Hopp til innhold

Red Dress

Red Dress

Alice Munro

Alice and Lonnie cycling home from school on a November afternoon

Alice: Well, what about Harold Simons? Do you like him?

Lonnie: I don't really know.

Alice: Well, do you half like him?

Lonnie: Not sure.

Alice: Do you hate him?

Lonnie: No.

Alice: Would you go out with him if he asked you?

Lonnie: Maybe. It's my turn now, Alice. What about Raymond Bolting? Do you like him?

Alice: I've never talked to him in my life, so I've no idea.

Lonnie: Oh, Alice, he's in our class. There's your house – I can see the light.

Alice: Yeah. Did you get that magazine?

Lonnie: Mm-mm. And it's got a questionnaire.

Alice: Oh, goody! What about?

Lonnie: Personality. Whether you've got what makes you popular.

Alice: You haven't done it?

Lonnie: Course not. We made a pact, remember.

Alice: Yes. Still, it's your magazine. You are lucky, Lonnie, the way your father lets you do whatever you want.

Lonnie: I suppose. He just never takes any notice of me.

Alice: Mm. Golly, it's cold. Think it'll snow soon?

Lonnie: Bound to. Look, there's your mother at the kitchen window.

Alice: Yes, she's got her sewing machine there, so she can see people going by on the road.

Lonnie: but nobody much goes by out here.

Alice: I know.

They go in.

Lonnie: What's she making?

Alice: A dress for me. For the Christmas Dance.

Sewing machine.

ALICE: Sure enough, when we went in, there was my mother working away at the old treadle machine, surrounded by pieces of red velvet and scraps of tissue paper. She wasn't really a good sewer. She just liked to make things.


Mother: There! – My, this velvet is hard to work with!

Lonnie: (politely) It's a beautiful colour.

Mother: Isn't it though! Try it on, Alice, so I can see if I've got the fit right.

Alice: Oh, Mother, not now. Lonnie doesn't want –

Mother: Lonnie'd like to see it, wouldn't you, Lonnie?

Lonnie: Well, yes, I –

Mother: Sit on the couch, Lonnie. Come on, Alice, you'll have to take your school things off.

Alice: Ohh! (She starts undressing)

Mother: Nobody ever made me a dress when I was going to high school. I made my own, or I did without – your blouse, too, silly! Hurry up!

Alice: I am –

Mother: You know, Lonnie, I had to walk seven miles into town and find a job waiting on tables in a boarding house, so I could even go to high school. You girls don't know how lucky you are.

Alice: Mother!

Mother: Now there, let's see! Careful! Some of it's only pinned together – you're so clumsy. Turn round! Stand still! Humph! Needs taking in a bit here – and here…

Alice: Ow!

Mother: Stand still! Turn round! Walk away! Stand still! Mmm. What do you think of it, Lonnie?

Lonnie: (mild) It's beautiful….

Mother: It will be, if I can ever manage the fit. Ah well, I doubt if she appreciates it. You can take it off now – stand still. You know, one time I had a dress given to me – cream coloured cashmere wool with lovely mother-of-pearl buttons. I wonder what ever became of it-

Alice: Oh, Mother, don't start on that. – Ouf! (dressing) Come on up to my room, Lonnie.

Mother: But it's cold up there. You know how easily you can get bronchitis.

Alice: Oh, Mother, don't fuss. Come on, Lonnie.

Mother: Well, see she puts a jacket on, Lonnie.

ALICE: I hated the way my mother talked to Lonnie as if Lonnie were grown-up and I were still a child. It made me feel like a great, raw, clumsy lump. Lonnie and I were thirteen, and we had been going to high school for two months. We were in Grade Nine. I hated it – I was never comfortable for a minute. It wasn't just the classes – what was really going on in the school I was not Business practice and Science and English, but the tension and excitement of sexual competition, and in this subject I was afraid I would fail dismally.

Alice's bedroom.

Lonnie: Will the red dress be finished in time for the Christmas Dance?

Alice: That's what she says. What are you going to wear?

Lonnie: Dad says I can buy something at Beale's.

Alice: You are lucky – I wish I was thin and pale and elegant like you.

Lonnie: Oh well, you don't have sticky-out teeth. And you've got a mother.

Alice: Huh!

Lonnie: “You know how easily you get bronchitis”!

