The following story is by Julia MacDonnell, whose first novel “A Year of Favor” was published by William Morrow in 1994. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, North Dakota Quarterly, American Literary Review, and elsewhere. She was born in Maine and grew up in Massachusetts, where she attended Stonehill College. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Temple University and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. Julia is a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey. This story, originally published in the Larcom Review on the North Shore in 2000, is from a short story collection called “Plight of the Piping Plover” that she is marketing in book circles. The story is set in the American Textile History Museum during its notable “Diana’s Dresses” exhibition many years ago. The author attended with her sisters, but the fictional story line goes in another direction. The story is reprinted here for local interest with permission of the author.– PM
“Diana’s Dresses” by Julia MacDonnell
Took Mom to see Diana’s dresses because I figured it might cheer her up. Got caught in traffic just north of Boston where the interstates twine and tangle like veins inside a wrist.
“Guess money can’t buy everything,” Mom says, lighting a True Blue from the lighter in the dashboard. “So young, so rich, and those two young boys to raise.” She frowns, exhaling a great plume of smoke. “Who’d a thunk it?”
“Crack your window,” I say.
“Hmmmph,” she answers, but presses a button and the window slides down half an inch. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
“She wasn’t wearing a seat belt, Mom. She was the mother of young children, no matter how rich she was, and she didn’t buckle up.”
“Her heart was ripped loose in her chest,” Mom says, and I feel her withering glance, one she has perfected during the forty-something years of our relationship. “A seat belt wouldn’t have saved her.”
Now she is fumbling with the ashtray, which is stuffed with gas and toll receipts, the gate card for my parking lot at work, a spare ten dollar bill I keep hidden for emergencies.
“Where do you want me to put this stuff?”
I point to the glove compartment in front of her.
“If she’d been wearing a seat belt, her heart probably wouldn’t have been ripped loose.”
She ignores me.
When Mom opens the glove compartment, my cell phone falls to the floor. Bending to retrieve it, she groans in mock agony. Then, squeezing her butt between her lips, she uses both hands to shove my stuff inside.
“Why don’t you throw some of this junk away?”
Her question is a tiny laceration, a signal that we’ve begun yet another round in our endless argument about what matters and what doesn’t.
“I always keep my receipts. Track my mileage costs. Make sure the gas and credit card companies aren’t cheating me.”
She makes a throaty sound, exhales in my direction. I’m furious about her smoking, but bite my tongue.
“My only vice,” she declares, snapping shut the glove compartment, giving me the creeps with her ability to see inside my skull. read more »