fiction secrets short story

Missing

Secret feelings, an old wedding dress, and a purloined memory tucked away for years to come. A short story by Elisabeth Alain.

by Elisabeth Alain

I went with my mum the day she sold her wedding dress. In the morning, she brought it downstairs in its protective cover and hung it in the doorway.

‘Finish your cereal then turn off the TV. We need to be there by 10,’ she called, running back upstairs. When I heard the click of the bathroom door, I unzipped the huge white bag and peered inside. I ran my hands over ivory taffeta, following a path of silk thread embroidered in loops and waves, letting my fingertips linger in the concave sequins. I felt my way through layers of tulle, and pressed the thickness of the skirt between my hands. I remembered my arms wrapped around it, trying to find Mum’s legs to hold on to as she linked elbows with Grandad in the archway, waiting for the music to start. In her tiara and gown, she was just like one of the princesses on my bedroom wall, back when I liked that kind of stuff.

Grandad smiled through tight lips and dabbed at Mum’s eyes with his white hanky before we all started to walk down the aisle. Step – together. Step – together. Just like we’d practiced in the hallway at home. I’d wondered how my mum could look pretty and sad at the same time, and if princesses felt sad too, sometimes.

Mom came back downstairs jangling her keys and shouted for me to get in the car. She unhooked the bag, struggled with it through the front door and laid it in the boot. On the way into town, Mum tried to chat about homework and guitar lessons, but I didn’t feel like talking. She gave up and turned on the radio. I looked out of the window, imagining how I’d look in the dress. I wished I’d asked to try it on, but guessed she would have said no.

“In her tiara and gown, she was just like one of the princesses on my bedroom wall, back when I liked that kind of stuff.”

The woman in the shop spread out the skirt and train, hanging the gown from its ribbon loops on a high hook. Spotlights illuminated sequins, beads and the lustre of each perfect pleat.

‘Stunning,’ she said, examining the detail on the bodice. ‘Italian?’

Mum talked about the designer and how much it had cost, while I wandered around the shop, touching lace veils and pretty drawstring purses, picking up satin shoes, desperate to try on a pair.

‘It’s in fantastic condition,’ the woman said. ‘You should see some of the stuff people try to sell me. Haven’t even bothered to dry clean it. Probably been shoved in a drawer for ten years.’ Then her voice dropped. ‘Oh.’

I froze on the spot where I stood, my back to the others. I squeezed my eyes shut.

‘Shit,’ I said, keeping the sound behind my clamped teeth. I turned around, trying to look casual, in spite of my racing heart and sinking stomach.

‘Look,’ the woman said, beckoning Mum to come closer. Crouching beside her, Mum frowned as she spotted a small piece missing from the hem of the train.

‘It makes no sense,’ Mum said, ‘that dress was immaculate when I put it away. Not a mark on it, no snags, no missing beads. It’s been inside that cover in my wardrobe for 8 years. I see the damn thing every day.’

I bristled.

The woman stood up. ‘This isn’t a big problem. We can sort it out. It’s just that I’ll have to take the alteration costs off what I give you for it.’

Mum got up too.

‘Fair enough,’ she said. She looked relieved.

I sighed out my held breath, squirmed a bit to dry my armpits and went back to imagining myself in silk gloves and a fur stole, while Mum chatted to the woman about money.

All the way home, Mum turned over potential solutions as to how the dress got damaged. I offered mumblings of my own, leading her to wrong answers.

Up in my room, I took a tiny triangle of fabric out of my jeans pocket, sat it in my palm and stroked a finger over it. Sewn into it was a half-wave of embroidery thread, loose at one end, but still securing a pale sequin. I carefully placed it into the shoebox under my bed, on top of the creased wedding photo, alongside my sharpest scissors.


Elisabeth Alain | @ElisaWrites

Elisabeth Alain lives in the Midlands, raising two daughters and writing stories of the silenced. She can be found on Twitter @ElisaWrites.

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