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LAce Posted Monday, February 27th, 2006
Dressing
Karen Harmon

Another company social to dress for, and Alice was the boss’s wife, the one who stood by his side, the one woman every other woman in the room would judge based upon the evidence presented in her attire and the way she carried herself. She hated these functions with their smug formality that somehow exuded an attempt to separate people into groups of satisfactory and unsatisfactory, barely passable and acceptable, and she had tried many times during the early years of their marriage to tell Bob so. Social functions were a large part of the role he played, he had carefully explained, and as his wife, she had a role to play too. She wondered if he had any idea that every moment she spent in his presence involved playing roles. The supportive wife role, the maid role, the Mrs. Cleaver role, but the role she felt in her deepest chambers was the desperate housewife role, even before it became an award-winning TV show. She sat on the side of the bed now pulling on the necessary nylon panty hose, the first step in the dressing up role she must play to be the proper executive wife, and hating every minute of the ritual. What she needed was more air to breathe, and this sure wasn’t the way to get it. She wondered why anyone would invent panty hose, the awful things that sucked in every bit of freedom a woman’s legs could possibly own; stinging, hanging on fingernails, leaving red ridge-lines where they cut off the circulation, forcing that line of fat people refer to as “midriff” to drift in the middle between the waist and the bust where no one could possibly miss it. There was much running around inside of Alice that she felt a need to constrain, but not like this. This missed the point. She wondered how women, including herself, could get caught up in such a thing. She was sure it was a man’s idea.

“In love with the idea of beautiful women,” she thought. It seemed to her men were foolishly distant from the reality, and almost totally unaware of the games women evolve to play the parts required of them.

“What a stupid idea, panty hose. All the time and energy and irritation to shave your legs just to stuff them inside panty hose. What do hairless legs or panty hose have to do with beauty anyway?” She thought about the thick, black hair that covered not only his legs and underarms, but his back and shoulders too. You could hardly see his skin for all the covering. But it sure didn’t slow him down any. But then, he was a man. She wondered if she’d let her leg hairs grow long and thick and black if he wasn’t around. The thought made her smile.

Alice reached for the bra that lay on the bed beside her, an under-wire of course, to support the thickness that gravity kept pulling down. A 36-B padded version to enhance the 34-A reality of her anatomy, making her breasts appear full and firm like the younger women he constantly attended to, intentionally parading them in front of her with an air of “look what I could have if I wanted,” at parties and social affairs where they seemed to hang on his every word because, she wondered if he realized at all, because he’s their boss. “He envisions himself in control,” she thought, “instead of being controlled by milk glands hidden away in skin-covered bags of fat, or even worse, fatless, glandless bags of skin filled with silicone. A woman’s worth judged by this? Her femininity? Her sexuality? She wondered if he was repulsed when he looked at her in comparison with these younger women, when he saw the real thing, the firmness of youth now missing in her. But then it’d been years since they’d made love with the lights on. She’d thought about getting herself cut open and stuffed with gooey gel implants sewn into her skin, and on occasion she wondered if she’d feel more womanly, more real, creating more explicitly the fantasy he envisioned. His fantasies, his needs.

There are places within me so far removed from the world of his need, she thought. Some special part of myself that’s missing, something that’s disguised besides the disguises I use to hide the reality of my body from him. She realized she’d be wholly foreign to him in that context, with the reality of her thoughts, even with the lights on.

“Be the apple of his eye,” the commercials warned. She didn’t remember the last time he had looked her directly in the eye. She wasn’t sure he ever had, other than to check her makeup. She reached behind her back now, to work the metal hooks of the bra, a gymnastic feat in its self, then pulled up the straps, and made sure the spongy pads lay smoothly in the bottom of the cups before she arranged her flesh just right across the top.

“His tits are bigger than mine,” she complained,“ hanging loose under his shirt, shaking like jello when he walks. Maybe I ought to suggest he get a little cut off and transplanted somewhere else. It’d be only fair. A little silicone strategically placed between his legs?”

She wondered how many parts of the younger women were false, nothing more than their belief in surface-beauty. Maybe she’d have been better off shallow, too, content with the surface, moving through life simply, no questions, no complications.

She reached for her dress, a sleek, glamorous wrapping designed to hint at lust, and pulled it over the image she had created, then more cold metal to zip up the back. She stared at herself in the mirror and wondered what it would take to feel something that at least resembled passion. I could simply become the younger woman, she smiled. That would be easy enough. All she’d have to do would be attach her self to an older man who would see her as fresh, and yet mature.

In the bathroom she took the mother-of-pearl earrings from her jewelry box and forced their metal points through the holes she’d had punctured in her ears. “Poor oyster,” she mumbled. “Took her worth and tossed her in a bucket.” She remembered when he’d brought them to her, a gift so she’d get her ears pierced. She pushed the backs on tight, securing the pearls to her ears. She checked the finished product in the mirror. To all the world she would appear flawless, spectacular, the perfect executive’s wife.


He complimented her as she came down the stairs, and looked her up and down with obvious approval.

“That’s a good color for you,” he decided with an affirmative nod. The guests, too, paid the proper amount of attention as they entered the room with artificial smiles exposing straight, white teeth. He gave her a quick hug, and they went their separate ways to begin the ‘mingling’ process.

