Short Story – Little Black Dress

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Loretta’s purse is black. It matches her shoes, her small, veiled hat, and of course, her dress. She smooths the fabric over her legs as she sits down at the table. She wonders how grieving women are supposed to perform the act of sitting down. Sadly, she supposes, and does her best to emanate grief. A woman in mourning has to look the part, after all.

The restaurant is dim, but the lights right above Loretta’s table shine down on her like the ray of an alien ship in a crappy 80s sci-fi movie. Loretta has never liked sci-fi. Women never have any interesting roles in those films. But now, sitting beneath the harsh eye of the light, she wishes it would beam her up to the mothership. Anything to get away from this…

Right. This. Her husband is dead. Poor, dead Arthur, whom she loved so much, who left her to deal with this harsh new world where neighbours bring terrible casseroles to her front door and old friends she hasn’t seen in years ask her to dinner “just to see how she’s doing.” He’s dead. As a doornail. As roadkill.

He’s as dead as her career. Yep, that’s the one. There are her emotions. She feels a tear begin to well in the corner of her eye.

The restaurant table is small and round, and when her food is placed in front of her, it takes up nearly the whole space. Loretta glances down at the untouched glass of wine, and the picture perfect risotto dish that she knows will probably taste disgusting if she were to put the food to her lips. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a black silk handkerchief. She dabs daintily at her eyes, careful not to smudge her makeup.

 

“I never thought I’d end up a widow at this age,” she says aloud, looking off into the distance with a delicate sniffle.

A loud laugh from a few tables over catches her attention. Loretta sees him then. Arthur. It’s actually Arthur. Her face runs an Oscar-worthy gamut of emotion. Shock! Disbelief! Anger! Shock!

“Arthur!”

Loretta’s mouth trembles, and her eyes widen. Her expression is a perfectly curated combination of confusion, hurt, and betrayal. The woman seated at the table with her husband is tall, blonde, probably a model. Visibly younger than Loretta, not that Loretta looks her age or anything, but this girl is barely out of high school. She clearly was picked for her looks, and her dress, little more than a red silk cocktail napkin, certainly shows those off.

Loretta stands, takes half a step toward their table, but stops. A curious change takes place on her face. Her eyes harden, determined now instead of confused, burning hot like the embers of a fire. She lowers her chin and stares at Arthur for another moment, her glare intensifying, and then she reaches up and pulls her tiny black hat from her head and tosses it carelessly to the ground.

Then Loretta turns directly to the camera and says, “I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t make any sense.”

The director sighs and yells, “Cut!”

He steps forward, a small man with a horrible mustache, and puts a hand on her arm. “What doesn’t make sense, love?”

Loretta extricates her arm from his grasp with a single, fluid, shrug-like motion. Directors, honestly. Always with the pet names.

“So my husband fakes his death, and then brings his new lover to a restaurant in the same town? Why wouldn’t he move across the country? Why would he stick around?”

“Maybe he’s got business to attend to,” responds the director.

“With whom?” asks Loretta, enunciating the consonant with a slight smack of her lips. “Everyone he knows thinks he is dead!” She pauses for a moment, and thinks. “Who did I bury, anyway? Was it a closed casket funeral? Does his family know he’s alive? If he’s faking his death just to get away from me, wouldn’t it have been easier to ask for a divorce?”

The director rolls his eyes toward the ceiling. “Loretta,” he says gently. “The point isn’t why he’s here, or how. The point is that he is. The point is that you see him, and you decide to take some revenge of your own.”

“Sure, okay,” Loretta says, in exactly the tone of someone who is not at all convinced. “And about that revenge. I, what? Go into the bathroom and put on some sexy eyeliner and red lipstick, and grab some random man on his way to the bathroom?”

“You strut past your despicable husband, looking fabulously sexy in The Dress, with a gorgeous man on your arm!” cries the director, gesturing wildly at Paul, the actor cast as Gorgeous Man. He’s pretty, in a Chris Evans kind of way. Nice shoulders, pretty face, not much between the ears. He recognized her — of course he recognized her, everyone does — while they sat next to each other in makeup, and asked her if she wanted to grab a drink after the shoot wrapped up. To “talk shop”. He’s not Loretta’s type, not really, but she sees the appeal. She makes brief eye contact with Paul now, appraising him for the director’s benefit.

“And this random stranger just goes along with it?” she asks. “What about his date? Wouldn’t she see us and get upset?”

“He’s… dining by himself,” says the director, grasping at straws.

“Who goes to a fancy restaurant by themselves? For that matter, why is my character going out to dinner by herself?”

“Maybe she needs time alone after her husband’s apparent death?” suggests Paul, stepping into the conversation, much to the relief of the beleaguered director. “She’s probably been surrounded nonstop by people who want to show her they care.”

