"Which one of you took my lint roller?"
"Don’t touch those! I need them tonight."
"Think Zach will be there? He’s dreamy."
"S***! F***! A stain!"
The first rays of light slipped in through the crack in the doors. Then the whispering started, as those present assessed the competition between sideways glances at the large mirror. By noon, upbeat music from outside was shaking the walls, and the room was densely over-crowded with jittery chatter.
Which one of you took my lint roller?
Don’t touch those! I need them tonight.
Think Zach will be there? He’s dreamy.
S***! F***! A stain!
The alternative crowd hung out at the back, as usual, a curious group of bright-coloured oddballs banding together.
“Oh-oooh-oh girlssss! Just wanna have fu-uhn…!” sang a pink muslin and silk tutu, loudly and out of tune, before breaking into a high-pitched giggle. “I’m so excited for tonight!”
Her neighbour, a squarish leather jacket with faux-fur lining and a thick German accent, fanned herself while mechanically chewing gum. “Nothing to get excited about. Same as last week.”
A long, shiny red and gold qipao hanging close by smiled politely. She had arrived on the scene after a family trip to Hong Kong, did not speak English and had never left the room.
They would never be picked, of course, but it was fun to join in the general excitement.
Nearby, an impractical, but attention-seeking lace dress showed off a shiny necklace around her neck. “You like? It’s new. From the Stables market.”
“Ah, oui! Totalement you, cherie!” said another, standing a little way apart, smiling through her irritation. She was a sleek black dress that travelled with dark sunglasses, red lipstick and a je-ne-sais-quoi of superiority.
Further along, three oversized shirts brushed each other’s hair. Known as the Zaras, only the colour of the pocket fabric helped tell them apart.
On and on the assembled crowd went, in similar fashion, hundreds of colours and shapes and details, all waiting around nervously.
After several hours, one of them stood up to address the group. Mrs. Marks and Spencer, affectionately known by the younger girls as Mrs. M&S, was a brown, matronly tent dress with fleshy jowls. She had waddled between groups all day, sharing her centuries of dependable (if outdated) experience. Now her authoritative British accent boomed over the chatter.
“Shhh! Ladies! Ladies! Silence! She’s on her way!”
As one, they all stood to attention, midriffs drawn in, bottoms pushed out. A couple of hangers creaked loudly in the sudden silence.
The giant door slid open and there stood the Goddess, giant silhouette framed in bright sunshine, flawless skin positively glowing. Her bright green eyes scanned the room, pausing briefly here and there.
They knew her routine: breath in, head tilt, index finger to the cheek, frown, pause. She raised a hand and everyone’s chest expanded; some even slid off their hangers. But she merely rearranged the pink towel on her head, sighed, and closed the door again. The room slumped with a collective moan.
But Mrs. M&S was ready with her slow, kind tone. “Alright everybody, false alarm. Keep smiling and carry on. She’ll be back.”
The background babble resumed.
She leaned into a little white sundress that had cracked into tears with all the excitement. “There, there, pet. First time, ay? Don’t worry, love, rejection gets easier with practice,” she said, and sighed.
A pair of baggy, blue dungarees watched from a shelf, holding up one knee. She spoke with a sensible, relaxed voice. “I dunno why y’all stressin’ like this. It’s just a party. Y’all gotta stop livin’ for the weekend.”
“One-hundred percent agreed,” said a work dress, reading glasses hanging out of the jacket pocket. “I’m excited about staying in tonight.”
Somewhere outside, a hairdryer began to whirr.
The little black dress, who had been to more soirees than most, turned with a half-smile. “Ah, but mes cheries... you’ve never won ze casting. You couldn’t possibly understand. Ze lights, ze champagne, ze men, ze glamour! Zat is what we live for, non? Ze joy of being used!”
“Shut it, Chanel. You wouldn’t know joy if it bit you in the a–” but the rest was lost in the hum of the dryer.
A foot away, the misfits were greeted unexpectedly by the only man in the room, ArmandoLinenForRealMen (or maybe ArmandoRealLinenforMen - they were too scared to ask). He had arrived one steamy morning, tanned, confused and somewhat hungover, and never left again.
“Good morning, most colourful ladies,” he said.
