Nine Women, One Dress - Jane L. Rosen


The Runway

By Sally Ann Fennely, Runway Model

Age: Just 18

“Pin it!” The dressers were all riled up.

Pin what? I thought. “Ow!” There was my answer: pin me.

It was madness. I had been measured at least five times at casting. I thought that would be the worst part, fifty eager models lined up in black slips, dreaming of cheeseburgers. It was a different kind of cattle call from what I was used to back home in Alabama.

I barely uttered my first words of the day: “It’s big on me. Maybe you should put it on a bigger girl.”

“There are no bigger girls,” the pin-happy dresser mumbled.

I looked around. He was right. Last week I was skinny, the skinniest girl south of the Mason-Dixon Line. They called me String Bean Sally, asked if I had to dance around in the shower to get wet. Now I’m the big girl.

“Get in line!” he yelled. I got in line.

I concentrated on the mantra in my head: breathe, breathe, one foot, the other. Breathe. Breathe. The girl behind me broke my concentration with the strongest New Yawk accent I’d ever heard.

“I think you may have on the dress,” she said. It sounded more like a warning than a statement.

“The dress?” I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I was having a hard time just breathing. We were getting closer to the runway.

“Every year there’s one dress,” she explained. “The front-row people out there, they choose it. See ’em?” She pointed to where two cavernous curtains met. As they rippled and settled I got a quick glimpse of the crowd. I wished I hadn’t.

She continued, “Come fall, those front-row people are gonna put that dress on the covers of magazines, on red carpets, and in store windows. And it’s usually little and black, like yours.”

Her voice near ’bout erased her beauty. She was like one of those silent film stars my grandma used to go on about who went bust the day talkies came out. She sounded so foreign to me. I reckon if I spoke with my southern drawl she would feel the same way about me. I’d hardly spoken since I’d been in New York for that very reason. When I do speak, it’s real short and careful. I can fake my way through a sentence or two, but it’s not easy. I try and triple my usual talking speed or people look like they want to wring the words out of me like I’m a wet rag. And my thinking has to keep up with my speaking, which ain’t easy either. It’s clear that they don’t understand me just as much as I don’t understand them. You would think that would make us all equal, but it doesn’t. Not here.

It’s not just talking the talk that throws me; walking the walk is equally hopeless. On my first day here I made the mistake of stopping midstride to look up at a building when boom, a man crashed right into me. He yelled, “You crazy mama?” Like I had slammed on my brakes dead in the middle of Interstate 10. I pictured the domino effect—a whole city toppling over on account of little old me.

The next day it rained. The city was hard enough to navigate dry, let alone in a downpour. I was so intimidated by the natives dodging puddles and raising and lowering their umbrellas in perfect synchronicity that I never made it past the overhang of my building. It was as if everyone but me had been taught the day’s choreography in advance. I stayed put till the sun came out.

The girl