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The Ruined Dress

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juniusjunius
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THE RUINED DRESS—By Junius Junius

Natalia Brown cried that night, though she managed to avoid it for the twelve hours prior. It was just past four in the afternoon when she was told by Diego of his news. Her affection for him struck her only in sparing moments so that she usually forgot those seldom, too seldom, moments of longing. And so she accepted his news with a military indifference, like a General who is told by his man that the enemy city has been nuked. She smiled as an effort to express her relief that he had moved on to someone else.

Despite her insistence that he not waste his time, he had persisted for a whole year in trying to conquer her. He left love poems he had penned outside her townhouse door, and roses of all colours, packages with garments the he wanted to see her wear (like a silver silk scarf that caressed her cheek) though she only wore them inside her home. Her first instinct was always to throw away the gifts and send him e-mails of scornful reproach. She only succeeded in sending him polite e-mails reminding him of her wish not to be pampered, not to be shown his affection.

It was after a week of every morning finding a VHS movie outside on her doorstep that she sent him the following e-mail:

Since we work together and we both love our jobs, it is unavoidable that we see each other. But we will no longer chat like friends. We will say ‘hello—how are you—good-bye. We will discuss only what our work requires. And besides, I’ve moved past VHS long ago.

Diego was devastated but he accepted it, though hope still lingered somewhere inside him, for there was a quality in the way she gazed at him still that still fanned his flame for her.

One Monday after work, she bought a VCR again, and over dinner watched the movie Crime and Punishment. She found herself crying at the part where Raskolnkov’s beloved is waiting for him, living nearby in Siberia. She was reminded of the dress she had stolen for her prom and that she had never been caught. It occurred to her that perhaps this was the reason why for eight years since, she had never fallen in love. And then she grew angry and muttered, “How dare he?”

On Tuesday she hurried home to watch Camille. And she ordered a pizza instead of cooking. She was surprised that she was touched by the idea, that even though this prostitute died, she died knowing that someone could love her. But soon Natalia said, “How dare he?”

On Wednesday she watched Notre Dame de Paris. She felt a choking in her throat at the image of Quasimodo’s warped skeleton embracing that of his Esmeralda in their tomb, to which he snuck into after her death. It was an ever so touching symbol of eternal love. “God damn you,” she whispered.

She grew colder and colder towards Diego at work, which saddened him greatly but he persisted to her doorstep every early morning still.

On Thursday she saw Cyrano de Bergerac and was furious at Cyrano for not telling Roxanne the whole truth, right then and there on the battlefield. And she predicted that Cyrano would never tell her. And when he declared his love under the tree, and as he swung his sword at his tormentors in the air, and as his last breath slipped away, she said, “You deserve it, fool.” Though tears streamed down her cheeks.

On Friday she saw Ninotchka and found the fate of the communist belle too unrealistic. She chuckled. But on Saturday, she fell in love with Mulligan of An American in Paris, and when it had ended, after the long celebratory dance of love for love’s sake, she danced to some mysterious music within her. And when she imagined the face of Diego, she stopped and went to bed.

On Sunday she was angered even before she put the movie into the VCR because it was a 1980’s version of Zorro. And declared, “I don’t need saving.” But she watched it anyway.

On Monday it was the last straw. By the time Rourke of The First Hander leaves his beloved’s room after the violent act of ownership, she turned off the VCR, despite the happy trembling within her. And she said, “you wish.” And in that moment she sent him the aforementioned nasty e-mail.

A week later he was waiting for her outside her town house, with a big smile on his face. He reported that he had just finished a short novel. He had written it for her. It was a modern adaptation of Don Carlos by Schiller, but he made Carlos choose love over the ideal of liberty, making Carlos the protagonist once again, instead of Schiller’s Posa. He did not tell her this but she had read it and was moved at his ambition, and at the fulfillment of her need to see Carlos’ better choice upon her reading Schiller’s version.