He had never addressed them before, with his marvellously relaxed, foreign accent, with its echoes of coffee, aftershave and sea breeze. They looked down at the shoes, twiddled with threads, willing the hairdryer would drown out all conversation forever.
The door slid open again, and again they reared to attention like a congregation of meerkats.
As before, the Goddess faced them, but something was different. Perhaps it was the determined look on her face, or the cardboard box she was holding, but it felt Something Was Happening.
Everyone glanced around, shoulders raised. Many looked around for Mrs. M&S for guidance, but she too looked puzzled.
The Goddess placed the box down and scanned them again, lightly tapping shoulders as she went along. Murmurs broke out at once.
Is this it? She’s choosing, now?
Is it really happening?
Shh - she’s coming!
She paused at the Zaras and they turned whiter than they already were. She removed all three and studied them. Whispers spread like wildfire. None of the triplets had been out in a long time. This could count in their favour. Or not.
Too casual –
Sooo last season –
For the evening? No way –
Over her dead body –
The Goddess held the first Zara against her shoulders. She studied her reflection in the mirror, turning slightly left, then slightly right. Then she held it up against the light. She repeated this with the others, slowly. Finally, she returned two of them back to the rail.
They burst into sobs in unison. Mrs. M&S enveloped them both in her giant embrace. “There, there, girls, it’s alright. There’s always next week. Be happy for your sister.”
All around, the rest stared on, sleeves crossed, waiting for the Chosen One to be laid on the bed, ready to pair with accessories.
Some party that’s going to be –
Good luck impressing anyone –
Slowly, they started losing interest. Shoulders slumped. Painful straps were released. Fabric was pinched together to release zips.
Everyone has that dress –
But the Zara never made the coveted spot on the bed. The Goddess folded her carefully and put her in the cardboard box. Then she turned back to the others and pulled out another dress, a flimsy, stripy Mediterranean mistake that skulked somewhere in the back. She too went into the box, causing a lot of confusion among the rest.
And still the Goddess was not done. She turned back to the others.
What was going on? Two-outfit parties were rare; but more than two?
This feels special –
Slowly, so as not to be noticed, one after another the girls started to straighten up.
It might be epic –
Creases were subtly patted down. Zips were silently closed again, buttons polished.
This will be gossiped about for months.
The pink tutu was thrown in, yapping “Oh my goddess! I can’t believe it! I can’t, I can’t!” as she disappeared over the side.
The German jacket followed, arms folded, and the Chinese qipao, looking confused as usual. And so it went for half an hour until a third of the clothes had been taken out, some with their original tags still on.
The Goddess stopped at the black lace dress, twirling her from side to side to make her necklace sparkle.
Next to her, Chanel hissed with jealousy. She hitched up her short hemline and tried to hide the lipstick stain on her collar.
The Goddess wavered between the two for a moment, then set the lace dress gently down on the bed. Chanel was hung back in the wardrobe, fuming and cursing deliciously as only the French are capable.
In all the excitement, nobody paid much attention to the lace dress’s selection. Those in the box were shaking with euphoric hysteria. Those still on the rail were too busy puffing their chests out to pay attention to anything else.
Only Mrs. M&S had sat back down quietly, watching the Goddess with growing apprehension. As more and more dresses went into the box, less and less effort was made to fold them properly. Faster and faster they went in, each more carelessly than the last, until Mrs. M&S herself was pulled out with barely a look. Thrown in with the others, she clasped her hands together and sighed quietly.
Eventually the door closed again and the Goddess disappeared. A miserable resignation fell on the room. Slowly, everyone slumped down to sulk in the gloom, lost in the fantasy of all the fun they would miss out on.
Only ArmandoLinenForRealMen grinned to his good fortune. He’d seen this process many times at his last home. He felt bad for the girls in the box, ignorant of their true fate. Noone came back from the box, ever. There were stories, sure, about refugee centres, where some found a new home. He’d heard other stories too, whispered quietly, about those that didn’t make it. Best not to think about those.
Si, he too would one day leave in a box, never to return. It was the natural law of the universe. For now though, there was temporary peace, and plenty of extra room to be enjoyed.
He leaned back and stretched out his sleeves as the last rays of light disappeared from the crack in the doors.
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