Monday, February 13, 2017

The Dress by Monica Kagan

In Cape Town, South Africa, Sylvana visits a second hand shop that was once her mother's favourite, and must face up to her grief.

"How lovely to see you Sylvana. It has been so long."

Tatiana was perched behind the ancient cash register in the second hand shop "Marvellous Memories" in vibrant Long Street, Cape Town, stroking her black Labrador.

"I've been meaning to pop in but..."

Sylvana spotted the shimmering vintage blue dress. She pressed it against her cheek enjoying the soft, smooth sensation of the fabric against her skin.

"Ah yes Chanel, your mother's -"

"Favourite... I'd love to buy it."

Tatiana read the tag, attached to the dress.

"Unfortunately it is spoken for. A customer has reserved it."

Sylvana's shoulders sank.

"Oh well..."

"I'm so sorry my dear. Come. Have some tea and biscuits. We must catch up."

"What about your customers?"

"They know where to find me. If not, it was not meant to be."

A sliver of irritation sliced through her as Tatiana ushered her into the incense-scented tiny sitting room. Tatiana busied herself organising the teapot, strainer, sugar lumps. Endless books about the occult: reading tarot cards, healing crystals and the like thrown together in a higgledy piggledy fashion.

They sat drinking tea in mismatched cups. The birdlike woman scrutinised her as Sylvana bit into a shortbread biscuit. The fan in the corner did little to cool her; sweat droplets collected on her brow.

"My dear, I'm feeling strong vibrations from you... sadness..."

An image of Sylvana's mother sprang unbidden into her mind. She remembered the hospital; wind wailing through a crack in the window. Her mother's breathing, ragged, the oxygen mask. Near tears, she willed herself to regain composure.

"I'm sorry. Please."

She handed Sylvana some tissues.

"I'm fine. Thank you."

"Ah my dear burying your grief is very bad for you, body and soul. If you would let me, I can help you..."

"No thank you."

She looked askance at the lace cloth covered crystal orb taking pride of place in the centre of the wooden table.

"I can try to... see what awaits you..."

Sylvana leapt up, her blouse sticking to her back.

"I'm... I must go."

Her bag hooked onto the table cloth and to her horror the crystal ball tumbled to the ground. She lifted it up. There was a large crack in the glass.

"I'm so sorry..."

"Do not worry about it. Everything happens for a reason."

"I apologise. I'll replace it."



The black and white cat sauntered across the cream tiles, rubbing herself against Sylvana's ankles.

"Hello. Lily..."

Patted her silky coat. She surveyed the sea from her beachfront flat: tranquil and blue. Poured herself a glass of red wine and sank onto the sofa, curling her legs under her body. The muted colours of the sofa and cushions soothed her frayed nerves. A welcome relief from the chaos of colour in Tatiana's sitting room. She would have to replace that thing... In spite of what Tatiana said. She switched on her laptop and did some research for her upcoming article on the latest smart phones on the market. Her phone beeped.

A text from Tatiana. Colour tinged her cheeks. Within a few minutes she arrived in Long Street.

"You are in luck! The customer phoned to say that she's changed her mind."

Sylvana posed in front of the mirror, mentally adjusting the hem length.

"I can shorten the he" Tatiana said.

"That would be great. Thanks."

"I hope you don't mind, but I..."

"Yes?"

"I think... you need to find her."

"Who?"

"The previous owner of the dress."

"Why?"

"A feeling I have."

"Tatiana, you know I don't -"

"Yes, but in this case..."

"I really don't think so. When can I collect it?"

"A day or two."

"I'll bring you a new crystal ball then."



In her flat, she scanned the bookshelf, selected a crime novel by one of her favourite authors, and started reading. Her eyes drooped and she fell asleep on the couch with Lily, her late mom's cat, curled up on her lap.

She woke up, a trickle of drool tracing a path down her chin. An image of her mother, moments before death, her fingers drawn towards her chest, claw like, the single tear that slid down her left cheek. Sylvana fought the urge to weep, switched on the TV. Within half an hour she was anaesthetised, lost in the drama of the characters' lives. Another text; the dress was ready.

Tatiana led her into the back room. Her dog as always trotting at her side. Sylvana handed the new orb to the woman.

"Thank you."