She sent him the following e-mail:

Thank you, Diego. It was beautiful. However, I must insist that it is never going to happen. We cannot be. Though no one has ever performed such a grand affectionate gesture for me.

Though hope still lingered somewhere within him, he was resolved to let her go. If that story would not conquer her, then nothing he could do could. But the next day she looked at him with a mysterious gaze like he never thought he would ever see. But she just walked past him. He would let her go no matter the torture that her gaze enacted.

It was one of those first spring nights, blessed by a gentle breeze, and the glow of the full moon. That, and the memory of her gaze filled him with an erotic intoxication, which he needed to dilute. He chose beer. And he travelled from bar to bar.

When last call passed and he had to leave his last bar, he thought that he would be saved from the betrayal that he had been ready to commit for some hours now. And then he saw her. She had short black hair and tight jeans. He offered to recite her one of his poems, and she asked him to take a walk with her. She subsequently invited him to her place and he accepted.

The next time he saw Natalia at work he took her aside.

“I don’t blame you Natalia, dear. It is not your fault. But I’ve betrayed you … yes, what you’ve meant to me all this year, my sacred longing. I was with a strange girl the other night. I was very drunk but that is no excuse. I didn’t enter her; I did not climax; I couldn’t get hard. Yes, I was too drunk—but more, it was the knowledge that how you looked earlier that day was what first filled me with such erotic intoxication. … and so often does … how the mere dream of your scent, or of some garment that you’ve worn drives me mad with frustrating hunger. I’m sorry. You’re the only one I need … thus will I be forever tortured.”

“It’s honourable what you are attempting but there is no need.” And she walked away seemingly with indifference.

That night they both cried lying in separate beds. And then it occurred to Diego that if his hope was at all valid, and if their love was really true, then she must have surely been crying at this hour too. He needed to know. He dressed.

He rang her doorbell for an hour. And she heard every ring with a certainty of who it was. But she was honest and angry. And then she answered the door. Her eyes were swollen from tears. And she saw that his were too.

“You love me!” he exclaimed.

“I believe you,” she answered.

“Only you,” he declared.

And he kissed her passionately. And they ascended the steps to her bed. And he cried at the fulfillment of his most violent longing. And she laughed in her newfound-happiness.

In the morning she asked him to marry her and he accepted.

It was to be a simple and small wedding but the dress she wanted cost ten thousand dollars, though it was simple, though too expensive for her budget. It was by Armani and of the softest, pearly silk. It went just passed her knees but the cut at the side went up to her hip. It had no back, and a collar around her neck held up the front. And she looked stunning in it, no veil, just her luscious wavy black hair let loose.

She would not, could not, buy the dress and she placated her desire with the thought of the dress’ imperfection, in that, she wanted cleavage shown so that a thick web united with the collar, revealing her naked skin. He mother noticed that though she was happy to be marrying Diego, a melancholy over the dress still lingered in her soul.

Nadine, her mother, made it a habit to shop at Goodwill for used books. Very often she found some great deals. One day, nearing the wedding day, she entered the store to find two long rows of wedding gowns at the front entrance. She browsed through the racks; she couldn’t help it. Then she saw it. It was just like her precious daughter wanted. Except this one had the web for naked cleavage. It was destiny. The dress cost one hundred dollars. She looked at the tag and saw the letters “A.O” along with a year, “1928,” and a place, “Hollywood, California”.

Nadine thought to herself: It’s impeccable, though. I must buy it. But if she knows it’s second-hand, she’ll never stand for it, no matter how perfect it is. I found it in a boutique in Montreal—that’s it. She’ll be so excited she won’t ask anything further … just my wedding gift …

Nadine learned that there was a celebrated Tango competition being held in Montreal. And this is where she told Natalia she was going. So for that weekend Natalia did not meet or talk to her mother. Nadine exposed herself again on Monday and met her daughter for brunch. She entered the café with a large, flat, green box. Natalia could not touch her food once she saw the dress. And she asked no questions, or rather, she was satisfied that it was found in a Montreal boutique.

