Issue 7,  Poetry

The Red Dress by Lucy Whitehead

Fairy tales taught us the magic of a dress. 
How the perfect frock worn 
to a suitable social event results 
in a wedding to the man of our dreams. 
As girls, we knew with absolute certainty 
that the right gown could capture a heart. 
We learnt in books that’s how it happens. 
So we went hunting for one. 
But without a fairy godmother
to conjure outfits woven 
from sunlight, moonlight, starlight,
it’s hard to find anything as effective.

I bought mine from an elegant shop
that I had to get to on the bus, 
with babysitting money I’d saved up. 
It was sophisicated, ox-blood red, 
a heavy crêpe fastened 
from hem to neck with carved 
bone buttons up the back, both sides 
of the skirt split right to the top 
of my willowy thighs. It billowed 
from the princess waistline so I floated
in an ocean of red like a woman 
from a Pre-Raphaelite painting. 

There were no balls or banquets 
to attend, weekends spent 
chugging cheap cider, smoking
cherry tobacco in empty churchyards. 
So, one day in autumn, I wore
it to the woods to search 
for an elfin-faced boy I was dating. 
Through damp undergrowth I crept 
amid the scent of rotting leaves and fungus, 
tripping over roots and tree stumps, 
catching my hem on bramble thorns, 
a wood nymph in knee-high lace-up boots. 

I found him with a group of friends 
sprawled over two fallen tree trunks, drinking 
warm beer, cooking instant noodles and packet soup. 
Settling on a mossy branch in the haze 
of cigarette smoke, I swallowed 
something luminous, listened 
to their drum circle, hoped 
he was pleased to see me. 
Later, I wandered home alone 
through fields of leftover pumpkins 
in the fading light, a single mud stain 
splattered on my rust red chest. 

I scrubbed the dress down, 
took it to the dry cleaners, 
but that day in the woods
never washed out. 

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Lucy Whitehead has a BA (Hons) in Archaeology and Anthropology and an MA in History of Art and Archaeology. She writes haiku and poetry. Her haiku have been published in numerous international journals and anthologies and her poetry has appeared in Amethyst Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Barren Magazine, Black Bough Poetry, Burning House Press, Collective Unrest, Electric Moon Magazine, Ghost City Review, Mookychick Magazine, Neon Mariposa Magazine, Pussy Magic, Re-side, and Twist in Time Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @blueirispoetry.

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