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The Dress

It was purple. Well, not purple, precisely. What was it? Shit, Harry was always bad with colors. Was it magenta, or fuchsia? Hell, he didn't know. He really didn't care. What is was, was pretty much the color you'd get if Barney the dinosaur had a superficial but profusely bleeding scalp wound. It was a sickly, disgusting color, and he was damned tired of it. But it was his wife's favorite dress.

She wore it everywhere, whenever they went out someplace requiring something more than her usual sweats. Out to dinner, to the theater, to cocktail parties at his boss's house. Everywhere, the same goddamned dress.

She'd bought it 10 years and 20 pounds ago, and it looked it. It bulged in all the wrong places, emphasizing the belly she gained with their last child, the thighs she had surgically enhanced with her regular injections of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Face it, it was all she could do to stuff herself into the damned thing anymore, and he practically had to put a foot on her back to help her zip it up.

But still she wore it. And each time she did, someone-a coworker's wife, an obsequious waiter, an usher in the dim light of the theater-would tell her what a lovely dress it was. He could hear the sarcasm in their voices, could see the rolling of the eyes behind her back. But she would just smile, and say "Why thank you. It's my favorite dress. I wear it all the time." It was embarrassing. Oh, how he hated that dress.

He hated the wife, too, a little bit. At least, he hated what she had become. Not the extra weight, he wasn't that shallow. Besides, he'd put on a few pounds himself over the years, and she was still pretty good looking when not stuffed like a sausage into a casing two sizes too small. A hideous, bloody-purple casing.

No, he hated what she had become. Boring. Complacent. Dispassionate. Their lives had once been filled with romance and excitement. Their lovemaking and their fights had both been legendary. Epic novels could have been written about them in their younger days. Now, however, their lives revolved around work and children and school activities and separate bedtimes. Their lovemaking was infrequent and routine, and their fights were more the result of fatigue and crankiness than passion. There was very little life left to their lives. And he was lonely.

And that's how he came to be sitting there, in a restaurant, waiting for his date to show up. He had somehow screwed up the courage to answer a Personals ad on the website of his local paper. He had made up some cock and bull story about being a lonely widower to convince the woman to meet him. He had spent the afternoon trying to use a bronzer to blend away the white circle on his left hand where the wedding ring kept his finger from seeing the sun. He had told his wife and kids he had to work late. Had a meeting. He had, he believed, thought of everything. And so he sat there, waiting, sweating, practically shaking with excitement.

Suddenly, the restaurant went quiet. From his table near the back, he could see a tall woman, blond hair waving in the breeze, coming in the front door. All heads-men, women, children, the blind customer's guide dog-turned her way, and as her likeness burned itself onto each pair of retinas, there was a sharp intake of breath followed by a slow, almost inaudible "Ooooooooh" with the exhale. Even from this distance, he could see that she was staggeringly, mind-numbingly, supernaturally beautiful.

She stopped briefly at the front desk, where the maitre-d, flummoxed by this sudden appearance of a celestial being among the mere mortals, had knocked over the rack of menus. He had to be told three times who she was meeting before it finally registered that she was talking to him. "Oh, yes, " he said, coming to his senses at last, "He's right this way."

And then they came, slowly and haltingly, the maitre-d bumping into tables and diners because he was unable to look away from her long enough to avoid the obstacles as they crossed the room. Harry watched her approach, struck almost physically by the impact of this vision. She was tall-taller than the maitre-d, taller than Harry, too-and she walked with her head high and proud. She moved as if in slow motion, each step bringing a bounce to the soft, golden curls that framed her perfect face, a ripple to her ankle-length cashmere coat. It had started snowing outside, apparently, and the flakes that had landed in her hair, on her shoulders, on her eyelashes even, just added to her sparkle. Her green eyes-were they emerald? Jade? Colors again, dammit-gleamed as they went from face to face among the diners. Who was she looking for? It didn't appear that she knew.

And then they stopped. Harry was amazed to realize that they were standing next to his table. "Harry?" she asked, smiling; full, voluptuous lips, perfect white teeth. "I'm Simone. It's so nice to meet you." She held out her hand; long slender fingers, subtle but impeccable manicure, unadorned by rings or jewels. She didn't need jewels. She would shame them with her beauty.

