JULIA SCHAFFER

 

Excessories

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 like… tires.

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 wireless reception.

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 the ladies.

"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.

"Please."

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 century."

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.