Short Stories / The Red Dress

The Red Dress – Chapter 9 – Catherine

Catherine – Chapter 9

Saturday couldn’t come soon enough. Catherine was up early for the walk to the tube for yet another hunt through London’s boutiques and high-end department stores. She had begrudgingly come to the conclusion that she would have to pay full price for something today as Harriet’s photographs of the dresses on offer had looked less than appealing. She was still furiously scrolling through outlet sites and second hand boutiques online as she sat on the train, keeping all of her options open, when she suddenly realised she had missed her stop. “Fuck” she cursed, making a beeline for the doors and hitting the illuminated button to release them. She decided to head up the escalators and walk above ground, thinking that she would just start at the other end.

As she strode purposefully up the cobbled back street, she noticed a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye. A mannequin in a shop window was thrashing around wildly as if trying to save itself from drowning in an imaginary pool, it’s lack of arms making the fraught movements seem even more ironic. She noticed a struggling shop assistant beneath it whose colleague was clutching something in a deep scarlet red. Catherine glanced up at the signage noting that it was a Red Cross charity shop in a fashionable part of town, and therefore whatever the assistants had thought to be window worthy was probably worth a look. Besides, she thought to herself wryly, someone needs to save them from themselves.

Not even the loudly jangling bell as she entered the shop was enough to wrestle them, quite literally, from their quest. “I don’t think it’s going to fit” panted the first assistant, still pinned under an armless velour torso. “It willllll” said the second, exaggerating the end of the word as if the longer she carried it on, the more the universe was on her side. Catherine had been idly thumbing the dress rail and had picked out a couple of options when she decided enough was enough and strode over to speak to them. “Is it a dress?” she asked, the two assistants snapping their heads up in surprise clearly not having registered her entry to the shop. “Yeah,” the insistent girl answered “Gorgeous. Camille. Won’t fit me though” she said glumly, holding it up and letting the puckered fabric fall from her palms so that the dress hung limply from her arm. “You want to try it?” asked the other girl, breathing heavily as she put down the mannequin, clearly spotting her chance to avoid any further struggle with an inanimate and uncooperative body.

Catherine noted that the tags still hung from the  label at the back of the neck and she had spotted quite a few Camille dresses on Net-A-Porter, most of which were well out of her price range. “Yeah, sure!” she said, scooping it up in to her arms. The first assistant nodded towards the back of the shop “Changing rooms are up the back”. “Thanks” Catherine replied and decided to forgo any extra rummaging and get this over and done with.

In the changing room she noticed that the original tags had the pricing label removed, but that the Red Cross’ tag was punched through the luxurious looking card that was carefully attached at the neck by an expensive looking safety pin. Carefully, she drew the hidden zip down towards the hip, watching the dress droop slightly as it expanded its form. The fabric was heavily lavish. It was shorter than what she had originally intended to go for, but the colour was exquisite and the off the shoulder detail would show off her delicate collarbones, something she didn’t often exhibit in the office under her uniform of skinny jeans and oversized jumpers.

She slid the dress over her head, pulling it down over her hips. She turned to the side to locate the tiny zipper and pulled it upwards. It had a pleasing motion, no snags, no threads encroaching on the zip’s path, simply pure luxury. She smoothed down any remaining creases in the fabric at the front, then lifted her head to admire her reflection in the dimly lit changing room. It was simply perfect. The hem sat at mid-thigh and the fabric was thick enough to feel like it was simultaneously pulling you in and smoothing you down, yet it wasn’t restrictive.

She realised she hadn’t thought to check the price and rummaged at the back to locate the mass of labels that had dug in uncomfortably between her shoulder blades. Squinting, she took in the scrawl on the charity shop price tag: £75. “London prices” she thought to herself with a smile, noting that a second hand fancy dress wouldn’t have cost more £30 back in Leeds, “But then they wouldn’t get Camille” she sighed. £75 was still a tenth of what the dress would likely have cost originally. She longed to stay in it a while longer, but also knew that she had to have it, so carefully undid the zip and slid the shoulder detail down over her arms, stepping out of it instead.

She noticed the name of the dress on the original label: ‘Pimpernel Mini’. She smiled to herself, noting the colour once again before deciding to type it in to Google and see how current the design was. It was two season’s old, but she found the Maxi version still in the sale on The Outnet for £579. She headed up to the till where the two assistants stood, engaged in idle chit-chat. “You like it?” the insistent one asked. “Yes please,” Catherine replied, “I’ll take it,” gently placing it down on the desk. “I’ll put the others away,” the second assistant said, holding her arms out expectantly for the two remaining black dresses Catherine still had slung over her forearm. She handed them back and then turned to draw her purse from her handbag.

The door slammed loudly shut, the bell jangling merrily once again, and Catherine satisfactorily settled back to a lazy day of coffee, sunshine and bag shopping.


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