Bloody Fabulous: Stories of Fantasy and Fashion
“Genevieve,” Zofia said. She held my hand very tightly, and I looked at her. She looked wobbly and pale. She said, “I feel very bad about all of this. Tell your mother I said so.”
Then she said one last thing, but I think it was in Baldeziwurleki.
The librarian said, “I saw you put a book in here. Right here.” She opened the handbag and peered inside. Out of the handbag came a long, lonely, ferocious, utterly hopeless scream of rage. I don’t ever want to hear that noise again. Everyone in the library looked up. The librarian made a choking noise and threw Zofia’s handbag away from her. A little trickle of blood came out of her nose and a drop fell on the floor. What I thought at first was that it was just plain luck that the handbag was closed when it landed. Later on I was trying to figure out what Zofia said. My Baldeziwurleki isn’t very good, but I think she was saying something like “Figures. Stupid librarian. I have to go take care of that damn dog.” So maybe that’s what happened. Maybe Zofia sent part of herself in there with the skinless dog. Maybe she fought it and won and closed the handbag. Maybe she made friends with it. I mean, she used to feed it popcorn at the movies. Maybe she’s still in there.
What happened in the library was Zofia sighed a little and closed her eyes. I helped her sit down in a chair, but I don’t think she was really there any more. I rode with her in the ambulance, when the ambulance finally showed up, and I swear I didn’t even think about the handbag until my mother showed up. I didn’t say a word. I just left her there in the hospital with Zofia, who was on a respirator, and I ran all the way back to the library. But it was closed. So I ran all the way back again, to the hospital, but you already know what happened, right? Zofia died. I hate writing that. My tall, funny, beautiful, book-stealing, Scrabble-playing, story-telling grandmother died.
But you never met her. You’re probably wondering about the handbag. What happened to it. I put up signs all over town, like Zofia’s handbag was some kind of lost dog, but nobody ever called.
So that’s the story so far. Not that I expect you to believe any of it. Last night Natalie and Natasha came over and we played Scrabble. They don’t really like Scrabble, but they feel like it’s their job to cheer me up. I won. After they went home, I flipped all the tiles upside-down and then I started picking them up in groups of seven. I tried to ask a question, but it was hard to pick just one. The words I got weren’t so great either, so I decided that they weren’t English words. They were Baldeziwurleki words.
Once I decided that, everything became perfectly clear. First I put down “kirif” which means “happy news”, and then I got a “b,” an “o,” an “l,” an “e,” a “f,” another “i,” an “s,” and a “z.” So then I could make “kirif” into “bolekirifisz,” which could mean “the happy result of a combination of diligent effort and patience.”
I would find the faery handbag. The tiles said so. I would work the clasp and go into the handbag and have my own adventures and would rescue Jake. Hardly any time would have gone by before we came back out of the handbag. Maybe I’d even make friends with that poor dog and get to say goodbye, for real, to Zofia. Rustan would show up again and be really sorry that he’d missed Zofia’s funeral and this time he would be brave enough to tell my mother the whole story. He would tell her that he was her father. Not that she would believe him. Not that you should believe this story. Promise me that you won’t believe a word.
The Truth or Something Beautiful
Every emotion can be mimicked in fabric. Pride is liquid gold lamé, fit to perfection, begging to be seen and to be praised. Hatred finds its twin in fur, intemperate, born of blood and sacrifice. Death.
I’ve been stripped bare in this moment, made numb, with nothing to hold on to except my brother’s hand. Strange. I’m not sure how often losing is synonymous with death or winning constitutes a kind of murder, but I understand. My brother’s gunmetal tipped nails gouge the flesh between my fingers and we face off with our rivals, the House of Chantico.
This is how a fashion house dies.
Tonight should’ve been our comeback, the return of Nommos. All facets fell into place brilliantly, our fall collection, the buzzing of the press, and the venue. The Russian Gardens, a storied location, lauded, and equally difficult to book. Unfortunately, securing the venue required sex with the caretaker. Not fun, but he hadn’t been horrible. Although he’d seemed convinced my kumquat held a magic button within its folds and he’d kept pressing, apparently in hopes of inducing instant orgasm.
We do sacrifice for fashion, don’t we?
