Perceptions, Altered

Flash Fiction July, 11

It begins in a thrift shop. She’s been looking for inspiration in all the wrong places, haunting everything bright and new and shiny. Coming here was an impulse, sudden decision to turn left instead of right and driving picking random corners.

She runs her fingers over the dozens of clothes packed into a tight space, gowns fighting with cheap dresses fighting with elegant over-priced skirts for space. Somewhere in the tangle is a pile of faded crushed velvet, but the feel is all that she gets before she’s flipped to the next article. It doesn’t take long before she notes the feeling of cotton and denim and something else she can’t quite put her finger on, but the memory of how the velvet felt in her hands lingers on.

After a while she leaves, decides she can do better than a dress with a drooping hem and a broken zip.

There’s a pre-loved boutique in the city and that makes all the difference. Compared to the thrift shop, this place is bare of content – it has eight mannequins all modeling an outfit; dresses hang from hooks in the ceiling and the store layout changes weekly. She inhales fabric cleaner and a mix of expensive perfumes, tries on every dress in her size.

It’s velvet that fits her and when she gets home she lays it against her wardrobe door, tamps down the feeling that she could’ve just cleared her credit card bill with the money spent today. A few minutes and the feeling passes; a few minutes later and she’s wrangling the zip up her back and winding her hair into extravagant curls. Dancing around the functionally-mismatched apartment, she feels transported into another world.

Embarrassed, suddenly, she slips the dress off and packages it in the protective bag. Remembers how velvet feels and vows to replenish her wardrobe.

For her next excursion she buys a flimsy jacket, one that won’t do a shred of good in keeping her warm but looks fabulous against her newly-unbottled hair colour. When she wears the bold red jacket, the streets become her runway, (ankles tottering in) sky high heels clopping noisily against the pavements. Her friends comment about how she always wears the heels now, always will be able to hear when she’s coming and she jokes back about how she won’t be able to sneak up.

Later she buys velvet shorts on impulse, wears them with blazers and plain shirts that detract nothing from the shorts – they’re the main event.

Last she buys velvet-dressed heels and combines two loves into one neat parcel. They get ruined the first time a bus goes through the gutter-water and splashes her ankle-deep. There’s no hope of her salvaging them, she’s done all the Google searching and tried it all but they still don’t look the same and the shoemaker tells her the bill for mending them won’t be worth it. He deals in shoes, he tells her as though she has missed something, not prissy fabrics. Just for a moment, she feels reprimanded, like a child; throws them out and cries for longer than she’d ever admit to doing.

It gets cold, so she trades in the jacket for proper coats made from wool and leather gloves, lets the jacket fade away in the back of her wardrobe. So far she hasn’t been able to acquire a velvet scarf so she stops thinking about it so much, dyes her hair some radiant new blonde and matches it to a shocking purple coat.

Now, she installs velvet curtains in her bedroom. They’re shockingly flimsy, as she discovers the second day of tugging them across the rail and snags the corner. They’re also very bad at keeping out the streetlight, so she strings heavy blackout fabric behind them and holds them back with a loop of silky-soft rope on a hook. Some nights she gets a decent sleep and pretends to be swathed in acres of warm velvet, but she’s already spent too much money on it to justify continuing.

(She tires of it eventually. The feel when she brushes her fingers over it lingers, but the action of brushing the fabric sets her teeth on edge. The way the fibers don’t always lie flat bugs her; the repeated need to smooth it all down perfectly haunts her when she opens the curtains and takes the jacket to dry-cleaning.)

Another excursion to the boutique comes up, and this time she finds a silk dress. It’s thin and wispy, hugs her body closely and doesn’t have any flare-out. She wears it in the mirror before buying, looks at her wild curls and decides it’s all wrong; they don’t suit the softness of the dress. She buys it, cuts her hair and lets the cut take out a lot of the curl. The rest, she flat-irons daily into loose waves that skim her shoulders and get snarled up easily.

Somewhere along the way she stops being able to feel transported to another world just by wearing something, so she bundles up all the velvet and donates it, drops the clothes back into circulation but keeps the dress. Stocks up on silk dresses and wanders the world feeling like she could drift away at any time if she isn’t careful. It’s not the first time she’s had this feeling, but the lightness of the silk makes it harder for her to feel anchored to earth.

(silk is too light, it doesn’t have any sensory irritation for her to remind her that it’s there)

(it’s the first time she realized clothing could change her perception of the world around her)

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