Posted on February 23, 2015February 23, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair2.23.2015 Journal Prompt Photo by Boris Savelev February 23, 2015: In their pretty dresses… Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
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Saturday and papa says we are going into town. He says it is a special day and there will be big celebrations at Maidan Nezalezhnosti. He says the ships are in and there will be laughter and fun in the square and carnival there will be. Papa says I am to wear my best church dress, the one with yellow flowers on and splashes of red and green in the pattern. Red for the Archangel Michael and green for Berehynia, papa says, and he says my hair is like gold.
Papa is talking about two of the statues on the square and they bristle with colour and glisten with gold, the Archanagel Michael with his glittery wings spread wide and his gilded sword lifted and he speaks for the souls of the good and he whispers in the ear of God; and Berehynia standing tall on her white pillar, standing nearer to heaven than God’s whisperer, and she is the mother of Kiev and of all Ukraine and she is beautiful.
And so I wear the dress papa says I should and my new white shoes and papa makes me brush my hair a hundred times till it is like silk or gold. And papa is smart in his suit and his shirt and tie. Smart like the picture of his wedding day and mama was beside him then and she looked pretty as Berehynia then and papa says she is with the angels now and he says that so I am not so sad.
And we take the bus into town and all the people on the bus know papa and they know me, too, and they smile and nod and they say ‘dobrogo ranku’ to us; and with papa they talk of the suit he is wearing and of the weather and of the ships being in, winking when they say that about the ships. The bus is so busy that there is no seat for papa, but he says that is ok.
At Maidan Nezalezhnosti it is as busy as Christmas on the night when they celebrate the turning on of all the lights and there’s a tree as tall as Berehynia with a lit up star on the top. So busy that papa says I must keep hold of his hand or he must keep hold of mine. And he says if ever we are parted I am to go to the foot of the statue of the Archangel and wait for him there.
Laughter there is and music playing and girls in pretty dresses, so many girls and all of them pretty as Berehynia, pretty as mama was pretty in the wedding picture that sits on the table at home. And even though it is bright day, there are the sounds of fireworks, and the sound of screaming, and I feel my feet wanting to dance.
Then the sailors come into the square and there is cheering and hats are thrown at the sky, and the girls in pretty dresses touch their hair and adjust their stockings and smile like the sun. And papa lets go of my hand for he is talking with one of the pretty girls. And the music is lifted louder and between the people and looking up I can see Berehynia and I whisper ‘mother’, whispering so God might hear, or the Archangel Michael who in turn may take my whisper to the ear of God.
And papa holds the hand of the girl he is talking to and I consider she is pretty enough and so I think maybe God has heard my plea and maybe papa’s ship has come in and we can have another wedding day and a new mama in the house.
Mama says I should stick to my studies. She says I’ve got a brain and that I should use it. She makes me sit at the table after school and she watches to see I am turning the pages of the book or that I’m writing things down or doing calculations in my head – it’s like mama can see my every thought, or she believes she can, and she scolds me if my attention wanders from what’s in front of me.
So I crease my brow and I try to look thoughtful, the end of my pencil in my mouth and between my teeth, and it’s as though I am doing a hard sum, and like that mama don’t know what’s really in my head. She don’t know that there’s music playing, something heard on the radio when I go to my bed and I listen under the covers so mama don’t hear, and I have all the words of the song to heart better than any school poem I have to learn.
And when mama thinks I have done enough, she says I can rest my brain now and she says a thing that is over used will sooner break but she also sometimes says if it ain’t used enough it will lose the memory of what it’s for. She looks over my shoulder and she looks at the clock and she says enough for tonight.
I pack all my books back into my school bag and I go to my room and I close the door. I can hear mama in the kitchen and she’s dropping forks or spoons and clattering pots on the stove and clinking cups in the sink. I take off my school clothes and I strip down to nothing. In the mirror I measure myself, looking for curves and swellings and looking for the woman I will be soon.
