In the bag was the dress she’d bought for every bad reason. $90 poorer and she found herself getting angry, hating the colorful dress that didn’t fit right and hating herself for buying it. As she crossed the 5th St. bridge she fought an irrational urge to throw the bag into the river. Nice work, to go out by herself on a sunny morning and end up like this less than an hour later, brimming with self-reproach and wanting to scream. Not that she would. At the halfway point on the bridge she stopped, not knowing if she was turning around to go return the damned dress and what a scene that would be, crazy lady who changed her mind, 10 minutes ago she said “I love it…” or if she was really going to drop the bag into the water. A stupid gesture, and frugality wouldn’t let her make it. No, instead she’d waste the money and this perfectly good terrible stupid fucking dress too by shoving it in the closet forever and feeling a dim stab of regret each time she came across it until years from now when she donated it, or until she died.
And with that thought, a picture flashed through her mind of the shopping bag sitting here on the sidewalk next to the railing, and it’s her, her that’s gone. Because, swear to God, it would be easier for her to jump in the river than to throw away this perfectly good $90 dress.
She stared into the eddying water, leaning hard on the railing: thick steel, no chance it would give way. She willed herself to slow her breathing, already knowing she wouldn’t jump. Suicide was something to daydream about, like a hammock on a Mexican beach.
In her imagination she A/B tested taking the dress home vs. taking it back to the shop. She was currently midpoint on the span, at the top of the gently humpbacked road. The shop and her apartment were equidistant, though of course walking back to the shop would lengthen her overall trip. But she had nowhere to be, and could always use the exercise. And she’d feel worse arriving home with the dress as compared to the awkward interaction at the shop required in order to get a refund. She made her decision and started back, feeling good about her choice. She was doing the right thing, the harder thing. Maybe this tiny act would be the first of many, of a series of better choices that would mend her broken heart. She imagined a life where waking up in the morning wasn’t a disappointment. Other people seemed to be enjoying their lives, at least part of the time: maybe she could be like that too. As she dreamed of a more fulfilling life, the task of returning the dress became lighter, not a mortifying thing to be endured but a slightly absurd interaction; she imagined how she’d lighten things up with some wry, self-deprecating humor, and make the clerk laugh. She could do that.
I mostly write screenplays, and very seldom prose. Recently this little vignette squirted out of my pen during a 10-minute timed writing exercise. I tinkered some before hitting “publish” but it’s basically improv.