RESTORES TO ORIGINAL CONDITION • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

People should look where they’re going.

I slipped into Luxuries on Loan and Robyn surged after me, her Golden Horde crowding behind.  They barely even glanced at the window.

All legs and mane, they trampled everything in their way.  Bad enough in school.  But they’d scent you out anywhere.  A real taste for blood sport.

I knew they’d follow.  I’d lingered a heartbeat too long, admiring the brilliant swoops of fabric, behind the glass, that shimmered with every vibration.

In my black jeans, strained from the comfort food you eat all winter, and my jacket, and my boots, I looked like a sausage who should’ve been lingering by the hiking shop instead.

The last girl pushed through, the door banged, and all those lovely things in the window gave one last flutter — like birds, I thought suddenly — as if possessed by the souls of birds.

Above them hung the shop’s motto.

What You Deserve, on Your Special Day.

“My dears! Welcome!  Ah, yes — I have the perfect dress for each of you!”

And just like that, they were caught.

***

I pressed further and further back.  The shop was L-shaped and finally I was out of their line of sight.

A different kind of hunt was sharpening those metallic voices now.

Funny they were interested in all this democratic splendor.  Saleswomen in the fancy downstate malls wouldn’t try to vaporize them with a flick of ten-ton eyelashes.

The giggling from the front, I was going to be stuck for awhile.  I eased myself down and let my mind wander.

***

“I have fitted all of them,” she said; “now let me choose something for you.”

Her name was spelled out in crystals on a magnificent sort of name-tag.  Mrs. Sadeghi.  She hadn’t given a hint of seeing me til all those girls cleared out.

“No, I — ”

“I pride myself,” said Mrs. Sadeghi, “on matching the garment to the requirement.”

“I’m not going to the prom,” I said.  “Anyway I don’t wear dresses.  I was just…”

“Fortuitous.”  Mrs. Sadeghi smiled.  “You brought in my first clientèle.”

“Well — ” I said, “I better go.”

The shop’s motto was repeated in a sign over the register.

“It means what it says, right?”

“I would never misrepresent my business,” she said.  “Take my card.  Come back, perhaps, with a friend.”

***

Rena had that inconvenient beauty that’s nothing but a curse in high school.  In ten years or so everyone’ll call her a Cate Blanchett look-alike, but now she’s just a kid whose parents can’t afford to fix her overbite.

She did want to go to the prom and she didn’t care about not having a date.  A few kids were planning to go as friends, enjoy the dance and not worry about after-parties and limos and the rest of the crap the Übercrowd was having nonstop self-initiated sexual releases over.

I kept going back and forth between the way I felt, thinking about that sign in Luxuries on Loan, and how proms really shouldn’t have shattering cosmic significance to anybody; I told myself that someday, guys would be turning themselves inside out trying to get somewhere with Rena.  I made myself nuts all weekend and then I called Rena and invited her to cut class with me and do something I really needed to do.

***

“Ah, my dear!  Yes — I have the perfect dress for you.”

I’d pretended it was all about me and by the time Mrs. Sadeghi had Rena delicately by the wrist, it was too late for her to get away.  We all stood in front of the mirror, looking at Rena’s reflection.

“Just a slight adjustment here,” said Mrs. Sadeghi, “in three days it will be ready for you.  And here is a little confection for your hair, and for your wrist.”

“It was a raffle prize,” I said to Rena; “and what was I going to do with it?  I’d rather take an algebra final than go to that idiotic prom.”  But the way I said it, she knew I didn’t think she was an idiot.

***

Mrs. Sadeghi was packing up the shop when I stopped in to see her.  It had sprung up seemingly overnight, like mushrooms, in that suddenly-vacated space between the realtors’ and the Thai restaurant, and it looked to be vanishing just as fast.  The window was empty; the place was crammed with big wardrobe cartons, ready to be wheeled out.

“So,” she said, smiling, “was everything satisfactory for the purpose?”

“I’d say that for some people, the prom was a transformatory experience,” I told her.

She drummed her fingers lightly on one of the cartons.  Little rustling sounds came from it, like mice scrabbling to get out.

“Destined for the cleaners’,” she said.  “So much soil accumulates and must be carefully removed.  Of course one would not wish to in any way damage the goods.”

“They were really cruel girls,” I said; “for no reason and just because they knew they could get away with anything they wanted.”

“The service I use,” said Mrs. Sadeghi, “is very effective at removing stubborn stains.  In the end everything comes out like new.”


Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine; her posts on the craft of writing keep materializing on Flash Fiction Chronicles.)


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