The Purple Dress
“Mrs. Miller, the Sunday school teachers are having a picnic at the lake after next week’s morning service. I hope your children will join us.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Ames. I wouldn’t be able to do that. The two young ones will be needing a nap.”
Mrs. Ames saw us walk to church in all kinds of weather, so she shoulda known Mr. Miller wasn’t likely to drive us to the lake. Mom knew better than to even think of asking such a question.
“I’m sorry you can’t make it. I was hoping all the children in Sunday school could be there. Fay is so well-behaved. Could she come with my family?”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“I want to come, too,” chimed younger sister Phyllis, wiggling like she was about to pee her pants.
Mrs. Ames hesitated. “I’ll ask Mrs. Tucker, her Sunday school teacher, if she has a vacant seat in her Desoto.” The loud way she said “vacant” made it clear she wasn’t in favor of allowing Phyllis to go. We Millers could have put all seven kids in that boat.
I was happy to be going on the picnic and gave a lot of thought about what to wear. I coveted a purple dress that belonged to my older sister Barbara, and she finally passed it down to me. I was saving it for a special occasion, and the picnic matched my idea of something special.
I don’t know who in the town made the donation. A whole dress of solid purple! I had never felt anything that soft and bumpy. “Crepe,” mom said.
We had a fine time, sitting at picnic benches, eating all kinds of stuff we didn’t have at home: a bun made just for a hot dog, potato chips, red pop.
Mrs. Ames said, “Now run along children, play some games, have fun before we go back home. We adults will take our blankets down to the water. Mind you, we’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
The word “run” must have stirred up something in Phyllis’s brain. She said, “Why don’t we run down the row of picnic tables? We can leap from one to the other.”
And, so we did, laughing at our bold daring, until my leg went through a rotten board. I let out a scream. The church ladies looked over their shoulders, came running, and yanked me up and off the table so hard that I and Mrs. Ames’ hat fell to the ground.
“Good Lord! Has the Devil gotten hold of you? I thought you were a well-behaved child. Should have known better.” Under her breath, she whispered, “Unsuitable dress. Harlot’s color.”
“We didn’t mean to do it,” fumed Phyllis, fists balled at her side. “We were just having fun.” I kept my head down and my mouth shut.
While Mrs. Ames gave Phyllis a lecture on talking back and deportment in general, I took the opportunity to slink into the woods and examine my arm and leg. Both were smarting to beat the band. I spied a long tear down the skirt of the dress—my purple dress—and slumped against a tree, trying hard not to cry.
It was time to go home, and I had to cut that out. I pulled the hem of the dress up to my face, wiped my cheeks, and blew my nose. Mrs. Ames dropped us off at the church, and we footslogged home in silence. For once Phyllis wasn’t jabbering away.
My shaking body shrouded in farm clothes, I struck out for the barn to feed the animals. I made a detour to the rusted iron barrel where Mom burned trash and threw the crumpled wad on the low burning coals. Flames curled round the dress, like shame around my heart.
I watched the purple turn to ash.
Fay L. Loomis lives a particularly quiet life in the woods in upstate New York. A member of the Stone Ridge Library Writers and Rat’s Ass Workshop, her recent poetry and prose pieces appear or are forthcoming in The Closed Eye Open, Love Me, Love My Belly, Rat’s Ass Review, Ruminate Magazine, HerStry, Sanctuary Magazine, Burrow, Amethyst Review, Covid and Poetry Project, Al-Khemica Poetica, Blue Pepper, Sledgehammer Lit, Undertow Literary Review, and Love in the Time of Covid: a Chronicle of a Pandemic.