She placed it onto the table with care. She handed Sylvana the dress and patted her treasured dog.

"Please sit down."

Sylvana sipped her tea.

"I found this... ring..." Tatiana said.

The saucer rattled as Sylvana put the cup down. "How strange. Where was it?

"In a crevice of a small inner pocket."

Tatiana read the engraving:

"I love you, Beth."

She gave the ring to Sylvana.

"I wonder who Beth is." Sylvana said as she inspected the ring.

"Perhaps this is a sign... to contact the owner." Tatiana bit into her butter biscuit.

Sylvana looked up.

"I doubt there's any hidden meaning, but I will try to return the ring."

Tatiana looked into the distance. She continued before Sylana could protest.

"I consulted the crystal. I saw... a radio... really old... the 1930s or 40s... and the number 6..."

"Tatiana, please stop. No more of this nonsense."

"Forgive an old lady."

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude, it's just..."

"Don't worry, my dear, I understand. Please have some more to drink."

Sylvana sipped her tea.

"I remember when mom and I came here. I was about 10. We explored the shop, the sunlight filtered in through the window warming the shop against the winter chill. The trinkets were like magical objects."

"I remember that day. Natalie showing you around the shop. Her enthusiasm was infectious," Tatiana said.

"It was one of the best days of my life."

"Natalie was a wonderful person."

"When I was 15, I had such a terrible argument with her. She wanted me to come to this shop with her. I refused, said this place sucked. That her love of second hand shops was pathetic. I told her I hated her."

"Everybody is difficult at that age. Don't beat yourself up."

"Yes, but it doesn't excuse my behaviour towards her as an adult. We had a falling out. Some stupid argument. We drifted apart. She tried a few times to make contact, but I was stubborn. Until she was diagnosed..."

"She loved you my dear. That's all that matters."

"I'll never forgive myself."

"Don't say that. You are only human. Everyone makes mistakes. I'll make you some more tea."

Tatiana picked up the cup containing cold, congealed tea. Sylvana wiped her eyes and took a sip of the fresh cup of tea.

"I've found something." Tatiana said.

She emerged carrying a small cardboard box.

"I'd forgotten that this accompanied the garment when it arrived. I didn't look inside it. I left it in the cupboard. Let's see if we can find anything helpful."

Tatiana carefully took out an ornament: a girl clad in 18th century clothes. A crocheted tea cosy. A few old coins...

Tatiana pulled out an old postcard and gave it to Sylvana. The picture was of the Arc De Triomphe in Paris.

Hi mom. I'm having a wonderful time. See you soon. Love you Beth.

Tatiana looked underneath the box. There was a frayed label with the name Mrs Antonov on it, but no contact number. The address was smudged.

"Let's see." Sylvana tried to read it.

"No. Can't make out anything."

"I'll phone around and see if I can find anything out." Tatiana said.



The next day Tatiana ushered Sylvana once again to the back room.

"I managed to get hold of Mr Antonov, her ex-husband. He gave me her landline number. She doesn't have a mobile phone. He said that she's something of a recluse. Seldom goes out, seldom sees anyone."

"Thank you."

"Please. One more thing and I will say no more on the subject."

Sylana relented.

"I saw... a tombstone. The date... 23, or no... 25th of June." Tatiana said.

A bolt of electricity shot through Sylvana's body.

"My mom... she died on the 25th of June."

She fought back the tears. She gripped her bag. Tatiana reached out to her.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't realise."

She drove home, her heart pumping beneath her ribcage. She wanted to get it over and done with. Decided to contact the old woman. The phone rang for some time.

"Hello? I'd like to speak to Mrs Antonov please."

She heard the click as the phone was slammed down.

A week later Sylvana arrived at the little shop. She needed to apologise for her abrupt exit.

"No, I owe you an apology. You asked me to stop and I did not listen."

"Thank you for finding the woman's address 21 Honeysuckle Lane. I'm going there now to try and see her and give her the ring, if she lets me in of course."

"Good luck." Tatiana said.

An hour's drive from Cape Town, Sylvana found the magnificence of the Franschhoek valley breathtaking. She inhaled the air redolent of the rich scent of honeysuckle reminding her of pleasant days spent there with her mother as a child.

The number 21 was displayed on the iron gate. She knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked again. A harried looking young woman appeared.

