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Dressing the Part

October 31, 2008

That’s me, clutching the orange purse and not even coming close to filling my grandmother’s extra-large satin slip. On the far right, Lisa is losing her blue sundress. Easily the best item in the dress-up cupboard, we all fought for a turn in that dress, and I remember thinking, pfff, if you wanted it so bad, you should respect the sundress and wear it properly! Such a waste.

In the middle are Brenda, the Christian girl from around the block, and Leah, little sister of Lisa.

Leah was scrappy and unpredictable. No one fucked with Leah. She’d kick you as soon as look at you, and was an expert screamer, effortlessly reaching a glass-shattering crescendo without pausing to draw air. There was no bullying Leah, no making her go along with a plan. Playing dress-up was stupid, she was just going to carry a purse and that was that. Probably, she’d belt you with the little handbag before the play date was over.

Brenda was another story. Malleable, quick to cry, a cinch to make do our bidding. As a playmate, Brenda was almost too easy to provoke. And if our efforts failed to wind her up, there was always religion as a last resort. Tell Brenda someone from the Bible was a loser, then stand back and watch the show. In fact, she was such a sucky-baby that when my mother gave us heck for sending Brenda home in tears (again), her heart wasn’t in the scolding.

Of course, there was a place called “too far”, and one day, Lisa and I went there. We spent the morning taunting that Brenda was a Cavity Creep, and reinforced the playroom against her incursion. Pillows, toy chest, hockey sticks, stuffed life-size alligator, all these things and more were stacked at the door.

“No, no! Keep out!” we shrieked. “Cavity Creep, you’ll never get into Toothopolis!” Then, we slipped through the rec room crawlspace, beat Brenda to the top of the basement stairs and locked her in. “You want in so bad, Cavity Creep? Now you can stay there!” And with that, Lisa and I turned our backs on Brenda’s whiny pleas and ran out into the sunshine.

Together, we crouched in the garden, hiding our guilt among the tomatoes and stringbeans. We surely were in trouble this time, real trouble. We needed a story, something that made it seem like a game gone wrong, a simple misunderstanding. We thought Brenda wanted to stay down there! After all, she kept asking to come in! No, that would never work, our mothers would never believe we were that stupid.

I picked up a caterpillar and watched it curl around my finger as it peed down my hand. Why did they always do that? Caterpillars and toads.

“Ok, so maybe we thought she’d come to steal the blue sundress, she knows it’s the best thing in the dress-up cupboard, and we were only trying to protect…” No, also no good. Brenda was always warning how at church they said no lying, stealing, hogging the toys, or talking out of turn.

By then, we could hear my mother calling us inside. I flicked the caterpillar onto a tomato leaf and picked flecks of peatmoss from my shins. “So what if we’re in trouble. Big deal,” Lisa scoffed. “This is so unfair. We didn’t even do anything. I wonder if she knows Jesus was no tattletale?”

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