Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Yellow Skirt (Part 2)

That was the only conversation the Ena women had about the skirt. Harriet still eschewed the idea of wearing the yellow eyesore and stubbornly held the desire for her apotheosis of youthful beauty. She imagined how the folds of the modern gown would fall on her full body, how the glow of her skin would play against its whiteness. She was a spectator witnessing her own procession through the grass into the Great Sun, His circle enveloping her, carrying her beyond her present life. Sullen in her mother’s presence, Harriet’s cheeks burned with a transcendent heat.
Meanwhile, Mama’s anger cooled. She was wise and saw her daughter’s stubbornness as something familiar to her own character. She recalled the mistakes of her youth, resulting from a failure or inability to project herself beyond the now, a trait which was ubiquitous in the young but which she identified by her age as unbecoming and worse, would surely lead to hopeless floundering in a churning sea with no ship as a haven. Miraculously, Mama had survived her youth and had been blessed with health, family, and friends. She could only stand by and observe her daughter now, the next descendant in a line of Ena women grown from the land and returned to it for centuries, shaping it for better or worse.
As visits to the clinic came regularly, Mama began to fear that perhaps Harriet’s induction to the Ena matriarchy was in danger. Her age meant that her body was underdeveloped, and this threatened the life of both young mother and child. As a precaution, the nurse suggested that Harriet have plenty to eat. Mama readily obliged, stocking the kitchen shelves with Harriet’s favorites. The girl’s weight, however, wasn’t the only concern—there were additional risks during and post-labor that made Mama anxious. These risks were nameless and unpredictable.
On nights after check-ups at the clinic, sirens would visit Mama in her sleep. She was blinded by a red light terminating in blackness, then again by a white light illuminating the back of a man’s head driving the ambulance. The paramedic next to her assiduously attended to Harriet, whose stomach had swollen to the size of a medicine ball. Mama cried and comforted her unconscious daughter. “Sorry, sorry!” she wailed. There was a gash in the belly that Mama somehow felt was her fault. The masked paramedic shook his head. Mama shut her eyes, and the siren continued to sound louder and louder somewhere on the streets winding the contours of her brain until she awoke, her pillow wet with tears and sweat, alarm ringing in her ears.
One day when Mama was working, Harriet and Papu scheduled an appointment at the bridal boutique. She considered Mama’s warning for her to wear the yellow skirt on her wedding day, but she couldn’t find the resolve to commit to a promise. Her feelings hadn’t changed—she thought the garment was old fashioned and silly. Still, she felt doubly bound by her own desire to be beautiful and her mother’s wishes. She didn’t know what to do.
They arrived early, but Harriet didn’t want to go inside. She pouted her lips and asked Papu to take her to the shopping center. She gave the excuse that she was craving a piece of a certain chocolate haupia pie and lau lau. The craving was real, but not as urgent as she led him to believe. Nevertheless, she found herself crying over it, which she couldn’t control.
Papu parked and left Harriet in the truck while he ambled into the Foodland. He returned with an entire pie, the lau lau, and some fried chicken—another food she often craved. He patted her leg while she ate. “See pooky? Can care for you. Thass easy. Can get one pie, can get one dress, can get anyting. Why you worry? I get enough, can get any kine you want. You worry. You want your mama stay happy. You gotta tink what you want.” As he spoke, Harriet began to cry again. “Dat dress make you cry. Less go see and get um fit.”
Harriet wiped her eyes with her palms. After a few bites her appetite was gone, so she didn’t have an excuse to stay in the truck or to delay her appointment any longer. She gave in and followed Papu through the door of the boutique.
From the beginning, Papu had expressed his eternal love for Harriet. Consequently, they had visited the boutique several times before. More than once they came into town with a gang of their young friends. They would all skip school and crowd the back of the bus, swinging from the vertical bars and jumping from seat to seat. When the bus let them off at their stop, the majority of the children ran like wild animals escaped from the zoo, stomping on the small urban gardens and the sod in them. One older child was in charge of carrying the stroller, and she moved slowly and quietly with her sister’s infant clinging to her side, while the others disappeared around the corner into traffic.
