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You might have thought.

I have the suspicion that I am the exception that proves the rule. I don't wear the dress much these days, since now, after TEOTWAWKI, I make my living digging in the dirt. Really, an apocalypse is a fine time to be wearing a ball gown, a day plowing behind two big draft horses isn't.




You see, I used to joke about this. On our summer trips, when everyone else is wearing practical clothes, REI and LL Bean, I was wearing a princess dress. Any time I could get away with it. Many summers, this was most of the time. A rainy summer, not quite so much. Getting in and out of a canoe with a long dress that's been draggled through the mud - NOT my idea of a good time.

No one expected things to devolve so fast. I suppose that was true throughout time; Nero was probably surprised, near the end of Rome, as well.

It started with such a small thing. Another pandemic. The swine flu, later called H1N1, was such a tempest in a teapot, we had stopped taking the warnings seriously. We all got masks, and stored water, and went along. The more paranoid, or perhaps the more prepared, loaded up their trunks with food and camping gear. the WHO became the governmental version of the boy who cried wolf.

World Health Organization notwithstanding, the bug that got almost everyone was the one with no warning. It looked so harmless, until people started collapsing in grocery stores. First a mild flu, then they all looked like they were getting better. That was the point where they all went out and started infecting everyone else around them. The relapse was the doozy. Collapse, coma, convulsions, death. Over 90%. 90% of six billion people. At least, that's my guess. In North Ontario? Nowadays, there are about 11 of us, within a days walk of each other. That, once again, is the limiting factor.

This is the strange danger of going off the grid. I was off at the lake, three days since I'd been shopping. No telephone or television to tell me to phone home, connect with the real world. The ball gown was an accident, a joke.

I paddled across on a dare. Grace, you wear the ball gown out here, but I'll bet you wouldn't wear it into town. So I took the dare. Headed off, paddling, wearing a ridiculous lavender ball gown. Sleevless, with a sheer layer of silk, and petticoat to make it full. The skirt kept catching the wind, until I figured out how to tuck it under the gunnel.

The landing was strangely quiet. I was off in my own head, so I don't know to this day whether there were any dead bodies in any of the parked cars. So many parking lots, across the continent, that's all there was.

My first clue was a car, oddly parked. Or rather run off the road when it's driver succumbed. I didn't stop to look, since I've seen this before on the road into town.

I parked near the door of the only grocery store.

I'll never forget the feeling I had, when I saw the bodies piled up. The local paranoid gun nut, (right all along, he was) had gone down and more or less barricaded himself in. And proceeded to shoot anyone who tried to get food.

I heard the click of his safety coming off.

Then he met my eye.

I still say the dress was the only thing that saved me.

I didn't know it at the time, but even more women than men had died in the pandemic. Mr. Barricade hadn't seen a woman alive in several days, and apparently many in his situation were starting to worry that they might never see one again.

He stared at me. Because of the plunging neckline of the dress, it was fairly obvious that I was not a guy in drag. You think guys stared at your cleavage back in the 20th century. Modesty has made a rapid return.

So I backed away again. Turned around, and started to look more closely at the small town, which often looked like a ghost town, anyway.

Nothing was moving. No one. No cars on the road. No activity.

So I went back to the car, and turned on the radio. Nothing. Static. I started to cry. Since then, I don't think I've cried once. The well of my tears dried, with the enormity of what I've seen.

I don't think I can bear to go into the details of how I finally got more information about what had happened, from the only living person in Blind River. You would be surprised what you are suddenly willing to trade when you know you are running out of food.

But still. That princess dress. I bartered for some supplies, but more importantly, seeds and tools. I drove slowly back out to the lake, thinking about how to start preparing. A place that goes down to -35 in the winter isn't somewhere I'd choose to homestead. The operative word in the previous sentence is choose. So I started planning a greenhouse at that moment.




I don't wear the princess dress much any more. I still thank the gods and goddesses that my husband and daughter were out at the lake, and that the pandemic had burned itself out before I went into Blind. Two days earlier, and I would have carried the plague out to our little refugium on the lake, and we would all be like those poor souls in the cities.

Gone, gone, gone.




thank you, cassparadox, for helping me get past the writer's block.