The following were the vows two Saturday’s later:

Diego: “My first few years as an adult were torture because I was in love with a girl named Rachel, who never loved me, and who left me all alone. But I was a child then still. And when I grew up, having left that infatuation go, I began to deserve the happiness that is you. And then you came into my life … and I had the courage to look into your eyes, and to see that you were like me—and my new and genuine reason for being. I don’t need to promise my loyalty. Even the idea of my betrayal is impossible. I am yours forever.”

Natalia surprised Diego with her vows in verse, which are too precious to reveal right now, except that it must be mentioned that Diego did cry because of the sudden experience of the contrast with that year he wooed her, and that year she hurt him so, and now she was now declaring her love in language that, for the moment, seemed too good to be true, except for the gaze that sanctified it as reality.

They only succeeded in staying at the reception for an hour. Their hotel room was too persistent a beckoning scream.

When Natalia returned from her Miami honeymoon, she had lunch with her mother. She insisted that Nadine give her the address of the gown’s boutique so she could send them pictures and a thank you note. After several unsuccessful lies, Nadine broke down with the truth. Natalia was speechless except for the following question,

“Second-hand?”

Natalia explained the origin of the dress to Diego and promised not to let it upset her marriage. But Diego had noticed that he had begun to live with a stranger. She came and went but showed no affection, and hardly noticed him. After a week he could not stand it any longer.

He played the role of detective. He went to the Goodwill head offices and asked for the origin of that dress. The donor was a man named Samson Brand. The dress belonged to his grandfather from California and he had it inherited upon his death, along with a letter explaining the criminal way it had reached the hands of Nathan Brand, his grandpa. Diego was shocked but he knew that the story would help his wife.

Diego left Samson Brand immediately and rushed home to inform his wife of his news: the dress’ real origin. However, he was shocked at the spectacle that awaited him when he entered his living room. Natalia was stretched out on the sofa, wearing her wedding dress, watching some movie. She was recklessly swirling a glass of red wine, and Diego could not miss the trail of red spots that descended from her breasts to her navel. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony, though it was regrettable because of what he was about to tell her.

“The dress is ruined,” he commented.

“It doesn’t matter; it’s not mine.”

“But you look so beautiful in it. We didn’t even take it off the first time of our wedding night.”

“That was before I knew.”

“I know where it came from.”

“I don’t care.”

“I think you will.”

“It won’t make a difference.”

“Can I tell you the story?”

“Sure,” she drawled.

“It comes all the way from California. A high school teacher here inherited it in Toronto. He is homosexual so he will never have use for it, he says. His name is Samson Brand. Does the name sound familiar to you?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think it would. Samson is the grandson of Nathan Brand. He was once a protégé of a great writer.”

“Let me guess, Alicia O’Connor,” she chuckled sarcastically. Diego laughed at her naiveté, which she mistook for recognition of the impossible. She let him continue.

“He was once the student of a great female writer. She was an immigrant from Russia with a dream of writing for the movies. Almost immediately during her stay in California Cecil B. DeMille gave her her first break. He taught her some important elements about writing. She would grow to write one of the greatest novels ever written, about a hero with a severe integrity. After this, Nathan Brand came into her life. But during her early struggle she met an actor during the making of King of Kings. She pursued him. She thought that she would lose him forever. And then she ran into him in a public library all by chance. It was an unending Romance.

“So she welcomes Nathan into her family. He becomes the protégé of her ground breaking philosophy … they become lovers … the husband consents … but Nathan betrayed her.”

“How?”

“He fell in love with an ordinary woman after he had already declared his love for his teacher. The deceit goes on for too long until he gathers up the courage to tell her the truth. But he predicts that she will disown him. So he goes into her closet and takes a box with him, as a memento; an act he did instinctually; a motive unconscious. Inside is her wedding dress … the dress she wore to marry Cyrus O’Connor … the dress that she designed and made herself … the dress that showed off her fantastic legs … and the dress he slid off of her on the first night of their married bliss … the dress she wore to marry the man who would love her enough, and to realize her value enough, to let her free to investigate a potential greater happiness than the one she found with him.”

