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Story Time: The Purple Velvet Suit

Story Time is a new series of posts in which I share a nonfiction or fiction story as means to flex the short story muscle.

It was not a real suit but I imagined it was something that Calvin Klein had made. It was velvet and purple. I called it “crushed velvet” although I didn’t know what that meant. I was seven years old and adding the word “crushed” to the phrase “Purple Velvet Suit” made the request sound much more meaningful.

“I want a purple crushed velvet suit,” I told my parents. “That’s all I want for Christmas.”

We were driving to church, down a long empty Texas highway. I was in the middle passenger seat of a van, in between the front and the back. It’s where I always sat: in between the first and the last child, in between masculine and feminine, in between sense and nonsense. The middle of the car is the perfect place for a seven year old to request a crushed velvet suit for Christmas.

“Oh?” my dad asked with a laugh. I could see his eyebrows arch through the back of his head. My mother didn’t say anything. My dad might not have said anything either. I may have been speaking to cold air, some foggy breath floating away as the only mark of articulated the request.

I wanted a purple velvet suit. I wanted Calvin Klein to make it, too. I owned no Calvin Klein clothing nor did I understand whether Klein was a meritable designer: he was the only designer I equated as fancy within a limited vocabulary of fashion speak. I think I saw his name in a fashion design book I had, my favorite book, a book for girls that my mother purchased for me as a birthday gift. I looked at the photos and pretended to read it all the time. Rei Kawakabo. The Dior’s New Look. A Line Dress. Mandarin Collar. Calvin Klein. I absorbed it all but I never read the book: I took bites of it. I took bites and I assumed I was informed and I used it as ammunition to dress myself and request frivolous fashion gifts of my working class parents.

“A purple velvet suit,” I said again. I could see it when I closed my eyes. I can still see it, actually: it’s a deep purple, a dark grape. You could easily confuse it for black. It catches light. It looks like it’s wet but it isn’t. It’s fancy. It’s like a black labrador puppy, this warm plush mush you can dig your face into and breath and hope that you can inhale it all up your nose. The suit was a blazer and pants and a white shirt and neck tie. There was no cummerbund. There was no vest. It was three pieces: jacket, pants, and shirt and tie. There were black leather buckle shoes, which I already had and which I planned to accessorize the suit with. It would be perfect for midnight mass, where I would anxiously stand and sit and kneel and pray and hope that someone would tap me on the shoulder and say, “You have on a fabulous suit.” I would wear it to bed. I would wake up and meet Santa and shake his hand and ask him if he wanted brown watery coffee, which is what we adults drink except I had never had a sip of it before in my life. Did he want to shave? I had put shaving cream on my face at this point and shaved it off with a comb because I was an adult.

No one answered my repeating what I wanted for Christmas. Buildings along close cut hills brushed off the side of the minivan nodding at my request. They understood what I wanted. My dad still drove and my mom changed the subject. My brothers talked about other things. I thought about the suit, this dark night sky for my body, this fluffy grape jelly that I would wear every day. People with a lot of money wear velvet. It’s wearable dyed snow. Could I have a purple velvet suit? It didn’t have to be crushed.

The suit never came, not that Christmas nor any Christmas for twenty four years (and counting). The suit still hangs in my mind’s closet, in my imagined greatest hits. It’s something I wear often, in mind meetings and in imagined interactions. I’m strong and I’m a model. I take off the suit jacket and I place it on the back of a chair. “No,” I start. “I’ll have what he’s having—but make mine a double.” I have thick legs and a square face. I’m Tom Brady. I make deep purple look manly in velvet, crushed or not. Calvin Klein massages my shoulders and tells me that I look so great. “Merry Christmas,” he whispers to me. “Do you want to meet Santa? You are wearing your suit.” We all get up and we go to meet Santa and the man blushes at me, hiding his sack between his legs. “You look so—” He hesitates and bites a lip.”—so good.” He winks and we shake hands and I breathe a heavy sigh and place the fashion design book under my arm. We talk about Mandarin Collars and Dior’s New Look. We shake hands and I thank him. I leave the meeting and I leave everyone into the cloud of my mind and I take off the suit and place it into the closet. I close the door and I open it and I peek at it again and again and again and again and I go take my seat in the middle of the van, where I can still see the suit by the glimmer of light it catches thought the crack of the door.

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