Vanessa turned the pages of the photo album, memories filling her mind, all those pictures of her and her twin sister, Victoria, dressed alike when they were little. Oh, how their mother loved bows, lace, ruffles and frills! Everything had to match---dresses, socks, hair ribbons.
Starting as early as five years old, the photos changed from both girls smiling to only Vanessa smiling. Victoria was usually scowling because she said she hated wearing dresses. Vanessa chuckled, remembering the heated arguments her sister and mother got into. “Proper little girls wear dresses, Victoria,” her mom would say in exasperation.
“Why? Whose says so?” Victoria would stomp her foot, clutching her shirt and pants to her chest. “Please, Mommy! I hate dresses, and petticoats are scratchy.”
Their mother was adamant. Back then, little girls wore dresses to school, and most of the time for play, too. Vanessa loved dresses, the swish of petticoats, spinning and twirling as her skirts billowed out around her. She loved ruffles and ribbons, and couldn’t understand why Victoria didn’t.
Victoria was more of a tomboy than their younger brother, David. So the battle raged on. Their mother was stubborn and wouldn’t budge, but Victoria was as stubborn. Although she reluctantly complied, Victoria was never happy about it and let the household know.
“When I grow up, I’ll wear what I want,” she would say, glaring as Vanessa twirled in her dress, the rustle of tulle petticoats filling the air.
What days those were, Vanessa thought, sighing as the sound of voices raised in argument drifted from the bedroom, her mother’s irritated voice hanging in the still, humid air. Maybe she should go in there and offer to help.
Vanessa stood, and arched her back. She was almost fifty, and there were parts of her body that she’d never noticed before. She opened the front door, allowing a soft breeze to flow into the interior. She inhaled the fragrance of the lilac bush by the front door, the smell triggering the memory of that awful day, and what had happened to Victoria.
They were nine then, and Victoria had talked her and David into playing Hide and Seek while they waited to be summoned for supper. The autumn air had a promise of winter around the corner. Victoria was wearing pants and a cotton shirt because, “You can’t play outside in a dress, Mama.”
David, who was “It,” leaned against the tree in the front yard, hands covering his face as he counted. Vanessa was hiding behind the lilac bush, crouched on her knees in the dirt, wishing she had worn pants too.
“Ready or not, here I come,” David had hollered. Neither David nor Vanessa saw what happened next, they just heard the screech of brakes and that terrible thud.
After that, Vanessa hated the lilac bush, associating it with that day. She could still see her mother later that night standing in front of the closet in the bedroom Vanessa and Victoria shared. She began to wail as she tossed Victoria’s dresses onto the floor, stomping on them as she cried, “It’s not that important. Why did we fight over something like this? No more fighting, no more!”
That certainly didn’t last.
“Sis, I need your help!” The voice from the bedroom pulled Vanessa back into the present.
She closed the photo album and put it into a box. “Coming,” she responded. She was, after all, supposed to be helping pack Mom for a move to an apartment in a care facility. She stepped into the bedroom where David stood with his arms crossed, a look of perplexity on his face.
“Sorry, I was looking at photo albums. What’d you need?” Vanessa asked.
David uncrossed his arms, and shrugged. “I’m no good at this. They just keep arguing. I’ll pack up the kitchen stuff,” he said as he left the room.
“What’s the problem, Victoria?” Vanessa asked.
“It’s Mom. She’s so stubborn. I keep telling her she doesn’t need these fancy evening dresses she’s kept all these years, but she insists.” Victoria rolled her eyes in exasperation. “ Mom, when would you ever wear any of them?”
“Well, they’re so pretty, aren’t they, Vanessa? Tell your sister.”
It started with a giggle, and then progressed to a full-belly laughter until Vanessa’s sides hurt.
Victoria stomped her foot. “What’s so funny?”
“You and Mom! After all these years, you’re both still arguing about clothes. Honestly, it’s hilarious. Who cares, Victoria? Let Mom take the dresses.”
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