Susan Haggarty’s shapely figure of youth has deflated into a loose bag of stuffing with no shape at all. Her glory days are long gone but every few months Susan skulks into the thrift store to search for the life she was denied. She is looking for the dress, the one that will help her relive the very last day she felt beautiful, like a princess. Not just a princess, a queen, with Keith Green, the hottest boy in high school as her prom date. If Susan can find the dress she wore that night, things might feel normal, just for a moment, until she looks in a mirror. Susan has no delusions about her appearance. She is hideous, a crushed face will do that. Most people give her a wide berth which suits Susan just fine. Self-loathing is a private affair, not to be shared. She is a witch, a bitch, someone to avoid.
The store clerks do not dare tell old Miss Haggarty that prom dresses and ball gowns are inappropriate for someone her age. Fortunately the old hag chooses quiet mornings for her search and it only takes a couple of minutes for her to paw through any new dresses in stock since the last time she checked. The clerks only know she is looking for a particular dress, the rest is speculation; except that she is a witch, a bitch, someone to avoid.
Styles change and Susan has not found the dress in thirty years of searching. The original was destroyed in the same accident that destroyed Susan. She and the dress both ripped to shreds the night Keith Green rolled his beat-up Plymouth driving home from the after-grad party out at Ghost Lodge. All the high school girls cried at his funeral. All except Susan who was flicked out of the car window like a spent cigarette butt and woke up a month later to a life of scaring little children and garnering horrified stares. Stares like the ones from the teenaged girls whispering at the cash desk. Susan does not expect them to understand her fruitless search for the princess dress or the princess dreams she had before becoming a witch, a bitch, someone to avoid.
Except. Susan’s hand lingers on a pink taffeta gown, it is an older style gleaned from a forgotten trunk or dusty attic and sent off with the other donations. How long since those sleeves were in vogue? It cannot be her dress but there is something familiar about the neckline, the hemline. The stiff material whispers an invitation as the gown slides off the hanger onto the floor. Susan takes a deep breath. “Can I try this on?” The unlucky clerk nearest to the fitting rooms looks scared when Susan asks for help getting the dress zipped up at the back. Susan avoids the mirror and stares at Meagan’s thrift store name tag instead. “How does it look?”
“Um, the colour goes nice with your skin tone,” says Meagan. “And it fits pretty good too.”
Susan smooths the material against her skin and gives a little twirl. The whisper and swish of fabric transports her to a time of dancing, drinking and taking life for granted. Emboldened by pink taffeta courage, she says, “If I had a tiara I would feel like a princess.” Meagan brings back a couple of tiaras from the jewelry case, along with crystal pendant and matching earrings. Susan pulls her long black hair out of the way for Meagan to fasten the clasp of the necklace.
Meagan reaches for a hand mirror. “Do you want to have a look?”
“I don’t need a mirror to know I look like a fool.”
“You look brave.”
Brave is not the word Susan expects. Years of experience have made her acutely aware of the slightest insult, but she detects none of that from the girl. Meagan holds up the mirror. Susan catches a glimpse of her damage but the glare of rhinestones blurs the jagged edges of the witch, the bitch, the someone to avoid.
Susan turns to the full length mirror and smiles. “I look like a thrift store princess.”
“It’s definitely your dress.”
“I know it is none of my business,” asks Susan, “but do you have a boyfriend?” Meagan blushes and nods. Susan takes a deep breath and says, “I had a boyfriend once. Let me tell you what happened.”
Hermine Robinson lives in Alberta, Canada where winters are long and inspiration is plentiful. She loves all things ‘short fiction’ and refuses to be the place where perfectly good stories come to die. Hermine is married with two children and most people know her by her nickname “Minkee”.