“What do you think? Does it look okay?” Miss Brenda tugged on her dress and frowned at herself in the mirror.
“It looks fine, Miss Brenda. The color is quite becoming,” Shar commented.
Miss Brenda smiled, first at herself and then at Shar. “Well, thank you. I never really know what to wear sometimes. Seems like an old woman like me would not be so concerned about how my clothes fit. I thought I was long past that stage of life.”
“You’re not an old woman.”
“I am. I’m 60 years old; and by most accounts, that makes me an old woman.”
“Not by my account.”
“Humph,” Miss Brenda arched her back to stand taller and tilted her head to the right, upwards as if she were giving a look of pleasant disdain. Nose pointed in the air, hands on her hips, sitting back in a mature woman’s dip. “You don’t have sugar coat it for me. I’m having a little trouble picking out a dress. I’m not looking for my self-esteem. Ya’ll young folks always thinking that an old woman needs her ego stroked, needs to be boosted up. I don’t. I do enough of that on my own. Just ain’t had to pick out a dress like this in a long time. Well, not for an event like this.”
“So where’s Mr. Sam taking you?” Shar asked.
“And ya’ll nosey. I never had the gumption to ask a grown woman her business. But now, young folks don’t mind asking an old lady all of her private information. I know your mama taught you better.”
“Yes ma’am. She did. I’m sorry.”
“Well anyway, he’s taking me down to Charlene’s Vegan Soul Food. I don’t know why he chose that place. Me and soul food ain’t had too much to do with one another since my doctor told me that it was helping me get to my grave a little early. Besides, who is Charlene Vegan? I’ve never heard of her.”
Shar covered her mouth as she giggled so as not to appear disrespectful in her response. “That’s not a person’s name, Miss Brenda. Vegan is a way of eating that doesn’t include animal products. So Mr. Sam is probably being considerate of your diet.”
Miss Brenda turned from the mirror to give Shar a chastising stare before going back into the dressing room. Shar grabbed all the eight dresses that didn’t make the cut and handed them to the sales associate.
“We won’t be needing these.”
The sales associate took the dresses and returned them to their sections. Miss Brenda stepped out of the dressing room and handed the dress and her bag to Shar. She checked the mirror to make sure all her buttons were fastened correctly before dabbing on some lipstick.
“Red,” she laughed. “I remember when I couldn’t wear red anything. My mama always said red was for those women. When I was younger, I didn’t really know who those women were until I saw Daddy talking to Jean Somersby. It was Sunday after church. Mama had taken us to the store to get some ice cream. Me, Sophie and James ran in the store and Mama walked in behind us. Daddy stayed outside to talk to some of the deacons. Mama was in a good mood after church, so she let us grab all the candy we wanted.
When we came back outside, Jean was standing next to Daddy with one hand on his shoulder and the other clutching her barely covered breast. She let out the most flirtatious laugh when she saw Mama. Daddy, of course, was all flustered and told Jean to have a good day as he removed her hand. Mama told us to get in the car, and Daddy hopped in as fast as he could. As we sped off, I looked back at Jean with her red lipstick and dress cinched tightly at the waist. I don’t know what it was about her, but I thought she was beautiful. Mama was beautiful too, but in a different way. Jean had that beauty that made men desire her and women want to be her – or fight her.
All the way home, Daddy tried to make conversation with Mama. But she didn’t respond. She never said one word. And when we finally made it home, I asked Mama what Daddy said to Miss Jean to make her smile so hard. She turned to me quickly, ‘Brenda, her name is Jean. You call her that. You hear me?’ and she walked away. That was the first time Mama said I could call a grown woman by her first name. So Miss Jean became Jean, and that’s how I always addressed her. We were equals. And I liked it that way.
That was a long time ago. But I do loves me some red; makes me feel like Jean looked to me that day – all playful, flirtatious and in control.”
Shar looked confused at Miss Brenda’s suggestion that Jean had control.
“I know what you’re thinking. ‘How was Jean in control that day?’ Child, let me tell you… Anytime a woman gets a man that flustered and makes his wife so upset that she tells her 11-year-old daughter to address that woman by her first name, that woman is in control. Daddy might have come home with us, but both he and Mama in that moment with Jean for quite some time. Now hand me my purse and let’s get out of here. I’ve told you too much of my business as it is.”