So when I got to Toronto Laura took me to Cabaret Nostalgia on Queen Street West and there was the dress in the window. It was exactly the dress I wanted. It only had to fit. It was pretty unlikely that it would fit, but it was also likely that it might.
When I came out of the dressing room one of the men who owns the store offered me a pair of shoes to try. They had very high heels. I put on the shoes and stood and then my arms flew around like windmills and I was tipping and then they flew around in the other direction and I was tipping backwards and he caught my hand and there I was in the full length mirror and there was no sense pretending I didn’t want that dress. I wanted it.
But I pretended for a week. I did some interviews and went to a party for Alma Lee and met everybody and read at Harbour Front went to readings and when the week was up I went back to the store with a posse of women and I bought the dress. The man who owned the store gave me a complimentary rhinestone necklace for good luck. It had been agreed either rhinestones or pearls and rhinestones won out.
The day of the Giller, after rehearsal, I got in a taxi to get my hair done. It was pretty late but my friend since grade one, Sandra Dower, had agreed to fit me in. She had me describe the dress over the phone. I thought about how it was an antique and how the woman who had altered the straps said they don’t make dresses like it any more and that it was the sort of dress her grandmother might have made and she showed me how the seams were hidden and the craftsmanship. I told Sandra how I couldn’t really draw breath in the dress, not really. When I finished describing the dress she said, I’m not doing an upsweep. I said that was fine with me. I said I hadn’t pictured an upsweep at all. So she said, Well come on then.
There was hardly any time left but there’s nothing Sandra can’t do with a curling iron. And we talked about everything that had ever happened to us and our sisters and our parents and then we went downstairs and a young woman at the Shopper’s Drugmart Cosmetic counter named Lauren did my make-up. She said she could do the whole thing with samples except for the mascara. I’d have to buy the mascara, she said.
There was another woman with a basket on her arm full of chocolates that she was giving away to customers. The woman with the chocolates said, I saw all those ringlets from behind and I said to myself there must be an occasion.
I had my eyes closed and Lauren was putting lipstick on me. Sandra was watching over Lauren’s shoulder and she said, This woman has been nominated for the Giller and everybody said Congratulations and the woman gave me a chocolate but I said if I ate it I wouldn’t fit in the dress. She said keep it for later. Her husband had been in publishing in New York and Lauren was studying literature and it was getting dark outside and Sandra and Lauren agreed on the shade of eye shadow and Lauren didn’t want anything with shimmer. The last touch was the mascara and Sandra said, Doesn’t that just finish the whole thing off nicely. And Lauren held a mirror for me.
Then I went out and hailed a cab and flew down Yonge Street in the early evening traffic.
Now the dress is tucked away in my closet. What do you do with a dress like that? A closet in an old rickety house in downtown St. John’s with rain and dark skies and frost on the front steps in the morning and the pigeons flying up. All the folds and gleaming shininess.