Your daughters have ransacked your wardrobe and drawers. They’ve chosen clothes they will wear as shields: your Chinese jacket, your brown leather boots, your velvet trousers. They’ll put you on and speak in your voice and their ash-grey father will grow old with yearning.
I only want the green dress. I know it’s here. Your eldest let slip, oh that dress, as if it were a family joke and pretended not to notice the flush creep up my neck but I felt its burn.
Did you tell them about our special occasion clothes? The velvet dresses with paisley waistbands, the three tier gypsy skirts, the pink pinafores. Two years older than me, you were supposed to look after them before passing them on. I grew to fit your shadow even though it hardly ever suited me.
The green dress was for your thirteenth birthday. I can still see you walking downstairs, our father whistling then looking away, our mother silenced. You looked like somebody else, someone who knew things. You held yourself differently: taller, prouder, with grace.
How I loved the five pearl buttons down the front placket, the straight neck line, the capped sleeves, the full skirt that stopped at your knees.
I wanted the green dress so much it burned a hole in my chest.
I wanted that dress because it suited your eyes and mine were almost the same shade; because I’d earned it with all the hand me downs (the frayed, the stained, the choices made for you with no thought of me); because I thought the slippery silk would wrap me up and take me on adventures.
I wanted that dress so when it was my turn to walk down the stairs, our father would whistle then look away and our mother would be silenced.
You wore that green dress until it lost its sheen and one of the pearl buttons came loose and hung by a thread and it grew shorter and clung tighter. One day I checked in your wardrobe and the dress had disappeared. When you packed for University, you found the green dress, hidden all those years in the gap between the bottom drawer and the carpet. What a joke, you said, I really got you there; but the laugh did not touch your green green eyes and before I could reach over and stroke the dress you put it in your box labelled ‘childhood’ and sealed it away.
That box is on the floor beside your stripped bed where the duvets are piled like snow against the headboard. Your daughters haven’t opened it. Your childhood is mine.
I’m afraid if I touch the dress it will turn to ash and drift away, like you have. When I hold it up, the dress hangs from my collarbone to the top of my thighs and is only half the width of me but I hug it close, breathing in the lemon scent, pretending it’s you.