A Dress On A Mannequin | Travis Coover

Ingrid passed through the revolving door and into the lobby of the Harrison’s department store. A man with a maroon blazer and matching dress slacks greeted her upon her entrance, a thin moustache outlining his upper lip. He looked to be in his mid- 50’s, with dark hair that he parted to one side, and a brass ring on his right ring finger that she noticed as she returned a polite, “hello” to him. Ingrid felt at ease by the man in the maroon jacket. In the past, she wasn’t fond of being greeted by store employees. In her younger years she had worked the matinee hours at a movie theatre, cleaning up popcorn, and sticky candy off of the floor of the foyer. Her manager, a portly man who could best be described as, sweaty, used to make her greet everyone who came through the door with a prepared welcome:“Hello, welcome to the Canyon Creek Movie Theatre. My name is Ingrid, and if you need anything at all, just give me a holler.”

She projected her resentment from that job onto store greeters, and felt she was being patronized. In this instance though, the greeting felt genuine, caring almost.

As she passed through the lobby, running, her fingers over the top of the salmon colored customary “bored husband” couch, Ingrid realized she was in one of those moments. That peculiar instance in which a person walks into a room, having no recollection as to why they entered in the first place. Certainly it made sense why she was in the lobby, she had just entered the store. However, Ingrid could not recall why she had come to the store at all. In fact, the entire day up to that point seemed quite cloudy. It wasn’t that she couldn’t remember anything about the day, but rather, that those events seemed distant, floating, and non-linear.

Ingrid passed through the lobby and into the women’s clothing department on the first floor. It was a weekday afternoon and the place was practically empty, aside from a few shoppers sprinkled here and there. One of these shoppers, a middle-aged woman, was thumbing through an assortment of summer dresses, as her teenage son followed behind her, bored out of his mind. Ingrid noticed something peculiar about the boy. He was wearing a green sweater, with a big capital P on the upper left side. It was the type of school jacket kids used to wear in the 50’s and 60’s, the predecessor to the big and puffy letterman jackets. On his left sleeve, was a patch in the shape of a baseball, and the number 11 stitched on the inside.

“Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you,” Ingrid said.

“I was just wondering where you got that sweater from? I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those.”

“You can get them at our school bookstore. If you play a sport, they’ll give you a patch to put on the side,” the boy said.

“ Some guys in my class will even play a sport just for the patch. They think girls like it; maybe they’re right, who knows?”

The three laughed.

“That’d be neat if all of the schools still made those vintage school sweaters, I bet they’d sell a lot of them.”

“What’s vintage?” the boy said.
“You know, like retro, or old-fashioned.”

“Old-fashioned? I’ve never seen any old folks wearing anything like this. And besides, all of the other schools have letterman sweaters just like ours, in their own school colors, of course. Doesn’t your school have the same type of sweaters?”

“My school?” Ingrid said, amused.
“I’m not in high school, haven’t been in a long time.”
“Huh, you look like you’re still in high school. I would’ve guessed you were a

sophomore, or a junior at the most.”
“Well, that’s very sweet of you to say.”
The boy’s mother chimed in,
“Certainly you must have seen other teenagers around town wearing the same

thing?”
“No, I can’t say that I have. “

There was a silent pause, as the three realized they had reached an en passé on clearing the confusion.

“Well, you two have a wonderful rest of the day.”

The mother and son nodded politely, as Ingrid walked back to the main walkway that divided the first floor of Harrison’s in half.

Ingrid dismissed the conversation with the boy and his mother as just some type of misunderstanding. She began perusing the different outfits that were for sale, partly for leisure, and partly to spark some type of memory as to why she had gone shopping in the first place. As Ingrid neared the cosmetics counter, she caught a mannequin display in her periphery. The mannequin was dressed in a fluffy sea-foam green dress, which looked as though it would only leave that store in the hands of an over eager junior for her prom, or by a vindictive bride who wanted to make sure her bridesmaids didn’t look as good as her at her calypso themed wedding. Just then, the strangest feeling overwhelmed Ingrid. She had seen that dress before. She wasn’t sure where, only that she had seen it. There was something else too. Though the dress was objectively unattractive, Ingrid felt a strong fondness for it.

“I remember how beautiful you looked in that dress.”
Ingrid turned to the woman behind the cosmetics counter,
“Excuse me?” Ingrid said.
“When you came in that day, you were so excited when you saw yourself wearing

it in the mirror. You looked beautiful.”
Like the man at the entrance, the woman behind the cosmetics counter was

wearing maroon. She had on a maroon pencil skirt, with a matching coat, with a white blouse underneath. On her left lapel was a gold hummingbird pin. Also like the store greeter, she looked to be in her 50’s. She had blonde hair that came down to her chin, parted down the middle.

