Nightdress

"In the days that followed I thought only of it. When I was washing my neck, I made a soap lather for him, and when I was weighing sugar in the shop, I was singing to myself. I gave children free sugar barleys and I bought Willie a dickie bow for his Sunday shirt. Going along the street I talked to myself all the time. Arranging conversations between us, smiling at everyone; helping old women to cross the road and flirting with bus conductors.

...

Also I had stopped going to Mass and Confession and things. But most of all, I hadn't enough underwear. I wanted a blue flowing transparent nightgown. So that we could waltz before we got into bed. To tell you the truth, I always shirked a little at the actual getting into bed.

Mamma had nice nightdresses but I left them in the drawers, and I didn't know if my father got them before the furniture was auctioned.

...

Then I thought of asking Joanna. ... 'Good. It is beautiful there. The opera, lovely. I remember my brothers spending me a night at the opera for my twenty-one birthday. They gave me a wrist-watch. Fifteen-carat gold.' It was the nearest Joanna ever got to being nostalgic. I was still worrying about the money for the aeroplane ticket.

'Will you loan me a nightdress?' I asked.

She said nothing for a moment and then she said: 'Yes. But you must be very careful. It is from my own honeymoon. Thirty years old.' I blanched a little and held the gate open for her.

...

I went into my own room and in a few minutes she came in after me. She had the nightdress in her hand. It was folded in tissue paper and, as she opened the paper, camphor balls kept falling out and rolling onto the floor. It was lilac colour and it was the biggest nightdress I'd ever seen. I put it on and looked like a girl playing Lady Macbeth for the Sacred Heart Players. I was shapeless in it. I tied the purple sash tight round the waist, but it was still hickish.

'Lovely. Pure silk,' she said, fingering the deep frill that fell over my hand and almost covered it.

'Lovely,' I agreed. He would smell the camphor and sneeze for the entire week and go home tring to remember which of his grand-aunts I resembled. Still it was better than nothing.

'Show Gustav,' she said, arranging it so that it fell in loose pleats from around the waist. She held it up while I went down the stairs as if I were wearing a wedding dress.

Gustav got very red and said, 'Very smart.'

'You remember, Gustav?" she said. She was grinning at him.

'No, Joanna.' He was reading the advertisements in the evening paper." (178-80)


O'Brien, Edna. The Country Girls. Middlesex: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1973 [1960]