“And when Nathan told her?”

“She disowned him.”

“What was her name?”

“Alicia O’Connor.”

“What? … I didn’t know that about her; I never looked into her biography. I just read her fiction and philosophic papers.”

“I know. You have just spilled wine on the dress of the author of THE FIRST HANDER.”

After the honour of owning that dress had settled within her, she took off the dress very delicately, and folded it back in the box. Then she stood before him naked, ready, and once more his most precious, magnificent wife.

“Who owns me?” she asked

I DO.

Edited by juniusjunius
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Junius -

Wow - a very interesting concept. Despite the somewhat awkward style and some wording I was impressed. Where did you get the idea for it? Also I'm not sure what you meant by the last line - the story was written in third person and the last line was in first person.

As for the technical aspects - the dialogue and prose was awkward to read. If you'd like I could go over what I found particularly bad and show you why. The story obviously has more meaning if you knew about the life of Ayn Rand - I'm not sure how accessible it would be for someone who hadn't.

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The idea arose because I AM SO SO IN LOVE. However, I did write it quick and so I have noticed some shortcmoings in the execution but the idea is wonderful. The last line is purely subjective, yet it does not have to be, but I mean it. That's it: I mean it.

Please go ahead and comment on the technical aspects because, since I predicted that no one else would, I had planned to expose my own flaws (if only to show people the writinng process).

Yes, of course, the foreigners to Objectivism would not get it--but that's why I posted it here.

Actually, to be technical, the story arose because I wanted a woman to get an amazing (second-hand) dress unbeknownst to her, and be devastated by the revelation, yet to be later comforted by the truth of it belonging once to a heroic woman ... Ayn Rand was an easy parallel ... the cheating part I just needed to add ... whether I connected the two situations properly I cannot confirm for definate.

Junius Junius.

Now for the continuation of the story:

.....The video of the wedding does show and presents the wedding vows of Natalia. You must know what made Diego cry so much and at all. You must experience the words that explained her deepest hunger, the words that validated Diego's one long year desire ...

What must be revealed is that for some weeks Natalia insisted that Diego suck her neck every morning to renew his initial bruise from their first time. Though Diego could not guess the real reason, he realized such upon her first kiss upon their "wedding alter":

Natalia:

Gold does not adorn my throat.

Pearls do not bedeck my neck.

Diamonds do not emblazon my neck.

Every morning I have asked you to bejewel my throat.

Every morning I have asked you to sustain this bruise.

Oh, the violence that your teeth and lips denote.

Oh, the tablet that I am and that you choose.

Why this cruelty I demand, you ask? …

As the broadcast of our love filled play;

As the adornment from our life-long pact;

As a memento of what lovers do all day.

How’s this a symbol of a marriage bright?

It’s the symbol of your special right,

That would mean betrayal if not done by you.

It’s a reminder of why I love you.

Why dare I wear it on this wedding day?

To show our audience that love cannot wait—

To proclaim your title on this sacred day—

To exhibit what will be our fate.

Friends, you wonder why his neck is bare?

It’s how I planned it with conscious care.

My bruise connotes our forever-dare,

And all the joys, burdens, and toil we’ll bear.

Watch me seal it with my mouth and swear

With violent bruising on his neck so fair.

Delete.

Americo,

Try not to post if you have nothing to say. If you regret your words regret it before it is too late. Moderators, please obey Americo and delete his post. And if so, delete this one too.

Americo, send me any comments in personal message if you wish.

Junius Junius.

Edited by juniusjunius
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I really liked the story, JJ.

I don't know how much or whether you want any constructive criticism, but if you choose to tighten the story up a bit, I'd make some suggestions.

