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The Farewell Dress

Lisa Christman

Carla was a seamstress at heart from the time she was 10 years old. She loved sewing with a passion, and she was not afraid to admit it to anyone. Some artists used paint or clay, even paper or wood as a medium, but her medium of choice was fabric. She adored the look and feel of the different fabrics and all the possibilities that could come from them. When she created a new piece of clothing it was not just something to wear, but a unique piece of art. She never had to worry about what her next project would be because when she picked up fabric it almost immediately shouted out to her ideas of what options could be designed. Her relationship with the fabric she worked with gave her such vivid ideas that her clothing pieces were well-known around the small town in which she lived.

Carla couldn’t take all the credit for her talent because she always felt it was instilled in her by her mother, Mary. Carla and her mother would often go to thrift stores, discount shops, tag sales, and a personal favorite of Carla’s, the Flea Market. She remembered her mother telling her “This is where you can find the most wonderful treasures, if only you open your eyes to look and your heart to feel what the fabric is saying to you.” Mary started teaching Carla to sew at the age of 10, right after Carla’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer. He was too young to have passed at only 40 years old, but as Mary told Carla “The heavens needed another angel, and it was your father's turn to go.” Mary fought off her sadness for her husband by assisting Carla with the sewing machine, explaining the grain of each fabric and the many types of stitches that could be performed. Carla picked up on it quickly, so quickly, she made her doll clothes by the time she was 12 years old, and what beautiful doll clothes they were. Everyone in town would compliment her on the pretty and unique designs of how her dolls were dressed. As Carla grew older she graduated from doll clothes to making her attire. Her adoration of material and her skill in stitching is what lead her to open a small corner store on the main street of town. Here she sold her creations along with other handmade fashion items brought to her from women who lived in the town. She was not rich and there was no fear of that ever happening, but she was happy and able to pay her bills and that was all that mattered to her.

On a warm June day, that started like any other day at the store, Carla’s happiness was cut short. The phone rang, “Hello, yes this is she speaking” Carla answered. “Hello, this is Doctor James I’m the physician taking care of your mother. I’m sorry to have to tell you that your mother was brought into the Hospital emergency department about an hour ago with a severe head injury” the Doctor explained. “What are you talking about? How did it happen? Is she alright?” Carla stumbled on her words almost in shock with the news that was just delivered to her. “It appears your mother was walking on the side of the road and ended up falling down a very steep embankment where she hit her head on a cluster of rocks at the bottom. It was fortunate that a passenger in a car going by saw what happened and call 911. She’s been admitted into our intensive care unit, it’s going to be touch and go for a few days and I think you should come to the Hospital. Your mother’s room is number 3. Again I’m sorry, we can talk again soon” the Doctor said grimly. “Yes, of course. I will be there right away. Thank you” Carla answered and then her hand holding the phone dropped to her lap. How could this happen? Why did this happen? Carla thought which was interrupted by the busy signal from the phone that was still laying in her lap. “Hang on mom, I’m on my way,” Carla said as she stood up and hung up the phone. Her store was closed in a matter of minutes and she flew out the door, putting her coat on as she ran for her car.

The 15-minute drive to the hospital seemed like an hour to Carla, but that wasn’t the worse part, the worse part was seeing her mother lying in the bed once she got there with so many tubes, wires, and catheters attached to her that she almost did not recognize her mother. Carla instantly started to cry. Her mother looked so helpless. Like a child. Sitting in the chair by her mom’s bedside, she held her mother’s hand and started to talk to her. Carla talked about the new fabrics she had bought the day before at the thrift store and the new pattern for a skirt she was drawing up to go along with the fabric. Carla didn’t know if her mom could hear her, but if there was even a tiny chance she wanted to let her mother know she was there for her. Somehow sharing the one topic they both enjoyed made Carla feel better, closer to her mother somehow at this difficult time.

After visiting hours ended and Carla was home, she had no appetite, her energy was drained from her and she was mentally exhausted, the weight of the day finally had settled upon her. Carla took the hottest shower she could stand, and feeling the heat of the water on her neck and back helped to relieve some of her tension. She didn’t even dry her hair after getting into her nightgown, she shuffled to her bed and nestled in under the covers. Her eyes barely closed, when she was off to a deep sleep where she dreamed of her mother. Her mother appeared the same way in her dream that she did the last time Carla had visited her, alive, well, and uninjured. Her mom was saying something to her. “My treasures will lead you, an old to a new,” Mary whispered as she faded away. Carla woke up with a start. The dream was so intense that it felt real. What was mom talking about, Carla thought. As she started getting ready for her day. She continued to get dressed, brush her teeth, and have breakfast the whole time contemplating the meaning of her dream, but unable to figure it out.

