’t let them down. I have to be strong for my Natalie.
One day, not too far from now, I shall hand it over to my brave daughter. She will wear it when she needs strength and the midnight blue will be a witness to the changing times and difficulties faced by our sex.