So, we're inna goddam dress store. It was across the street from the one of the last places we did the turn-over for, you know, a make-ready on 4111 Walnut, ain't that right Bob? I remembered there was that locked up cigar shop but it's stocked like a GROCERY store. I says "Hey, Bri, let's you me n' Amy hit up that cigar shop for supplies." He says "okay" and we take the car.

Anyways, long story short, Brian slips up and I don't see the guy comin'. I'm grabbin' cans and detergent and the next thing I know some naked 250-pound bearded guy lookin' like Tex Cobb starts TEARin' my clothes off. Fuck, it coulda BEEN Tex Cobb; you know he lived around West Philly even after doin' those movies? Saw him at the 7-11 buyin' cigarettes, swear ta God. What, you mean you ain't seen Raising Arizona? Any-way, lucky me, and just before my clothes were all tatters, Bri clocks 'im on the head witha baseball bat and we bind him with some electrical cords, lock him inna back room.

So I'm lookin' around for some clothes, nothing. Brian's scannin' around for anyone else who mighta spotted us. Amy's collectin' the shit inna back. Bri shouts "Don't come out, Jerry ain't decent," y'know. She shouts back "I already knew that", jesus, COME ON, I tellya she don't ever let up. And then of course SHE comes up with the idea, "Why don't you try the dress shop??" Geeze. Why not? So we, me an' Bri, run across the street, I'm hangin' onna what's left of my shirt an' pants for dear life, and we run inta that dress shop.

What caused all the naked people? Don't your parents teach you nothing, it started with that nano-tech-na-logy they kept puttin' inna movies around then. Couldn't see a movie with that crap in it "Oh, the nano-tech-NAlagie's gonna bring down society." What is it, li-ttle tIn-y robots. You know robots, but rea-lly small, like smaller than your eyelash. Smaller than what you can see on my fingertip. That's what a NANobot is.

There was a company right here inna city called AppearoTech that was developin' the technology. I think the buildin' was off Market. Yeah, Market and JFK. They were developin' little tiny nano-bots that would clean your clothes, while you were wearin' 'em, while you weren't. Ain't that something.

So wouldn't you know it, ain't the nanobots that does it at all. It's a goddam wizard. I'm tellin' you the truth, a wizard. Well, we didn't know they were real until that day, January 30th, 2011. EV-reybody was sayin' 2012, like ol' George Roberts. Hey, I wonder what happened ta him, 'ey Bob. Maybe Tex Cobb gott'im. The wizard's name was named Anton Luxavie, I remember 'cause I saw him on CNN rantin'. I liked ta stay abreast of the news in those days, and CNN was puttin' ANYone on their shows, gibberin' like crazy so I see it and just think "Aw, here we go."

Anyway, he was talkin' about gettin' swindled out of stocks because the AppearoTech stocks had gone bust after the Oilicane sunk New Orleans for the third time and Obama finally caved and started liquidatin' private companies for cash ta pay the national guard ta fight the TLA and still have enough left over ta fight Pakistan. So this Anton Luxavie starts babblin' in that bullshit wizard language like outta your Harry Potter or something "Non Clothes-o" or whatever and Next thing I know I'm com-pletely naked.

Turns out the brain can't handle that kind of mental stress or whatever. TOO MUCH stimuli. People see that much flesh in person, in a second, well, I guess they get, whatcha call it, saturated. Or maybe it was just that wizard. That's it, we were SA-tur-ated, en-CHANT-ed with TOO MUCH sex all at once. The lucky bastards who kept their SANITY were indoors by themselves. I guess not TOO many people by themselves on a Friday night, but, hey, Us losers kept our sanity, so go figure.

I guess the real irony is that the conservatives woulda claimed this would happen, 'cause they hated nudity, but then the gay rights people and the psychologists were sayin' for years that pent up sexuality drives you nuts. There you go; the apocalypse ha-ppened because the conservatives and gays was both RIGHT at the same time. You feelin' me on that on, Bob? Ha-ha, look at 'im.

Alright, you got it? BACK TO the story. So, I'm lookin' around that dress shop now for just a stitch of clothing. Bri's crackin' up, but he ain't lookin'. Not that I'd think he was gay or nothing but, after that wizard, if you stare at naked people too long, you start gettin' unhinged and you're more of a target for that fucked up mass of naked people ROAMin' the streets, GRABin' ya places you don't wannemta grab ya. Then you can get caught up in it, and well. Well, you don't do anything else after that. Just run around screamin' and goin' at it like dogs inna streets.