After a moment, Harry stood, awkwardly, rattling the stemware in his eagerness to take her hand. "H-h-hello, " he stammered. It was an appropriate response, fortunately, since his brain was totally incapable of any other at that moment. As he touched her fingers-gently, lovingly-he felt the unmistakable jolt, the immeasurable power of that first contact. A bolt of lightning came to mind, but no, that was too trite, too clich. It wasn't electrical, it wasn't chemical: it was something more profound. It was as if each and every cell in his body had suddenly undergone mitosis, dividing him in half, yet leaving him whole. Yes, that was it. He was twice the man he was before that first touch of her flesh. He had grown--no, she had doubled him--and he reveled in the fine magic of the moment.

"May I take your coat, madam?" the maitre-d asked, breaking the trance momentarily.

"Yes, thank you, " Simone replied, smiling that perfect smile, turning her head slightly, becoming, unbelievably, even more beautiful from a slightly oblique angle. She slowly unbuttoned the luxurious cashmere coat, letting it slip at last from her delicate shoulders. And there it was.

Harry was stunned. He collapsed suddenly back into his chair, nearly falling over backwards in the process. He sat, staring, open-mouthed.

"May I say, that is a lovely dress, madam, " the maitre-d said.

"Why, thank you, " Simone replied. "It's my favorite dress. I wear it all the time."

"It's the same freaking dress, " Harry muttered under his breath. "The same, freaking, bloody-Barney purple dress." He buried his face in his hands.

And it WAS the same dress. The same indescribable purple color, transformed by its occupant into a work of art. The way it draped her shoulders, soft ruffles beneath the 14kt hair. The way it followed-gently, caressingly-the exquisite contours of her form. It was a simple dress, largely without ornamentation, and he had seen it almost every week for the last 10 years. And yet, on Simone, it was a revelation, a shining, purple beacon of immeasurable splendor. It was radiant. Every woman in the restaurant wanted that dress. And every man in the restaurant wanted the wearer. But it was Harry, face still in hands, who sat across from her as the maitre-d eased her into her chair.

"Is something the matter, Harry, " she asked, a look of concern knitting her perfect brow.

He looked up, instantly captured again by those green eyes. No, they were emerald, but not the cheap dime store emeralds he had given Trudy, his wife. Her eyes were like that emerald ring Trudy had played with in that cruise ship store in the Bahamas; $25, 000 of pure, flawless gemstone. A perfect pair of those emeralds, now looking directly into his soul. He was taken aback by the expression on her face. Her eyes were wide and soft, her lips slightly parted, her forehead creased ever so slightly. This was not the expression of a stranger. It was, rather, a look of pure, genuine, loving concern. It took his breath away.

"Harry?" she said again, concern growing on her face. She reached across the table and took his hand.

The familiar jolt of energy-doubled again, now four times the man-brought him back to his senses. "Oh, no, " he said haltingly, forcing a smile, "I just remembered something I forgot to do at work. No big deal." He squeezed her fingers gently, and smiled again.

"Oh, good, " she replied, her face brightening. "You had me worried, there."

Harry didn't reply. He was lost again in her eyes, her lips, her face. He stared openly, drinking in her loveliness as a drowning man gulps for air. Her skin was flawless, smooth and vital, her lips full and inviting, her hair the perfect gilded frame for the masterpiece that was Simone. If there was makeup there, it was so perfectly applied he couldn't see it. He couldn't imagine it, even. It would be like adding laser lights in the Sistine Chapel. Unnecessary. Distracting. Simone herself was the true work of art.

"Harry?" she said again, breaking his reverie.

"I'm sorry. I'm staring, I know, " he replied. "It's just that you're so beautiful."

She smiled sweetly. "Thank you, " she said, "that's nice of you to say."

"No, no, " he insisted, "I really mean it. You are truly beautiful. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. You are.you areimpossible. Yes, that's it. You are impossibly beautiful."

Her cheeks began to glow softly as she blushed, and she lowered her eyes. "I do what I can, " she said, almost as a whisper. And in that moment, Harry fell madly, deeply in love. "It has to be an act, " his brain said, "no one could be this perfect." But his heart didn't care. It had leapt from his chest, ran across the table, and given itself to her without reservation. All Harry could do was follow, and he did so willingly.

