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The Stained Dress

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The following story is a work of creative fiction.

The dressmaker admired her latest creation, an elegant cream colored gown whose silk bodice shimmered like freshwater pearls and whose full skirt gushed like a waterfall and ended in a splash of white roses and lace trim. For nine months and nine days, she had labored on this dress. Looking at it now, in the fading light of dusk, she felt more than a hint of pride, an almost motherly love as she thought, “Surely this must be the most beautiful dress in the world.” Tomorrow, she would carry it upstairs to the shop and display it most prominently in her window for all to see and admire.

But the next morning, the woman gave a cry of horror, for in the brightness of day, she could clearly see a dark spot on the front of the dress; a brown stain, the size of a penny, where the bodice met the skirt. The distraught woman clutched her hair. However did the stain get there? Hadn’t she been so very careful with the material during the entire sewing period? She carried the gown to the sink and wiped at the spot with a wet towel, then scrubbed more vigorously with soap and water. But the offending blot remained. With a sinking heart, she realized the stain had soaked through to the very fiber of the fabric and was now inseparable from the cloth. The only way to get rid of it was to get rid of the dress itself.

Pain shredded her heart. She beat her chest and wailed. Who would buy her dress now? Who would wear it lovingly to parties or show it off at weddings? For a brief dark moment, she pondered covering up the smudge with some patchwork and passing it off as a new design, but her customers were clever. Not only would they spot the cover-up, but they would laugh at her vanity in trying to pass off a bad dress as a good one. Seeing no solution, she threw the ruined gown into a closet and fled from the workshop.

Next day, she returned, not bearing to be away from the dress she loved so very much. When she saw its delicate form lying crumpled in the dark closet, she was filled with remorse. How fragile and vulnerable it looked, and how cruelly and thoughtlessly she had condemned it to a life of darkness. She gathered the gown in her arms and kissed it softly. “Stain or no stain,” she resolved, “you deserve to be up there in the window, out in the light, like all my other dresses. Stain or no stain.”

At first, the dress on the window created a huge stir, stopping shoppers mid-stride and drawing a crowd of effusive admirers. But slowly, one by one, they all noticed the blotch at the top of the skirt and they blinked, doubting their eyes. They scraped the glass with their fingers as if they thought the blotch was on the pane, and if they could just get rid of it, they would be able to gaze at the gown in all its perfect glory. But when they discovered that the most beautiful dress in the world was in fact imperfect, they were stunned and also secretly relieved, because the flawed dress made their own flaws seem smaller in comparison. Most people averted their eyes and hurried off, but some lingered to lament the ill fate that had befallen the poor gown and its maker. “Such a pity. It will never be worn,” said one. “She’ll never be able to sell this gown,” said another. “Why is this dress even on the window? Does the dressmaker think we are blind?” asked a third. “No, she must think we are fools,” declared another. “Why else would she put a defective piece on the stand?”

In no time, the dress became the talk of the town and while some people felt sorry for the dressmaker, many were outraged that she had put a stained dress on display.

“Any fool with one eye can see it is damaged goods,” they complained to the mayor. “She is bringing disrepute to the rest of the business folks in this town. Everybody must think there is no honest shopkeeper left here.”

It was decided that the mayor’s wife would have a word with the dressmaker. The tall imperious woman marched into the store and demanded to know how an inferior piece could be displayed so brazenly.

“It is but a small mark,” defended the dressmaker. “If not for the stain, don’t you think it would be the most beautiful dress in the world?”

“Alas, yes,” agreed the mayor’s wife, “but it is stained nevertheless.”

When the dressmaker did not take the dress off the window, the townspeople sent the policeman’s wife to do the job. The plump, homely woman waddled in with a homemade plum cake.

“Tut tut, dear,” she chirped. “They don’t all turn out the way we want them to, do they? But you must do yourself a favor and take it off the stand. Why make yourself the butt of everyone’s jokes?”

The dressmaker replied dolefully, “This dress deserves a chance, just like all my other dresses. If not for the stain, it would be the most beautiful dress in the world, don’t you think?”

The policeman’s wife sighed. “Yes, but stained it is, that we have to admit.”

With the policeman’s wife admitting defeat, the townspeople set the local priest to the task of changing the dressmaker’s mind. The priest ambled in on a fine morning and said, “Don’t you think a fine dressmaker such as yourself should only put her best and most perfect creations up for sale?”

“But revered master,” said the dressmaker. “This dress is my best and most perfect creation till date.”

“But it’s stained, my dear woman. And the mark is as visible as the moon on a cloudless night.”

“I don’t deny it, respected sir. Still don’t you think it deserves a chance to be out there, stain and all? Should the moon be taken off the sky because of its dents?”

The priest was a wise man and he could see how deep the woman’s feelings ran for the dress. He tried another angle. “But the people of this town think you are a cheat. Can you afford to lose business over a sentiment?”

The woman smiled. In her smile, there was a sad acceptance. “Let them come who want to come but the dress will remain on the window. Because if not for the stain, it would be the most beautiful dress in the world, don’t you think?”