Alice: (giggles)

Lonnie: Now – what about this questionnaire? (She reads) “One – one a first date, would you a) Make a conversation, b) Wait for Him to make conversation or c) Listen while he talks about sport?

Alice: Probably c)…

ALICE: Lonnie and I had made a pact to tell each other everything. But one thing I did not tell. It was that I did not want to go to this Christmas Dance for which my mother was making me a dress. Something had to happen to prevent me! I'd tried to sprain my ankle by falling off my bicycle, but it was too difficult. However, in December I had another idea.

Bedroom again.

She pushes up the window.

Alice: Undo another button – no! Why not take my pajama top off altogether! There (shivering) Now – if my throat and chest are as weak as my Mother says, surely I'll catch a chill? Blue with cold…

ALICE: It was no good; even though I knelt at the open window every night until I could bear it no more, then rubbed snow into my pajamas and crept, damp and shivering, into bed. Every morning I woke up in perfect health. And then came the day of the dance. After tea I put on the dress.

The kitchen.

Mother: Hold still! – Turn round! Well! I wish I could take a picture. I am really, genuinely proud of that fit. And you may say thank you for it.

Alice: Thank you.

Knock on the back door.

Alice: Oh – that'll be Lonnie.

Mother: I'll go. – Come on in, Lonnie. She's nearly ready. Take your coat off for a minute.

Lonnie: Okay. Thank – Jesus! What did you do to your hair?

Alice: I did it up in curlers.

Lonnie: Why? Your hair's curly anyway. You look like a Zulu. Oh, don't worry. Get me a comb.

Alice: OK. Here.

Lonnie: Sit down, Alice. Hold still. There, I'll do the front in a roll, it'll make you look older.

Mother: Oh, Lonnie, you're a wonder! You should take up hairdressing.

Lonnie: That's a thought.

Mother: That's a nice dress. You suit that pale blue.

Alice: It's very grown up.

ALICE: At school the gymnasium smelled of the pine and cedar branches which decorated the high, bare walls. Red and green paper bells hung from the basketball hoops. Some of the Grade Twelve and Thirteen girls had brought their grown-up boyfriends, and stood resting their hands casually on male sleeves, their faces bored, aloof and beautiful. I longed to be like that.

Teacher: The first dance will be a Paul Jones.

Everyone on the floor, please, for the Paul Jones, and form two rings. Girls on the inside, facing out; boys on the outside, facing in. Take hands with the people next to you and move to your right in time to the music. When it stops, your partner will be facing you.

The band strikes up.

Lonnie: Come on, Alice.

ALICE: I didn't dare look at the boys' circle as it passed me, for fear I should see some unmannerly hurrying-up.

The music stops.

ALICE: When the music stopped I saw a boy named Mason Williams coming reluctantly towards me. He was one of the heroes of the school!

The music goes on.

ALICE: Barely touching my waist and my fingers, he began to dance with me. My legs were hollow. He steered me, stumbling, to the edge of the floor.

Mason: See you around.

ALICE: It took me a minute or two to realize what had happened and that he was not coming back. I wasn't angry or surprised; I accepted Mason's position in the world of school, as I accepted my own position, and I saw that what he had done was the realistic thing to do. Still, I hoped not many people had seen.

Alice: Pretend it didn't happen. Remember what it said in Lonnie's magazine: “Smile! Let the boys see your eyes sparkle, let them hear the laughter in your voice!” But how can you smile at no one? And the popular girls aren't smiling. Perhaps there's something the matter with me, and everybody knows it. I've always known it myself, really. I have to get out of here.

At the washroom.

ALICE: There were plenty of cubicles in the Girls' Washroom, and that was where I hid. – Between dances girls came in and went out quickly; nobody noticed that I was not a temporary occupant. – Then somebody stayed behind after the music started.

Washroom noises.

Mary: Hi. Nice and cool in here. I came in to get cooled off. I get so hot.

Alice: Yes.

ALICE: Her name was Mary Fortune. She was in Grade Eleven or Twelve and an officer of the Athletic Society. She was always organizing things; she'd had something to do with this dance.

Mary: Do you like the band?

Alice: It's all right.

Mary: I don't. I can't stand it. I hate dancing when I don't like the band. Listen. They're so choppy.

Alice: Yes, they are a bit.

Mary: I'd just as soon not dance as dance to that. Let's go and have a cigarette.

Alice: Where?

Mary: Come on, I'll show you. Through here.

Alice: But it's a closet.

