When Are You Wearing?

by H.L. Fullerton

You are Narcissa Bloom. Once you made clothes, spent your imagination on hems and neck lines, buttons and zips, cut and fit. You remember every stitch, every thread, every look as it taxied down the runway and flew off hangars. Your closet bursts with memories – all the labels bear your name. All the clothes you’ve ever owned… They own you now. That’s how this works. This is what the time warlocks have done.

Fee asks – you remember Fee, right? Or haven’t you met her yet? No matter, she’s met you. She’s wearing the sleepshirt with the storks and bonsais on it, the one you made from the bolt of silk you found on your honeymoon – “What day shall we wear? I was thinking the apple green wraparound skirt and the rosebud blouse.” Only Fee can get away with mixing days like that. You tried it once and the competing nostalgias made you seasick. Fee weathers the storms better than you. Plus, her closet doesn’t have the depth of yours. (Most of what she wore was never hers – the price of being an actress, the cost of an unhappy childhood. Almost everything left after the Topian Wars are items you’d made for her.)

All her happiness, all Fee’s memories are of you. Some todays this bothers you no matter what outfit you choose. You’d make her new clothes, but the bolts keep disappearing. The one time you finished a piece, it unraveled when you slept.

You remember the joy of wearing something for the first time, but won’t ever experience that thrill again. When you put on yesterdays’ clothes, the emotions are secondhand. Your closet is nothing but a thrift store. Even if they’re your cast-offs, they’re still cast-offs. You weep. The time warlocks and their utopian spells have done you no favors.

Fee says, “It’s not so bad, Niss. Put on the gold gown. You’ll see.” She helps you into the gown. You look ridiculous standing next to her – you dressed for a red carpet while she sports woman-on-the-go. But you don’t feel ridiculous. You feel glorious. Timeless. Like champagne and bubbles.

“Better?” Fee asks and you laugh. Kiss her full on the mouth. Just like you did then.

“Best,” you say. But as soon as she leaves for an audition, you strip off the gown. Fee may still act, but you’ll never create again. All these yesterdays and you yearn for tomorrows that will never dawn.

You take yesterday’s cloak from your bedroom floor and swirl it around you. As outerwear it holds many days, but the memories are fuzzy and overlap. You like this feeling best. Tipsy but sober.

You wonder what Fee feels when she puts on other people’s clothes.

You walk into her closet. Find the pants that go with the rosebud blouse, the shirt meant to pair with the apple green skirt. You squeeze yourself into them, overwhelming seams and burdening buttons. You feel fat. Is that Fee or you? You’re not sure. You decide it doesn’t matter. You throw your cloak over the hot mess and walk outside as both Fee and Narcissa.

Today stretches and reforms around you. The spell holds. The stitches don’t. You fix them before Fee gets home, return everything to the correct closet. You have dinner waiting. It’s your/her favorite. She asks what happened to the gold gown.

You tell her it was more of a brown worsted day.

“Our first date!” She claps her hands and you smile through your puzzlement. You wore this suit the yesterday you bought the loft. You’d forgotten all about wearing it to lunch with Fee on your first ‘official’ date. You worry borrowing her clothes broke something in your head the same way your thighs split her pant’s seams.

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You are Narcissa Bloom and once you were a fashion designer. People still wear your clothes. Everything old is new again. The time warlocks have made you classic. Also, moot.

Benito calls and asks if you’re coming into the office today. “I was there yesterday,” you say and can hear his frown as he tries to recall the last today you came in. You haven’t been in for many todays. What’s the point? There are no more spring collections, no awards seasons. But it’s nice to know some of the staff remains dedicated. You ask him, “When are you wearing?”

“2010,” he answers and you go, “Benny.”

“I know, I know. It’s hideous. But I never felt better.”

You don’t mention Catrin. You know how that relationship ended, but if he wants to wallow in 2010… “Just tell me it isn’t the sheepskin.”

“It isn’t,” he says. “You’re, er, not coming in today, are you?” You assure him you’re not. You tell Fee you are. Lying is so 2013 you, but screw it. Those clothes are vanished and so are Fee’s memories. If only you hadn’t felt so flipping good about cheating. Maybe it’s time to purge your closet.

You start by throwing out the gold gown.