The theme, as I saw it, is excellent: integrity vs. perfection, or to what extent does an error mar our integrity? Diego acts with strong integrity despite his drunked laspe with the girl at the bar. Natalia also makes a few errors, but in the end does not let a less-than-perfect record become of more import than her current application of integrity.

This may not have been your intended theme, but if it is, there are some things that I thought detracted from it. Specifically, the telling of O'Connor's/NB's story wasn't as sharp on that theme as the rest of the story. Diego and Natalia show that integrity is not correlated to never making mistakes, but NB's mistake coincides with his apparent loss of integrity without giving strong reason why, and it's ambiguous as to whether it is considered that O'Connor herself made a mistake. I'm all for championing Rand, and don't particularly mind digs at NB, but their tale seems to not mesh with the theme up to that point. You may want to leave the scene in and address those issues, or (as I'd suggest) at least take out NB and use some other scene with/without O'Connor

E.g. Diego finds out this was O'Connor's dress - and that it wasn't new when O'Connor got it. Natalia realizes that the dress has "integrity" as a possession of a great person, dispite its "mistake" of not being perfect or unblemished.

If you choose to leave NB in, I'd address what actions/principles NB didn't take that allowed his stolen dress to mar his integrity, and what actions/principles Natalia did take that prevented her "stolen" dresses (the prom one or the wedding one) from detracting from her integrity.

Good choice of movies, the whole love story was very pleasing - I feared it wasn't going to end happily :D Interesting (in a good way) that Natalia asked Diego to marry her. I'd remove the name 'Rachel' in Diego's vows (an unknown character's name can't be particularly significant.)

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Hunter,

Thanks for your comments. I welcome comments from everyone so don't be shy, people.

The concrete theme was to dramatize the issue of people who love someone but who are too afraid to say it, to express it, to go after. In my experience in observing people, I fear that too many people suffer from this problem. More abstractly, one has to answer why? What is it that people fear about themselves? Are they undeserving of the beloved? Is it fear of commitment? The sense of some personal moral imperfection will have an influence no matter what is the concrete motivation of being so "chicken shyt".

For example, the problem with Dominique Francon is her fear of the world, and her metaphysical pessimism. But note how she acts masochistically, for example, in sleeping with Peter Keating. How could a woman punish herself so much? Why would she? Which is why the last Monodnack Valley scene is so touching and moving.

Now about Nathan Brand. Yes, the parallels with Ayn Rand's lifestyle is obvious and I can't deny that there are any. And I wouldn't have come up with the idea if it wasn't for reading Nathaniel Branden's book. However, Alicia O'Connor in this story is not Ayn Rand no matter how similar they are. It's my way of respecting her and not insulting her memory with my ignorance. For those that are intimate with the life of Ayn Rand, the tribute is obvious in the usage of the name Alicia O'Connor. Using that name gives me a liberating literary license.

Note that I called what most people would assume is the Fountainhead, The First Hander. You can assume Cyrrus O'Connor is Frank O'Connor, and I chose Cyrrus because that is the name of the character Ayn Rand fell in love with as a child, when reading The Mysterious Valley. Nathan Brand seems obvious. But I chose Brand more for the character from Ibsen's play, BRAND, whose motto is "All or nothing".

Now, since I wanted to make the story as short as possible, and I knew I would post it for an Objectivist audience, using the parallel to Ayn Rand's life was very useful. The woman who owned the dress could have been the inventor of the lightbulb, but I preferred to pay tribute to Ayn Rand. The story takes place in Toronto. My problem was how to get that Ayn Rand dress from California to Toronto and over more than half a century. Nathaniel Branden grew up in the Greater Toronto Area.

To use Ayn Rand as a character and her life as story action properly and with doing Ayn Rand justice, has been a riddle for many years now. "Alicia O'Connor" was is my best solution so far. Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum, changed her name to Ayn Rand, and married Frank O'Connor (THE ACTOR).

Junius Junius.

Edited by juniusjunius
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