M. Malcomb Moore
Well, first I have to tell you about Joanne, you know, the one married to that college teacher. She parades in her every Thursday afternoon after she gets her hair all done up in the hair place across the courtyard, she and her three friends. They fondle all the silk blouses and lace bras like they plan on buying something. Ever since I opened this shop, I’d always watch the money and fashion ladies on the street so I could order the clothes they would buy. Anyway, Joanne is the nicest one, she talks to me on the street sometimes and when her friends ain’t with her she even buys something, not much mind you, maybe just some pantyhose or a scarf.
Now so you’re not wonderin’ how a plain lady like me got this boutique, as they call it, and right here in Town Center Square, I’ll let you in but don’t be tellin’ nobody ’cause I don’t want folks here to find out.
My daddy worked over in Dellville at the tractor plant, that is until the accident. This machine broke and down, cut his leg right off at the knee. They sewed it back on okay but this lawyer from up north talked to him and woooee; he landed himself in a truckload of money. I was hopin maybe he’d be nice and get me the new Singer but Daddy always had bigger dreams than most. One mornin on a Saturday he came to my place, made me close my eyes, hold out my hand and in drops the finest set of uptown keys you ever laid your eyes on. So here I am, Missy Brooks herself, all dressed up fancy and runnin this place. Why, me and sis even gonna make a profit this month.
“Excuse me, may I try these on?”
“Why certainly, Ms. Montgomery.” I learned how to talk like a respectable white lady with an education. It helps the business. “Let me show you to the dressing sweets.”
Now Ms. M. has been in here before and knows just fine where the try-on rooms are, specially since they are only fifteen feet away with a big sign pointin to em, but I watch on the movies where the fancy places always treat the ladies like queens so that’s what I do. I even had this decorator from Birmingham come down and pick out all the colors and, my land, I thought he grew up with no crayons to play with-dark green carpet with mauve paisleys, stained glass lights with antique dressers to show off the clothes, and if that don’t fancy ya, we even got brass hangers. If Daddy hadn’t set me straight, I would have fired him flat, but everybody listens to Daddy so I figured I best do it too. Now important folks like to stroll in here just to see the place and comment to each other how special it looks.
“Good morning, Missy. I need to find a party dress to go with my new hair color, do you like it? Dr. Anderson and myself…” I could never figure out why she called her own husband, Dr. Anderson, “are invited to the President’s dinner on the twentieth at the university and I have to look just right. I was thinking maybe something in red, no, that’s too showy, blue, dark blue, strapless with a plunging neckline would be perfect, don’t you think Missy?”
“Our New York shipment came in yesterday, Ms. Anderson, I know we’ll find a dress that will make you look beautiful and amazing.”
I never call Joanne by her first name anymore. It works best if I raise my chin, lower my voice, hold my left hand up to my shoulder and call her Ms. Anderson. All the ladies from the university like to be called Ms. These days, what with all the women’s movement and all. Sometimes I practice for myself, Ms. Brooks, Ms. Missy, no, Ms. Millicent Brooks.
We look through some dresses and she picks one out to try on. “Well, Missy, tell me, does this pick up my eye color enough, is the back to low, does it make my hips look big?”
One thing I notice about the ladies, even the stuck up ones, is that they will do the silliest darn things when tryin on clothes. Now here’s Joanne, squirmin and jiggling around my store in this painted on whore’s dress with her chest fallin out askin me if she should wear it to the President’s dinner. My mamma used to be a maid at those dinners and I remember her tellin me all about the ladies, all tryin to steal the eyes of the men who never got around to lookin at the ladies faces, what with all the boobs and legs a showin. Joanne was goin to buy something, so I let her in on a secret.
“Oh, Ms. Anderson, come here. This is just between you and me but the new President’s wife, Ms. Wannager, was in here last week and she is planning on wearing that same color. I hear she is very religious and hates too much skin showing and, Ms. Anderson, if I could say so, you’re are more out of that dress than in it. Could I recommend something with shoulders and past the knee?
From there I take Joanne by the hand and lead her over the dress like the pastor’s wife wore to her daughter’s weddin’. It covered up all her God given special places and still sparkled with rows of black sequins. There was an argument brewin’ but finally she tried it on and, oh my, she looked as pretty as my Chrissy on Easter Sunday mornin’. She stood in front of the mirror turnin’ left then right, left then right, again and again until I thought she was dancing. I thought sure she was in trouble when she started to cry.
“Missy, do you remember when I was in third grade and you would come over and babysit for me and my sister?”
“That was a long time ago, Ms. Anderson.”
“Do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Remember the day we got into my mother’s wardrobe and tried on her party dresses.”
“Oh yes, your mother came home and found me in one of her favorite dresses. She was so angry at me.”
“I remember you trying on a dress like this, Missy, and I thought you were the most beautiful girl in Cedarville, and even though you were, well, you know, I wanted to be like you, so tall and smart and fancy. What happened to those days, Missy?
What Joanne couldn’t see cause her back was to the door was her two lady friends comin find her. Without a word, I snatched one of my lace trimmed hankies and stuffed it in her hand. No need for them to see their Joanne with a memory runnin down her face.
“Missy, is Joanne here?”
“She is just finished trying on some things. She will be out in a jiff.”
Soon Ms. Anderson skitters her way across the store to her friends with all three talkin at once bout who’s wearin what to the dinner. They all laugh and look at the watches like they had to be somewhere.
“Thanks, Missy,” Joanne called from the door with her regular voice back again. “Remember, I’ll take that dark blue strapless.”
“I remember, Ms. Anderson, I remember.”