There is a teenager in the dressing room next to mine; her mother sits on the straight-backed chair in the mirrored alcove just outside. Fabric rustles; the door clicks; the girl walks out.
“Do you like it?” her mother asks.
“Yeah,” the girl says, a slight hitch in her voice indicating she’s twisted around to see herself from the back.
“It’s very pretty,” her mother says half-heartedly.
“Yeah,” the girl says.
“You shouldn’t buy it unless you really love it,” the mother says.
“I do,” the girl insists. “I really love it.” Her tone strains towards credibility; she must establish her love of the dress now, in order to get it home, where she can make her real decision.
“Well, if you really love it,” her mother says, heroically not stressing the “if.”
“I do!” The girl is enthusiastic; she’s convinced herself for the moment, conflating the euphoria of victory with love of the prize.
Later, she will stand in front of her own mirror to make her own decision, noticing the weird crimp of the fabric, the way it makes her shoulders look big, wondering whether her friends will laugh at the pattern. Right now she only needs her mother’s signpost, determined to walk any road it doesn’t point to.
And for the first time I can see this exchange from the other side, and I wonder: did her mother secretly love the way the dress emphasized her daughter’s lovely shoulders? Does she admire the way the fabric crimped around her pretty, often-hidden waist? Did she set this up?
Here’s to mothers, I think to myself, and the hundred ways and more they find to lead us.