A Red Dress

by Bob Hazlett

“Hey, Rudy. You goin to da party?”

“What party?”

“The birthday party for Homer. Boss man decided us low lifes need more socializin, so he’s throwin a party for Homer’s birthday.”

“I didn’t hear about no party.”

“Yea, Saturday night at Clancy’s. Bring your wife. Boss says it’s time for wives to meet. Camaraderie and all that stuff.”

“Clancy’s? That’s no place for a party.”

“Everybody voted for Clancy’s, so Clancy’s it is. Boss didn’t fight it.”

Walking home in the cold night air, Rudy thought about the social life he and Klara shared – none.

What kind of jerks are we? We never go anywhere. I can’t even remember the last time we went to a movie. I think this party is a good idea. Wonder if Klara will agree.

***

At home, during dinner, Rudy brought up the party.

“Klara, the boss is throwing a birthday party for Homer, this Saturday night at Clancy’s, we’re invited.”

“Why is the boss throwing a party for Homer? He never threw one for you.” Klara’s response definitely had a hostile edge to it.

“Because he wants too. And I think we should go.”

“Well, I don’t know any of those people, I don’t have anything to wear, and I don’t want to spend a fortune on clothes for a bunch of strangers.”

“We haven’t been out anywhere in forever. You won’t have to buy new clothes. And I know these guys. The wives don’t know each other, so you won’t be the only stranger.”

“Well, it sounds like a waste of time and money to me!”

“How about me buying you a new dress?

“What? Don’t you dare. You don’t know anything about buying clothes for women. Besides, you have no taste, and you shouldn’t be spending money on such foolishness.”

That went well, thought Rudy.

***

The local Goodwill store was a neighborhood fixture. An easy walk from Rudy’s work or home, it was the shopping place of choice, and necessity, for Rudy. Fashionable stores had long since left the area. Only low-end retail businesses remained. Rudy had shopped there many times but never for women’s clothes.

“I need to buy a dress for my wife,” Rudy told the sales clerk after helplessly wandering the women’s clothing section for about half an hour.

“OK. My name is Mildred. I can help you.”, the matronly female clerk replied. “What are you looking for?”

“A dress.”

“I gathered that. Is this for a special event?”

“Yea. My boss is throwin a birthday party for one of the guys at work.”

Looking at Rudy, I doubt this will be an upscale event, Mildred surmised.

“I’m sure we can find something charming that will be perfect for your wife. What is your wife’s name?”, she asked, shifting into sales mode.

“Klara. She’s about five foot four, on the skinny side.” Rudy replied.

Mildred led Rudy between racks of dresses, carefully sorted by size, stopping when she reached the size she believed would fit Klara.

Rudy reached out and removed a striking red party dress from the rack.

Wow. Good choice. First one off the rack. A woman would fuss over this for an hour, thought Mildred.

“Sir, you have a very good eye. Klara will love that dress. The dresses on this rack are all from the estate of Mrs. Catherine Winthrop. Mrs. Winthrop was a prominent figure on the city’s social scene until her husband passed nigh on twenty years ago. She attended many parties and was written up almost every week in the Sunday paper society section. You can see that she had quite a large collection of fine party dresses.”

“What happened after her husband died?”, asked Rudy.

“She became a recluse.”, Mildred continued, “She closed herself up in that giant house on Mulberry Street. Some say the house is haunted. Occasionally, someone reported seeing her at an upstairs window. Rarely, she was spotted, dressed all in black, at the fine department stores downtown. In the last couple years, she was not seen at all.”

“She passed recently. I have no idea who found her body, or who cleaned out the house to make it ready for market, but all of her clothes and most of her household furnishings made it here to us. Many of her dresses have already sold, but you can see we still have a lot left. Let’s look at some more.”

Rudy dutifully followed Mildred through the aisle, stopping here and there, to look at an item selected by the clerk and listening to the fawning description that went with it.

“Enough.”, Rudy said, putting an end to the sales pitch. “I’ll take the red one I looked at first. How much is it?”

“Three dollars.”

“Thr……..!”, Rudy looked at the clerk incredulously.

“Sir, I assure you that is a fair price for such a fine garment.”, Mildred replied defensively.

“Lady, I’m not arguing with you. I’ll take it.”

“Can I bring it back, if it doesn’t fit?”, Rudy asked at the checkout as he handed over three dollar bills.

“Of course. Just bring your receipt.”, the cashier replied, smiling.

***

At home, Rudy burst through the door. “Klara. I bought you a fantastic dress.” He caught himself before saying ‘for only three dollars.’

“Rudy, I told you I don’t want to go to the party. I don’t want a new dress. I won’t know anybody. We can’t afford a new dress for me.”

“Please, honey. You should meet the guys I work with. They’re regular folks, and I‘m sure their wives are too. These people aren’t high society. They’re loading dock workers, just like me. The party’s at Clancy’s, not the Ritz. We never go out.”

“Just try it on.”, Rudy pleaded as he removed the dress from the bag.

