Very simply, one
Dutch designer had spent a few years too many bending her mind toward
the cellophane bustle, grinding crayons to a pulp and hawking fire engine
eye shadow. According to the fashionistas, she was pushing it.
Now rubber tire sneaker soles had been the right blend of bold and familiar.
But that was eight years ago and she’d been running on empty the last
five or more. What was needed was an idea not unlike Renaissance Jones’
teabag skirts or his headbands made of leather belts.
Some concluded old Carla Crayola (as she was known in the business)
was plum tuckered out from mothering her autistic daughter, Ox.
Ox wore ugly clothes. She was unkempt and actually dirty. Everyone envied
the shine of her unwashed skin, but the admiration ended there. She
never smiled or cried or hugged or made eye contact for that matter.
She didn’t sew buttons, she didn’t hem skirts, she didn’t darn socks.
She didn’t have a collection or a passion or a friend, just a name,
Ox, a once famous mother and six feet of admirably unwashed skin.
Nightmares were familiar to Ox. They usually featured a weave of glass
bubbles, tin foil, grass, and cut hair. Her mother’s tired excesses
cloyed at her sleeping mind. She dreamed of lace and guitar strings,
Teflon pan hats and welcome mats that stuck to the bottom of one’s shoes
A customer entered Dutch Excessories, plucked at some hat feathers and
turned to face two gleaming shoulders behind the counter. No necklace.
No bike gear or chainlink dress straps.
Was the girl naked, wondered the lady customer?
"How much for this hat?" she asked. Ox wrote three numerals on a sheet
of paper and held it up. "Or this hat?" the customer asked. "Do you
happen to have any more of those airbag skullcaps in stock?" Ox cocked
her head and stepped out from behind the counter. Naked. The customer
watched her bounce down the steps. Moments later, she came up the stairs,
full frontal, carrying a stack of skullcaps in a variety of winter hues.
She hung them and stepped behind the counter where cash register and
shoulders were visible.
Fortunately or unfortunately, (depending on your allegiance) this customer
was a spy, in from one of the four corners of the fashion universe,
to see the Dutch latest in designer choices, which turned out to be
nothing less than no clothes. Breathless, she scratched these words
in her notebook once outside and hurried to a corner with crystal clear
Ox Autistic knew she’d left an impression and knew it to be a strange
one. She fell asleep early and dreamed of air on a string, sunshine
stockings, and mittens made of clouds. She did not smile, but she did
not frown. She rose and did it again.
"Ox" Carla leveled, "We’re a clothing store. Put something on. An.Y.Thing.
She waited for her tall daughter to relent before flipping the store
sign. OPEN, it told customers. And this morning there were quite a few.
In the bathroom, Ox grabbed the first anything she found—a terrycloth
bath towel—and wrapped it under her armpits like, "a sleeveless dress",
wrote yesterday’s lady customer.
"A slip," wrote a friend she’d bumped into on her way to Excessories.
"A working girl in a big, big hurry," wrote a foreign customer who’d
appeared a measured 5 minutes later and who avoided eye contact with
"This year’s little black must," wrote Yves Gourmand whom everyone knew
because he reviewed fashion for the leading trade.
While Carla was pushing air bag skullcaps, umbrella top hats, and woven
basket ball caps, Yves kept an eye on Ox. She moved through the store
as though naked, almost as if she’d just stepped out of the shower.
Ironic, he underlined in his mind.
The customers left with minimal purchases. They staggered their departures
and avoided eye contact throughout. Carla mused happily at the thought
of her orange rind bonnets taking off. Two of them were lodged right
now in hatboxes in Yves Gourmand’s famous shopping suitcase. A lull
followed his departure.
"Pb and j, Ox?" Carla smiled on her way to pick up lunch.
Crossing the avenue, the designer noticed a woman hurrying into a laundromat
in flip flops and a towel. She smiled and shook her head, bemused. Her
hand on the café door, she stopped. Through the window, Carla glimpsed
the hostess, her hair turbaned up in a terry cloth bath towel. She looked
again. There were a dozen or so customers. They were wearing… towels.
It was 1:30 p.m., not three hours since the departure of Yves Gourmand.
Carla crossed the avenue. She closed the shop door.
"Ox, you’re the sensation. Your finger is on the pulse and they aren’t
going to let you go. You are it. You’re the fashion messiah of the 21st
And at the very second those words were crossing Carla’s lips, the printer
spat them out, inky, hot, and wet. The very latest in fashion on every
newsstand by sunrise tomorrow.
That night, Ox dreamed of a road made of typeface. She walked down it
and the letters chalked the souls of her feet. Under a willow tree,
she wrapped herself in hair. A mummy. And lay down in tall grasses.
Carla slept with a terry cloth bath towel folded under her head to catch
the tears that fell unaccountably into the early morning.