That Little Black Dress

Natalie’s skin felt wet, especially where it counted; the crook of her elbow. He grabbed a blood-stained kitchen towel and dragged it across the area before aiming and shooting. She considered an infection, but not for long. Natalie’s next thought was liquid in her eye sockets, then distorted crumpling from a short distance, and finally, bubbles. Her head tilted backward following her eyes and her body stiffened into a relaxed position between the old recliner and a plastic tub of knick knacks. An eerie silence prospered, had anyone witnessed it. As if coming up out of water, she became aware of the room again and scanned the filthy rug for the needle. Her hearing followed to then find knocking. No movement matched the sound and the silence returned. She pulled herself through each of the three rooms in the small trailer which instigated another round of knocking, this time a seemingly sharper sound. At the door now, she stared at the handle. It moved. Good, at least something was alive.

Annie Burr, a medium-sized woman of considerable experience, was balancing on the only step into Natalie’s borrowed trailer. The wind kicked up her thin hair and mixed it with dust from the yard. She stepped up into the trailer causing it to shake beneath both their feet. The door shut behind her and the sound of a weathered doll house in August struck Natalie’s nerve. Her eye twitched at the sight of her mother. Annie revved, “You such a dumb fuckin’ ho!” “You know why I called you, ‘Natalie’?” “So I could call you, ‘Nat.'” “Like a meatless, spineless, dumb, fuckin’ KNAT.” “I had you pegged from the second I spit you out my cooch.” “Dumb bitch.” Natalie watched her mother kick a path through the first room and into the second to find her middle-aged, middle-of-the-road boyfriend slumped over an armchair, wobbling his head to the sound of her voice. She cackled with perverse satisfaction before winding her way back to the aluminum door. “Don’t forget who has ya baby.”

It was the Thursday after her mom’s visit. Natalie was perched awkwardly on a cushion in room number one with a needle protruding from a collapsed vein. A police radio shared its call for a coroner with the rest of the squatters and renters alike. In her death, she provided a short moment of enlightenment, an odd communal awareness between twenty or thirty people. And then it was done without further fanfare.

A small church welcomed the corpse of Natalie and her mother, Annie Burr. The benches were sparsely populated with a mangy crowd of onlookers and leaches along with a few serenely-dressed public servants who knew the young woman and maybe once tried and failed to help her. A man claiming to be Natalie’s father wore a dirty blue suit and sat just out of view of the coffin. A young girl with a slight build and sullen eyes started up the aisle on her own. Fixated on the coffin, she sat quietly in the first row. Annie followed, her scent preceding her while her body sweat beneath a haggard polyester skirt and purple cotton blouse. The pastor called to the child to place her flowers on the coffin. Natalie’s daughter approached the box and gently arranged the daisies on top of it. She stood motionless and stared into the woodgrain. She wondered what her mother looked like in there. The girl felt paralyzed. Annie made a familiar noise with her throat and fidgeted, making a muffled gesture toward her granddaughter. The child turned, her little black dress sticking to her tiny body, her eye twitching at the sight of her grandmother.

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