by Jane Doe
"The Night of the Floating Pink Dress" was one of those times when a life stops being a bud, quivers, slowly with jerks and starts, opens into a fragile new existence.
That spring evening we were sugar coated, dropped into the thick sticky batter that was the unreality of the high school auditorium decorated and dimmed. The swing song of the band was the purr of mixer's motor that twirled and swirled us around and around, dashing our senses against the side of the bowl as our bodies rubbed together in the accepted presence of all the other ingredients. By the end of the blending we were poured back into our cake pan, the '39 Chevie, baked in the moonlight to become a confection with new names. Now it was Dave and Jenny.
Driving up our lane, Dave didn't stop at the turn out where we usually parked, but drove right up to the walk way. I looked at him with questioning surprise. Didn't he want to be with me anymore? No more kisses next to the pasture's darkness?
"Do you think your folks would mind if we sat inside on their couch? I'm afraid that in here in the car, you'll spoil your lovely dress."
It hadn't occurred to me that my parent's buying me such a dress, going through the formality of the boyfriend-father scene and letting me stay out until one o'clock was their acceptance speech of my dating Dave. Without ever having experienced it with any other girl, he knew what was being offered. And he wanted to take it.
Sitting on the couch offered a lot more maneuverability than the car seat with its ever-present steering wheel and gear shift. Whole new holds and embraces had to be invented. The dress itself added new hindrances... and advantages. After a very cold winter in a very cold car, packed in coats and turtleneck sweaters, the expanse of bare arms, shoulder and neck became the frosting on the sweetness that was us.
In one movement, Dave tipped my head back, moved his lips in a race over my chin, down my throat, along my shoulder to the skin that bordered the metal-bound layers of net. Along this curving line he planted a fine row of kisses until he reached the lowest dip in the center. My fingers were wound in his hair, wanting to pull his head up out of this pleasure, and yet it was my hand that held him there until he retraced his path, uprooting the gentler kisses with his efforts to push away the netted fence to reach the even softer skin that lay on the other side. Our two hearts were pounding so I couldn't hear any thinking, but, I knew what Dave wanted. I knew I had only to exhale, raise my shoulders and the objects of his desire would be exposed.
But I didn't. I felt he would be disappointed if he found out exactly how little I owned under all those layers of bodice. I leaned back tighter against his hand on my back so he couldn't pull down the front of the dress himself. I couldn't say `yes' and I wanted to avoid an outright `no.' I stiffened: I had stopped breathing pleasure sighs. I was paralyzed with choices I couldn't accept.
With sparks of rejection, we moved apart. Dave straightened up, leaned back on the couch, stretched out his legs before him as if in defeat. He was so lost in thought, I feared that I had deeply offended him. I wanted to kiss and make up, perhaps even pull away myself the net that was chafing the skin between my breast and arm.
Now it was too late to offer. Now I could only be certain of getting a rejection in repayment for my rejection. I chose to be brave and to accept whatever Dave made out of the dilemma. Dave sat there as if anchored in his anger. I was afraid it would soon be one o'clock and he'd have to leave with this unsaid misery hanging between us. I waited for a movement to warn me what he would say.
I could see his closed eyes in the light coming in the beveled glass of the front door. One hand laid on his chest, the other, like a dropped glove, covering mine. Coming back to life, he squeezed my hand, disregarding the bone structure in it. He turned toward me, the tips of his fingers pushing-pulling on my bare shoulder. His face, yellowed with porch light, was pained.
"Jenny, I'm glad you didn't let me go as far as I wanted to tonight. What you did is what I would want the girl I would marry to do."
During the kisses of welcomed reunion, the clock struck once.
"Is that twelve-thirty or one o'clock?"
"I don't know. We'll have to look."
Walking in an embrace to the grandfather clock, we looked him directly in the face. He was holding both hands up in shocked disdain. So we kissed again to offend this prudish, ancient bystander. "Obstreperous youngsters, neophytes. Now in my time..." his gears began to grind.
Standing by the screen door, Dave took one last look at me in the floating pink dress. "I'll always remember you in this dress. It has taught me so much!"
The next day Dave enlarged his rights to me further by showing up unexpectedly at our house late in the afternoon. My folks were out house-shopping. They had the urge for their own nest.
I didn't know how to entertain Dave, alone in the house, so I started telling him how after he had left I had gone into the kitchen for a snack. To make my narrative more real, I took him into the kitchen, making a little theatre opening cabinet doors, searching for the soup pan, closing the doors, looking around the kitchen, shrugging my shoulders, going to the refrigerator carrying the butter dish, opening that door and laughing to see the clean, dry pan on the shelf.
While laughing politely, Dave took an earnest interest in the contents of the cold as he asked, "Anything in there to eat? I slept so long this morning, I missed dinner."
"I know, I missed you in church!"
"How did you ever get up in time for church?"
"My father has a deep gruff voice on Sunday mornings, but I made up for it by sleeping all afternoon. What would you like? Soup? I have cans."
I opened the tin, dumped the clotted contents into the famous pan. More carefully than usual, I measured exactly one full can of water, and added it to make it really soup. While I clattered and banged the rest of our meal on the stable, Dave roamed around looking at the country atmosphere of our kitchen. The rows of home preserved cherries, peaches, and tomatoes; the dried herbs hanging by the window, the bag of dog food sitting by the back door.
"I didn't know you had a dog."
"We don't. We have two. Mother got two Chihuahuas a month ago. She wants to raise them. We keep them in the garage most of the time so no one runs over the little beasts. We can go see them after we eat."
Sitting alone at the table with Dave, so family like, and yet so new and unreal, made me feel I was on a stage, having rehearsals, and neither of us was too sure of our lines yet. Like troupers, though, we carried out the whole action, right down to filling the sink with steaming, soapy water. I washed. Dave dried. We tried to show each other that we knew all one needed to know about playing house.
It was a relief to go out into the late afternoon's spring sunshine, to let the dogs loose, to lose our awareness of ourselves by watching them race around barking and finally sniffing Dave's shoes like those of someone they might want to get to know.
We walked through the orchard with the two dogs following us single file. I felt Dave wasn't seeing the apple blossoms which were lace canopies in my mind. He leaned on the white board fence to look out over the field. "Who farms this?"
"Do you know what he is planting in here?"
"We have nothing to do with the farm. Mr. Knepper does it all. Why are you so interested in Knepper's fields?"
"Because," he said, staring straight out over the wideness, "I just got fields of my own."
"As a graduation gift. The old man is letting me farm the one hundred twenty acres he had rented out. The tenants, the folks from Tennessee, decided to move back to the mountains, all of a sudden, last week. Instead of looking for new renters, dad said I can plant whatever I want. He'll buy the seed. I can use his machinery and in the fall, the profits will be mine. It's a big gift. Lots of work, but with a little luck, with the weather and the bugs, I should be able to have something in the bank by fall."
"Sounds like you are going to be very busy this summer."
"Oh, Jenny, that's what worries me!" He turned, leaning his back on the boards and pulling me beside him. "I'm quitting the choir. There won't be anymore games or track meets. I don't know when I can see you. It seems dad works all the time and still is never done. I want to be with you, now more than ever, and yet, I can't neglect the work in the fields. Do you understand? Will you save Sundays for me? Can we be together all day each Sunday? What will you do this summer? Will you wait for me?"
The sun was setting. A cool breeze came from the field behind our backs. Summer looked very long and empty. Leaning beside Dave I just wanted to stay there and be an apple blossom. Pink and white; floating in the evening air.
"Please God, don't make me become an apple, yet."
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010