Flash Fiction Writing Contest XXII, First Place (2008)


“The Wedding Dress” by Cynthia Reeves

Above my office desk is the following quote from Ortega y Gasset: “The man with the clear head…looks life in the face, realizes everything is problematic and feels himself lost, as this is the simple truth that to be alive is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground.” These words inspire me to continue whether I’m lost confronting the blank page or lost deep in the throes of revision. — Cynthia Reeves

Reeves will receive $1,000, a certificate to mark the success, and publication both online and in print.

The Wedding Dress

By Cynthia Reeves

This woman, she could be your wife, she could be anybody’s wife, you married her, you loved her, you said forever, and here she sits alone in a room whose walls are a faded builder’s white, whose floor is a checkerboard of rust and beige linoleum—a Fifties-era apartment is all she could afford on what you let her have, what was left after the lawyers and the marriage counselor and the mediator took their cuts—after the two of you closed your joint checking account and in front of the wide-eyed teller you told your wife that you’d kill her if she ever set foot on your manicured lawn again, after she broke into the house with two male bodyguards while you were away on business and reclaimed her own mahogany bed, after you called the locksmith and changed the locks to the home she’d shared with you for twenty-two years, after you blocked the doorway to said home, after she understood that you blamed her for your failed dreams of money and position, after you threw her yellowed, brittle diaphragm on the lawn—the diaphragm she snatched up as the cream in her cheeks turned a shade of pink you hadn’t seen since your wedding night, the very diaphragm she hadn’t used since before those five years you two had sex only on the schedule dictated by her basal temperature—while you shouted at her from the bedroom window how useless it was because she was “barren,” shouted at her from the bedroom window that she was responsible for your “accumulation of losses,” shouted from the window of the very guest room where she’d spent the last months of your marriage sleeping alone under the mahogany and tatted-lace canopy of her parent’s wedding bed, after you told her you needed “space,” long after you jacked off into a plastic cup so your sperm could be centrifuged, swiped on a specimen slide, and scrutinized for motility and at least then you had the decency to keep to yourself that it was her problem, not yours, because you both wanted children so badly and you didn’t want her to lose hope, and long, long after her cigarette burned the ragged, black hole into the custom-dyed leather sofa and champagne stained the white rug where you two made a toast that overflowed the crystal flutes, made love the first night in your new home, after all of this, she kneels on the cold linoleum with boxes stacked around her and opens them one by one and decides everything is trash, what you let her take, keep, have—the matchbooks in the mayonnaise jar from all the restaurants you’d eaten in over the years; the photo albums crammed with pictures from the trips you could afford on two incomes—Rome, Copenhagen, Athens, Paris, always Paris; art-gallery prints celebrating the openings of obscure artists that were like private jokes between you; the unauthenticated Utrillo you’d splurged on, the one you loved because it reminded you of the moment you met her in the shadow of Sacré-Coeur in the Place du Tertre, two American exchange students watching the same street artist paint plane-trees whose branches traced against a gray December sky reminded you of her bridal lace, the painting she always hated because of the melancholy Montmartre it portrayed (a past lost, a past never to be regained)—and she comes upon a white corrugated box, two by three feet and eight inches deep, and inside, under layers and layers of ivoried tissue paper and an embossed card that bears the imprint “preserved to your specifications,” the wedding dress lies, still pure white, with a train of crystal organza and satin and a fitted bodice studded with seed pearls and covered with the Aleçon lace she’d hand-picked at the Marché Saint Pierre in the rue Charles Nodier and held up to her body facing a full-length mirror while you grasped her shoulders from behind and kissed the knot at the top of her spine and conjured a wedding dress with whorls of this elaborate lace set against her pale, pale skin and her mane of jet black hair and her deep green eyes flecked with red, and she covered your eyes and laughed and said, only half-kidding, “bad luck, bad luck”; and, folded beneath the dress, the veil, ten layers of tulle cinched on a delicate crown peppered with seed pearls and sequins and a single, shorter layer of the sheer fabric that covered her face, which you lifted over her head on your wedding day, telling her she was the most beautiful woman you’d ever seen as you took her from her teary-eyed father and offered him your handkerchief; and she sweeps the dress up in her arms and stands on unsure legs as the layers of tissue paper drift to the floor, and she draws the gown’s waist into her own, hugs it to her body, and lifts its left arm in her right hand, letting the flowing cathedral train fall to the floor, and she dances to the music of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, Valse unreeling in her head, dances alone the wedding dance, the old-fashioned three-step with the whipping turns and dips and promenades you’d practiced together for weeks just for your wedding day, and she whirls and whirls till, dizzy, she collapses in a frothy heap of satin and organza and lace and pearls and skin in the middle of her spartan apartment, this, a last dance before she’ll fold the dress neatly and place it back in the dry cleaner’s box where it had been preserved for a daughter who would never be and carry it to the green dumpster behind the stolid brick apartment building where she’ll live out the balance of her life, and on Monday in the early morning hours, she’ll be awakened in her mahogany bed by the crush and grind of a heavy steel blade churning the pure white-pearled dress and veil together with the weekend’s garbage, churning everything to pulp, and mashing what remains of the wedding dress into a solid mass no bigger than a box of tissues.


Cynthia Reeves’s fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of journals, most recently Ontario Review, Elipsis, and Colorado Review. Her novella “Badlands” will be published by Miami University Press in the fall of 2007. She has an MFA from Warren Wilson College.

“The Wedding Dress” © 2006 Cynthia Reeves

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