Sunday, March 29, 2015


Elise Towner wears lovely clothes, gets her hair done more than once a week, and forever carries the over-hanging scent of Kents and Arpege. She does not see it---for who looks into the mirror when they’re taking a big drag---but she’s one of those smokers who sucks in every puff for all she’s worth, with her mouth making a little volcano of myriad crevices down the sides. Even when she’s not smoking, she’s getting a circle of those tiny inward lines around her lips like the folds at the business end of a 12-gauge shell, from sucking on the weed for twenty-some years. And despite an armada of amazingly-expensive creams and miracle masks, some labeled for Night and others exclusively for Morning, or Day, or for the Sun, she’ll be a dry-faced old lady with a grim set to her mouth before she’s fifty.

She's a Yebbut person, one of those nay-sayers who answer every happy thought, every bit of good news, every pleasant conversation with a thoughtless "Yeah, but . . ." shruggy sentence which conveys what MIGHT happen, or what COULD have been, or just whatever negative thing that's rolling around in her mind.  

Elise shops. She goes to Jackson and to Memphis and sometimes Birmingham for a long weekend, and she flies to Dallas to Neiman Marcus about four times a year. When she went off to Ole Miss, she carried more clothes than any six other girls, all bought during a week in Dallas, where she and her Mama bought everything that caught their eyes.   And I marvelled that they made more than six purchases in the whole week, for Elise is a person of self-proclaimed taste and a discerning eye.   Couple those with an offhand gripe and a tendency toward Elvis-lip, and how did she EVER decide on anything?  And what steel-spined shop-ladies might be left standing to wait on her?

They stayed at the Stoneleigh, because you just DID, enjoying the spa and the pool to revive them from the effort of all that energy used in choosing between designers. The day they left to fly home, two men from the place, who had driven over the day before and stayed at Motel 6 out on the interstate, picked up the room key at the front desk of the Stoneleigh. They were driving a big box-truck all totted up with racks and hangers and brackets inside for hanging all the clothes, and they loaded up every single dress, suit, cocktail outfit and evening dress in those store hanger-bags, all the underwear locked in the five suitcases, along with twenty-one pairs of shoes, which slid neatly into the chest of shelves in the truck, with the door closed and locked over their pricey leather contents.

The shoes would be taken out at home, a Polaroid snapped of each pair, then the picture stapled securely to the end of the box, for quick and easy finding of whichever pair Elise wanted at that moment. Her Mama had her own shoe-shelves done just like that, and had for years, except that the Polaroids were a new thing, seen in on a TV show---a fleeting pan of some movie star’s room-sized closets showed the whole library of shoes in their neatly-marked boxes. And her Mama wished SHE’D done it that way long before, with the pictures and all---seeing the contents at a glance was WAY ahead of looking at five identical index cards printed “Blue Heels” and having to look in to be sure.

And after all the clothes had been taken out and tried on and modeled at home several times, Birdie Mae, with strict little notations and slips of paper and a big printed-out chart to go by, had got them all back into the carry-bags and sleeves and shoeboxes, for a repeat of the truck-hauling process to Ole Miss for Rush. (Three of the sororities had cut Elise After Water, and she STILL resents it---she flat refused to let Mike contribute to two different incumbents because their wives were Chi O’s).

She filled her dorm closet with her clothes in their fancy hanging bags and arranged bras and panties and stockings in the drawers of the highboy the men wedged in against the left side wall of her closet. She'd also had them stick up one of those snap-on light things on each of the four walls of the closet, and nail a little inch-high rail around the big shelf at the top, for keeping her shoeboxes in place.
She put the rest of her clothes in her trunk and made it an end-table to her bed, like young Army recruits keep their things. The trunk stuck out a bit beneath the little in-room sink, and so the girls had to do a little side-bend, standing there in their underwear, to brush their teeth and blink beneath the Maybelline wand.

But Elise didn’t bring NEAR all of her clothes---when there was a big Game coming up, or a dance or just a special date to go to the Peabody or somewhere else in Memphis, she’d have a long, detailed phone call with her Mama, and next day that Big Ole green Sedan de Ville would pull out of that long driveway outside Paxton with all the chosen garments and accessories on racks in the back seat, just bringing them right on up to her and carrying back whatever needed taking to the dry cleaners or hand-washing by Birdie Mae at home.

And Elise was forever resentful of the whole other closet wasted on her roommate’s meager nine outfits, bought at Sears and Penney’s and not worthy of all that wasted space. Elise opened her own closet door from time to time, spritzing the space full of perfumed clouds which clung to every thread and button, marking her territory and her passage through the halls to class. She still plows through life like she plowed through people, sending the import of her Self through the parting crowds like the overdone fumes of Arpege.

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