Monday, August 24, 2009

Fashioning an image

In which we see Ms. Bradstreet conduct a wearing conversation (with herself)

The Maria Chronicles, # 6

It's 6:39 a.m. on the first day of classes, and Maria, wearing nothing but a bath towel, has spent the last three minutes gazing at ensembles of clothes on her freshly-made bed. She's annoyed at herself: This had long been worked out. In fact, she remembers thinking after she walked out of Talbots weeks ago that she knew exactly what she would be wearing today. New khaki skirt, cotton blouse, brown belt, brown pumps, earrings from her daughter Felicia. She had her message straight: Simplicity (solid earth tones). Comfort (cotton for a summer day). A slight tease of playfulness (the dangling earrings are of snorkeling cats). A quiet but unmistakable embrace of her femininity (bare legs, just shaved).

Now she's having second thoughts. She was briefly tempted by the sleeveless black blouse -- probably the coolest top she has, in more ways than one -- but decides this is too much, too soon. Actually, she thinks she should dial back the gender statement entirely and go with the gray slacks, which are also on the bed. Goes just fine with the new red blouse she's got. Has a new black belt, too. Shoes a bit of a problem, but there are a couple pairs in her tiny walk-in closet she could dig out. Certainly a safe choice . . . .

"Are the men doing this right now?" Maria says aloud, irritation in her voice. She realizes this is a silly thing to say on number of levels. For one thing, there are only a handful of people, male or female, about to start the first day of classes at Hudson High. For another, she's got pretty clear pictures in her head of her soon-to-be ex Mark, as well as her son Evan, gazing at mirrors, asking for advice, and complaining about how a particular shirt looks. Neither one of them was particularly vain -- though, come to think of it, Mark got a little more so over time -- and neither was she. But you can't really escape this stuff, she thinks, pinching her belly. One of the ironies of feminism is the way men now get objectified the way women have all along. Welcome to our world, guys. So much for "progress."

Maria adjusts her gaze to the alarm clock at the head of the bed: 6:42. Time to decide. No point in getting agitated about being agitated: it's built into the situation. What does she really want to do? Wear the khaki skirt. Maria remembers all those exams she's graded in which the student chose the correct answer, changed it to something else, and lost points. Let's go with the gut, she thinks. She grabs the slacks and blouse she's not wearing -- actually, they look pretty good together, maybe tomorrow? -- and lays them aside on top of her hamper. She pulls some new underwear out of her dresser drawer. Gotta get moving. A little makeup, some work on her hair, a little breakfast, a look at the Times, out the door by 7:30. She wants to have lots of extra time today.

Speaking of breakfast -- should she go light, or eat something filling that will get her through the morning? Maybe a stop at Dunkin' Donuts? Coffee yes, doughnut no? What does her gut say now? "Oh Maria," she says aloud, "sometimes it's impossible to live with you!"