BRIan's gigglin' over there. I can't find no full clothes to cover up all my business. He says "Hey we don't have much time, put that one on." It's damn ballgown! A foam-green, sequined BALLgown. I say "I'm not puttin' that on." He says "You better, there ain't any time." Fuck it, I put it on. Didn't fit right, I'm a little short on the chest here, see, but it did the trick.

Bri's like "Hey, Jerry, the apocalypse is no time to be wearin' a ballgown" I'm like "shut up, Bri." Then Amy comes in she's like "Ooh la-la" and I says "shut up, Amy." Anyway, Amy says she saw a mob of 'em comin' up the street outside. So I says, "Well, I got the dress, I'm gonna show 'em how I can dance." Yeah, that's what I said, Bob.

We get our paintball guns, cause that's all you need ta handle them freaks. We aren't talkin' 'bout a group of zombies from your 28 Days Later, or even the old one, these are just some people. If you ever get hit witha paintball gun WITH clothes, you can guess what it feels like without clothes on. Drops 'em flat. I say, "Whoo I pancaked 'im." We knock a few down and we're inna car and outta there. Brian kept in-SIST-ing I keep the dress, Amy eggin' 'im on like she always does, but NO sir and NO ma'am.

Anyway, I'm surprised you kids don't know all that, your parents don't teach you nothing. That's what happened and that's why you don't wear no CLOTHES on Saturdays. I ain't makin' this shit up. The WIZARD's spell DIDdn't take.

While Hannah was certain that the other women in her life meant well she was also sure that she did not want to be wear the dress her roommate was holding. "Just try it Hannah," Olivia coaxed. "What have you got to lose? And it will look good on you." This last sentence was delivered with all the positive sincerity Olivia could muster. Her rationale was that since she knew how to put outfits together for herself she would be able to help her roommate. Stubbornly Hannah shook her head. Why couldn't Olivia leave her alone for a change?

"Come on Hannah," impatiently Olivia tapped her foot on the sill that divided Hannah's room from the hall. Ungraciously Hannah studied her roommate. Olivia's long dark hair had been pulled back, twisted up and secured with a genuine peacock feather that had been made into a clip. Olivia's exaggerated pout made Hannah feel uncooperative although past experiences had taught her that no matter what kind of help she had Hannah was never going to be in the same class as Olivia. "You have a good body Hannah, you just have to learn to work with what you've got."
 

Despondently Hannah stared at the peeling skin on her upper arm. Last Sunday at the beach Olivia's skin had taken on a uniform bronze while Hannah's had gone from sensitive pink to painful red. Studying her legs more closely Hannah noticed a hairy patch that her razor had missed. When Olivia wore a swimsuit it flowed over her body like a second skin. Previously Hannah hadn't minded her practical black racing suit but that was before she had started sharing an apartment with Olivia. Now Hannah knew that her suit covered everything it needed to but it flattened out an already too small bust and emphasized her wider than average hips.

With a sigh Hannah reached for the sundress her roommate wanted her to wear. After a day like today she didn't have the energy to fight with Olivia. The sooner Olivia saw how bad the dress looked on her the sooner Hannah could shower, eat supper and curl up with the book that Olivia's little sister had let her borrow. "Not that bra," Olivia made a face as she handed Hannah a cream colored demi-bra. The unflattering color washed out Hannah's pale skin, half of her breast stuck out the side, none of it peeked up from the top, the band was too tight around her chest and the straps kept falling down. Bravely Hannah sucked in her breath praying that this would go quickly.

***

At the mall Hannah wandered into a store that Olivia normally shopped at. Several sales people stood near her but Hannah was too intimidated to ask for help. Hannah wouldn't admit this to Olivia but she thought this guy that she had met the other day was cute. After Hannah had found out that Phil was going to be in her summer research program she renewed her vow to go the gym every day after work.

Resolutely Hannah avoided the food court even though her stomach was growling. Finding new clothes for her internship was turning out to be a lot harder than Hannah had anticipated. Enthusiasm for her new job dwindled after she left a fourth dressing room wearing yet another pair of pants that were too tight across her butt and baggy around her waist. Frustrated by the unproductive shopping expedition Hannah left the mall with a pair of socks and some earrings she couldn't resist.

