The Memory of Us(8)

by Camille Di Maio

One afternoon we waited in a queue for two hours to buy tickets for the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We snatched up some Mars bars and Coca-Colas, and dangled our legs over the side of our seats. Lucille and I had anticipated this opening for some time, wondering how the rather ghastly Brothers Grimm tale would be told to a young audience. But I did not have to think on it for long, because early in the film I was seized with a tightness in my stomach that had nothing to do with evil queens or floating mirrors.

The prince was the spitting image of Kyle.

All efforts to keep myself from thinking about him came screeching to a halt. I shifted in my seat and grasped the velvet armrests, daydreaming myself into a world where we had seven small children and lived in a forest. But I couldn’t escape the fact that he was bound for something else, a loveless life. Even if that were not the case, he was forbidden to me in other ways, like a polished red apple, poisonous to the touch. He was a Catholic, a profound restriction in the eyes of my father, and a laborer, quite unsuitable in the eyes of my mother.

“What’s wrong, Grumpy?” Lucille said later, attempting to pull me from my musings over an ice cream.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that you’ve looked like you’re in another world for weeks now, and that’s not like you. What’s going on?”

“Nothing. Just thinking about all we have to do for the festival.” As if to prove the point, I pulled my notebook from my handbag and ran my finger down the agenda written in my mother’s perfect, scrolled handwriting. Lucille eyed me suspiciously, but I kept my gaze on the paper. I never lied to my friend, and she was likely to see right through me. At last, she appeared to set aside any doubts as she pulled out her own set of notes.

Lucille had already proved to be of inestimable value, as her no-nonsense skills kept us all on task. She stayed over at my house for a few nights before the big event and helped me with the last-minute details. She was authoritative in the best of ways, so I nicknamed her “Doc.” When I was ready to quit and go to bed, she called me “Sleepy” and coaxed me back to work.

“Julianne,” she asked me at breakfast, list and pen in hand. “How many entries did we get for the bread-making contest?”

I cross-checked my own list. “Fourteen. Which may go up by one if Mrs. Clarke’s daughter is able to make it into town. We can adjust the score sheets closer to the time if necessary.”

“Right. Do you know if Alice White is making her lemon poppy seed bread again?”

“I certainly hope so—it’s the best. But do you think I can get out of voting for her? I can just see the look on her face when she wins for the third time.” I raised my chin and peered down my nose at her, but Lucille was all business and gave me no leeway for theatrics.

“We have twenty thousand things to do before the weekend,” she said. “Did you ever find out from Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Ward what they decided in regards to the ring game?”

“I think Mrs. Moore won when Reverend Parker got involved. Her idea had been to toss the rings onto tall votive candles with a mock-up of the cathedral in the background.”

“Yes, I’m sure it’s impossible to defend a clown motif after that.”

We carried on with the planning until Friday evening. Lucille declined to accept an official role, but she was an indispensable marvel. With her help, we mapped out the site, reminded everyone of their roles, took inventory of supplies, and sneaked more than one biscuit from the bake sale offerings when they came in.

“Now, the big question—what did you decide to wear for the auction?”

The auction. I was excited about it more than I wanted to let on. It had begun years ago as a parody of coming-out parties. But instead of introducing debutantes to the marriage market, the auction raised money for charity. The prize was the honor of escorting one of Liverpool’s young ladies to a picnic at Reynolds Park a few weeks later. For the mothers, it held far less importance than the formals did, since you didn’t have to be a real deb to participate. But for the would-be beaus, the competition was as frenzied as bees in a jar. What man passed up the chance to one-up his friends? It had developed into a beloved tradition, and brought in the most proceeds of any activity in the festival lineup.

This year was my turn, and Lucille had been looking forward to it almost as much as I had. Her January birthday prevented her from participating until next time, and she was poised to lavish me with all of her attention as I prepared for it.

“I was hoping that you would help me decide,” I said.

We went upstairs to my wardrobe, where I had two dresses hanging apart from the others. I pulled out the first one, draped it on my arm with exaggerated flair, and introduced it in my best hoity-toity voice, which sounded a bit like an opera singer underwater.

“We have here a gown of ice-blue satin, with thin ermine fur trim around the V-neck collar. Sleeves are narrow at the shoulder, widening until gathered again at the wrist, again trimmed in the ermine.”

Lucille pursed her lips and clapped her hands with a feigned propriety.

“And, to accessorize, silver sandals with heels, nude silk stockings, and matching ice-blue garters, not that anyone will see them.”

“Stunning,” Lucille effused with another round of soundless applause. “Simply stunning.”

I laid that one down on the bed and pulled out dress number two. Displaying it on my other arm, I stroked it slowly as if it were a feather.

“Our next ensemble features a gown of smoky sage green with a curved neckline that hugs the collarbone and cuts dramatically down the back, which is adorned with three layers of pearls. The fabric gathers at the waist and becomes fuller towards the ankles. Again, the silver sandals and nude silk stockings round out this selection with the ice-blue garter, because the store didn’t have one to match it.”

Lucille rolled back on the floor, amused by both my presentation and my predicament.

“Well”—she drew out her word as she made a decision—“as devastating as it is to wear a dress without matching garters, you are so right in saying that no one will see them. Therefore, I deem you, Sage Dress, winner of the 1937 Maiden Auction for the Benefit of the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and the Seaman’s Orphanage.”

She looked it up and down to confirm her choice.

“Really, Jul, you know that green is the best color for your eyes, and you want to earn as much money as you can, right?”