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I saw it as I drove by.
The Salvation Army had opened a new store in my town, but I had not had the time to look around.
The shop used to be a Video Store.
It had been there for more than a decade.
I remember when there was a broken down old Milk Bar on that site.
We used to go in there when we were kids and buy “a penny’s worth of those, and a penny’s worth of those”, we must have driven the shopkeeper crazy.
One day the wreckers moved in, and the old Milk Bar disappeared.
Not long after, the builders turned up, and a large shop with prefab walls emerged like a concrete spaceship.
We were amazed.
The building had a little shop underneath it and a massive concrete paved car park at the back of a sloping block.
The signs went up and bingo, it was a Video Store.
We were very excited and spent hours working our way through all the videos.
The little shop downstairs was an office for a few years, but eventually a charity Thrift Shop moved from up the road, and it has done a roaring business ever since.
In recent times, the Video Store was struggling, but it was hanging on until the demonstrators moved in next door. The demonstrations dragged on for many months, and it frightened away just enough custom to tip the Video Store over the edge, and it was forced to close. The demonstrators said it was not their fault; they were fighting ‘for a good cause,’ then two more businesses went under.
It still ‘wasn’t their fault’.
It took two years of violence and intimidation but eventually the controversial business opened, and the demonstrators went away. They lost their fight and three businesses, and several employees lost their jobs.
As the dust began to settle the old Video Store got a coat of paint and a polished floor. The stock started arriving, and it became evident that the Salvation Army was cashing in on the popularity of the smaller ‘Op’ shop’ underneath. A bit cheeky I thought, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. You become successful, and someone else comes along and tries to take a ride on your success.
The blue dress was prominently displayed in the window, and I looked furtively at it every time I drove by.
After a week, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I parked the car and told myself that it was ok to try it on because the chances of it fitting me were a thousand to one.
It fitted me in the way things that are custom-made fit; like a glove.
Somewhere in this town there is a woman who’s figure is exactly like mine, and I doubt whether she wore this dress more than once.
How rich do you have to be to wear a dress once and then give it to the Salvos?
Considering it was second-hand, the price was a bit ambitious.
I beat them down just a little bit by waving cash at them. Cash always talks; no fees and every shopkeeper hates paying those fees to the banks.
When I got it home, I set up my camera to take a series of time-lapse shots as I put it on. I wanted a permanent record of my thrifty purchase. My friends are always boasting about the bargains they find.
Wait until they get a load of this.
I went all over the dress to make sure that there were no loose seams, no loose threads, and no faults. During my search, I found that someone had sewed something into the hem.
I carefully unpicked the excellent stitching and slid the rolled up piece of paper out and put it on the table.
I stared at it for the longest time, but eventually I summoned up the courage to unroll the tiny piece of paper.
As I expected, it had something written on it, but the printing was so small I could not read it.
I retrieved the magnifying glass that belonged to my grandmother and, under a very strong light, I examined this mysterious handwritten note.
In the tiniest of letters, the note said, “This dress was given to me by my lover, and I wore it only once. He died in my arms. I hope whoever buys this dress has better luck than I did.”
I folded up the dress, and put it in the largest box I could find and took it around to my sister’s house.
If this dress is going to haunt someone, it might as well be her.
Painting by Jack Vettriano
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