The Dress


She hated dresses. When her mother put her in a dress, that meant restrictions galore; and she hated the barrette in her hair pulled so tight and fastened so strongly that she felt each and every root screaming to pull free from her scalp. It itched unbearably.

But, don’t touch your hair; leave it alone! She complied. The raised eyebrow meant a hand would be raised next, and that meant more pain. That certainty turned into a deeply embedded fear. That hand that caused so much pain, whether pulling her hair into the barrette or slapping her face, was nothing to invite and everything to avoid.

A dress at home meant something was up. There was some unknowable, unfathomable reason for the unbearable decorum. Wearing a dress meant knees had to be held together like a vice. Hands had to be held together in the lap. The dress had to be pulled over the top of the knees, don’t forget. For some reason, it was all important, and the little girl was reduced to nothing more than that ever-loving dress. Not much else could be considered under that pervasive dress.

This day, this dress day, meant company. A cousin the same age was going to be let out of the hospital for the day and the aunt and uncle would bring her around to visit. The big monster of a car pulled up to the curb, the doors flung open and relatives unloaded. Out of the back seat, a girl with her legs in casts held far apart by a board, was lifted and set on the ground. The girl lunged her weight one way and then the other to move forward, the bottom half of her body a huge triangle that never gave an inch.

The dress meant no running, no exploring, no questioning. From afar, she stared at her alien cousin that was a triangle. She stayed on the sidewalk just standing and watching. Everyone milled about, but there she stayed on the third square of concrete that made up the sidewalk. She was safe here, and no, she would not move.

Someone had a camera. Hurry, gather up and sit on the stairs. Hurry up! No, she was safe where she was.

Looking down, on the next concrete slab of the sidewalk was a hornet that had landed. It didn’t move much; only wiggled its wings. Get over here! No, not yet. Curious. Bees sting, but it can’t be much of a thing since the insect just sat there sunning itself.

Two steps forward, a hike up of the dress and she planted her butt right on top of that hornet. There, you stupid bee, take that. A searing, frosty pain hit her, running up from her butt cheek and down the back of her leg. She screamed. Just once she screamed.

The look on her mother’s face stopped the next sound dead in her throat. Someone had grabbed her arm to swat the bee off her underwear. She could look up and see the swarm of faces over her and found the face of her father who took her by the hand and led her to the stairs to sit for the photo.

Knees together, dress over the knees, hands in the lap, the camera makes a click-whine and it’s over. She didn’t know her mouth was open in pain as she tried to stay still while sitting on the freshly stung butt cheek. What is a picture? What just happened? Nothing. Can I move now? She had to move, it hurt so much.

Careful, slow, tentative steps and she was back on her third square of the sidewalk. No harsh words, no slap greeted her retreat to comfort and safety and there she stood again.

Her mind stayed inside. And reeled. Her butt felt warm and itchy, but she was afraid to touch where the bee had stung. She couldn’t. She had a dress on. How could that harmless, motionless bug cause so much pain? It couldn’t be possible. It was so small, much smaller than her mother’s big hand that stung a lot less than that little bee. No, that wasn’t right either. That hand hurt!

It’s the dress. That’s what it is. Dresses cause pain, and fear. So do barrettes because they always came with the dress. If the knees together and covered by the dress don’t happen, then the mother’s hand flies and strikes. Dresses mean danger!

Oh, how she hated dresses.


  1. I have to say that is quite a story behind the photograph. And well-told.

  2. Oh, how I wish it were fiction, Jennifer.