Carla did not open her store today, instead, she headed straight for the hospital to her mother’s room. Doctor James met her in the room and reviewed her mother’s condition. “There was no improvement, she slipped into a coma last night, I ordered an EEG, CT scan, and an MRI yesterday and the results showed what we expected. The pressure of the intracranial bleed is putting too much pressure on her brain, there isn’t much we can do because of the nature of the injury surgery is out of the question” Doctor James said. “I understand what you’re saying, I just can’t believe this is happening. Is she in any pain?” Carla asked as a single tear fell down her cheek. “No, no there’s no pain. Think of it as if she’s sleeping. I’ll let you visit with her. The nurse knows how to reach me if you have questions” The Doctor replied and headed toward the door for the hallway. “Thank you again for all you’ve done,” Carla said in a whisper she could barely speak due to the knot she felt in her throat. Carla sat with her mother all day, holding her hand, and telling her about the strange dream she had the night before. After visiting, hours were over Carla didn’t go straight home. She went to her mother’s house instead. Carla let herself in with the spare key her mother gave her, walked around downstairs, and then ascended the staircase where the bedroom and sewing room were located. Carla went into the sewing room sat in the chair in front of the sewing machine and stared into space. “What am I doing here?” Carla said out loud to herself.

She swiveled around in the chair to view the rest of the room and thought, what do I think I’ll find? I don’t even know what I’m looking for. This is silly, I’m overthinking this whole dream thing. Unexpectedly she noticed a small door, half the width of a regular closet across the room. The door was tucked slightly behind a rolling rack with clothes hanging on it. Carla got up and walked toward it, if this rack was moved over another 4 inches I never would have seen this door, she thought. After opening the door, feeling around inside with her hand for a light switch, she flipped it to the on position and a bright light came on exposing a treasure like no other Carla had expected. There on a rack in the middle of the tiny closet hanging all by themselves, selves were 4 gorgeous wedding dresses. Each one was stunning with silk and satin. Carla could hardly believe the detailed beading and lace on 2 of the dresses. She gently took one dress at a time, inspected it, and l set it on the bed. The 4 ivory dresses were a picture of delight and beauty to Carla. I don’t know why, but I have to take these home with me tonight. Carla thought and off she went with the dresses carefully packed in a garment bag heading back to her house.

 Carla dreamt again of her mother that night. Mary had said to Carla “I need my new dress of old for times soon to come, won’t you help and imagine me one.” Once again Mary was gone in a flash and like before Carla awoke hastily. “What do you need mom? I don’t know how to help you?” Carla said exasperatedly to herself. Looking over in the corner of her bedroom at the garment bag lying over the chair in the shadows, it finally came to her. She jumped out of bed, grabbed the bag filled with the wedding dresses, and commenced into her sewing room. She ripped seams, cut fabric, and sewed piece after piece until the dawn rolled over the mountains telling her it was the beginning of a new day. Carla had hardly slept at all that night, and it had caught up to her, she shuffled to the bed and flopped onto it falling asleep instantly.

Waking up, Carla rolled over and looked at her clock. She sprung up and gasped “oh my goodness, it’s noon time, I have to head to the hospital,” and sprinted into the bathroom to get dressed. On her way out of the bathroom, her phone rang, hesitantly she picked it up, “hello…. yes this is Carla” the color drained from her face as the Doctor spoke to her saying, “I’m so sorry, but your mother passed away quietly 15 minutes ago without ever regaining consciousness, please except my heartfelt sympathy” Doctor James said with sorrow. Carla was devastated, she hung up the phone without even saying goodbye. How could this be? It was so sudden, I am not ready to lose her, what will I do? All these thoughts and so many more were running through her mind. After the initial shock was over, she sat on the end of her bed and the tears flowed so that they would put a river to shame. The worse part of losing her mom was the tight clamp that seemed to envelop her heart, it squeezed so tight and yet felt so empty how could she ever feel whole again?

The next 3 days seemed to float by like a cloud in the wind, Carla was in a daze and felt numb. She had arranged her mother’s funeral and services as she thought her mom would want them. All her mother’s friends came to pay their respects, and everyone commented on the exquisite dress that Mary had on. “It is simply breathtaking, where did you get such a well-preserved antique dress, it is exactly what she would have wanted,” many asked. Carla was the only one who knew this new antique was created just for her mother because it was the dress that was made by Carla for her mother. But that would be their little secret.

That night after the emotionally draining day of trying to appear brave to her mother’s friends and taking care of the paperwork from the funeral home all Carla wanted was a hot shower, a cup of chamomile tea, and some quiet alone time. She climbed into bed feeling relaxed from the shower and tea and soon melted into sleep. Carla also dreamt that night of her mother, it was just as vibrant and felt as real as the other dreams. She saw her mother wearing the new, antique dress that Carla had made. Her mother was standing hand in hand next to Carla’s father. Both of her parents smiled at her then turned and started to walk toward the horizon, slowly fading into the twilight. Carla had not woken up abruptly this time, as before. She continued to sleep comfortably and with a smile of her own across her face.

March 19, 2023 14:25

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1 comment

Dionna White
22:52 Mar 29, 2023

That was both an extremely sad but heartwarming story. I like how you used grief to spur the story along.


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