Sex for Dresses

Today I’m buying myself a six-hundred dollar dress.

The fit is sublime. It hugs my body in all the right ways, cinching in around my waist, cupping my breasts like a lover, sliding around the curve of my toned backside like cream. The back plunges down to the dimples at the base of my spine. It’s the sort of dress you don’t wear underwear for, the sort of dress that sends the tabloids into a whirl of speculation. The green complements my auburn hair perfectly, brings out the amber in my eyes. It shimmers in the light, the way that only painfully expensive fabric can. It feels like I am wrapped in clouds. It caresses my body. I run my hands across it and vamp in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror in the changing room. I love how the cool of the fabric flares warm immediately under my hands, responsive, eager. I lick my lips at my reflection, trying on this sensuality. I look stunning. I look like a movie star. I look like a fucking goddess. And for six hundred dollars, I’d expect nothing less.

I’m doing it because I can. I’m doing it because he won’t notice. I’m doing it because I want him to notice. I want him to pull up the bank statement at the end of the month over breakfast and go, “Honey, what on earth was this for?” So I can get the thrill of choosing a lie to cover it. That charity ball we have coming up, darling. I needed something new for the ambassador’s dinner. Don’t we have an invitation to that new film release? I get so forgetful…

Maybe he’d ask to see it. Maybe he’d get angry. Maybe he’d shout, or laugh, or maybe he’d snap out of autopilot and see me, really see me, just for a moment.

He won’t. I know this. He never does. I buy something outrageous every month. Hundred dollar expenses don’t even make a dent in our shared bank account. But I’ve never bought anything this expensive before. This is a test. Uncharted territory.

The first Thursday of the month is Date Night. It’s booked into his calendar. We go out to a restaurant somewhere, we eat tiny portions of food piled onto our plates like modern art sculptures. He talks about the guys at work, the new merger, the deals being made. He asks me how my day has been, and he makes polite, non-committal replies. I don’t know if he’s not interested, or not really listening. I consider throwing stones into the calm of his predictable evening.

What did you do today, Honey?

I took a sledgehammer to the perfect marble kitchen worktop you just bought, and had a team in to replace it before you came home. It’s a whole different colour now, didn’t you notice?

I went through your things and burned all your childhood photos in the fire pit outside, chain smoking as I watched your fat smiling boyish face curl and blacken over and over again.

I caught a butterfly in a glass on the chest of drawers in your bedroom, and sat there for hours as it beat its wings against its glass prison, until finally exhaustion took it and it lay trembling like an autumn leaf. It’s still there, if the cleaner hasn’t tidied it away.

I lay in the bath and considered slipping beneath the surface and never coming back up for air.

I wonder how he’d react if I said these things.

When we come home I am summoned to his room like a business appointment. He doesn’t look at me as we undress. It’s not a deliberate unkindness, and that somehow makes it worse. I’m just another cog in the machine. Another box to be ticked.

The sex is formulaic and predictable. I could do it with my eyes closed. I have done it with my eyes closed. I think when we were first married I tried to get him to put his hands where I wanted them, tried to explore his body. I think I was genuinely excited about it at some point.

He thrusts above me, his eyes focused on the headboard like a runner looking for the finish line. Sometimes he kisses me, but he’s always looking through me. When he’s finished, he rolls over and goes to sleep – a simple, satisfied full stop to the evening’s activities. Date Night is officially concluded. Next item on the agenda, please.

I lay awake and chart the numbness. Sometimes there is rage, sometimes the sorrow burns down to the roots of my hands. But usually there is just sleepless emptiness. I watch the lines of the moonlight shift across the ceiling, and I listen to the creak of the central heating and the calling of night birds in the trees outside.

The next day, I take his card and go out on the town. The most expensive shops, the most exclusive designers. I allow the staff to fawn on me, bring me champagne and chocolates, roll out their personal shoppers and effuse over my choices. The worse the night before, the more expensive the purchase.

There is a delicious satisfaction in swiping that plastic. It feels like reclaiming territory. It feels like punching him in the face. It makes me want to scream and laugh. Sometimes it feels like I’m shattering into a thousand pieces, and as the cashier rings up the price I want to break down and cry. But swiping that card and knowing that in some small way I’m rebalancing the scales keeps me together.

And I can’t complain too much. Because at the end of the day, I get to come home with a fucking six hundred dollar dress.

Day 2 of #WritingAdvent with Writers HQ! Today we had to choose a piece from Post Secret, an online art project where people anonymously send in secrets on postcards and they are put up online for everyone to see. I chose this one:

This is an exercise in getting to the truth of the story you’re telling. I think the truth of this is story is that people need to find ways to feel like life is fair, even if that way is nonsensical – otherwise they break. How about you? What do you think the truth of this story is? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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