It was a good thing I wasn't in charge of picking which story to write because they all looked enticingly fun to me and I would have probably tried to write all of them. The Outlander-esque story won (which surprised me), and so without further ado here is chapter one.
Time travel is one of those tricky things. No one really believes in it except maybe the eccentrically intelligent or the imaginative young. Of course, if it happens to you…
I was afraid to touch it. The red dress hung smashed behind racks of brightly colored feather boas and sequined glasses. It looked dirty at first, then I realized it wasn’t dirt, it was just old...so old looking you didn’t need a microscope to see the edge of every little fiber.
“Come, on… pick the pink top hat and striped vest” my friend Natasha said laughing and pulling me towards the rest of our friends squished in front of the camera. We’d been at the Sunset Savor festival since it opened this morning and it was way past lunch time. I was starting to feel like I was running on the dregs of my coffee and the seemingly boundless energy of my friends. We were all at one of those silly old fashioned photo booths where you put on costumes and tried to pretend to look very stern (which is nearly impossible in a group of four girls). I reached for the outrageous pink hat and a handful of fake pearls.
“Gracious child, you can’t possibly think of wearing that.”
The photo booth proprietor took the hat away from me and steered me towards the rack I’d just left. “Your complexion can’t handle that froofy pink at all… you’re much too... ” She pursed her lips.
Sallow? Dark headed? I almost expected her to tell me I was a “Winter” like my great aunt Janet always told me. Which apparently meant I wasn’t allowed to wear “spring” colors.
“Aren’t the photographs black and white?” I asked. “It doesn’t really matter what color it is, does it?” After four years in scrubs, I wasn’t perhaps the best decipherer of fashion choices, but I didn’t tell her that. It seemed like she felt that was obvious as she pursed her lips and looked me up and down.
“Yes” she said, almost to herself. “The red kirtle is just the thing.”
I definitely hadn’t been planning on wearing the old red dress which by some miracle of divine intervention managed to not fall apart as I was stuffed unceremoniously into it and laced up the sides with leather strips that more resembled beef jerky (and smelled like it too). To say it was awkward, would be putting it lightly. It wasn’t flattering, it bulged in all of the wrong places, and I wasn’t used to people being all up and personal with my armpits. The (I’m sure) lovely proprietor certainly had never encountered the meaning of the term “You really don’t have to do that.”
“What in the world are you wearing?” Natasha covered her mouth with her hand. In shock or laughter I wasn’t sure. Probably both.
“Just shut up and let’s take the picture.”
“You look like you’re dressed in a bible costume from the sixties.” She observed. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of dropping out of your internship and taking up being a hippie.”
“I think there’s a definite possibility a hippie died while wearing this.” I agreed “Or at the very least was intensely religious about not showering.” I wrinkled my nose just as the picture snapped. Of course.
Truth be told, all of this… the dress, the silly pictures, the festival (the theme of which I never did really understand...sunset savor?), was all an attempt to avoid the big elephant in the room (and by “room” I meant “my brain” since I’m not sure anyone else was trying to avoid talking about it except me. I’d recently lost the last person related to me. My father. Worse, it had happened while I was pulling a double shift I’d volunteered for. What was the saying? “Shoemakers wives go barefoot and medical students dad’s die sick at home while their children are busy taking care of others?”
The festival was some much needed fresh air. Vitamin D. People. Oxygen going in. Serotonin levels going up. I could almost feel my lab results getting better by the second. Yup, definitely. Natasha’s passion for funnel cake was what had led us on this particular adventure. If I’d had my way I would have stayed home and researched whether or not strep infections were more likely to be present in C-diff mortalities or not. We paid for our photos and thanked the old lady profusely. I tried to not to make eye contact which was pathetic considering I’d been puked on twice yesterday and had to tell someone with a straight face that no they could not smoke pot in recovery.
We meandered up and down a few more rows of cheap jewelry and miraculous mops before someone saw a sign that looked like seaweed salad and we all decided we needed to go drown out our deep fried stomach aches with green vegetables.
‘You should crash at my place.” Natasha said, when she dropped me off home. Maybe I was projecting, but I think she was more worried about ghosts than me. I gathered my bags out of the back seat.
“I’m fine.” I assured her. “You know I don’t do well without my enormous coffee pot.” It was a running joke. I’d obsessively researched (like twenty tabs on three different browser windows kind of researched) the perfect coffee maker and proudly showed off the results of my labors to my friends. A pour over. They’d all stared at me for a solid ten seconds as if they kept expecting something more impressive to jump out of my magnificently displayed amazon box. But no, I really was quite proud of my little funnel shaped piece of coffee magic. They hadn’t let me live it down.
