Roberta Clipper

Why My Green Knit Dress Should Be Immortalized

My mother crocheted it. Of a soft, acrylic yarn, forest green, high-waisted, with long belled sleeves and scallops at the thigh. I wore it with a pair of opaque tights, ballet style, knee-high boots. I was not a woman when I put it on, except, as with the phases of the moon, girls shed their girlhood like so much light or shadow. But that night I could no longer stand its weight upon my shoulders or the kin it claimed with your sweater, as if both of them had made a pact to keep us apart.

So I took it off, and we went to the bed you’d slept in as a child, and when I put it on again, the scent of your cigarettes, the spray you used to sweeten your kisses, and something else as indescribable as myrrh curled up underneath the fabric, and I drove home a woman ready for anything except the day you told me you did not love me anymore.

It was never a comfortable fit, that dress, and packed away inside my trunk, it lost its shape, the hem a variety of lengths, the sleeves bagging the way the flesh beneath my arms must bag when I am eighty. It wasn’t warm enough to cover my goose flesh in the winter, and it was too hot to wear the summer after you were gone. 

The last time I wore it was behind a microphone at the Indiana Memorial Union. The new man I’d been sleeping with was not there. He’d already grown “tired of his toy,” as his roommate told me, “and as usual threw it away” before he even heard me sing. Maybe I looked good, my hair still long, darker in the Midwest winter. But my fingers shook too much to pluck the strings.

I packed my guitar into the case, trudged back up the hill to Briscoe Quad, alone, the cold blowing up my thighs, opened up my books, guitar stowed safely underneath my bed, so I could forget about the music, the dress, the men, and make myself into the woman I could not help but be.

Roberta Clipper                           

Under the name Robbie Clipper Sethi, Roberta Clipper published stories in The Atlantic, Mademoiselle, many literary magazines, and two novels in stories, The Bride Wore Red and Fifty-Fifty. Grants include an NEA in fiction, 2 fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, sabbaticals from Rider University, and a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship to teach in India. As Roberta Clipper, her most recent story appears in Waxing and Waning, issue 11. She serves as prose editor for the Kelsey Review, is professor emerita at Rider University, and teaches for Murphy Writing Seminars, Stockton University.