The priest returned to the townspeople and said, “The woman finds happiness in displaying the gown, flawed though it may be. Leave her be and go on about your business.”

The townspeople were a number of things, but irreverent folk they were not, and so they abided by the priest’s words, albeit grudgingly. Still, whenever someone passed by the dress shop, he or she would ridicule the dress and call the dressmaker names, hoping the taunts would persuade her to take down the dress. Some people boycotted the store altogether, spreading false propaganda that the dressmaker sold clothing of inferior quality.

The dressmaker bore it all with silence, drawing joy from the fact that her dress was up on the window where it belonged, stain and all.

One summer afternoon, an unexpected draught blew open the door of the shop, ruffling clothes and sending papers flying. The dressmaker looked up to find a young woman in the store. Tall and thin, she had wide eyes the color of sapphires and she sauntered through the store like a wild flower, checking out the different clothes. The dressmaker noted that the girl’s gaze fell on all things the same way – devoid of passion or excitement as if the different objects she were looking at were all one and the same. She even looked at the dressmaker with the same gaze. And then the girl noticed the dress by the window and her eyes popped. She ran to the window, clutching her heart, her eyes starting to fill with wonder.

Slowly, she extended her long fingers to touch the cloth and the dressmaker could see that they were trembling. The girl studied every inch of the dress carefully — the silk bodice, the lace trim, the silver clasp at the back and even the underskirt, and declared in a voice of unbridled happiness, “Surely this has got to be the most beautiful dress in the world.”

As the dressmaker watched, the girl took the mannequin off the stand and twirled it around as if it were a long lost lover.

“How much?” she asked and the dressmaker had to shake herself to clear her shock. “You…like it,” she said, more a statement than a question because the girl’s delight was quite obvious. The girl nodded, “Yes, very much.” Then she gushed, “It’s Destiny, you see. I have dreamt of a dress like this ever since I was a child. I did not think anybody could ever create something this perfect.”

Her answer pricked the dressmaker’s conscience, deflating her like a punctured balloon. “It’s not for sale,” she said.

The girl looked surprised. “Why? I will pay you whatever you ask.”

Pointing to the stain, the dressmaker hissed, “It’s not perfect like you think. It is stained. Damaged goods is what it is. You can never wear it. You’ll be a laughing stock.”

The girl looked to where the dressmaker was pointing and said, “Oh.”

She chewed her lips for a moment and said, “I still like it very much. I want to buy it, that is if you are willing to sell it.”

The dressmaker was taken aback. What a fool the girl was!

She threw her hands up in the air, “You’re the only person I know who wants to buy a stained dress.”

The girl began to chew her lips again as though she had a different opinion on the matter, but she said nothing. Shaking her head, the dressmaker accepted the offered money. But as she packed the dress, her eyes grew misty and she said, “This is the best dress I have ever made. Please take good care of it. If not for the stain, it would be the most beautiful dress in the world, don’t you think?”

The girl spoke up softly, “I don’t see why the stain should make this dress any less perfect. Even with the stain, it is the most beautiful dress in the world.”

The dressmaker fell silent. She felt shaken as if the girl’s simple statement had blown through a solid brick wall in her mind. As the impact of her words sunk in, she realized that the girl was no fool. She merely did not see the stain as a flaw, as a reason to devalue an otherwise good item.

“How liberating it must be,” thought the dressmaker, “How painless, how wonderful it must feel to be able to look at the world and find beauty in everything, flaws and all? To not have to turn away from the scars? To not have to cover up the blemishes? To not have to pretend that life is always roses and honey?” All of a sudden, it made sense to her why the girl’s gaze fell the same way upon everything. A curtain lifted in her mind and she grew ebullient as her own gaze changed. Happiness oozed out of every pore in her being. The world looked awash, anew, unblemished. With eyes alight, she told the girl, “I have changed my mind. I will not sell you this dress.”

The girl was crestfallen. She turned and made for the door.

“You can keep it for free,” the dressmaker called out after her, her voice almost a song. “Provided you invite me once a month to come and see you in it.”

The girl laughed, overjoyed. “Why once a month? You can come see me every week.”

And from that day on, every Sunday, the dressmaker would walk up the hill to go visit the girl in her house. They would sit in a garden where nothing grew but wild flowers and the girl would serve tea and dance so the older woman could see how the dress swished and swirled to the beat. The dressmaker found it hard to say who complemented the other more, the dress or the girl, for they went so well together and the girl took such good care of the dress.

Down the hill, the townspeople continued to talk and laugh among themselves about the mad dressmaker who had found an even madder customer for her faulty dress. For the life of them, they could not imagine how two women could derive so much delight from something so defective. But up on the hill, in the garden of wild flowers, there could not be two happier women. For they are the happiest people on earth who know that the stains they find in the world are often the grime in their very own eyes.

Getty image by Stanislav Hubkin.

Originally published: March 21, 2018
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