hat day had been a long day. I worked for ten hours, with a one-hour break, carrying hangers with clothes on them from the upstairs dressing rooms to the downstairs dressing rooms. Then I returned, stood around, managed the line in front of the dressing rooms, asked people how many items, handed out little numbers, accepted things back, put them on the hangers that I would then carry downstairs and so on.
It was not my heart’s desire to work in fashion retail. I wasn’t even too keen on the employee discount, because I had positively never bought as much as a black t-shirt at that store. I needed a job, plain and simple, and I had spent one Monday morning walking into every store on the high street, enquiring about vacancies. They hired me because I have a neutral face, and I can hide my annoyance fairly well.
That particular day was a little more difficult because I had to watch that one cubicle in the dressing rooms after it happened. I sort of didn’t want to be there when they would eventually find that woman. I nicked a ball point pen and made one of those “out of order” signs and stuck it to the door in question, although I was briefly wondering if I chose the right words. How can a 1.5 by 1.5 metre large cubicle with a wooden bench and a mirror in it be out of order? I put the sign on the door and continued working.
I encounter many women with issues in my job. I overhear a lot of conversations. They are dressing room conversations. Usually, they are conversations about being too fat. Sometimes, they are about having large shoulders. Occasionally, more exotic complaints come along, like somebody refusing to wear a short dress because she thinks that her knees are ugly. Or her collarbones don’t stick out the way she’d like them to in a specific shirt. People’s images of themselves seem a little twisted these days, because, seriously, whenever the woman I have heard complaining steps out of the cubicle to demonstrate her flaws to her friend or sometimes to me, I cannot see them! I see tall women, small women, women who have more fat on their bodies than others, bony women and skinny women. Every day they parade by me in an endless line and they complain.
That day a woman emerged from one of the cubicles wearing a red silk dress, just above knee length, and she looked gorgeous in it. She was on her own and she was chatty, so she told me that she was looking for a dress for a friend’s wedding. She stood in front of the mirror. She took a runway walk towards the large mirror at the end of the dressing room dead-end, turned, frowned.
“I look fat in it, right?” she said.
“No, actually, you don’t. It suits you very well,” I said.
“You just want the commission,” she said, staring at herself.
“I’m getting paid whether or not you buy that dress,” I replied. “It honestly looks gorgeous on you.”
“It’s too short. My thighs are kind of large,” she said, and pulled down on the dress.
“No,” I said. Her thighs weren’t large, they were pretty normal. It wasn’t her thighs, anyway. The poise with which she wore the dress made it seem like it already belonged to her.
“You can sort of see my soft belly when I turn that way,” she said and turned a certain way, which looked unnatural.
“I doubt you’ll ever turn that way in normal life,” I said, carefully, trying to crack a joke.
“Don’t turn smart on me,” she hissed. “I’m fat.”
She wasn’t skin and bones, but she was beautiful. She had dark brown hair that fell softly onto her shoulders. Her skin was impeccable, her eyes large, deep, and brown. So I didn’t discuss, because I have had that conversation one time too many. I’m fat—no you aren’t—I’m so fat—you aren’t—I am too—no, you aren’t. The point of such conversations is that person A is probably not fat, person B, therefore, probably is right, but person A just wants an excuse for, well, something. Rejection? I really don’t know for what concept ‘fat’ is the code word. Sometimes it has to do with men, although usually, when you speak to men honestly, as in, when they’re drunk, they frequently say how appalled they are by bones sticking out. There’s a fetish for everything, though. Maybe some do like the bones.
The woman in the stunning red dress then went on to criticize her shoulders. They looked too athletic, she claimed. “Look at all that fat,” she said, and pinched herself and wiggled her skin between her fingers.
“You look stunning in the dress, but of course you can go on browsing. I can put it on hold for you, if you want,” I suggested, smooth fashion retail professionalism.
“Yeah, I really don’t know.”
She put the dress on hold and returned two hours later. I remembered the way she carried herself and her way of walking.
“You’re back for the dress!” I said to her. “I’m glad you decided to give it another try!”
“Yeah well,” she snapped, took the dress and disappeared in the dressing room. It must have been a frustrating two hours for her. “Come here!” she ordered after a while, from within the cubicle. I went over to her.
“What is it?”
“Take a look at this,” she said. I opened the door a slit-wide. She was wearing the dress, squeezing her boobs.
“How can a person be fat and have totally no breasts at the same time?” she said. I haven’t mentioned that I had been annoyed with her earlier. I had been annoyed with her all morning, even after she had left. She had made me angry.
“I should just kill myself!” she said with some conviction.
“Why don’t I do that for you?” I suggested, smiling. She glared at me.
I’m really not sure what happened. There was a hanger, somehow. Those cheap ones, the ones that are basically a string of twisted metal. I don’t know why it was so easy, it went into her like a knife into butter that had been sitting on the table all morning. I don’t even know how I knew so distinctly where the heart was; my CPR classes are so long ago. She made this gargling sound and a thin line of blood came out of the corner of her mouth. Her expression hadn’t really changed much. She fell back on the little wooden bench and died right there, pretty peacefully.