Klara stopped short. “Oh, my. This dress is too good for Clancy’s … and you will have to buy a new suit … and I will need new shoes … do you think we will be overdressed … this dress must have cost a fortune. Rudy! How much did you pay for this dress?”

“Three dollars.”

“Three dollars!”, Klara blurted, almost choking on the words.

“Well, at least I can try it on,” she said in a whimper.

The dress transformed Klara. It fit perfectly, and to Rudy, she appeared radiantly beautiful.

“I feel like a princess.”

“You are my Princess.”

“I guess we’re going to a party.”

***

The handwritten sign on the door said ‘Closed tonight for a private party.’ Rudy and Klara entered. Klara had gotten a new pair of shoes to go with her new dress, but Rudy did not get a new suit; although he did polish his Sunday shoes for the occasion.

Archie, the bartender/manager of Clancy’s, had gone all out for the party. The pool table was pushed to the wall and covered to act as a buffet table for heavy hors d’oeuvres. Light snacks were placed on the bar, and the whole place looked freshly scrubbed. In the far back corner, a three-piece band was gearing up to play. The dancing space could probably hold three couples. The boss had sprung for a two-hour open bar.

The couple paused just inside to hang their coats on the pegs lining the entry way. As they removed their coats, the room fell silent.

“Rudy. Everyone is staring at me. I’m embarrassed. You told me they would be friendly.”, Klara said in a trembling voice.

Klara was right. Everyone in the room had locked onto her and were unabashedly staring. Birthday Boy broke the silence, coming forward to introduce himself.

“Hello. I’m Homer. You must be Klara. Rudy speaks of you often. Since it’s my birthday party, I’ll claim the first dance. May I?”

“I haven’t danced since high school,” Klara said, hesitantly.

“Neither have I,” replied Homer, “but these yokels won’t know the difference, and soon they will be too drunk to care. So we can fake it.”

“Rudy?”

“It’s fine Klara. I’ll introduce you around after.”, Rudy said reassuringly.

The first dance lasted for several numbers. By the end, Klara had turned into a complete party animal. The band had picked up on the situation and recognized that Klara would be the showgirl for the evening. Most people regard the band as invisible noise makers. But the band sees everything, just like a surveillance camera. What they see most is embarrassing behavior. This night would be no different.

Rudy took Klara through the obligatory round of introductions, which only took a few minutes since the whole party was only a half-dozen couples. Husbands were eager to meet Klara, while wives were coldly polite. The chill couldn’t be hidden.

The music resumed, and several husbands rushed to dance with Klara. These men had never danced, but with Klara, they were like Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers. One after another they pushed and shoved to be her dance partner. “May I cut in” became the phrase of the evening. The situation became increasingly obvious – husbands clamoring to dance with Klara, while wives and Rudy looked on from the sidelines.

“Rudy, you never told me you had such a beautiful wife.” said Archie.

“Must be the dress,” Rudy replied to himself.

The evening wore on. Husbands trying to keep up with Klara, but getting drunker. Wives getting angrier. Rudy getting more perplexed.

I’ve got to get her out of here soon, thought Rudy, this is getting out of hand.

A whiff of expensive perfume caught Rudy’s nose. He turned to see a woman standing beside him – a breathtakingly beautiful woman, handsomely dressed, and for sure not part of this party. No one else seemed to notice.

“That your wife?”, she asked, nodding toward Klara.

“Yes.”

“She dances beautifully.”

“She hasn’t danced in thirty years, and she wasn’t very good then.”, said Rudy, turning to watch Klara.

“She certainly can dance tonight.”

“Yes she can.” Rudy responded in a long sarcastic drawl. “She is having a ball.”

“Tell her, thank you.”

“What?”

“Tell her, Catherine thanks her for a wonderful evening.”

“What!” Rudy spun around in complete shock.

She was gone, but no one else had noticed her presence or absence.

It would be impossible to be in the presence of a woman so beautiful and not notice, thought Rudy.

Smiling, he climbed onto the bar stool and signaled Archie for another drink. Contented, he watched Klara dancing with total abandon and joy in her heart.

***

The party finally wound down and burned out. Klara and Rudy headed home.

“Did you have a good time?”, Rudy asked.

“Oh, I had a wonderful time.”, Klara replied, “It was glorious. I never felt this way before. Thank you for insisting we go to the party.”

Boy, am I going to have hell to pay at work this week.

“Catherine said thanks for a wonderful evening.”

“Who’s Catherine?”

###

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2 comments

    • Wow. What I liked was the idea of this tale. You have a unique sense of, well, plot. Your stories are typically a bit odd but naturally so. I like that. This story shows that. Now, I think to make it tighter you might pay closer attention to maintaining the language/dialect…if you begin with a character speaking with a strong dialect you have to maintain it. I liked the beginning dialogue, but as it moved along that was lost. That dialogue painted the characters so to lose it weakens the tale. The women too must speak the lingo so to speak. Also, slow down You have an awesome tale here but after a bit it feels rushed. Play that tension out. Slow down, flesh your tales out. I know that this is a probably a one shot so good job! Thanks for sharing it!

      Like

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