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Dressing for Grief


“Madam, they are waiting.”

The black dress was laid out across her bed, arms folded, like an elegant beaded corpse.

“Let us wear this one,” the young servant said.

“Let us not.” The woman dragged her fingertips across the dress, in an unsuccessful attempt to feel something.

The dress was designed for formal events that were never held. The fabric had never touched flesh, except for the servant’s body, which was similar enough in size to serve as the model for pinning and tailoring.

And there were times when the servant was sure that the woman was gone for a weekend or day or afternoon, when the servant slipped into the dress without help, and imagined an unlived life, if only for a time.

“You will feel more beautiful than ever,” the servant said.

The woman heard the words in pieces. The power of grief morphed “ever” into “never”. The Lady’s subconscious mind reassembled new words with old. Beautiful. Feel. Never. Never. Beautiful. Never feel beautiful. Never feel. Never.

“No,” the woman said. “Give me color. Search my wardrobe for something alive. This dress is unacceptable.”

“Choosing not to dress modestly and in black is unacceptable.” The words came out of the servant’s mouth before she could stop them.

“So is this grief,” the woman said.

“Let me help you.” The servant took the woman by the hand and guided her to the mirror. The servant took the black dress, and from behind the woman, lifted and held the dress up in front of the woman’s body.

“Beautiful,” the servant whispered into the woman’s ear. “You must make yourself beautiful in these ugly times.”

“Broken,” the woman whispered back.

“Of course,” the servant countered. “But beautifully so.”

The two stood at the mirror for the longest time, the woman looking at the mirror’s image, most of it hidden behind the garb of mourning, her life strangled by grief; the servant girl, most of her’s hidden behind the woman, held by beauty. Both imagined unlived lives.

“Madam, they are waiting.”

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