“Okay,” Loretta concedes, pointing at him like a teacher at a student. “Touché. And she probably wants to get dressed up so she can feel normal again, although personally I’d have gone for something a bit less funereal…”

“Ah, but she has to keep up appearances,” Paul counters. “What if she sees someone she knows? They’d wonder why she isn’t mourning.”

“I mean, I get what you’re saying but it’s just…” Loretta sighs. “I just don’t think it’s very realistic.”

Paul shrugs and flashes her a grin. She reconsiders her previous assessment. He might be her type after all. The director, on the other hand, looks like he wants to tear his hair out. Or maybe hers, she can’t tell.

“Baby, can we get back to filming, please?” asks the director.

“I don’t know…” Loretta sits down, bending herself and The Dress carefully onto the stool so she doesn’t wrinkle the fabric. “I just don’t feel comfortable with it yet. It still doesn’t make sense. If it doesn’t make sense to me, it’s not going to make sense to the audience.”

“It doesn’t need to make sense, Loretta. It just needs to sell The Dress.”

She looks down at The Dress. Tight, black, simple, and of course flattering. As the ad proclaims, it’s “The Little Black Dress for every occasion.” You know. Because everyone would totally wear the same dress to a funeral as they would for a hot date.

It’s bullshit. Loretta knows it, the director knows it, Paul definitely knows it. God, she wishes she didn’t have to stoop to doing commercials again. At this point in her career she should be starring in A-List features. Not demeaning herself like this. She was nominated for a Golden Globe once, you know. A Golden Freaking Globe. And being back here, on this stupid set for a stupid commercial no one is going to watch, no further ahead than she was the day she first stepped off the plane at LAX…

Because this is what Hollywood does to women like Loretta. It sucks them in with its parties and its glamour and its endless bottles of champagne and lines of cocaine. It throws them a few bones like guest roles in network tv shows, and supporting roles in critically acclaimed independent films. Stage roles in the LA Production of Chicago, and nominations for awards. It gives them red carpet treatment and designer dresses and tabloid photographers snapping shots outside Whole Foods.

But anyone can do that. The trick is to get further. And if that fateful day comes when you can no longer believably play the role of a high school teenager onscreen, well then, you’d better have already reached the A-List, or else you’re back down at the bottom of the barrel, taking roles with only two lines where your character doesn’t even have a name and your scene will probably be cut from the final film. Doing commercials you won’t even put on your resume, where a man your age is cast as Gorgeous Man, but you’re in the role of Bereaved Widow. In other words, if you reach this point and you haven’t Made It Big yet, you’re screwed.

Loretta is screwed.

And cute though Paul may be, the death of her career doesn’t make her want to go home with him. It makes her want to kill someone. Starting with this stupid director.

Loretta looks at him, at his absurd moustache and his too-shiny fake leather shoes.

“Can we get back to work now, please?” He asks.

Loretta chews thoughtfully on her bottom lip, to the chagrin of the makeup artist. She answers his question with another question.

“How married are we to the concept of this ad?”

The director drops his head into his hands. His voice is defeated. “What did you have in mind?”

[Fade in to a funeral scene. A large framed photo of a smiling man, ARTHUR, stands on an easel next to a casket. As it is lowered into the ground we see LORETTA, a clearly grieving young woman who is nonetheless stunning in a beautiful black dress.]

[Cross fade to a high class restaurant. Classical music plays in the background. We see LORETTA at a table alone. She is wearing the same dress, and while she is obviously mourning she looks gorgeous, almost like she could be on a date. She is distracted suddenly by a laugh, and when she turns she sees ARTHUR, on a date with ANOTHER WOMAN, who is pretty in a cheap kind of way, if you like that sort of thing. LORETTA stands in shock.]

[The classical music swells in the foreground as LORETTA grabs hold of the steak knife on her table and steps toward her lying, cheating, husband. Murder is in her eyes. ARTHUR is not dead, but he will be. Again.]

 

[Cut to police station, where GORGEOUS COP leads LORETTA up the steps.]

[There is the sound of a camera shutter clicking, and a series of mugshots appear on screen. LORETTA is covered in blood, but she, and THE DRESS, still look gorgeous. Her mugshots look like a fashion advertisement.

The music shifts, becomes “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago (Rights pending). The lyrics full volume: If you’d have been there / If you’d have seen it / I bet you would have done the same.

The camera focuses on the sign LORETTA holds in front of her. Instead of her name and the police department it says, “Look great, no matter what the occasion.”]

END AD.

 

The director lifts his head from his hands and looks at Loretta, his eyes wide.

 

She smirks, confident in having delivered a great pitch. Paul will look great in a police uniform, and more importantly, her career isn’t over. She clearly has a flair for the creative, and a bright future in advertising. It’s not as glamorous as acting, no, but she is confident that with daring, unique ideas like the one she just laid out, she will–

“Loretta.”

“Yes?”

“You’re fired.”

 

 

By Emily Krempholtz

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