Momma was worried. “Three weeks until Paul’s Bar Mitzvah, and Beebee still has nothing beautiful to wear.” Saturday after Saturday, we traipsed all over Brooklyn, from one store to the next, trying on party dresses. I fell in love with a black velvet dress with a white stand-up collar and lacy ruffles down the front. Momma shook her head. No black dress at a Bar Mitzvah. Frieda, Momma’s best friend, took us to Greenberg’s Dresses for Girls. Mrs. Greenberg showed us a white chiffon dress with a slip underneath. She suggested we dye the slip light blue, so I could be blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag. Momma thought about it for a minute, but shook her head.
Aunt Rose, Momma’s sister, who loved fine things, suggested we meet her at Lord and Taylor, on Fifth Avenue. “I know it’s expensive, but the quality is tops.” Momma was tired of shopping and ready to end the search, even if it meant a big splurge. She shrugged her shoulders and agreed to meet there.
The next Saturday morning, Momma and I walked ten blocks to the 7th Avenue subway and rode to 34th Street in Manhattan. Coming up out of the darkened subway, we were greeted by the noise of traffic in Herald Square. 34th Street was crowded with shoppers. We walked along, stopping to look at mannequins in the windows of Macy’s and Orbach’s. One more long block and we arrived at the quiet refinement of Fifth Avenue. Neither Momma nor I had ever been there before.
Aunt Rose was waiting in front of the large stone building. We pushed through the glass revolving door and entered the store. I froze. Shoppers in elegant dresses, examining treasures, glided from one display of glittering jewels to the next. Brightly lit crystal chandeliers cascaded from the ceiling. The air was thick with the intoxicating scent of heavy perfume. Wide-eyed, I drank it all in.
We approached a saleswoman in high heels, hair perfectly coiffed, eyelids painted iridescent blue, brilliant red lips fixed in a broad, permanent smile. “May I help you?”
Momma pointed to me. “I need a dress for my—”
The woman glanced at me. “Oh yes, of course. You want the Children’s Chubby Department. Take the elevator to the second floor.”
Ears burning with shame, I stared at the intricate pattern of the black and white tiled floor, the magic of the moment draining away.
Bea Epstein is a a psychotherapist and writer living in Rockville, Maryland. Her work has appeared in “My Words Are Gonna Linger” 2009, in “Pegasus” 2010 and in Storyteller Magazine”, March 2011