I wake up shivering. The floor beneath me is cold as I push myself onto my feet and I stumble, trying to find my balance in heels. I let out a weak giggle at my own uneven footing and hope no one witnessed it. I look around at my surroundings and realize I am in a room full of beautiful white dresses hanging on rails. I dust myself off and feel the smooth silk of my own flowing white dress dotted with diamonds that sparkle with even the slightest movement.
“What did you do? Oh god you stained the dress-” my mother runs into the room and begins tugging at the back of my dress where a small gray mark has appeared.
“Oh dear, are you okay? You don’t look well,” a short woman with her hair tied back in a messy bun puts her hand on my head, her face full of concern.
“I think I fainted, I woke up on the ground. I’m sorry about the dress.” I stare at my feet and wish I didn’t listen to my mother and wore my comfortable converse. My ankle stings from the fall.
“There is no need to apologize that can be cleaned off very easily,” she swats at my mother who is still scrubbing away at the dress, “will you stop fretting over a dress when your daughter’s not well. Now come on sweetheart I’ll bring you somewhere quiet to sit and get something into you. Don’t want to risk you fainting again.”
“We don’t have time for-” my mother starts.
“Then you can stay here and pick out more dresses for her to try on when she’s ready.” I’m lost for words; it’s rare to see anyone talk like that to my mother whose glare could turn Medusa to stone.
I’m led down to a section of the shop that is for employees only and I curse myself for not being able to remember the name of this kind dressmaker. There are boxes of dresses and fabrics everywhere. I run my hands along the gray walls and feel the paint flake away. We stop in a small break room and she gestures for me to have a sit while she busies herself with the kettle. The room is much brighter than anywhere else in the building. In the showroom its cream wall is barely noticeable behind the sea of white dresses while the break room has blue carpet, green cabinets and a sofa with every colour of a rainbow. However, these colours paled in comparison to the beautiful stain glass window that steals any attention from the rest of the room. It is tall and colourful with the image of the Virgin Mary being illuminated from the outside sun. It reminds me of the old church windows from when my mother used to drag me to mass every Sunday. Father Matthews would talk for what seemed like hours about how everyone was going to hell. I always hated how he looked down at us from his pulpit as if he was some sort of higher being. My mother believed every word he said to be law and would follow every rule, making sure I did too. I would spend those religious lectures gazing up at the beautiful stain-glass windows and imagining the scenes the artist captured coming to life.
“Beautiful isn’t it? There used to be windows like that all over the shop and the brides trying on dresses were able to take lovely photos, like practicing for the real thing, but the owner said we needed to modernise the building and got rid of them. I fought to get him to keep this one.” The sound of her voice pulls me back to the present and I am grateful for the warmth of the tea she places in my hand.
“So how are you feeling now?”
“I’m feeling better thank you.” I put the cup down and begin fiddling with my ring. It still feels unusual and foreign on my finger.
“I’m sure a break from that mother of yours would do you a world of good so you can stay down here as long as you like,” she laughs, “that is a gorgeous ring though.”
I mumble a thank you, finish my drink and ask for the bathroom. I follow her directions but something glittering catches my eye. A key reflects the light from its hiding spot by the skirting board, as if it is calling to me. I pick it up and the cold metal seems familiar in my hand. It is small and thin with jagged teeth. I can almost imagine it hanging from the ring next to a charity teddy bear and an Eiffel Tower souvenir from my school trip to Paris. A red door appears in front of me and I lift the key to the lock as if I have done it a million times before. The door swings open and I see a young man in a suit, with black hair and stubble on his chin that makes me feel itchy just looking at it. He sets down a briefcase when he notices me and gestures for me to join him. A part of me feels drawn to him, to this house, but I take a step back. Something tells me it is not what I really want. The door swings closed with a bang and the wall returns. I reach out and confirm that the house is gone.
I stand staring at the gray wall and after what could be minutes or hours my left hand begins to sting. The silver ring decorated with a spiral of diamonds starts to glow and I feel my skin burning under it. I pull and yank the ring in a panic, trying to free my finger from the near molten metal. The pain forces me onto my knees as I struggle to pry it off. When I finally manage to remove it I throw it away from me. It bounces off a wall and lands a few feet away. I feel childish trembling and shying away from a small, beautiful piece of jewellery but the scorched circle around my finger tells me I reacted sensibly. I sit there in silence, cradling my hand until suddenly I start to hear scratching in the walls echoing around me, drowning out the sounds of my panting and racing heart. It gets louder and closer, my body reacts instinctively and in an instant I am on my feet, running away from the unknown pursuer. The short corridor back to the breakroom and the kind woman that looked after me suddenly extends for an eternity. My ankle twists in the heels and I am sent hurdling to the ground. Scratch marks begin appearing on my body, invisible claws peeling away my skin to reveal a rainbow of bruises and scars underneath. I discard the shoes that have prevented my escape and continue running, trying to ignore the pain and pray that my ankle is not broken.