by Shirley Hailstock
|I blinked as the lights came on. “Thank goodness, someone was coming. I’ve been standing here naked for hours. And I’m cold. At the very least, someone could have put a blanket over me. I was glad to get out of that Thanksgiving get up. A pilgrim costume, with a black skirt and a long white apron, not to mention that hat with the strings. Look at me. Do I look like a pilgrim?”|
“I got this one.” I heard Ed shout from behind me.
Looking around, I confirmed it. “Not him. Anyone but him. His hands are always cold and he uses them like a pubescent teenager. He’s got to be in his late fifties. I’m sure the man is a pervert. After all, why would a man as old as he is work as window dresser?”
As he came up the two steps that led into the window, he carried a collection of clothes and shoes. I tried to see the shoes, but they were hidden under the heavy looking gowns.
“Every year, I stand in this window and get dressed in either red or green while these miniature dolls that people love to watch dance around my heels. And that incessant music. Can’t they change it once in a while?”
Ed dropped the boxes on the floor. I heard him sigh as if he’d worked for hours. He’d probably eaten for hours. This was Thanksgiving. At least it was for his world. For me, it was the day before the nightmare. People will rush the doors while it was still dark and there could be fights.
“I was involved in one three years ago, broke my arm. Two women tried to tear the dress off me. When they finished, I was lying on the floor, my clothes split from neck to hem. I’m not looking forward to that again.”
Checking out the gowns Ed dropped on the floor, I see this year I get a Valentino. This is a high-class store. You’d think the clientele would be more sedate. Not on Black Friday. They leave all their goodwill at home or reserve it for a future date. Friday is kill or be killed. I could only hope I’d survive it.
“Hey Ed, are you doing green or red?” The voice came from the next window. I couldn’t see who spoke, but I recognized Amy’s voice. I liked her. Her designs were beautiful. When she worked on me, I didn’t even mind those dancing Munchkins the public gawked at, rain or shine. The scene below me was a Swiss village. Ice skaters spun around on mirrors. A clock tower gonged every hour, music filled the Snow Queen’s entrance, and a bunch of children waited in a line for a miniature Santa.
If only they would stand in line for real. There was one of them now. Why wasn’t this kid at home eating pumpkin pie? He stared at me as if he’d never seen a naked woman before.
“I’m putting her in the green one,” Ed shouted back. While they didn’t put anything in front of the public windows, there was an opaque wall between each display station. Only a small sculptured step at the front of each wall offered access to the next window.
A kid stopped and stared at me. The woman he was with kept walking.
“Go away, kid. It’s rude to stare at people.”
He continued staring, almost in open-mouthed surprise. I understand it’s just curiosity on his part, but for the first thirty years, I tolerated it. Now, it’s just plain old.
His mother, I assume she was his mother, grabbed his hand and pulled him away.
“Teach him some manners and let him know I’m not anatomically correct,” I shouted after them.
Not that they could hear me. Few people ever did.
“Ouch,” I jumped. I should have known Ed would surprise me with his cold hands.
He draped the dress over my head and pulled it down.
“Don’t put your hand there.” I almost swiped it aside. “How would you like it if I did this?” Swinging my hand, I let it hit him and he fell sideways, jumping and grabbing me to keep me from falling. I smiled, inwardly. It was harder than the painted one on her face, but it was worth his cold hands just to remind him that he was being watched.
The look on Ed’s face was priceless. He knew I couldn’t move. At least his mind told him that, but he wasn’t sure if my hand had accidentally touched him or if it was something else, something sinister, supernatural, ghostly. After a moment, he lifted and dropped his shoulders, his mind going for logic.
No way could a mannequin move.
He picked up a satin dress and held it up. Satin? Was that the fabric of the season? I haven’t had a satin dress in a decade.
Dropping it, he chose another and dropped it over my head and down to my legs. It felt good. Silk, a shimmering cloud of emerald green, floated over me. At least the man had taste. This was of good quality. Well, it was a Valentino.
Ed draped it down to my feet, bare feet mind you. Then he went to the back and began making it fit my thin body.
“I knew how it would look from the outside. Women would stop and stare, some of them with gaping mouths, some of them taking a step closer to get a better look. You’d think after all this time, I’d hate it like I hated the kids staring. The difference is the women stare in awe, the kids are rude.”
“Ed, that’s tight enough. I can’t hold this stomach in but so much.”
Ed twisted the dress around, then circled me, checking the affect. He looked me up and down, his gaze landing on my legs.
“Hold it, guy. There’s a window behind you and even though it is Thanksgiving, this is New York, where people are on the street day and night.”
He moved the dress, allowing the slit to expose my left leg. I saw him frown.
“What’s he frowning at? There’s nothing wrong with my legs. When I wore that cute little red, white and blue bikini last July, my legs stopped traffic.
Ed moved from one side to the other, the frown still marring his features.
“What’s wrong?” Amy asked from the last rung of the sculptured wall.
