Cerulean Dress

April 1954

 

The dress was ready. All of the pearl-headed pins had been removed, and Eva couldn’t stop staring at her reflection in the mirror. Ariana looked tearfully on. ‘Omorfi,’ she sighed, ‘Beautiful mou’, the rare Greek endearments ran from her eyes to the girl in the glass along narrow rivulets of love. The dresses ivory satin cinched in at the waist and flared to its widest point just below the knee. It moved in a soft stiffness as the dark haired bride in the mirror turned and lifted a lace veil to her head, pinning it in place and patting the hair beneath.

“We are going to be so happy, Aunty,” the eyes of both women cast in dreams.

The scent of gardenias filled the room. Eva had arranged them in the cerulean vase, and the autumn sun caught a vertical glint deep within the glass. On the morning of the wedding she would pick fresh blooms, binding them with satin ribbon before the vows and the gold rings bound her and Athos together. The heavy scent of the flowers made her sneeze. Pulling a handkerchief from the bureau in front of her and dabbing at her nose, she was thankful that the headaches and fevers had faded, it wasn’t the flu, she just had a cold. It would pass before Saturday.

 

October 2009

 

I am grateful for the apple trees. Plants kept in the room used to wither and die, as though I used up all available oxygen, which wouldn’t surprise me. They tell me that the world has changed outside beyond my veil of leaves, but my cage is the only constant, and though it is an anachronism now, it is what has kept me alive for these long years, simultaneously a blessing and a curse.

Once every decade or so I am rediscovered by some new doctor or researcher, and wheeled out into the spotlight. I am considered something of a curious relic now, a fascinating find, but years ago my state was a shame to be hidden away. I was held to be responsible for what happened and worse, for the waste of Athos’s life, as though the circumstances were of my choosing. They must have thought me mad then, as well as crippled, to have made choices such as that.  They stuffed me into a breathing machine and then left me in a room, alone with my dusty lungs and my stilled limbs. No poetry there, but blue.

 

April 1954

 

Athos and Eva walked down the darkened street. Stars were thrown across the black sky, the night’s edges hadn’t yet settled into the approaching cold. They walked to the park,  you could hear the music from the shire hall swaying through the near streets. Eva took her shoes off, placing them on the ground, “Let’s dance,” she said, smiling up at Athos’s face, which was browner still under the far light of the street lamp. “Here? We go to the dance for dance. That’s what pretty dress is for?” Eva’s back and legs ached; she was so tired. “We don’t have to go there. I can’t be bothered with the people. We don’t need them.” She reached for his hand, “Here, hold me, ” and Athos laughed, kicked his own shoes off and took her in his arms, moving gently from side to side on the grass, “Yes, my Eva, my little bride. We dance. Just you and I.”

With her head on his chest, she could hear the rhythm of his heart. Tilting her head back to look up at his face, she put one hand there above it. “We’ll always dance like this, won’t we Athos?” she whispered, “It will always be like the night that we first danced, on the sand on H-, for us.” She made a loop of their touching hands. Athos smiled and pulled her in closer again, softly humming. Eva felt the vibration of his lips enter through her hair, into her head.

 

October 2009

 

I live close to the surface of my dreams, swimming down, dipping in there, where there is no need for lungs or limbs. Immersed in blue I am young and brown, salty skinned. I am in love, and Athos lives.

I sleep more and more, inside my box. This breathing apparatus is not made of the iron that it once was, but of a flimsy grey cardboard that a decent breath could knock down. The irony does not escape me.

My nurses are kind and attentive, though they wake me too often for my liking, and their cheery bluster belies their pity.

 

April 1954, Friday

 

Eva awakens the morning before her wedding, and the first thing that she sees as she opens her eyes is the dress, hanging on the edge of the cupboard, directly in her line of sight. It is something all of its own there, not requiring the addition of a woman within to make it whole, though the woman is hardly a bride without the dress. In the hazy seconds between sleep and wake, she senses that something is wrong. Then she recognises it, and pins it down, the strangeness, the dead weight of her body, something much colder than heaviness. It is not simply an arm, awkwardly slept upon, it is as though the shells of all of her limbs have sunk to the bottom of a fathomless ocean trough. Only her face remains afloat as her terror rises and she begins to scream.

In the hospital, un-feeling of the hands holding each of hers, it is her lungs that are last to sink, frozen in time and held like the breath that you take before you plunge down deep.

 

October 2009

 

It is coming, finally. I can read it in their solemn eyes, soon the bellows will no longer be enough. It is a quiet affair, there is no one left to call, none remaining to sit beside me and wait for my time. When I go, strangers will say words over me and bury me, but that doesn’t matter now. I am too tired to soothe the nurses. I know that it is unseemly, but I am eager for the end. Fifty-five and a half years I have been lying supine, with my head sticking out like the queenly stamps that I stuck on envelopes in another lifetime.

I have been swimming so long down here, but now, I see the wavy outlines of faces above the surface. I see dark hair, and as I swim long strokes towards them, I see a hand reach down to pull me free. I am ready to emerge from blue.
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