Yet the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. I’d been vindicated when I peeked around the flats, flanking the runway, and found a standing room audience who looked amazing. My brother, Anwar, and I had timed our show to the rising of the full moon and our crew had lit the gardens to emulate moon glow—everyone looked good in this lighting. Especially our key guests, the fashion-nobles, front row, stage right. Seated there were all those who mattered, from Wintour to Mallis.
Winter to malice might’ve been more appropriate, but I hadn’t known it then. Every facet had fallen into place so seamlessly the businesswoman in me should’ve intuited something wrong. I’d known my brother created a seminal collection and giddiness had obfuscated sensibility.
In the years after my aunt, the most famous designer in the history of Nommos, had disappeared or been kidnapped or been killed, we didn’t know which, we only knew her absence had diminished us, we’d produced several less than stellar seasons since.
My brother and I hadn’t understood the reasons until we fell. Our failure came in trying to imitate our aunt’s designs, her sense of style. We’d destroyed our house as plainly as fools dismantle logic. Surrogates do not innovate; of course our attempts came to lesser effect than her triumphs. She’d been ahead of her time and time had moved on.
With this collection we’d woken up, me on the business end. Anwar had stepped out in his own creative direction and it was ingenious. Petals of fabric made to emulate flowers, shades of the garden, paired with luxurious coats of tapestry and fur, contrasted with a bit of edge—leather in matching pale hues and a hint of hardware in zippers and buckles. Glorious. We both knew it.
At the end of the show I’d blown past the producer, blinded by my anticipation. My brother wouldn’t have noticed the foreboding looks surrounding us either. He’s not observant, too often distracted by the pretty things and the prospect of our resurrection glittered most seductively.
The moment we hit the runaway I cast my gaze right. Nervous energy bordered on palpitations and constricted within my throat. The faces on the front row should have told me where we stood, how far we’d re-risen . . . but there were no faces as indication.
The front row stood empty. It still is.
Those who make the fashion have deserted us, walked out. Worse, they’d left their swag bags beneath their chairs, not even to be enticed by iPads, imported chocolate, or Swarovski crystal bracelets. We’d been snubbed.
And here we stand, stripped bare. My brother collapses, jerking me to one side, his nails digging deeper into my flesh. I don’t look at him. I can’t. Acid waves of shame emanate from his clenched fingers and eat away at me. Pain lends only a small diversion. There are cold gazes on us. Our enemies have arrived.
The gardens are empty other than the three Chanticos. None of them stands taller than five-feet-eight-inches but they are stunning, dark haired, nearly oxblood eyed, with skin so warm a glow it seems gold dusted, and auras so chilling few choose to stand closer to them than an arm could reach. They are as gorgeous as we are, with our dark skin and Donatello hewed features, but beauty does not rest pleasingly on them. It is sharp and rapacious in their grasps.
Santiago Chantico inclines his head, his expression an echo of his victory. Their family reigns from the end of our runway. We merely stand on it. They own this fantasy we’d built to save our house as surely as they own this era in fashion.
“What happened, Lu?” my brother whispers, his attention trapped by the Chanticos. He tries to pull me down beside him but I won’t bend.
“I don’t know.”
“Luciana, I don’t understand what this means.” He gestures to the emptiness around us and then to our lifelong counterparts, our opponents in a two-hundred-year-old feud.
“They’ve beaten us, Anwar. We’re done.”
An alert buzzes my phone. I lift it out of the pocket hidden within my dress. The latest news scrolls across the touch screen, generated by the keyword Nommos.
The Internet proclaims: THE HOUSE OF NOMMOS FRETS AND DIES ON THE RUNWAY.
There is value in deception, in the way our rivalry doesn’t appear to have changed, even now as Santiago and I stand on opposite sides of vintage clothing racks and stare one another down. There are differences, though. I no longer believe I am his equal. It isn’t something I think about but the curve of my spine knows, for the first time it holds a bend.
Santiago despises me. Always has. Had we known each other as children I image bloody noses and clandestine pushes out of tree houses as the result. His contempt is immutable as leather, it may be dyed or take on a patina but the core remains that of the animal. Beyond his hate, this beast, this Chantico, has gotten angry with me. His eyes don’t ridicule the way they once did and there is the slightest twitch to his jaw.