Mary: Yes, but there's a door the other side to the janitor's room. Hold this door open, so I can see. Come on.

Janitor's room.

Mary: Come over by the window. I can't turn on the light or someone might see.

Alice: What if someone comes in?

Mary: Not likely. This room's kept locked. Anyway, live dangerously. Cigarette?

Alice: Thanks. – Something's happening.

Mary: Yes, they'll be having coffee and doughnuts now.

Alice: Oh.

Mary: The only reason I even came tonight is because I'm responsible for the decorations and I wanted to see, you know, how it looked once people got in there and everything. Otherwise why bother? I'm not boy-crazy. Here – better put your ash in this –

Alice: Thanks.

Mary: Most girls are of course. The greatest collection of boy-crazy girls you could imagine is right here in this school.

Alice: Yes, you're right.

Mary: The only aim they have in life is fooling around with boys. As far as I'm concerned, they're idiots.

Alice: What's your aim in life?

Mary: I'm going to be a teacher – physical education.

Alice: That's tough. What'll you do?

Mary: Oh! Lots of things. Work in the cafeteria term time. Then in summer I can do farm work, like picking tobacco. Have another?

Alice: Thanks.

Mary: I want to be independent, anyway. It's better like that.

Alice: Yes, it is. You've got so much energy! And you've thought it all through – wonderful!

Mary: Oh, well. – Look, we don't have to hang around here any longer. Let's go get our coats and go. We can go down to Lee's and have a hot chocolate and talk in comfort, why not?

Alice: Okay.

Mary: Right! Just get rid of our butts and the ash in the washroom.

Alice: We'll have to go through the dance to get our coats.

Mary: Just go round the edge of the floor. Nobody'll notice.

A new dance is just beginning.

Mary: I'll go first – come on.

Raymond: Alice! May I have this dance?

Alice: What?

Raymond: Would you – would you like to dance?

Alice: Oh! Raymond Bolting!

ALICE: He thought I meant yes. He put his hand on my waist and almost without meaning to, I began to dance.

Alice: Nobody told him to, he didn't have to, he just asked me! And my legs aren't hollow any more! Perhaps there's nothing the matter with me after all? – Oh, there's Mary Fortune looking for me. Should I tell Raymond there's been a mistake, that I'm going to have a hot chocolate with my girl friend?

ALICE: But I didn't say anything. My face was achieving with no effort at all the grave absent-minded look of those who were chosen, those who danced. I made a weak waving motion with the hand that lay on Raymond's shoulder, indicating to Mary that I apologized. Then I turned my head away, and when I looked again she was gone.

Raymond and Harold Simons are walking Alice and Lonnie home.

Raymond: Look, after that body break, Wilson had the puck, right?

Harold: Yes, but then Smith –

Lonnie: This is my road, Harold.

Harold: Oh, okay.

Lonnie: See you, Alice.

Alice: Okay. G'night.

Harold: G'night, Ray.

Raymond: G'night you two.

Raymond and Alice walk along.

Raymond: Sure – Smith got the puck off Wilson, but he really cut him up. It should've been a penalty. – Don't you think so?

Alice: Well, I don't know, I didn't see that game.

Raymond: Okay, but it should've been a penalty. He skated over Wilson's fott.

Alice: Hm-mm.

Raymond: I didn't realize you lived such a long way out. (He sniffs)

Alice: I – er, I just have this one Kleenex, it probably isn't even clean, it probably has ink on it. But if I was to tear it in half we'd each have something.

Raymond: Thanks. (sniffs) God, I sure could use it.

Alice: There.

Raymond: Thanks.

Alice: It's not much further now, you can see the kitchen light. – Well, this is my gate. – Well, good night.

Raymond: Oh yeah. (Quick kiss) Good night.

ALICE: Raymond Bolting didn't know he had rescued me, brought me from Mary Fortune's territory into the ordinary world.

Alice: It's all true! I've been to a dance and a boy has walked me home and kissed me. My life is possible, after all.

She goes inside.

Mother: Alice! Is that you?

Alice: Yes, Mother.

Mother: Well, come on in before you catch your death of cold! I want you to tell me all about it!

ALICE: But I would never do that. And when I saw my mother in her faded Paisley kimono, with her sleepy but doggedly expectant face, I understood what a mysterious and oppressive obligation I had, to be happy.

Alice: I almost failed. And I'll be likely to fail again, every time, but she'll never know.