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The Woman in the Yellow Dress
By Janet A. Naidu
Guyana Journal, April 2007



Shortly after leaving the subway station, I saw it was still there. I had been wondering about my evening plans until then, thinking about my trip, the party and the woman in the yellow dress who sat opposite me on the train. So many thoughts were jumbled as I hurried along the sidewalk. Suddenly, I noticed it was still in the same old building on Yonge Street, not crumpled nor faded.

I strolled around the corner, from Bloor Street, pulling my deep thoughts into a sense of the ordinary. Still the same door, white-frame inside. Why was it still at the window? Why had they kept it on display? Did they care that Lily’s heart would sink in remembrance?

It was a small simple shop, narrow and long, carpeted floors and rose-colored walls where ladies had draped their slender bodies with white gowns and held crowns like born princesses. Nowadays, people check out many styles before choosing; even men in tuxedos, as if their shoulders widened with each try-on. For some, such recollections bring pensive moods, teary eyes.

We expect them to dry quicker, but they lingered. They welled up in the chest first, then the heart and throat, then the eyes, pouring down like a thunderstorm. We are locked in the silence of our rooms. Now, I am open and clear, like a crystal vase.

Those days, I had been darkened to grey like clouds about to rain. “Stormy,” Lily had always called me, hands warm and gentle with love. A ‘see saw’ and a windmill person… ambivalent, longing but scared; fun loving, yet hesitant. I wore my jacket like a GQ model. Now I wear it like a mourner.

This trip was symbolic. It had taken me a few days to plan, get everything necessary, not wanting anything to be out of place, like wine spilling accidentally all over again. The last time I walked past this store with Lily, she had chosen the dress in the window, her eyes glowed with love but I had spilled wine across the table at dinner, soaking my shirt and Lily’s fine silk dress. Her skin had a glaze and the marks under her eyes and along her cheeks had darkened with sorrow.

“He will understand,” she had whispered as we waited in the dining room of the old mansion for supper. “He has to. I’m his only daughter. It will be all right, Stormy. It’s all in the books, written, ordained.”

But destiny was the only elusive thing out of our reach. Today, I have made this trip alone, a single step, though with a great pain in my chest. The same old big house remains smack middle in the city and the same wooden door needing a hard knock.

The animosity was in the air as soon as he opened the door. He was thinner, his skin paler, a plain white T-shirt seemed oversized on his frame, and sadness filled his eyes. He had developed a limp, carrying a stick.

“Come in,” he said softly.

“I won’t stay long Mr. Alexander. I just wanted to talk and say how sorry I am,” I said in a calm, caring voice.

“What made you take such a long trip on the train?” He asked. “Are you staying in town?” He beckoned me to the familiar living room where I spent my last few hours with Lily.

“I am just half-hour away, at the Chelsea Inn.” I said and quickly added, “I made the trip especially… you know, I just wanted to talk. About Lily. I am sorry she suffered.”

His dark eyes gazed out the window and, suddenly, Lily’s sad eyes came into focus as on the day she cancelled our wedding plans, when her father insisted I wouldn’t fit in with family tradition. Lily must marry up, he had said. So long ago, so isolated. I could not visit her at the hospital. Cancer overcame her gentle being and visitation restrictions were made only for immediate family. I could have been one.

Willingly, he ordered tea and biscuits from his kitchen staff. He fussed a little too much. He had pushed for Lily to end our plans for life.

“Did Lily know you got a promotion? I saw it in the papers.”

“Yes. She sent me a congratulatory card. She was peaceful like that…. She sent me one every Christmas.”

Her father’s hands tightened momentarily. “She loved creating cards, always in watercolor. She even made a few for wedding celebrations. She sent them to friends. Why didn’t she object to my stiff ways then?” He looked pensive.

“She felt it was best for her to please you, try to marry someone of your social standing.” I kept a straightforward face.

“I know. To keep up with our tradition,” Mr. Alexander sighed. “But you are a good man, successful, kind and sincere. If she had insisted, we would have accepted her decision. Always agreeable, our dear Lily.”

“I loved her deeply,” I said quietly.

“I never thought of feelings then,” he said, rubbing his neck. “Our social circle ten years ago mattered.”

I knew they were buried in a status symbol. I tried to understand. This moment was for Lily. For me to remember her joyous laugh, the way she held hands with the downtrodden on the other side.

“Did you know her sample dress is still in the window?” I asked. I wonder why it looked still new.

“It wasn’t there before. Lily would be glad about that. She was ecstatic then. So many people walk and gaze at the window; others try things on and off, never quite certain if they want to tie the knot. Lily had put all that behind her you know.”

I thought of reaching out to him, to reassure him that I too had put it behind me. My trip here was worthwhile, like a connection with another soul.

“I must take leave now, Mr. Alexander.”

“It was very kind of you to come by and visit,” he said. A deep comfort appeared in his eyes. “So very caring of you. When the burial is over, I’ll send you one of her cards.”

“I would like that.”

I left the big house and headed back to the subway station for my return trip home.

I heard footsteps behind me and stopped to look back. The lady in the yellow dress caught up with me, reaching with an envelope in her hand.

Oh, did I drop something?

“Not really,” she said in a musical voice. “Only thought you might like one of her cards, just for memory.”

“Really?”

“Lily became my closest friend over the past few years. I promised to give you this when the time came…when her breath ceased. I knew she thought of you when she painted this one, especially the swing in the garden, the roses and green bushes. I hope you like it.”

Buckets of tears welled up in my eyes, every drop moving a river down my chest. There appeared a shadow on the sidewalk. It seemed as though Lily wanted to share special moments with me, still dazzling me with her gifts, always so gracious.

The sun had long dipped beneath the tall trees and the streetlights took over the sidewalk like giant flashlights, making a long and narrow strip. At the edge of the soft green shoulder wild daisies scattered like a bed of stars.

“Yes, I like it very much,” my voice shaking.

The woman in the yellow dress is on the same train. She walks with me to work, sits in my car, and stands beside me at the streetlights.

Maybe someday she will tell me more. Maybe there will be a chance for us to sit near the wild daisies. Perhaps I will show her that dress in the window.

Janet Naidu writes poetry, short stories and biographies. She lives in Toronto, Canada

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