Monday, November 17, 2008
The Pink Prom Dress
Micheline and Oscar have been living together in downtown L.A. since before it was fashionable. Their home is two large cardboard refrigerator boxes on skid row. A man and his dog sleep to their left. A old woman in purple flannel pajamas talks nonstop on their right.
Oscar's a big husky man given to wearing long flowing gowns. He was wounded, his left leg, in the war (although he has never said what war) and he suffers from endless phantom pain. The only time it doesn't hurt is when he sees himself in a beautiful gown in a shop window.
"Let's go window shopping," Micheline says when his pain becomes unbearable. "We'll look at your dress. Wouldn't you love that?"
"Oh yes," he says. Oscar pulls himself up from the sidewalk, leans against the wall and takes her arm. "Watch the curb," he says as they cross the street. "I don't want you to get hurt." He offers a smile and hello to all who pass, holding his head high, even as he winces in pain. With his free hand he lifts his gown a few inches from the street so as not to step on the hem.
At a shop window, they gaze intently. "This window is cracked," Micheline says. At the second shop, she shakes her head. "This window is distorted."
"I think it makes me look good," Oscar says. "Just not quite right. My leg really hurts."
"You can lean on me while we walk," Micheline says. "If we don't like what we see today, we will tomorrow." She puts his arm around her shoulders.
"Oh, look over there," Oscar says, catching sight of a store window. "Perfect."
In the reflection of the dusty shop window Oscar sees himself, strong, fit, and as beautiful as any woman he'd ever known. Micheline runs her fingers across his back until she's hugging him close. "We're a very lucky couple," she says.
"Yes we are," Oscar says. His pain has disappeared. They begin to waltz down the street, in a world all their own, gliding up-down, one-two-three. Then Oscar stops. He watches a young prosperous couple holding hands. He strides up to them. Micheline lags behind.
"Hey buddy. Micheline's suit is at the cleaners and I left my money at home. Give me $10. We are late for the party already and no bubbly for our friends."
The man and woman stare at Oscar whose flitting left and right in his pink chiffon prom dress that is a size too large.
Micheline steps forward and speaks up for her friend. "He really wants to go. I want to go with him. And as you can see I'm not dressed for it. You may not know this, but he hurt his leg real bad in the war. He used to be a nurse at the Country Club hospital just up the street."
The man looks up the street. There's an apartment building. Country Club Hospital? "That's the best story I've heard all day. You got it," he says, smiling, then pulls a $20 bill from his pocket. "Have fun. You deserve it."
"Thank you," Micheline says. "You're very understanding." She pulls a black comb from inside her thick matted hair and waves it at them. "I styled his hair. Doesn't it look fabulous?"
And that's true. To some extent.