A Faded Cotton Dress

It was 11:34 am and time to leave the hospital. The nurses had been wonderful, the delivery without complication. It was time to take Baby home. But Tope couldn’t decide between the three coming home outfits she’d narrowed down from ten others she’d shopped for over the course of the past 9 months. Her husband, a longsuffering man who made allowances for his wife’s eccentricities because of his great love for her, was beginning to get impatient. They’d been agonizing over this decision for an hour now.

“You know it doesn’t really matter what you bring her home in,” David noted. “She will certainly be able to wear them all in the near future. See?” He held up the delicate white dress with yellow daisies printed on the border and pointed to the tag. “It says 0-6 months…”

Tope was incensed. David didn’t know what he was talking about. This was their first child. Their only child. The child they had spent years trying to conceive! Let the other moms take their babies home in that awful hospital issue blanket and stripped cap. Tope wanted people to look at Baby and see a mother who settled for only the best! But David couldn’t understand this. She swallowed the venomous insults burning in the back of her throat and pointed to the periwinkle blue set with pink embroidery. Carefully, so carefully, she tucked Baby into the fabric and beamed with delight. She was beautiful.

But Tope was a new mother and not very adept with diapering. A stream of Baby’s newborn poop seeped onto the seat of the dress and now she had to be changed!

David was laughing.

“Don’t worry. One day, she’ll have to wipe her own bottom and you’ll never have to change her clothes again.”

 

*****

Today was Baby’s first day of kindergarten. She wanted to wear polka dot stockings, the purple/orange/pink sweater Granny had mailed all the way from Portland, a khaki skirt and Twinkle Toe sneakers. Tope was horrified.

“Baby…you just can’t wear that in public. Nothing matches! What will people think?”

“But I want to wear it, Mawwwmmmie! I look good!”

Tope held up a dark blue pleated skirt, a cream Peter Pan collar blouse and patent leather Mary Janes. The ensemble was conservative, respectable, and in Baby’s 5 year old eyes, ugly.

“No! I won’t wear it Mommy!”

Tope frowned. Baby sulked. The two glared at each other until David broke the stalemate with a suggestion of his own. Perhaps Baby could wear Mommy’s blouse and the Twinkle Toes? Then everybody could be kind of happy.

Mother and daughter agreed to the compromise and Baby bounded onto the bus for her first day of school, waving her good-byes. Tope watched as the other kids oooh’ed and ahhh’ed over those ghastly sparkly shoes.

“Ugh! I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to dress her anymore!”

 

*****

 

Macy’s was packed to rafters. Teen-aged girls were squealing, giggling and groaning over their gown choices. Prom was in three days and everyone was doing last minute shopping. But this wasn’t last minute shopping for Tope and Baby. This was the fifteenth time they’d been to the mall.

“Baby…this is prom. Don’t you want to make a grand entrance? Don’t you want to take everyone’s breath away?”

Baby fought hard not to roll her eyes. It only made their fights escalate faster. She tried a different tactic instead: partial pleading.

“Mom. I just want to be comfortable. I just want to dance with my friends!”

“But, Baby. It’s PROM. You should look like a princess!”

Tope held up a high-collared sequence covered affair with skirts that swung and swished with every move. She begged her daughter just to try it on.

“Maaaawmmmie! I’m the editor of the school newspaper…not a Hapsburg countess!”

The girls on the other side of the dressing room were watching, mocking, laughing. Baby glared at her mother as she ducked behind the curtain and hoisted the 15 lbs midnight blue monstrosity over her head. Then she looked into the mirror and smiled. The dress was so huge that it could conceal the outfit she really wanted to wear under it. She emerged from behind the curtain with a mischievous grin on her face.

“I think you’re right, Mom,” she whispered. “This is the dress I should get.”

Tope was busy fussing with the skirts and zippers, muttering her irritation.

“I don’t know why you fight me on these things, Baby. I know what you look good in. You know, one day I won’t have dress you anymore. And I can’t wait for that day….”

 

******

A robin was pecking at the window, its feathers dusted with the gentle winter snow that had just begun to fall. Baby tiptoed over and stared at her reflection in the glass, the robin seated serenely on the other side. It made a beautiful picture. Perhaps William would paint it one day, if she could describe it to him.

