Every woman in Evanston over the age of twelve owned a red dress. It was loose. It had sleeves that could be taken off. It was one of the most practical pieces of clothing that any woman owned.
And everyone older than twelve knew what it meant.
Priscilla had given Talya hers. She had shooed Darryn out of the house and had told Talya to sit. Talya had thought that she might be in trouble—or that Darryn might be—for the older woman, usually gentle, affectionate smiles, had looked unusually solemn.
Priscilla had handed the folded dress to Talya and explained what she could expect to happen to her—maybe not this year and maybe not the next, but she would feel it eventually.
When a girl wore the dress, the villagers treated her a little more gently. They realized that she was already working, sitting down or even lying down, even when she seemed to be lazing. She was working on something more painful, more precious than ordinary, everyday work.
Everyone, Priscilla had explained with a smile, sometimes put on the dress even when they were not bleeding. Everyone had days when they needed to be handled more gently, when life just seemed too hard, when they were hurting. The trick of it was not to put the dress on too often.
Talya had put on her dress the next day. It had fit her perfectly—perfectly for a red dress, hugging only her breasts and loose and breezy everywhere else. It had tickled the tops of her feet. Of course, Priscilla had made it, and Priscilla knew her size.
Mr. Crowe had started when he had seen her come down the ladder in the dress. He hadn’t barked at her to do any of her chores. She had worn it out into the village. The world had been a little kinder to her. Amira had given her a roll so fresh from her ovens that the butter melted to yellow grease that dribbled down Talya’s chin. Gitta had swept her into a hug of hello. Garock had frowned at her but had said nothing. Talya had grinned all day in the dress.
She had worn it again the next day.
And the next.
Priscilla had pulled her inside that day, shooing Darryn out again. She had reminded Talya that she couldn’t wear the dress all of the time. The dress was for her worst days, the days that were hardest, and that couldn’t be every day or the dress would stop feeling special, people would stop noticing when Talya wore it, or they would turn mean instead of kind because she wore it. Priscilla wished that every day the villagers were their gentlest. Some things would be easier then. But they were human. They were all human. And if Talya made every day her worst day, it would be hard for others to have their worst days too.
Talya had pouted. She loved the dress.
But she hadn’t worn it the next day. She hadn’t worn it again until the day that the blood showed.
The line this week is mine. I’m not entirely pleased with the execution of this piece, but I am thoroughly tickled by its subject.