It was through these trips that Harriet found a gown that would suit her. After weeks of careful consideration she selected one by a well-known designer—the one from the picture she had shown Mama—that fit her surprisingly well and would only require some minor alterations. Her plan had been to wait on buying it until after she had Mama’s blessing, but since the disagreement she knew she would be on her own. The store seemed threatening this time—somehow the representations of toothy, painted women and headless mannequins seemed foreign, even sinister. Harriet hoped to find comfort in the presence of the familiar young assistant from her previous visits. He wasn’t working. Instead, she was greeted by a pale, withered woman with her hair in a tight salt-and-pepper bun and a pink orchid behind her ear.
“Hel-lo! You must be early for your appointment.” She was clutching a notebook with the heading of the current date in her scant arms. “We’ve had a cancellation and I’d be delighted to assist you now, if it’s convenient for you.”
Harriet spoke. “I was in da store months ago and found one dress. I was not sure den, but now I’m sure so I’m here for da fitting.” Harriet scanned the back of the store. “It’s dat one.”
“Ah, yes. It’s a beautiful gown.” The woman stood nodding her head, gazing down her pointed nose at the dress, as if she was waiting, or had forgotten something. “I’m certain you’ve chosen your accessories as well,” she said suddenly, a question phrased as a statement.
“Well, I did not plan on waiting so long to come back heah, so—”
The assistant pursed her lips. “Let’s begin with the tiara—princesses wear tiaras, don’t they?” She escorted Harriet to the other side of the store and opened a catalogue. “This is our selection of bridal tiaras.” There were at least a hundred of them; Harriet was overwhelmed. “If I were to choose a tiara to accompany the gown you’ve selected, I’d choose this.” It was the perfect accompaniment to her gown, in the Victorian style.
“I love it,” exclaimed Harriet. “What does it coss?”
“Eleven hundred,” returned the assistant abruptly. Harriet felt Papu place his hand on her waist and squeeze. He nodded confidently, sticking out his chin.
“While we happen to carry your chosen gown, we don’t have the tiara in-store. But, if you decide it’s right for your special day, I’ll have it ordered.” The old woman covered the specifications of the tiara in great detail, describing the color and quality of the gold, the stones used, the significance of the cut of the stones, and so on. The details sounded impressive to Harriet, but meant little. Papu goaded her into agreeing with the old woman, and she made a note in her book about the tiara.
Harriet donned the dress for the final fitting before her ceremony. Proper measurements were made while she contorted herself into this-and-that position, sucking in her breath and holding while the tape slithered about her waist, shifting her balance from right to left, extending her arms like a great fleshy crucifix. She craned her neck and fixed her eyes on a point she imagined in the distance, beyond the ceiling, somewhere in the sky.
When the fitting was completed, the old woman brought the young couple to the front of the store to make small talk. She asked about the date, which made Harriet nervous since she had procrastinated on such an important detail as her wedding gown. The woman assured her there wouldn’t be a problem, and the gown would be ready in time. It suddenly occurred to Harriet that the old woman was stalling, but she couldn’t imagine why. She repeatedly hooked a wrinkled eye around the couple out the window as if waiting for something to happen. After an uncomfortable silence, she hesitantly began. “Will the ohana be joining you here? Certainly they must want to see your selection and confirm—everything?”
Harriet winced. “We take kea da bill,” responded Papu curtly. He dipped effortlessly into the thigh pocket of his board shorts and fished from it a bulge of folded bills.
The old woman connected her sunspotted hands to make the shape of a triangle and drummed her lean fingers together, raising her eyebrow toward the security camera. The red light blinked once, as if it were flashing her a secret sign. “I’ll write a ticket for you immediately then.”
Harriet’s arms hung limply at her sides. She stood in silence, watching the circles of ink roll over and over.

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