I waved good bye as she peeled off. Every bone in my body hurt. Not from exertion, but from trying so hard to deal with grief in a world that didn’t really do grief. I would have thought all the cells in my body would have been used to it by now. I’d lost my mother to cancer when I was eight. Never had any siblings. My parents were Berkeley transplants and only children, so there truly was just me. I shoved my shoulder into the front door to get the key to turn. The locks probably needed to be replaced, and the door needed to be replaced. Both were warped in oppositional defiance to each other. In fact, the whole house needed to be replaced, but Dad hadn’t been up to it, and I’d been...well…yeah.
It shouldn’t be too hard to sell. I thought, trying to be viciously pragmatic. A real house on the California coast was more valuable than stones of gold during the Gold Rush... no matter how much it was falling apart. The paint may have been flaking off, and the windows begged for energy efficient justice, but at least it was meticulously clean. My mother had taught me that, and there’s nothing like losing a parent a young age to make you OCD about everything that was important to them. I put my bags and purse on the kitchen table and started emptying everything out. Receipts got scanned and put on my phone, trash went in the trash can. The postcards I bought of dogs saying sarcastically unhelpful things went into my stationery box. I always carried an enormous purse no matter what the current style was. And though my purse may have more resembled a small piece of luggage, no one argued it wasn’t useful. I’d doled out sunblock and water bottles today like a general outfitting troops before a battle. I reached in to grab my sweater to toss in the laundry...but pulled out… the ratty red dress from the photo booth? An electric shock ran down my spine that had nothing to do with ghosts and everything to do with sheer surprise. How in the world did it get in my bag? Of course since I also had a perpetually guilty conscience I felt terrible! Had I stolen it accidentally? Maybe I’d thought I was picking up my sweater and had instead picked up the costume I’d just discarded?
With trembling hands I carefully shook out the dress. It didn’t look any better under my kitchen lights. The stitches were long and uneven. The fabric looked almost orange and faded in spots. It didn’t seem worth enough monetary value to hunt down the photo booth owner. I didn’t even know how I would find her. Today was the last day of the festival, and who knew where all of the vendors scattered to. Likely the old lady was halfway across Nevada by now, headed to the next venue...at least, that’s what I tried to tell myself even though I knew it was a hopeless justification. I would definitely be on the phone tomorrow with some liaison from the festival, trying to hunt down the proper owner. Ugh. As I folded it carefully, I noticed there was a tag on it. It stuck out because it looked at least a few decades newer than the dress itself. It looked like a regular mass brand tag, that should say H&M or something like that. My eyes read, “Emilie Durand” and I dropped the dress.
That was my mother’s name. That was my name.
I cautiously picked it back up. This had been my mother’s? Maybe she’d been involved in theater and I hadn’t known it? Maybe it really was hippie garb from the years before she’d met Dad? I didn’t know, but now I really knew I had to find the old gypsie lady with the photo booth. Had I really worn something my mother had worn before?
I finished putting everything away and was seriously regretting my assurance to Natasha that I’d had no interest in her couch. The dress and I were giving each other baleful looks (at least as baleful as an inanimate object can be). People said I looked like my mother, I had her dark hair and stark features. I couldn’t see it myself no matter how much I compared our pictures, but I got the sudden nostalgic longing to put on the dress and see if I could just catch a glimpse of her.
It was silly of course. And much harder in actuality. But it’s much easier to do crazy things when you’re alone (at least for me). On closer perusal the dress (if you could call it that) looked more like a cross between a Roman robe and something Guinevere would wear while kissing King Arthur. It only came to my knees though, and if it hadn't been so tattered, it would have actually looked cute with a pair of dark skinnies. My white knobby knees looked decidedly less flattering in it though and as I surveyed myself in the mirror I was disappointed and felt more than a little foolish when I didn't see my mother at all. Just a twenty two year old medical student who may actually have been losing her grip on sanity.
There was a thunderous crash outside that would have made me jump out of my already jumpy skin, if I hadn’t known exactly what it was.
“Drat cat.” I muttered. The neighbor, Mrs. Finch had a mammoth Bengal Shorthair who disdained organic liver from Whole Foods and preferred instead to rummage through our trash cans. Kitty Poppins wasn’t allowed to roam outside for fear her dainty paws might be tarnished by alley cat life, so I opened the back door and tramped out like some sort of barefoot medieval witch. But the trashcans were gone. And there was no cat. In fact I could swear I was standing in wagon ruts on a road that believed heavily in environmental preservation. All of this however was the least important of my unhelpful observations. My head was ringing and my stomach turned itself inside out as I emptied the contents of my stomach onto grass that should have been my pebbled backyard but was instead patchy grass. I thought vaguely that this was why one should never eat funnel cakes from a traveling kitchen. The corners started collapsing in on my vision, and I remembered with perfect clarity the paragraph on page eighty two of my first year functional medicine class. “Fainting (syncope) is a sudden loss of consciousness, usually temporary and typically caused by a lack of oxygen in the brain. The brain oxygen deprivation has many possible causes, including hypotens…
To find out what happens next, please consider voting in my poll! I'd really like to know too!