Off-white Cotton Dress

By Tian Tian Wu

 

Freezing wind blows against my face. I pull up my scarf to cover more of my skin. Wenzhou’s winters are different than Canada’s. They are damp cold, cold on the inside, as if the cold is in your bones. Canada’s winters are dry and the wind is biting, but the cold stays on the surface of your skin. I walk towards home, three blocks away from my middle school, a grayish, seven floor condo that has no elevators.

A white Honda pulls to the side of the road in front of the condo. I slow my steps and glance at it. I remember Auntie Yao drives a white Honda, but I haven’t seen her in years. I met her five years ago, when I was only nine. She and her husband had divorced the year before, and she has a son who is four years older than me.

I just came back from Canada a few months ago. My parents decided to start a business in Europe, selling shoes. I am too young to stay in Canada by myself so they decided to bring me back to China to live with my grandparents. My grandparents have moved into our condo because the government wanted to use the area where they used to live for new buildings. Dad placed a bed in our study-room and that has become a bedroom for Grandma and Grandpa.

Dad returned from Europe half a month ago. He comes back more and more often. I don’t know why and I never ask. My parents don’t like me asking questions about their business. They say, “kids don’t need to know.”

I peek in the car window. Auntie Yao sits inside the car wearing a camel coat. She has perfect make-up on. I don’t know if I should say hi or not. I want to be polite, but I don’t know what I should say. It is not as if I don’t know there are things going on between her and Dad.

I decide, and approach the car window. “Hi, Auntie Yao.”

“Oh, hi Tiantian. You’re off school already?” She sticks her head out.

“Yes…ummm…are you waiting for my dad?” I ask.

“Yes. We’re going out for dinner.”

“Oh, okay, I’m going home. Bye.” I wave at her and walk to the condo.

I pull out my key from my backpack and climb the stairs. Since we came back from Canada, Dad doesn’t bring me with him when he goes out for dinner anymore because I’m no longer a little girl who needs her parents all of the time.

I never ask Dad and Mom how they are. They do not fight in front of me, but I know things are not working out between them.

Once, as we drove home from Auntie Yao’s house, Dad said to me, “If your Mom asks you anything about Auntie Yao, you don’t have to say anything, just say you don’t know, alright?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Auntie Yao is really nice, right? And you like her right? But if you tell your Mom that I bring you to her house so often, your Mom will not be happy and you will not see Auntie Yao anymore,” he answers.

I promised Dad I would not say anything to Mom. No matter what Mom asks, I say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” Dad and Auntie Yao present themselves as just close friends, but I know they are not.

I open the door to our unit. Dad sits on the bench beside the door putting his shoes on.

“You’re back,” he says as he raises his head.

“Uh-huh. I saw Auntie Yao downstairs.” I put my bag on the bench and take off my shoes

“Yeah, we’re going out for dinner with Uncle Chen and some others.”

“Don’t drink too much.”

“Okay. Auntie Yao bought a new dress for you. Next week is New Year’s. You have new clothes now.” Dad stands and takes his suitcase.

“Say thanks to Auntie Yao for me.” I smile.

 

As the morning sun shines on my face, I open my blurry eyes and stare at the ceiling. Today is New Year’s Eve. My family and I will have dinner together. I pull myself out of bed. An off-white cotton dress lies on the chair beside the window. Pearls decorate the neck and pink lace flowers border the hem. I like it. It is pretty.

I open my closet, dig inside and draw out a dress that Dad bought for me when we went shopping together last year. A dress that I rarely wear; it looks like new. I put it on and step out of my bedroom.

The off-white cotton dress lies in the sunshine.