I try on a bra that ain’t yet got anything to hold and with socks and tissue I make it look as though it has. Then I pull on my Sunday dress and I draw my hair back from my face and turn my cheek just so.
Mama says I am pretty enough, but she says my brain will be my saving. She don’t know. With my hair pulled back and wearing my Sunday dress and lowering my eyes a little and making a kiss shape with my mouth, then I think I am prettier than many and most. I take a picture with my phone and there’s the lit up proof.
Prettier than the girls that come to the square of a Saturday and they are dressed up nice and their faces painted like dolls and their breasts lifted and like ripe fruit that men want to touch and test for ripeness. I’ve seen those girls, laughing and walking wavy on their high shoes, and dancing a little to the music playing in the square. I told mama once that I wanted to be like them when I was older, and mama scolded me against such silliness.
In the mirror I pretend to adjust my stockings, like I saw those girls do, and I pretend to hold a cigarette to my lips, and I dance a little to the music in my head. And in the mirror is a pretty enough girl and she’s making curves of her body where there aren’t any, and she’s smoking an invisible cigarette, and she’s looking for a boy to find her prettier than peaches, and she knows that boys don’t look at girls that are busy reading books.
Saturday on the square, the girls lined up pretty in their dresses and with their hair pinned into all shapes or loose. And there was music playing, someone with a guitar and a voice that was risinf and falling like water in a fountain. And me and Robbie, we’d cleaned ourselves up and we’d dressed smart as pins in our only suits. And we’d splashed on aftershave, and maybe more than a splash, so we smelled nice from a way off. And we’d had a drink or two before to give us courage.
So pretty those girls, all of them. And I remember as a child once being offered an apple from a stall. ‘Take your pick,’ the man said, and he smiled and made a flourish with his big hands so I would know where to pick from. And the thing is they all looked so damned shiny and red and perfect that I couldn’t choose. ‘Just one, any one,’ the man said. And I just stood there, my eyes moving from one perfect apple to the next and not being able to choose. Mam eventually lost patience and picked for me. And watching the girls in the square, I wondered which of the pretty girls mam would choose for me.
The reality is you think you have a choice but it doesn’t work quite like that. It’s like the choice is already made for you, but no one has told you. There was this one girl and she kept smiling at me and her hair was flying like a flag in the blowing wind and from the way she moved I could tell she wanted to dance. I don’t know why I noticed her above the rest.
There were cars circling the square and sounding their horns in the gathering dark, and men hanging out of the rolled down windows and shouting out to the girls. And Robbie kept sipping brandy from a hip flask and his words were soon soft-edged and blurry. And this girl just came over to me, this smiling girl with her hair like a silken flag, and she shook my hand and she said, ‘I choose you’. Impatient like my mom, I thought, and prettier than all the rest, and her name was Alison.
I still go to the square some Saturdays, just to look. There’s no harm in looking, I think. I don’t dress up smart, not like before, and I don’t wear so much aftershave that I smell nice from a long way off. And Alison stays at home and she doesn’t know where I am. The girls are still pretty in their dresses, so pretty I ache a little, and different music is playing and playing louder, and I always look for the girls that want to dance, their hips swaying and their feet tapping.
They don’t mind dancing with an old man, none of them, and they laugh and clap and cheer, and sometimes a girl kisses my cheek. And I wonder then how different everything would have been if I hadn’t chosen Alison or if she hadn’t chosen me. And I hear my mom’s voice scolding in my head, and it’s what she said when I was stuck picking something from the fruit stall all those years back, and she said, ‘Apples is apples, and you just got to choose, and then you live with what you’ve chosen and you cherish what’s yours.’
I dance till I am out of breath and till I’m dancing alone and all the girls in pretty dresses have chosen from the young men in the streetlamp-yellow square. Then I take myself home and Alison is in the kitchen and the radio is playing and, though it is no song that I know, I take Alison from what she is doing and I dance with her, moving like we used to all those years ago and it’s like I choose Alison over and over, when the truth is she chose me.