Their dinner was two hours in heaven. She was bright and witty, and there was the sound of bells in her melodious laughter. Harry spent three full minutes transfixed by a small droplet of creamy ranch dressing that perched itself delicately on the corner of her lovely mouth, riding up and down as she talked and laughed and ate the rest of her salad. He could have watched it all night. Finally, she dabbed it away daintily with the corner of her napkin, and Harry laughed and laughed. Simone joined in, not getting the joke, but adding her happy harmony anyway. They talked of many things; work and hobbies and schools they had attended and places they had seen on vacations. Harry avoided any mention of wife and family, of course, but in all other areas he was completely honest, and he was delighted to learn that they shared many of the same interests and convictions. He couldn't take his eyes off her, nor could she take her emerald eyes off him. They were in a world of their own, and waiters and diners and busboys came and went with barely a notice from the couple. They ate ravenously, although Harry would later be unable to remember what he had ordered. Luigi, the maitre-d, brought them a second bottle of wine "on the house" since the other patrons were staying longer and ordering desserts and more drinks just to stay in the presence of the unbridled joy at the back of the room. It was the greatest meal, and perhaps the greatest evening of Harry's life.

Time passed, as it always does, and soon the bill was delivered and Harry settled up with the waiter, adding a $100 tip for no reason other than the immense happiness Simone had brought him. He helped her into her coat, smelling the soft perfume on her neck. He lingered briefly with his hands on her shoulders, feeling the soft, cashmere fabric and imagining the soft, smooth skin beneath. She took his hand-another jolt, eight times the man-and they walked through the crowded tables, all eyes upon them.

It was still snowing lightly as they opened the restaurant door. "Can I walk you to your car?" Harry asked, envious of the tiny, white crystals nestling in the folds of her hair, on her face, her lips.

"Actually, I live just around the corner, " Simone replied, tossing her head in the uptown direction. "I can walk from here."

"Oh, well then I'll walk you home, " Harry replied. It was an innocent suggestion, born of gentlemanly concern for the well-being of a lady. Harry had been married much too long for his mind to have leapt to Sex that quickly.

"No, thank you, " she replied demurely. "Really, it's just a couple of doors down. I'll be fine."

Simone must have noticed the disappointment on Harry's face, because she reached down and took both his hands. ... JoltJolt32 times the man She pulled him close, and leaned in, whispering in his ear.

"Go home to your wife, Harry, " she said. "She loves you more than you could ever know."

Harry was dumbfounded. ...Jolt16Jolt8Jolt. Jolt. Jolt. Jolt. Suddenly, he felt like half a man. And he swore he could see his heart running down the street, looking for a bridge to jump off. "What?" was all he could say.

"She gave you to me, Harry, " Simone said. "And now I'm giving you back."

Harry's eyes dropped to his shoes, his chin to his chest, his spirits to the ground. But softly, gently, Simone reached under his chin, raised his face to hers, and kissed him. It was a soft, loving kiss, her eyes closed, her tongue gently flicking his lips. When they parted, there was a single tear in the corner of her perfect emerald eye. "And Harry, " she said softly, "she's the luckiest woman on the face of the Earth." With that, she quickly turned and walked away, wiping her eye with the soft sleeve of her exquisite cashmere coat.

He was jolted againmitosismitosismitosisso many divisions he lost count. And his heart, which had snagged its aorta on a bridge railing just as Simone had kissed him, came bouncing back down the street, leapt up and kissed her on the cheek, and then flew back into his chest, pumping with renewed vigor.

Simone stopped, and turned. "Oh, Harry, " she said, smiling sadly, "tell Trudy thanks for lending me her dress." And then she was gone.

When Harry got home, he closed the door quietly and undressed in the dark. After checking on the kids, all sleeping peacefully, he carefully climbed into bed, trying not to wake his wife.

"How was your meeting?" came a soft voice from the dark.

"Oh, fine, I guess, " he said, sliding up behind her, running his hands across the smooth skin of her shoulder. He breathed in the smell of her, the faint trace of the familiar perfume she put on that morning, coupled with the remnants of baby shampoo from bath night with the little ones. "You know, " he said, kissing her gently on the neck. "I'm going to take you shopping tomorrow."

"Oh really, " she replied sleepily. "What for?"

"I'm going to buy you a new dress, " he said as he wrapped her in his arms. She smiled, feeling the familiar cool touch of his ring upon her skin, the warmth of his breath upon her neck, and drifted off to sleep.

By Randy Wallace - Born and raised in the Midwest, I have been writing short stories and children's literature for decades. I have a background in journalism and biology, and have worked in a variety of fields, including insu...  

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