“I think you have me mistaken for someone else,” Ingrid said. “I don’t have a dress like that, and I’m quite certain we’ve never met before.”

The woman kept her eyes on the dress, and continued talking to Ingrid as though Ingrid had said nothing.

“You were shopping here for hours, looking for the perfect dress for that
night. You kept saying that everything had to be perfect, just perfect. Finally, you saw that dress on the mannequin, and I saw your eyes light up. I saw how much you loved it, instantly. I bet that night was the fairytale you wanted it to be, wasn’t it? “

The eyes of the woman behind the counter were now welled up with tears.

“I’m sorry miss, but you’re thinking of someone else. It must’ve been another woman who looked a lot like me, but it certainly wasn’t me. I don’t own a dress like that, and frankly, if I was looking for a dress for this ‘fairytale’ night, then it certainly wouldn’t be that one.”

“I remember my high school prom,” the woman behind the counter said. “It was one of the greatest nights of my life.”

Ingrid stared at her for a moment, waiting for some type of response that related to what Ingrid had said to her. The woman’s gaze though, remained on the dress.

“Maybe you should buy it,” Ingrid said.

“It seems like you really like it, and I bet you get some sort of employee discount.” Nothing.

Ingrid slowly turned away from the cosmetics counter, and began walking toward the lobby. She wasn’t sure why she had come to Harrison’s, and frankly, she didn’t care anymore. Something strange was happening. The interactions she had had were bizarre enough, and she wasn’t sure if it was the store, or if something had shaken loose in her mind, but she needed to get out of there.

As a mental exercise, Ingrid would often retrace the events of the day before, and continue until she could no longer remember, often going back as far as a week. She would recall things like, meals she had eaten, friends she had run into, and television programs she had watched. Today, Ingrid would not have fared so well. She couldn’t remember what she had for breakfast, or lunch, or if she had even eaten those meals at all. As she struggled with this, Ingrid again encountered the man in the maroon suit near the Harrison’s exit.

“Hello again miss, was there something I can help you with?”
“I don’t think so. I think…I think I should really be leaving.”
“Well miss, I’m sorry to hear that, may I ask, if you had trouble finding what you

were looking for today?”
“I guess you could say that.”

“Miss, I can’t help but notice that you look a little flustered, is everything alright?”

“Well, to be honest, I can’t recall why I came to Harrison’s, and now everything seems a little confusing. I’d like to just go to my car, and go home.”

“Certainly miss. Would you like a glass of water before you leave? Perhaps you’d like to rest on our lobby couches, until you feel better?” Ingrid didn’t want to rest on one of those ugly couches; she wanted to leave. She turned from the man in the maroon suit and walked out of Harrison’s, and into the parking lot. Her hands shook, as she rummaged through her purse for her keys. Finally hearing that sound of metal jangling together that brings everyone a sigh of relief, Ingrid pulled out the keys to her car. The relief turned to panic instantly when she looked up. The Harrison’s parking lot was completely full, not one empty spot that she could see. More troubling, much more troubling, was that every car in that parking lot was a 1968 royal blue Volvo 122, the same type of car that she drove.

This is it. This is what it feels like when you lose your mind, she thought. Slowly, Ingrid passed over the crosswalk, and approached the first car in the lot. Hanging in the rear view mirror was a small tiki-head, about the size of a liter, carved out of beech wood.

The bright green yarn that tied it to the mirror was twisted, and the back of the tiki faced the windshield. On the inside, “Hawaii 1984” had been carved into it. Breakthrough. Ingrid recognized the ornament immediately as her own. This is my car. She slid her key into the driver’s side door, and turned. At least, she tried to turn it. She wiggled the key back and forth for a few seconds, to no avail. Ingrid pulled it out to make sure it was her car key, and that she hadn’t absent-mindedly tried to open her car with her house key. No, it was the right one. Again, she tried to open the car, and again the lock didn’t budge. A tear slid down her cheek, and landed on her hand, which was now flushed white.

Ingrid walked around the front of the car, and looked down the long row of Volvo 122’s. In each rearview mirror was a tiki-head, dangling on a bright green string of
yarn. She wasn’t worried about her memory anymore, now she was just scared.

When her hands hit the glass on the revolving doors of Harrison’s, she thought they were going to smash completely through. Ingrid was again in the lobby, leaning over with her hands on her knees, the revolving door spinning voraciously behind her.

