Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Pauline Asper

The Dress in the Wardrobe

Once inside their New England house swop, Ben dumped the bags at the bottom of the stairs and went to check out the downstairs rooms. Alison stood in the hallway, sniffing this tall, dark Victorian town house, that smelt so different from their English farmhouse.
“Here’s the family room Linda mentioned,” Ben called from the back. “See if you can start a fire and fix me a G&T will you? I’ll take the bags up.”
Alison did as requested. Ben returned and toasted: “Cheers. Here’s to our first childless holiday. I do have to do some work tomorrow morning though.” Alison wasn’t listening. She was staring into the crackling fire and the look on her face was one of apprehension.
True to his word, after breakfast Ben set up his virtual office in the family room and entered his world of risk management.
Alison considered a stroll round Rougemont, whose maples and oaks were dressed with rubies and topaz; but decided she would like to wait for Ben, if she could persuade him. So she walked upstairs to all those unexplored rooms.
At the top of the house she discovered a huge attic lit by six oriel windows. Surprisingly it was virtually empty, except for an elaborate Victorian wardrobe against the far wall.
She approached it slowly and, suppressing Peeping Tom feelings tentatively opened one door. Only a single garment hung on the rail. Alison unhooked it and took it over to one of the windows. It was a red jersey dress, with a dropped waist and swirling skirt. The sleeves were long and narrow and the bodice was cut into a low scallop.
The following morning Alison, on an impulse, dialled her own number. Linda answered and, after an exchange of compliments, Alison plucked up the courage to mention her discovery.
“I’d forgotten about that,” Linda laughed. “We had a fancy dress Hallow’een party a few years ago, where we went as characters from American novels. That was my Hester Prynne dress.”
“Hester Prynne?”
“Oh, you’re probably not familiar with The Scarlet Letter. It’s about how 17th century puritan New Englanders treated a poor woman who had a child out of wedlock. They forced her to embroider a Scarlet Letter on the front of her gowns and wear it always as an emblem of her shame.”
Alison and Ben flew back at the weekend. She felt the holiday had not been a great success and had done nothing to heal the growing space she sensed between them. They had only really spent ‘quality time’ together eating dinner while watching American sports on television, and Ben had been persuaded out for a walk once.
On Monday, Alison took Lucy into her Year Two class and handed Miss Moore an assortment of the russet New England leaves she had gathered, with an upcoming collage project in mind.
Leaving the classroom smartly, in order to get to her office on time, she ran straight into a man who was just entering. They both fell back apologising. As she did so, she looked up at him and her heart began to pound. She had never seen him before; he was obviously dropping his son off for the first time.
They stared at each other, oblivious to their surroundings. Then almost involuntarily, he placed a hand on her arm and they walked out into the playground together. As they went, Alison thought back to the red dress in the wardrobe; now she understood its true significance.

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