Your mom sent me an article of clothing from India; did you get one, too?
It appears to be a bundle of silk of various colours and patterns, all sewn together and accompanied by four pages of diagrams on how to transform said bundle to a series of stunning things to wear.
We are promised many possible ensembles as diverse as a strapless evening gown to a halter top to a pair of trousers, all achieved without the use of pins or needles but simply by wrapping and then tying the ends according to instructions.
Why does she do things like this? She cannot, after all these years, be unaware of what kind of women we are, sartorially speaking: you, utterly oblivious and uninterested, and me, willing and incapable.
Your bundle likely got used to wipe down a saddle or polish a horse.
Mine, on the other hand, got earnest consideration. The silk is fine and the colours are beautiful; surely with diagrams and worded instructions I could indeed wear them in some fashion.
Starting with the simplest design, the one at the top of page one, I laid out the fabric on the floor. There it was revealed to have not only disparate shapes but also ties of various lengths and thicknesses attached at seemingly random parts of the cloth.
It no longer looked like clothing but rather like a ‘brain teaser’; one of those awful puzzles one comes across and quickly turns the page, or changes the station, the channel, or the conversation, while feeling one’s self esteem go down a notch.
Recognizing the tiny precursor of intellectual trauma, I bravely soldiered on, led yet again down the path of failure by my cursed optimism, my hope that springs eternal.
Nearly an hour later, my silks were crumpled, slightly damp from the sweat of my clammy hands and I was tied up like a Christmas package in glowing shades of ruby, emerald, sapphire and gold.
The plan was a halter dress but results were not. I had too many ties still trailing, and the hem was above my navel in front and dragging like a bridal train in the back. There was an inexplicable piece trailing from one shoulder, which I thought perhaps I could toss down the back for a cape effect.
The toss resulted in the fine stuff hanging airborne for one magical moment before settling gently over my head, covering me to the waist.
The silk is sheer enough to see through; I stood in front of the mirror thinking the cloth was perhaps trying to tell me something; maybe a look of mystery was the best one for me.
It was kind of OK; if I were to wear a pair of jeans with it, to cover my nether parts, I might be able to wear it. The question was, where would I wear it? Try as I might, I could not come up with a single possible occasion other than Halloween, where going as a hooded pile of silk could be deemed appropriate. It was time to try diagram two.
Unfortunately, the garment resulting from diagram one took nearly as long to extricate myself from as it had to create, with several of the ties having to be cut: silk makes a hell of a knot, I’ve found, leading me to think of several other uses for it that were not in the diagrams.
Towing vehicles, for instance, or lowering oneself down cliff faces. Whipping naughty boys while wearing thigh-high boots could be an alternative use of Indian sari silk, as could making rabbit snares or lunging a horse. I devised a whole new plan for marketing whilst divesting myself of the clinging fabric.
After laying out the somewhat altered cloth once again, I took a short break during which I made a martini and wished for a cigarette. Everything was easier when I smoked, it seemed; no challenge was insurmountable when aided by tobacco. Was I really more capable, sharper, when it was part of my life, or is this just part of the process of mourning I had been warned of when I quit the weed?
Preoccupied by these and other musings, I had another martini.
I was feeling more confident when I approached the puzzle the second time, but nevertheless opted for the easiest pattern of all—the strapless dress.
How hard could it be if none of the ties were involved? I reasoned. And perhaps some of the fabric could be cleverly used in a design of my own making to give the illusion of having something on my chest holding up the dress.
This attempt at haute couture took well over an hour, during which I perspired from every pore and had to have a beer to rehydrate.
The creation was indeed strapless; every tie but one having been severed or torn from its stitches in the making of the dress. The remaining tie was under the area where breasts ought to be, holding up great bunches of material that were supposed to be breast-shaped but looked more like dough rising. A sculptor in cloth I am not, it has been proved.
The material that was supposed to cling to the hips and thighs and swish alluringly around the knees managed only to get as far as my midriff, and was a ruffle, like the kind I’ve seen in magazines glorifying rural lifestyles; curtains in a ‘country kitchen’ have ruffles like this one.
At this point, mellowed by gin, I ought to have been able to see the hilarity of the moment, but that was not my response.
I had a little weep instead as I stood looking at myself in the mirror. The image presented was not enhanced by hair standing up in sweaty points and a face red and blotched from exertion and martinis.
At least this wrap was easier to remove; I’d had the foresight to tie the one remaining strip in a bow and with one quick jerk the entire ensemble fell to the floor and puddled around my feet.
Crumpling the instructions in my damp clumsy hands, I had the idea that the best thing to do with the whole mess of paper and cloth would be to have a cleansing fire.
Pete and I have a nice little stack of firewood in the backyard, gathered as we tidied the forest debris, and waiting for the construction of a stone fire pit in which to have bonfires and roast wieners and marshmallows.
Using the offending instructions and some twigs, I started a small fire.
There was a bit of a breeze; the small fire took on a life of its own and spread quickly over dry and crackly moss while I went into the house to bring out the fabric and another beer.
I used the beer in an attempt to douse the fire but it was like the proverbial fart in the windstorm.
By the time I thought to turn on the hose, which was lying in plain sight in the yard, the painstakingly gathered and piled wood had caught fire and was being consumed in a blazing inferno.
Not all the woodpile got burned up; maybe about half of it, and the side of the shed where it was stacked sports a black mark that could be said to be deliberate, so studied is the design formed by the blackened boards.
Some of my front hairs got singed, and my brows and lashes got a little crisped, but when all was said and done (though Pete has not yet had his saying and doing) no real harm was done.
I actually felt quite restored by my competence in putting out the fire.
In fact, I didn’t burn or throw out the Indian silk but hung it from some trees in the backyard where it flutters quite alluringly in the breeze and lends an exotic look to the back 40.
The local squirrels and ravens, usually so vociferous, have been quite silenced by this glowing evidence of a wider world.
Heather Bennett is a writer
who lives in Watson Lake.