"Can I help you?"

Two toddlers. Screaming.

"Give me a second."

The young woman went inside. Sylvana heard her trying to calm the children down. Just as she reached the front door again, a cry rang out.

"Just one more sec," she said again and went back inside.

Carrying a toddler on each arm, she reappeared.

"How can I help you?"

"I'm looking for Mrs Antonov."

"Who?"

"Mrs Antonov."

"Uhmmm. No. That name isn't familiar."

Sylvana's heart did a tumble; she just needed to give back the ring and get on with her life. She turned around and was about to get into her car, when the woman called to her.

"I almost forgot, my brain's like porridge at the moment. There is a Mrs Antonov; she lives at number 12 I think."



She strode down the road. Noted the well-kept garden as she walked up the narrow pathway to the cottage. An old woman, outfit, hair and make-up flawless, opened the door.

"Mrs Antonov?"

"Yes."

Her voice held a deep resonance, a noticeable foreign accent.

"Please come in Miss Muccino."

"Sylvana, please. Thank you for seeing me."

She was struck by the elegance of the small lounge, another era, preserved: A piano in the corner, photographs of family members. A 1940s radio...

Mrs Antonov offered her tea and biscuits.

"I apologise for my inexcusable rudeness when you telephoned."

"No need to worry. It's fine." Sylvana held the fragile bone china teacup.

"My tailor found this." She offered the ring.

The old woman looked at the inscription and let out a cry.

"Oh God! Beth must have... She died just before my birthday on 28 June. She must have bought it for me."

A shiver raced down Sylvana's spine. June... 6th month.

Mrs Antonov's voice broke. The old woman held the ring with a kind of reverence. Tears streamed down her face.

"Beth, my child... The dress you are wearing... My daughter. It was her favourite. She... passed away many years ago. I felt it was time so I gave away the dress. Let go... somehow..."

Sylvana passed her a tissue.

"I'm so sorry for your loss."

"You are very kind. Thank you. Please call me Ivanka. I was going to buy the dress back again. I almost did, but I stopped myself."

She wiped her eyes, staining her cheeks with mascara.

"My Beth... Elizabeth... she died... On 25th June 1995. She was only 20. My husband and I were divorced a few months later. We couldn't..."

Goose bumps rippled across Sylvana's flesh. 25th... Was Tatiana right? Somehow? "May I ask how?"

"She... drowned. A terrible accident. Freak flood."

She reached out to Mrs Antonov.

"I'm sorry to make you revisit this trauma."

"It is healing, so I have been told by many grief counsellors over the years."

"My mother also died on 25 June. Of lung cancer."

"My condolences. It is a tragedy to lose a family member."

The same date? Was it a coincidence? In spite of herself, Sylvana wasn't so sure anymore.



Sylvana drove to "Marvellous Memories". Carried the dress into the shop. She told the woman about everything. Tatiana said nothing until the end.

"Please forgive yourself, my dear. For your sake and your mother's sake. Let her rest in peace."

Sylvana hugged her. As she stood at the entrance of the shop, an image of her mom appeared in her mind's eye: barefoot in the distance, waving farewell. Sylvana stepped into the sunlight, tears flowing, a smile on her face.

18 comments:

  1. Taking memories by the scruff and making them answer...... a good story. Thank you, Ceinwen

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Ceinwen
      Monica

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  2. Good story, thoroughly enjoyed it! Keep on the good work!!!

    Sophia

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  3. thank you Monica for the excellent story.

    sarina

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sarina
      Monica

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  4. A fine story, nicely atmospheric
    gently drew me in.
    Mike McC

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  5. Thank you Mike
    Monica

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  6. Thank you Mary
    Monica

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  7. Good job. Holds the attention well. Mysterious.

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  8. Thank you for your comment.
    Monica

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  9. This is lovely story. Thank you for this gentle and beautiful piece of work. A job well done.

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  10. Thank you very much.
    Monica

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  11. A lovely story of memories, thank you,

    Kathryn

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  12. Thank you Kathryn

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  13. It was a fascinating read and i enjoy reading all of Monica's short story. My dream is to have it translated onto film. A must read!!

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  14. Thank you for your comment! I would love to have this story made into a movie.
    Monica

    ReplyDelete