The door burst open and the robin flew away.

Tope charged towards Baby and guided her towards a plush ottoman. She was fussing. “Why are you staring idly out of the window, eh? The wedding will start very soon and the guests are being seated. And look, your hair isn’t even done….”

The roar of Baby’s laugh halted her mother’s jarring chatter. She informed her that her hair was indeed done. She intended to wear it down. Tope was aghast. She turned to the stylist whom she had hired, demanding an explanation.

“I thought I told you how I wanted the hair to look for today! I showed you a picture!”

The timid beautician shrank into a corner. This was only her third gig, and she wasn’t yet accustomed to dealing with half-crazed mothers of the bride.

“I’m sorry…but that’s not what Ms. Baby told me to do. And well… since she is the bride…”

Tope held up her hand, demanding silence. She turned her attention to Baby and her lace-up bodice. She asked once more if they could make it tighter, so that she didn’t appear so pregnant.

“But I AM pregnant, Mom,” Baby reminded her.

“But that doesn’t mean you have to look it,” Tope wailed.

“Mom…everyone out there knows it. I just want to be comfortable!”

Tope shook her head in disgust. She turned her attention to her own reflection and straightened her wig.

“Even on your wedding day, I still have to show you how to dress. Eh? What is this! Why should you walk down the aisle looking like a donut? I can’t wait for the day when…”

“…when you won’t have to dress me anymore, Ma. Yes – I know. You’ve been saying it my whole life.”

Baby grabbed her mother by the waist and gave her a quick hug before taking her bouquet from the maid of honor and waiting to meet her prince William at the altar.

 

****

They said it was a drunk driver who lost control on a patch of ice.

Baby clung to life until she got to the hospital. She begged the doctor to save her child before she drifted into a coma. The nurse said Baby’s heart stopped when her baby took its first breath and  cried.

Tope’s Baby was gone.

“Darling, you have to eat something,” David begged softly. “You’ve been staring at her closet for three days. What are you looking for in there?”

Tope rested her head against the white frame of her daughter’s closet door and stared. In it was a wardrobe of which she didn’t approve. Faded jeans. Oversized sweat shirts. High top sneakers. In the corner she spied a massive midnight blue dress with sequencing that had long lost its shine. Tope smiled wryly as she picked up a simple cotton frock, covered in polka dots. It was faded and well worn. It was Baby’s favorite. She would want to be comfortable for her final journey. Tope planted her head in David’s chest and sobbed.

“I’m looking for something to dress my daughter in for the last time.”

dress

 

  • Nana Ama

    Awwwww! You made me laugh and cry at the same time!

    • I made myself cry! I was fine until I got to the end and it struck me how awful this is! 😢

  • tiaboone

    Why would you start my day with such utter sadness! It was hauntingly beautiful.

    • Girl! Here’s the thing: I was muttering to myself about the children’s fashion choices, gabbing on about how I can’t wait for them to dress themselves.
      Then I paused and thought “what if?”

      Then I wrote this. Then I cried. And now I’m looking forward to helping them dress, hassle as it may be.

  • A painfully sad story, Malaka. No mother should go through this. beautifully written. 🙂

  • beautifully crafted although such a sad ending…did you really think what if? I struggle to dress or “encourage” my partner to dress most days for class to look like a “real professor” but this story made me think what if she really only wants to be comfortable? And it’s not about what I think or what I worry others will think. thanks for writing!

    • I honestly did! I struggle to keep the kids dressed appropriately because they grow so fast so their clothes are either ripped, faded or showing butt crack. The clothes I fuss about are usually their favorite things. I’ve caught myself thinking about how I can’t wait for them to buy their own clothes.
      With regards to your partner: that’s a tough one! Maybe she DOES just want to be comfortable. Maybe we should just let her. After all, you don’t want her stomping around like Viola in heels she can’t navigate. That’s not a good look!

  • This is so beautiful Malaka…I ended my read with some tears as well…I just discovered your blog today, and I’m glad I took the time…nice piece!
    Khasoha- Samita

    • Thanks, Samita. I’m glad you took time to stop by! Thanks for commenting as well. ☺️

  • freda

    awwwww….. Malaka…. beautiful and sad at the same time…. great perspective on life…. great piece…