The younger is helping me to get ready for my conference. She looks through my closet and chooses a dress she thinks I should take. I sigh when I see what she’s chosen. It’s a black jersey dress I bought off the sale rack at Jigsaw a couple of years ago. About every six months I try it on in front of the mirror and gaze at myself with a mixture of fascination and disbelief, wondering what on earth I was thinking when I bought it. Then I take it off again and hang it back in the closet. I have literally only ever worn this dress standing in front of my own bedroom mirror. She insists I try it on so she can give her assessment.
I wriggle into it as best I can and we both survey my reflection in the mirror. It clings to all the places, both right and wrong.
“Whoa!” the younger gasps.
She’s looking at my reflection in the mirror with a scandalized expression.
“You look like … like … like a movie star!” she finally exclaims, with some alarm.
She shakes her head. “You definitely shouldn’t wear that. It’s too …. movie star.”
Although I can’t agree that my appearance in this dress resembles that of any movie star I can recall (no movie star’s publicist would let them wear this dress, onscreen or off, without some heavy-duty torso-trussing undergarment), I do agree that I should not wear the dress.
With some relief I change back into the sweatpants I was wearing before and continue packing.
“OK, let’s practice how you’re going to talk to people,” she announces.
She herself has dressed for the occasion: grey leopard-print leggings, a red sequined party dress, and my gold boots.
She clomps over to me, “So, are you having a wonderful trip?“ she asks.
“Yes, I am, thank you,” I say. “How’s your trip going?”
“Very good, very good,” she says. “Isn’t this just so amazing and glam-bam?” she says, gesturing all around us and referring, I presume, to the fabulous soiree we are apparently attending.
“Yes,” I reply. “Wait, what is glam-bam?”
“Glam-bam is, you know,” she makes a je-ne-sai-quois expression, and tosses her hair, “just glam bam.”
“Have you tried the punch?” she asks.
“Umm, yes. It’s delicious,” I say.
“Wait,” she says, speaking in a stage whisper, momentarily suspending the make-believe: “do you think there will actually be punch at your concert?”
“Conference,” I say. “A concert is different. Hmmm, I don’t know if there’ll be punch. Probably not. But I hope so,” I say, sincerely.
She resumes her making-conversation-at-conference-voice. “Don’t you just love how we’re such beautiful and pretty and cool and stylish ladies?”
“And also smart,” I say, feeling the need to make a Feminist Intervention.
“Yes, and smart,” she echoes, unconcernedly.
“At a conference you might ask people about their work,” I continue, because I always have to ruin everything fun.
She doesn’t miss a beat. “So how is your research on literature and the eighteenth century?” she asks.
My mouth falls open in surprise and then laughter. She is on it. No intervention required. “Er, very well, thank you,” I stammer.
I collect myself. “And how is your research on eighteenth-century literature going?” I ask her, in return.
“Very good, very good,” she says. “Would you like more punch?”