“Hello Miss, welcome to Harrison’s, how is your day going so far? ”

Ingrid looked up and saw the man in the maroon suit, his hand outstretched toward the first floor women’s clothing department, the brass ring still on his ring finger.

“What’s…what’s happening?”

“I’m not sure I understand, Miss, is there something in particular you’re looking for? I can point you in the right direction.”

“Is this some type of sick joke? Who are you people?”

“Why Miss, we are Harrison’s, the best department store in the state, if you ask me. Miss, I can’t help but notice that you look a little flustered, is everything all right? Would you like a glass of water? Perhaps you’d like to rest on our lobby couches, until you feel better?”

“You literally asked me the exact same thing five minutes ago. No, I don’t want any water, and I sure as hell don’t want to lie down on one of those hideous couches.”

“My apologies, Miss.”

Ingrid was not a rude person. Normally, she would never talk to someone that way, but it seemed like maybe he was holding something from her.

The women’s clothing department was out of the question. The problem though, was that there was no question. Passing the lobby, she made a left and took the escalator to the second floor. It may as well have been another universe. The aesthetics of this floor were completely different to the first. There were bright pink and blue neon lights that zigzagged along the walls. There were mural paintings as well. Not of happy customers, or scenic places in the city, but random geometric shapes, and floating Greek busts with sunglasses on. The carpet had a space theme, with planets and constellations spreading across the entire floor. After taking everything in, Ingrid realized that this floor was electronics.

In one area, there were Zenith and Quasar big screen televisions, accompanied by those antennas with the giant rabbit ears. I didn’t even know they made analog televisions anymore. On the wall to the right of the televisions, were rows and rows of VCR’s. I wonder if this place buys used stuff? Ingrid continued walking around the second floor, not realizing she was the only customer. After the VCR’s, were glass cases of record players, Walkmen, and bundled blank cassette tapes. The back of the store was geared

towards kids. RC cars and remote control speedboats sat on their respective boxes, leading up to the back counter.

“Your kid must’ve gotten a really good report card for you to be looking at getting him one,” the kid behind the counter said. He looked to be twenty at the most. He had on a maroon polo, with a name tag, “Clark: Electronics.”

“I’m sorry?” Ingrid said.

“Your kid, they must’ve gotten some really good grades for you to think about buying them a Nintendo.” In the glass case were boxes and boxes of the old Nintendo systems. Behind Clark, were the game cartridges: Mario Bros 2, Gunsmoke, Tetris, The Legend Of Zelda, and countless others.

“I can’t believe you guys still sell these. How long have Nintendo’s been around, twenty-five years?”

“Miss, Nintendo’s have only been out for a couple of years. They’re our most popular piece of merchandise in all of Harrison’s. You might be thinking of Atari, but even those aren’t that old.”

Ingrid looked down for a moment, pinching her bottom lip between her thumb and index finger.

“This may seem silly,” she said. “But, what year is it?” “What year is it, Miss?”
“Yes, humor me, what year is it?”
“It’s 1989.”

But that’s…impossible. Ingrid had an idea.
She took the escalator back down to the first floor. Avoiding the woman behind

the cosmetics counter, Ingrid saw that the mother and her son were still shopping. “Hello, I’m sorry to bother you two again, but I have to ask you another question.

Can you tell me what year it is?”
The mother looked at Ingrid for a second, “it’s 1959.”

“1959, okay.” She looked at the boy. “Earlier, you said that you thought that I was in high school, right? So how old do I look to you?”

“I don’t know, sixteen, or seventeen.” She turned from them, without responding, and walked up the escalator to the second floor, and to the back where the “brand new” Nintendo’s were.

“How old do I look to you?”
“Excuse me, miss?”
“How old do I look to you? You said earlier that you thought I was buying one of

these for my kids. That would mean that I’m at least old enough to have a kid that would play video games. So, don’t b. s. me, how old do you think I am?”

“Jeez, miss I don’t know, mid- forties, maybe forty five?”
“Great, mid-forties, forty-five, thank you.”
It was now becoming clear that there were more than just stairs that separated these two floors. It only seemed fitting for Ingrid to take the escalator up to the next floor. As she reached the third, and top level of Harrison’s, Ingrid could see that the overhead track lighting was flickering above her. This floor was hollow. No employees, no one. In the back corner was a gift-wrapping station, with several wrapping paper square samples laminated behind a giant piece of Plexiglas, which was hung to the left of the service window. At one time this floor may have been the home to kitchenware, or maybe outdoor equipment, like hedge-clippers and lawnmowers, but now nothing. There were a few miscellaneous boxes here and there, as well as undressed mannequins missing a limb, or their head, but that’s all.