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“I am Narcissa Bloom of Daffodil Designs.” You practice introducing yourself in the mirror. Your suit is smart, navy silk with pinstripe daisies. You’ll impress the buyers; you already have.

Behind you, Fee slips into sandals. She’s wearing white tailored capris and an orange boat-neck sweater. “Did I know you then?” she asks and you look confused. She drops a hat on your head and you remember her. You wonder how you missed the wrinkles earlier. “The spells,” you whisper and Fee nods. Pecks you on the cheek.

“Maybe I should wear some other day?” You don’t like forgetting her. And the mirror shows you how foolish you look in this dated outfit. You even notice how the memory is fraying around the edges. Your victory doesn’t carry the same oomph. Would a different bra help?

You walk into your closet and notice it isn’t as full as it used to be. The time warlocks mustn’t have counted on yesterdays wearing thin. You ask Fee if she has enough to wear. You worry what will happen if she runs out of clothes. She had so few to start with.

“I’m good,” she says. “It’s you I’m worried about.”

“Plenty of good days left,” you say. “Do I still have my cloak?” You do.

Fee drapes it over your shoulders. Already you feel better. “Some mornings,” you confess, “I miss having tomorrows.”

“I like our yesterdays,” she says.

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You are Narcissa Bloom. Still and always. Once you made clothes with your hands. Today you make them on paper. You sketch blouses, skirts, dresses, gowns and coats. You color with pencils and tour warehouses full of fabric in your head. You imagine stitching together this jacket, those trousers. You sit in front of a sewing machine and listen to it hum.

These clothes will never be made. These clothes will never be worn. All your good days are behind you.

You let Fee dress you in whatever she wants, then wander the streets searching for black market consignment shops.

You find a beautiful gold dress. You bring it home and try it on. You remember it’s yours. You recall why you got rid of it.

You spend the night stitching storks in various poses of flight all over its skirt. Fee admires your handiwork.

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You are Narcissa Bloom and yesterday you embroidered birds onto a gold gown. Today there are pools of thread on your bedroom floor. “My storks!” you cry, waking Fee.

Fee lends you her sleepshirt – the one with the storks you made after your trip to Japan – but it’s not the same. “It’s not the same,” you say, but she insists you made these storks, too. You try to explain. “I wanted new storks.”

Fee looks puzzled. “Why would new storks make you happy if the old ones don’t?”

“I want new clothes. New memories.”

Your wife shakes her head. “If the new storks made you happy, they’d still be here. Since they aren’t…” Fee shrugs.

You spend the rest of today tearing up sketches of clothes you’ll never wear. Unless…

Unless the time warlocks are defeated. Unless the yesterdays end and tomorrow comes.

Tomorrow. You think you’d like that. You cut the gold dress into diamonds and sew them onto your brown worsted like Cinderella patches. The patches fall off when you walk out the front door.

You have no new memories.

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You’re Narcissa freakin’ Bloom and you’re who everyone’s wearing. You have a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear. At least nothing you haven’t worn before. You swallow a scream so you don’t wake Fee.

Yesterday’s clothes lie in wait on the floor. You think about picking them up, putting them on. Yesterday wasn’t so bad. You and Benito ate pastries and played thimble hockey. Fee and you went on a date, ate Greek food and drunk French wine, fell into bed.

You like your memories, but you’d also like new ones. You’d like to do something you’ve never done before. You’d like to test limits again, push boundaries. Move fashion forward.

You throw all your clothes out your window. Watch them flutter to the ground. Now you truly have nothing to wear.

Fee wakes, sees your empty closet, your goofy grin and asks, “Do you want to borrow something?” Her brow furrows when you tell her what you’ve done. “Give me a second and I’ll run downstairs and rescue them.”

“Have your coffee,” you tell her. “I’ve got this.”

Naked, you leave your loft. The spell doesn’t stop you; there are no threads it can unravel, no fabric it can harry. You walk outside and down the street – not a stitch on – headed for tomorrow.

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H.L. Fullerton writes fiction—mostly speculative, occasionally about time warlocks—which is sometimes published in places like Lackington’s, Devilfish Review, Time Travel Tales, and Daily Science Fiction. On twitter as @ByHLFullerton.

“When Are You Wearing?” (© H.L. Fullerton) was published in Issue 12 of Capricious. If you enjoyed this story, please consider subscribing to Capricious.