The Reason the Dress is Yellow

by Steve Mitchell

There’s a reason the dress is yellow, a reason it glows like a single candle in a darkened window, the cloth of the skirt folding in on itself then unfurling in tiny ebbs; there’s a reason but if he asks I won’t tell him.

It’s possible the dress began something, became the cause of some sequence, the sunburst instant of a new universe or history.

In the dressing room mirror, months before, I hadn’t known what the dress was for, what kind of artifact it might become. I’d only known my nakedness before the mirror and the anticipation of my skin just before I slipped it over my head, known that these things were some kind of marker.

A long clench, finally loosening. An ending, for sure, and possibly a beginning.

Like the pop of a sole firefly, rising gently in its own glow, as if signaling some silent intention against the night.

And when the lemon colored shoes came later it seemed two clouds were meeting in a vast sky and forming their own weather; combining, as a stronger, easier assurance in some direction I couldn’t yet discern.

They’d been in the window of a store I’d never noticed on a street I rarely walked down. They’d been waiting for my approaching footsteps. Waiting for my glance.

And when I turn my leg right to left before the mirror, swiveling it in then out on the heel, the shoe seems a perfect extension of the leg emerging from the liquid folds of the dress, the breadth of skin between the bands of color some secret not yet told.

A secret I’d anticipated without knowing, something I’d been waiting for as a turn, a shift. The way despair might be a simple coming to rest. Or the sounding note of a new song.

An ending. As if a book were being closed, ancient blooms and leaves pressed between the pages for so long they’ve grown ghostly and translucent. The yellowed and brittle back pages of my life.

I’d packed the dress. As if I knew. I’d unpacked it, draping it over the anonymous hotel chair; then, unsatisfied, smoothing it along the blank bed. Sideways, across the bed, legs overhanging at one end, head at the other. It lay there. Waiting for me.

So, I call him.

Out of the blue. Years gone by. Knowing he could have become another person. Knowing he might be anyone now.

I call him and his voice changes shape after the first hello, when I tell him it’s me, opening out, blooming into the open trumpet of a flower or the reach of a high tree, something solid, regal and true.

I tell him I’m in town for a conference. And I am.

“Would you like to get together for coffee or something,” I ask. The line between us glinting like a thread of web in the sun, glinting for an instant, invisible the next.

He says: “Yes, of course”. Though there was no of course to it until the phone call, until our voices wound together like a single climbing vine.

There’s a reason the dress is yellow, like the dappled light through the topmost branches of a spreading tree; there’s a reason and if he asks me I might tell him.

I walk to the restaurant. He’d chosen one close to the hotel, not hard to find, with tables on the sidewalk. Thai, because he remembered I like Thai. The sky is open between the buildings, a deep blue with occasional clouds like thin and fine thoughts hardly holding together. The glaze of afternoon light on a wide pane of glass.

I hear my heels on the sidewalk. The steady confidence of my stride. I see the blaze of my reflection pass in a shop window, then another. Something like a melody heard in the distance. Familiar but unnamed.

He doesn’t know years of me, the different lives I’ve had; he doesn’t know my other clothes. What he’ll see after these years, what he’ll know, is the yellow dress that contains me, binds me to earth, pours my legs into the lemon yellow shoes fastening themselves to the sidewalk.

Yellow is where I choose to stand. The yellow of a saffron robe or a flag whipping in a high breeze. The yellow of mango flesh, still clutching skin, cut away from its fibrous core.

Within the dress I know I am changing. If he asks I could tell him. Reveal myself beyond my yellow shell. Simple, open and warm. Flashing bright and sudden like the spark that ignites when I see him again.

Nearly a block away. At a table on the sidewalk in the golden evening light. His legs are canted to the side, his head tilted upward into the clear sky, his hand resting open by his glass. He is waiting. He is patient. It seems he could wait all evening.

I am done with waiting. I have been cocooned long enough. Later, should the dress fall away, it will reveal new skin. Fresh, wet; green as a tight bud.

He could be anyone. So could I.


STEVE MITCHELL has been a construction worker, cowboy, substitute teacher, chef, and has developed and managed a mental health program for the chronic mentally ill. His fiction has been published in The Southeast Review, Contrary, The North Carolina Literary Review and Flash Magazine, among others. His short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is available from Press 53. He is a winner of the Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Prize and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Steve has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He is open twenty four hours a day