Despite my better judgment, I’m in the change room wrestling with the von Furstenburg. I’ve thrown it over my head and I’m attempting to wedge my arms through the arm holes even though it’s got my shoulders and rib cage in a vise grip. The fabric’s stretched tight over my face so I can’t see and it’s blocking my air supply but I’m doing my best to breathe through twill. This is the moment of deepest despair. This is the moment she always chooses to knock on the door.
I can hear the slow approaching clicks of her heels in my spine. Three light raps on the door with her opal-encrusted knuckles. I brace myself for the sound of her voice, all of my nerve endings like cats ready to pounce. When she speaks, I hear her disdain in my coccyx.
“How are we doing in here?”
We. She means me and the von Furstenburg. She saw me out of the corner of her exquisitely lined eye going to the back of the store to retrieve it between the frigid Eileen Fishers and the smug Maxazrias and she disapproves. She knows the von Furstenburg is a separate entity, that it and I will never be one.
“Fine,” I say. I remain absolutely still, try not to sound breathless. Like all is well. Just a regular trying-on session.
“Oh good. You let me know if you need anything.”
It’s true that it’s been a while since I’ve been coveting the von Furstenburg. Three weeks since I first stood on the other side of her shop window, watching her slip it over a white, nippleless mannequin, looping some ropes of fake pearl around its guillotined neck. I didn’t know it was a von Furstenburg then. I didn’t even know what a von Furstenburg was. I only knew it was precisely the sort of dress I dreamed of wearing when I used to eat muffins in the dark and watch Audrey Hepburn movies. I’d make lists of the perfect dresses—and when I saw this dress it was like someone, perhaps even God, had found the list and spun it into existence. Cobalt, form fitting, with a V in the front and in the back. Cute little bows all down the butt crack like your ass is a present. The sort of dress I’d wish to wear to attend the funeral of my former self, to scatter the ashes of who I was over a cliff’s edge.
“Can I try this on?” I asked her.
Her eyes opened a little wider.
“What? The von Furstenburg?”
She looked from the von Furstenburg to me then back to the von Furstenburg, sizing both of us up. We two? Never we two.
Sighing, she led me to a change room, rearranging sidelines as she went—insect hairclips, baggalinis, peacock scarves—so it wasn’t a totally wasted trip. And then the whole time I was in there being asphyxiated by the von Furstenburg, I felt the fact of her clicking on the other side of the door, pretending to straighten the multi-tiered display of shoelets patterned with Renaissance paintings, waiting for me to admit defeat. Come to my senses. Come on.
Today though, I’m determined to prove her wrong. Today, I won’t come out of the change room, let her snatch the mangled von Furstenburg from me, ask me, How did we do? as if she did not know how we did. As if she didn’t already have the steamer turned on and ready to smooth out the creases of my failed struggle, a task she always undertakes with overdone tenderness. Then, before I’m even out of the store, she’ll pointedly press a damp rag all over the von Furstenburg, presumably to get rid of the slashes of Secret I leave behind. But those stains are always there when I come back. That’s how I know it’s all for show. Like, Look what you do, fat girl. Can’t you take no for an answer? The von Furstenburg doesn’t want you.
Well maybe I don’t want the von Furstenburg. Has she ever thought of that? That maybe I despise it? That maybe I’m trapped in this dance with the von Furstenburg against my will.
Knock knock. “Still alright in there?”
“Great,” I say, and I’m tugging so hard on the back zipper, my tongue is lolling out of my mouth like I’m dead in a cartoon. But I feel it going up. Higher than it ever has before. And it’s not a mirage, it fits. It’s on. It’s miraculous. And even though I’m panting, my hair in disarray from the struggle, I see we look immortal.
I’m just thinking how I’ll wear it out of the store. Picturing how I’ll pull back the curtain in the von Furstenburg, turn my zippered, von Furstenburged back to her and say, all casual, over my shoulder, “Cut the tag, please?” Maybe I’ll even ask for a bag for my old dress, would she mind terribly putting my old dress in a bag? Mm? And that’s when I see the jagged rip down the side seam. Maybe I couldn’t hear the ripping over the sound of my own grunts. That happened once before with the flesh coloured Tara Jarmon. It was impossibly tight when I bought it and then I was out one day walking, insisting, and it suddenly wasn’t. It suddenly felt easy breezy, beautifully loose. I didn’t understand it. Until I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflected glass of an office building and saw the slashes on either hip.
“We sure we’re still doing okay in there?” Her voice says A rat who insists on hitting its head again and again against the maze wall gets taken out of the maze. It gets escorted out, politely but firmly, by mall security.
“Yeah,” I say, my hands fiddling with the zipper in a panic. But they’re so slippery from all the exertion, I have to wipe them on the von Furstenburg just to get a grip. And the zipper still won’t go down. I tug and tug and it’s like that nightmare, you know the one where you’re jogging in wetlands? I don’t jog in wetlands, I jog on a treadmill. Five miles (give or take) every morning (more or less) with a photo of me in a no name shroud taped to the little window that counts you down. Five miles to be told in no uncertain terms by the von Furstenburg that it counts for nothing.
“I can’t get you another size?”
When I asked her once if they had the von Furstenburg in a larger size she said Let me check. And then I loved her. Very briefly I loved her. Loved the blue-green of her hand veins, loved her hands clasped over her tweed crotch. Loved the thin curl of her lips, a smirking red line. Loved all the bones visible in her ostrich throat, the arrowheads of her décolletage, her ash blonde hair gathered in a glittery comb shaped like a praying mantis. Then, as she picked up the receiver, presumably to place the order, she mouthed, That will be 500 dollars, please. And I said, What?! And she said, Well. Obviously you’ll have to pay for it in advance. I mean, we can’t just order a large size.
And I said, But I don’t even know if it’ll f-
And that’s when I saw it, the smile on her face. The flicker of triumph. Like Ha! You know and I know even the next size up wouldn’t fit you, fat girl.
“I’m fine,” I tell her now through my teeth, tugging with all my might.
I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here, half in and half out of the von Furstenburg, the pulltab in the damp cave of my fist. My old dress, the one I thought I’d never have to wear again, lies like a jilted lover in the corner. I hear her clicking not too far off, pretending to rearrange sidelines, sequined hair clips shaped like butterflies, purses shaped like swans, perfumes that make you smell like very specific desserts, rains, and pieces of music. I could just put my old dress over the von Furstenburg. Go to the cashier. Explain. Offer to pay. But the truth, as she well knows, is that even if it did fit, I cannot afford the von Furstenburg.
I have this terrible image of her coming in here with the jaws of life tucked under her arm. Ash blonde tendrils escaping from her chignon as she attempts to wrench me out of the von Furstenburg. How the give of my flesh will be abhorrent to her hands, but not half as abhorrent as her bone white hands will be to my flesh. Other customers will look on as they pass by the open door like I’m a car crash in the opposite lane.
Or. Or maybe I could learn to live like this.
As I sit here, I can already feel myself oozing out of the von Furstenburg. Oozing from the V in front and the V in the back, the volume of my ass threatening to crack the little bows along the fault line. And I begin to think maybe this is it. Maybe this is the only way out. Maybe, if I wait long enough, if I’m patient, I’ll just ooze out. First the fat then maybe we’ll find a way to coax out the organs. Some organs I won’t even need, like my appendix. Of course, even if we leave some things like my appendix behind, it’ll be a slow process. Slow in terms of biological time, but not if you think say, geologically, like in ages. I’m patient.
Mona Awad’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Walrus, Joyland, and St. Petersburg Review. She is currently pursuing an MFA at Brown University.