***

That weekend Hannah was not looking forward to shopping at the outlet mall with her mom. Being the good roommate that she was Olivia reminded Hannah that at the very least they'd get a free meal and maybe her mom would help her pick out some clothes she could wear to work. On the trip out to the mall Hannah's mood improved.

It was fun riding in the car with Olivia who talked about the two guys that flirted with her during their summer physics class. At the mall Hannah kept to herself while her mom and Olivia poked through the sale racks hunting for bargains. After lunch Olivia announced that their next mission was to find Hannah some new work clothes. Hannah gave her mom a dirty look hating that Olivia got along better with her mom than she did.

The first store they went had nothing that Hannah was interested in however listening to her mom talk to the sales people gave Hannah some new insight. Why had she been afraid to ask people for help? That was their job after all and it was so much easier to stand in the dressing room trying on clothes if the salespeople kept bringing you new things that they thought might work.

Normally Hannah chose items that were on sale or would go with everything. Olivia and her mom told the clerks what Hannah was looking for and talked Hannah out of a yellow striped tank-top that she would have bought if she had been by herself. As she tried on more clothes Hannah was able to see that in the past she had focused on things she liked rather than styles that would look good on her. Olivia really was right Hannah thought, from the skin out Hannah needed makeover.

***

Monday afternoon Hannah came home in a fantastic mood because Phil had commented on the new outfit she had worn to work. Her face burned when she told him that the rose strewn scarf was Olivia's but he had liked her earrings and those she had picked out herself. With a spring in her step Hannah tossed her work clothes in the hamper and grabbed one of her new sports bras that actually fit. Having a good bra made a difference Hannah decided as she gazed at her reflection.

The idea of a bra shaping someone's figure hadn't occurred to her earlier but now that she had some good bras Hannah found that it did improve the way her shirts fit. She felt better about her appearance too. The new dress pants that her mom had insisted she get hemmed fit her well, a belt from Olivia had helped the khakis she had, alone with the mirror Hannah felt like she was starting to understand clothes, fit and fashion. Smiling to herself Hannah pulled her hair back and went out for one of the best runs she'd had since the summer vacation had started.

***

Tuesday was not a good day for Hannah. Halfway to work she realized her lunch was still sitting on the counter. After she drove back to get that she left her purse on the small table where Olivia's physics homework sat in a cluttered pile. The storm the weatherman had predicted drenched Hannah's hair as she ran across the parking lot and since her badge was sitting in her purse back home she wasn't able to let herself in through the normal entrance. When Phil said 'hi' to her Hannah backed into a filing cabinet.

Wincing she rubbed her elbow and made a lame excuse about having to drop off some records across campus. In the bathroom she saw that her period had come two days early. Savage cramps twisted her uterus until she was in so much pain she asked her male boss if he would let her have the rest of the day off. At home she fell asleep wearing her rain soaked clothes. Her last thought was that the day Hannah chose to wear a dress was also the day she spent a total of ten seconds with Phil.

Surprisingly he called that night. Hannah talked with him until Olivia appeared in her doorway holding a large takeout box. Now that Hannah was feeling better she took a huge bite of pizza while listening to Olivia. "I wish I could eat like you can." Still chewing on an overly large bite Hannah gave her roommate a quizzical look. "You're way skinnier than I am Olivia." Delicately Olivia picked a sliver of onion off the pizza she had ordered on her way home from school. "I have to watch what I eat. You run and you're always doing things. That dress looks better on you than it does on me. You can have it if you want."

A guilty flush went through Hannah. The last time she had been in Olivia's room she had pictured herself wearing it on a date with Phil. Secretly she had thought that the dress looked better on her than it did on Olivia. "You can have that jacket I never wear." Hannah told her roommate. Years ago Hannah's aunt had bought her a white denim jacket that wasn't her style at all. 

While she appreciated the effort her aunt had made Hannah had worn the jacket once to go out with some friends and stuck it back in her closet after she washed out the beer someone had spilled on it. Excitedly Olivia dug the gold trimmed jacket out of the front hall closet. Privately Hannah thought it was ugly but when Olivia wore it her eyes were brighter, her skin seemed darker and it pulled her outfit together even though she obviously hadn't planned on Hannah letting her keep the jacket.