Ingrid decided that this floor would be no use to her, and made her way to the escalator. Before reaching the first step, she caught her reflection in a discarded dressing room mirror propped up against the wall. Would you look at that, she thought. In the mirror, Ingrid saw an old woman, with gray hair that ran to about her shoulders. She was close enough now to the mirror that her breath fogged up on the glass. She slowly began to run her fingertips over the wrinkles of her face, starting from her crows-feet, and making her way down to her neck.

Oh, I see. She began to laugh, hard. Again there were tears in her eyes, but not tears of sadness or confusion.

Bypassing the second floor, she returned to the women’s department. When she stepped off of the escalator, Ingrid noticed the small bridal area to the right. Just as she was drawn to the ugly sea foam green dress earlier, she was now approaching one of the wedding dresses.

That’s…that’s my wedding dress. Immediately, she remembered walking down the aisle in the dress, all those years back. Reynold was waiting for her at the altar, both of them trying not to laugh from the embarrassment of everyone staring at them. Afterwards at the reception in the Elk Lodge, their parents argued over who was going to pay for the cake when it ended up having more than the agreed upon tiers. Reynold’s best man, Eddie, who’d been drunk since well before the wedding started, sang “Only You,” while crying into the crackling P.A. system. Ingrid walked back to the cosmetics counter, and stared at the sea foam green dress on the mannequin. Walt Sherman, THE Walt Sherman. He was so nervous when he asked me to go to Senior Prom. I interrupted with a “yes” before he got his whole little prepared speech out, just to save him from bumbling through the rest of it.

“You looked so beautiful in that dress.” The woman behind the cosmetics counter said, this time looking directly at Ingrid.

“I knew I just had to have it. The prom theme was ‘Under The Sea,’ after all. I never said thank you. That’s something I realized later in life. I never thanked you, Mom, for buying that dress for me.”

Ingrid’s Mom walked around the counter, and hugged her, which may have been the only thing that kept Ingrid from collapsing.

“You still have that hummingbird pin I got you for your birthday.”
“I wear this everyday, it’s how you see me in your memory.”
“I don’t understand where I am,” Ingrid said.
“I know sweetie, you must be overwhelmed. Just know that there are a lot of people who care about you, and are trying to help you. Reynold has been there for you all of these years, and Clark is the best grandson I could have ever hoped for. They want to bring you back from the static. It’s because of how much they love you, and how hard they’ve worked that I’ll always be here for you, standing behind this little cosmetics counter, here for whenever you need me.

Ingrid pulled her mom in closer, and kissed her on the forehead. “It’s okay to go outside now,” her mom whispered.

She turned from the cosmetics counter, looking back, both of them smiling at one another.

Leaving the women’s department, Ingrid again ran her fingers over the couches in the lobby. The man in the maroon jacket, turned to her,

“I hope you found everything okay, Miss.”

She wrapped her arms around that him, rubbing his back.

“I did Dad, thank you.”

Ingrid walked to the revolving doors, and began to pass through. As the glass doors rotated, the endless rows of Volvos dissipated, replaced by a warm, fluorescent glow.

After a few moments, the encompassing glow calmed, and Ingrid realized she was lying in a bed. She turned her head to the right and saw a table, with many items sprawled across. Her sea foam green prom gown, her wedding dress, the small tiki-head with green yarn tied through that she got in Hawaii, her Dad’s class ring, and her Mom’s gold hummingbird pin, were all placed neatly. When she looked up, she saw an observation area covered with glass panels. Men in lab coats with clipboards were staring down at her anxiously, clearly anticipating something. The door to this strange room burst open, and Reynold and Clark ran to her bedside.

Reynold leaned over her, his arms shaking uncontrollably as he gripped the metal handles on the side of the bed,

“Ingrid, honey, do you know where you are? Do you know who we are?”

Clark felt like he was going to burst out of his skin. “Mom?”

Ingrid sat up quickly, eliciting gasps from the observation room.

“Reynold! Clark!” She pulled them both in, hugging them so hard that she lost the circulation in her arms.

“Oh my God,” Reynold said. “It worked…it worked!”

—–

Travis Coover is a writer from Riverside, California. He is writing a collection of short stories that will eventually manifest into a book. He is self-publishing a children’s book, which is currently in print.

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Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.

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