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Sport 35: Winter 2007



As Janice zips up the pink dress she thinks of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Somehow this is making her feel like a whore. Is Peter parodying her, with his oh-so-righteous, Irish-Catholic, I-grew-up-in-the-Bronx stoop? She majored in Irony, sarcasm intersecting cigarette drags in the coffee shop after literature class. Surely she should have some input. The dress he's picked out is nipped in at the waist and has a full skirt, a sweetheart neckline and little capped sleeves. Her jeans and T-shirt have collapsed on the dressing-room velvet stool.

'That's perfect. You look the part. But we need some gloves. White ones.' Peter turns to the shop assistant, and her mascara-laden eyelashes radiate precisely. They don't clump like Janice's. Alone in front of the mirror she picks off a glob and, not knowing where else to put it, she applies it to the inside of her handbag.

'I'm sorry, sir. Why don't you try the glove counter at Saks?'

'Great idea.' Peter takes a sash of hair and wraps it around Janice's forehead. 'What do you think, a little more Hepburn?'

'Absolutely,' says the assistant. 'Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my favourite movies.' She winks at Peter, and Janice briefly gets the impression that the assistant has been through all this before.

Janice slumps on the stool in her underwear, her flesh pleating her torso. She's thinking of the time her mother did this to her. Yanked her down from the tree where she was climbing, her shorts peach-stained, her feet tough from bark and gravel. Took her to the department store and dressed her in white, with a lilac ribbon, for the garden party. How she picked her scab in the changing room and bled on the dress, and her mother was angry at having to buy the stained garment. Rita, the maid, plunged the garment into cold water the minute they got page 159home. The rusty blood dispersed. That didn't spare Janice from the slap on her thigh, the supper she refused in the nursery. She regretted the stand at 4 a.m., and sneaked down the stairs for cookies. When she opened the pantry door there was Rita, sitting on the flour bin, sobbing. She started at the sight of Janice, her elbows flew out and knocked cereal packets off the shelf.

'Your father's gone,' she said, a confetti of rice bubbles at her feet.

'Where?' asked Janice.

'I don't know where. Ask your mother.' She pulled the pantry door shut between them. Janice crouched down and ate the rice bubbles off the floor.

She never wore that white dress, but it haunted her closet. She remembers her mother railing at Rita for not putting plastic baggies around the tags when she washed it so that she couldn't return it. Rita quit after that, and Janice was left to answer the door to guests who hadn't heard that the garden party was off. They spent the rest of the summer alone in the big house, first eating the chicken, the potato salad, the cakes and slices that had been prepared the day before, then moving on to scrambled eggs and beans out of cans. The ring was the only thing Janice managed to keep of her father's, and she put it on a chain around her neck, under her T-shirts so her mother wouldn't see. Rather than packing his clothes in the trunk, they had a bonfire before they returned to the city. Her mother toasted marshmallows over his burning shirts and pants, but Janice refused to eat them. To her they tasted like charred flesh.

'That damn Rita,' her mother said. 'I wish we never hired her, the slut. It was your father who insisted. He wanted a harem, but she wasn't enough for him. Oh god, what did I do to deserve this?'

Janice drew her legs up to her chest and shivered, even though the flames were hot.

'Are you done yet?' calls Peter from the other side. Janice passes the pink dress through the curtain. She sits on the stool until she thinks she can hear the squiggle of his fountain pen on the receipt, then she pulls on her grey and blue faded clothes and follows the pink dress out. 'Why, thank you,' she says as Peter hands her the bag. It is wrapped in mint-green tissue. It rustles.

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'To Saks?' asks Peter. 'Or should we stop in for a drink first?'

'A drink would be good.' She fumbles in her bag for a cigarette.

'Do you have to smoke on the street?' says Peter. 'You really should give up.'

She shrugs and returns the cigarette to its pack. He's so uptight about rules that don't even belong to him.