***

Friday night Olivia entered Hannah's room with one towel wrapped around her body and another covering her thick black hair. "I can't decide what I should wear. Come and help me as soon as you're done getting ready." Annoyed with her roommate Hannah rolled her eyes and went back to the magazine article that gave detailed instructions on how to apply liquid eye liner. Blinking rapidly Hannah coated her lashes with mascara. It was getting late and a more sophisticated woman would make a man wait for her but to Hannah punctuality was a virtue and besides, she was eager to see Phil again.

Applying eye makeup shouldn't be this complicated Hannah thought to herself as she cursed all cosmetic companies. Frustrated by her in-expertise Hannah threw Olivia's magazine back on her bed and yelled at her roommate to turn down the music. When Olivia turned the volume up Hannah yanked open her roommate's door and almost killed herself tripping over a pair of heels that Olivia had discarded earlier.

Furiously Hannah rubbed her ankle, bent down and threw a pile of clothes onto Olivia's unmade bed. Begrudgingly Olivia turned her stereo down. The overpowering scent of Bath & Body Works spray perfumed Olivia's room making Hannah sneeze. On Hannah's way out of her roommate's room she heard Olivia calling her name.

Counting to ten before she turned around didn't help once Hannah found out that Olivia wanted to try on the dress she was already wearing. After the initial shock wore off she almost ripped the dress that Olivia had given to her by pulling it over her head. Angrily she ran over to the hall closet but the white coat she had given to Olivia was gone.

Back in her room Hannah grabbed the only pair of jeans she had that fit. The jeans had been her one indulgence this summer. A friend of Phil's worked at the store she had bought them at, he probably wasn't supposed to give her a discount but according to him the hand written tag meant that some other customer had returned them so the store couldn't sell them for the regular retail price.

Even with a ten percent discount Hannah couldn't afford a pair of eighty dollar jeans but after her first meager paycheck she splurged. At the back of her closet was a halter top that Olivia had given Hannah for her birthday. The bright turquoise color did good things for her skin and hair. In the bathroom Hannah splashed cool water on her face. Near the door she stuck her feet into the sandals she sometimes wore to work and by the time she pulled into the parking lot to meet Phil her face was glowing with youth, health and righteous fury.

Since this was a date Phil had dressed up but after seeing Hannah he was glad she had gone casual. Eagerly his eyes worked their way down a body that hadn't missed a day at the gym since the internship had started. Perky breasts beneath a shimmering halter top gave him something to savor as he took in Hannah's flat abdominal zone.

The jeans he had wanted her to wear clung to the curves she despised and because her sandals had a bit of a heel her jeans weren't dragging on the ground the way they normally would have. Standing next to a silent Phil Hannah thought that some of Olivia's body spray must have hit her back since her hair smelled like Olivia's room. Hesitantly she shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she wondered if she should say something and what Phil was going to do next.

Phil gave the back of Hannah's jeans another lingering look before shrugging his shoulders. Nervously Hannah started to explain about the fight with Olivia; how she had given her the dress and then taken it back. Patiently Phil listened to her enjoying the way she paced across the pavement. A beaded anklet he hadn't noticed earlier captured a ray of dying sunlight.

This was Phil's first offical date with Hannah but he had been working with her for weeks. Typically the clothes she wore reminded him of a much older woman. Tonight Hannah was cool, her look was fresh, her hair slightly wild and she leaned into his chest when he put his hands on her hips. Before their lips met he thought he heard her sigh.

Later on when Hannah was telling Olivia about her date Olivia apologized for being a bitch to her earlier. Being the forgiving type Hannah shrugged and handed her the rest of the mint chocolate chip ice cream. When Olivia asked what Phil had said before he kissed her contentment settled over Hannah's face. With a soft voice she repeated what her boyfriend had said about Hannah's outfit and the dress that Olivia had demanded back.

I probably shouldn't repeat this but Olivia told me that what Phil said and the way Hannah remembered it differ slightly. What Hannah remembers hearing is that Phil didn't care about the dress and he liked the jeans Hannah was wearing. What Phil told Olivia was that he's pretty sure his last coherent thought was: 'to hell with the dress, bring on the apocalypse'.

Webster, or others, may remind one that an 'apocalypse' literally is an uncovering, a revelation, of hidden things.

So if you're revealing yourself, if something is being revealed, why is your ballgown still on?

And if it is still on, and you're still being revealed through or around it, isn't that just a little too much work?

Don't be a 'poctease; why have one uncovering when you can have two for the price of one?; all the cool kids are doing it.

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