Susie Griffith

Definitely Not Kansas


Look at all these clothes! There’s stacks of them, of every size, in a rainbow of colors. There are tops, bottoms, shirts, skirts, pants, dresses – all very neatly stacked. How do they keep them so neatly stacked? 


It’s a warehouse of clothes. I’m surrounded by a vista of clothes. I could choose any of them. Don’t I just feel so free? Don’t, I. 


I feel overwhelmed.


My mother is there. I haven’t seen her since, well, since our last one ever, fight happened. She has a very serious look on her face. She tells me she wants to apologize to me and I inwardly groan. Here comes another “very Constance” moment. But, I will listen to her words and her fears and her self-obsession cloaked in concern for others when it’s really about her image of self. And I will accept her apology, bolster her heart-felt opinions, allay her fears, and praise her profound sensitivity. 


My grandma walks by. I haven’t seen her in years – well, obviously. She looks young, still, or youngish, comparatively. She sees us and hesitates, but chooses to simply smile and move on.


“There’s Grama,” I say to my mother.


The spontaneous joy on her face fades almost instantly to a rejected pout. 


“Why didn’t she stop and talk to us?” she asks.


Calm her, support her, solve her problem. “Maybe she wants to give us a private moment to finish our talk.”


My mother is appeased and we begin to walk through the stacks of clothes. I see a dress that rises out of the confusion of options. 


“I love this dress. I think I’ll try it on,” I say. But as I turn to my mother for approval, she shakes her head sadly. Ah, my fashion sense is all wrong again.


Nonetheless, I am determined. It’s perfect for me, I think. It’s sleeveless with a deep v-cut neckline, open shoulders, a form-fitting bodice that releases into a flaring skirt. It broadcasts free and flirty. There is a bold floral pattern on the top that blends downward into subdued hues towards the hem. It will move with me, with the wind, with the mood of whatever event.


I take it to the dressing room and suddenly the saleswoman is in the room with me. Two of them, in fact. 


“We will help you get into the dress. It’s complicated” they tell me.


I don’t resist. I’m strangely unbothered by these two women undressing and re-dressing me. It must be the freedom of the dress, I think. It will be a new beginning. I won’t be afraid or ashamed or burdened anymore.


The dress is around my shoulders now, and I see that they were right about its complications. There is so much to do to get the dress aligned on my torso. They work hard to make one arm fit, then the other, and I wonder to myself why an open V-neck with no sleeves should be so difficult to don. I realize it’s not at all what I expected. It doesn’t look at all like the dress I chose.


“How different things look off the hanger,” I think. 


My mother’s voice is in my head. “I cannot stress enough the importance of trying things on.”


The salesladies are gone now, and I know the dress is not the answer. My mother was right. I want to take it off and leave, but I find I can’t figure out how to untangle my shoulders from its fabric. I try to find the secret of dress, but I am trapped, bound up in fabric that shouldn’t be there. Or is it my body that is trapping the dress? Or am I trapped in a body that is trapped in a dress?


The confidence I felt with the saleswomen is gone. My mother is gone, forever gone. There are only the stacks of clothes. So neatly piled.


Susie Griffith is an actor and writer living in Chicago with her wonderful husband, a timid border collie and a mostly blind cat. In addition to short story and novella creative writing, she continues to perform in the vital Chicago theater scene, and uses her writing passion to create elaborate back-stories for her characters.