The champagne was unusually good, and Alice drank several glasses as she made her way around the room, from guest to guest. The warm feeling flushed through her, blanketing her previously serious mood. She smiled as she caught sight of her reflection in the tinted patio window. She hadn’t noticed Mr. Holten, the elderly company president, walking her way until he actually took hold of her arm, kissed her on the cheek, and led her with a look of distinct pleasure toward the balcony and the cool, moonlit evening air. After all, she had another role to play.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Rickey Pittman [ rickeyp@bayou.com ] on Monday, February 27th, 2006 at 4:47 PM
What a great read! We male writers need stories like this "from the inside out" about women. Keeps us in touch. The connection of roles and games in life is a good insight.

Posted by Annette Kovac [ kovac694@aol.com ] on Thursday, March 2nd, 2006 at 11:46 PM
A most enjoyable work with words that explain how many of us feel and to see it in print only makes it more real. Very well written and enjoyable.

Posted by Jaime Wood [ jrw008@hotmail.com ] on Saturday, March 4th, 2006 at 1:19 PM
Not only does the author elegantly describe the painful routines of a woman whose life is not her own, but she has excluded any hint of self fulfillment. We don't know what the woman does with her life outside her dutiful actions for her husband. This further illustrates the emptiness this woman must feel at having sacrificed her life for a role she doesn't believe in. Well done.

Posted by maggie shurtleff [ crossingwind@hotmail.com ] on Sunday, March 5th, 2006 at 11:38 PM
Karen-- This story set well with me. As women, we have all gone through this phase of becoming whatever our partner wanted...and some of us, move on, find ourselves, and that's that. BUT for many of us, women, we live out our lives, behind masks, trading them in, updating them if you will, but never really, letting our own selves free... inthis story- it is touched upon ...would we even know who our own self is- if given the moment to see. powerful imagery used here. realistic and clever.

Posted by J.B. Dunn [ bdunn70@hotmail.com ] on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 11:48 AM
Excellent read! I truly felt Alice’s pain enduring the senseless socially defined feminine beauty rituals, obligations, and imposed temperance. Most interesting was the sense of hopelessness and an almost indefinable despair she is forced to accept as normal. What a truly tortured soul. It leaves me wondering how many married women in my own daily experiences of work, family, and friends, know this awful ritualized reality. I think Karen’s words are exceptionally well chosen and perhap reveal something dreadfully tragic just under the surface of modern American culture. Shhh! Dare we discuss this for fear of upsetting the status quo? Congrats Karen on a superbly written and thought provoking piece.

Posted by Deborah Robinson on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 2:52 PM
What a wonderful story. I feel as though I am Alice myself sometimes. I get caught up so in trying to satify my mate and play all those roles that I have to wonder who I am myself at times. Thank you Karen for making me realize that I am not alone, that many women play these roles.

Posted by Jessica Cox on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 4:52 PM
This story speaks to me in the way that I have begun to realize the danger in losing one's self in the union of a relationship. This woman despises her husband for the useless parade she is forced to put on for his friends. This also hints at the satisfaction Alice finds in her last role mentioned, the younger temptress. After all, it is her husband who has created these roles she must fulfill, and isn't it ironic that it is his own device that ultimately provides the impetus for her wandering eye. She must get her fulfillment from something, after all.

Posted by Kelly Fletcher [ klf001@ladelta.net ] on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 4:54 PM
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. It hit home to me, like it most likely did to many other women. I was able to laugh and almost cry with her. It held my attention and touched every sense. I really enjoyed it! I could relate to the pains of panty-hose and the enjoyment of man's approval on our personal appearance. I could relate to the pains of social events and formal attire. It was a master peice of the feminine world!

Posted by Kristina Green on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 4:55 PM
This story shows you how society is. Men would rather you play a role than be who you really are. But most people don't know you they are themselves. She had so many roles to play mainly because her husband wanted her to. He was more interested in the way she looked than who she was. She had an image to protect. And that image was his. She did stuff for him to make him satisfied. Society uses plastic surgery to make you look like your beautiful. Instead of working out or being glad with what you have people will go great distances to look different. In a sense no one is real anymore. You get caught up in all your different roles al lot of times you wonder who am I?

Posted by Eddie Anderson [ mr_era@excite.com ] on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 4:58 PM
This story shows the superficality of todays society, and the emphasis it places on looks. People today are too often judged my looks rather than merit. Society seems to want to live in neverland where no one get old and everyone whorships the young.

Posted by Joe Steiner on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 4:59 PM
I like this story. Alice's character is uncommonly real in a way that people can identify with and say "yeah, ive felt the same way". This is my third English college course and the first time Ive had a teacher write so intricately about breasts. Props to ya Ms. Harmon. :D The only negative thing that Ive got to say about this writing is that while reading I feel a bit guilty for being a male, but I guess I shouldnt because Im not Alice's husband. grats on the exposure and keep up the good work

Posted by Roc Norris [ roc1on@yahoo.com ] on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 5:06 PM
It would be wonderful to say that this was fiction, an imaginary tale of hopeless desires fading with every moment. A story that we could laugh at with no remorse, or tell over dinner like an icebreaker. However, it isn't. Thousands of women are prisoners to this reality; fake convalescents to a dreary world. Sad but true, emotional but stern, brilliant and worth reading.

Posted by tory sanders [ sanderstory@yahoo ] on Monday, March 6th, 2006 at 5:07 PM
This story talks about one of my favorite subjects the changing human spirit. Some people may see it as; the subject of are we the job we do, the space we fill or are we the people of our pursonality. Any writting that expolors the question of are we like our genes pre determine us to be, or we what our enviornment shapes us in to. I guess you would have to have that predetermined in your mind to have a defenate opinion. I hope this story makes me come a little closer to a desition, maby its one of those 60% 40% kinda things but I guess thats a nother story.



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