“The legs,” he said. “The contrast between her and the dress is too stark.”
I nearly gasped at his comment. “The nerve. There’s nothing wrong with my color.”
“Try changing the lighting,” Amy suggested.
“If I touch those lights, the union will serve me for Thanksgiving dinner.”
Amy laughed. “Then call one of them. Someone has to be on duty.”
“It’s Jake Pierson.”
“Oh,” Amy said.
Everything about Jake was explained in that one word. Suffice it to say, calling him would create a scene worthy of a Pay Per View main event.
Hunching her shoulders, she went back to her project. Ed surveyed the situation again and again. He was making me uncomfortable.
“How about a stocking?” Amy called from the other side of the partition? “You’ll only need one. The other leg won’t show.””My legs are fine. If you want someone with darker legs, you’ll have to get another girl.”
“Great idea,” Ed jumped on it. “I’ll run over to hosiery in a moment and get a collection to see what works best.”
I looked over at the shoes. I didn’t mind stockings. I’d worn everything from pantyhose to white-topped stockings held up by a sexy teddy with garters. Tonight there would be no teddy.
“Time for hair,” Ed commented more to himself than to me or Amy. Behind me was a table I couldn’t see well. It had been part of the last display and not moved when the holiday theme took over the window. It’s reflection washed on the window in front of me, but the lights and people walking along the street interfered with my ability to see defined details.
Ed pulled a wig onto my bald head. Still his hands were cold. Not as cold as when he’d first touched my naked skin, but still cold enough to cause me to shiver.
He adjusted the hair, smoothing it on one side and then checking it from all angles.
“This looks very good,” he said aloud. “I thought about the red, but the brunette works better with the green dress than the blonde or the red.” He nodded.
“I agreed with him. It felt good. I hated being blonde. It made me itch. This one didn’t.”
Ed smoothed the sides of the wig down to her collar bones and let the ends turn toward each other. I liked it. The window showed the two ends forming a heart below my chin. The painted smile on my face was genuine for this look.
“Here,” Amy said, startling me. She pitched several pairs of stockings at Ed. “I had to get some perfume bottles for the display and grabbed these as I went by hosiery.”
“Thanks,” Ed said. He took the packages that slipped over the opening.
I cringed at Amy’s words. This meant Ed and his hands were part of my future. Invariably, he’d have to pull the stocking under the dress I was already wearing. “Don’t try anything, Buster, or I’ll cream you.” I sent the thought as loud as I could. Ed showed no indication that he’d heard it.
“I’m nearly done,” Amy called. “How about you?”
“Just the stockings and shoes,” he answered, jumping down from tacking the dress on invisible strings so it looked as if it was flying in the wind.
I held out hope that they planned to leave together and he’d finish quickly.
Ed surveyed the stockings and chose a pair. He opened one carefully, as if he was an expert in putting stockings on women. Without tearing them, he slipped one over my foot and pulled it carefully up my leg. They were the kind with elasticized tops, requiring nothing to hold them up beyond the size of my thighs.
“Much better,” he whispered. Standing back, he looked at me, obviously proud of his work. Turning around, he grabbed the box with the shoes and pulled them free.
It was all I could do not to gasp. The shoes were gorgeous, encrusted with rhinestones that climbed in regular intervals from the heel up the back of the shoe. The front had a design I recognized from a replica of an ancient painting that once hung in the window with me. I barely remembered it, but I was sure I’d seen it before.
The stones sparkled, catching the light and reflecting it in rainbow colors on the backlit windows.
Ed slipped first one on my foot then the other into the shoes. The effect was like coming to life. The shoes were magical. They had to be. Other than the obvious beauty of them, I could feel air filling my lungs, blood rushing through my body as it pumped from my heart. The one stocking was tight around my leg, giving me a feeling of something missing on the other leg. The fabric of the dress, even the weight of the gown, was part of this new reality.
I held back tears. I could cry. I could really cry! There must be something wrong. This had never happened before. I’d been standing in one window or another for three decades. I’d been in storage for brief periods, but I was one of the ones always in demand. It was my classic looks and the way clothes fit my body. But I had never had feelings this strong, this human, before Ed placed those shoes on my feet. Even when I was part of the Wizard of Oz display and wore the ruby slippers, not even then did this happen to me.
“I’m done,” Amy called.
Her voice startled me. I nearly turned my head to look at the place where the sound had come. Amy’s inflection was different. The filter that I attributed to the fiberglass used to sculpt my ears was gone. I could hear the clear notes of her speech pattern. Her voice was as musical as the Christmas songs that played above my head. The sound was bright, louder than it had been a moment ago.
“I’m ready,” Ed said. His voice boomed. It was so deep that it appeared to come from a place far down inside him, but the impact of it would have pushed me back if I weren’t being supported by a metal rod up my back.
Ed collected his box and the stocking paper he’d dropped on the floor. Opening the door, he climbed down the two steps that led into the store, leaving me alone, afraid, and alive staring out into the night.