The Latest Fashion
by Karin Terebessy
Every time the café door opened, allowing in a cool draft, the woman at the table next to Maggie turned blue. Then after the door closed, melted back to a warm red.
She leaned across the cafe aisle toward Maggie. "Thermodynamic body sleeve," she explained. "It's the latest." She glanced at Maggie's cotton shirt and jeans, smiled stiffly, and turned back to her companion.
On the other side of Maggie, a lady flounced the sleeves of a blouse. The fabric resembled human skin. "It's all synthetic of course," the lady said loudly to her husband. "Part of the Death and Decay Décolletage collection." She peered about and caught Maggie's eye, as if by accident. "It's the latest," she said with a giggle. She lifted her chin at the sight of Maggie's long brown ponytail and gave a terse nod.
Maggie blushed. Stared down at her hands. There hadn't been time for a manicure. Aunt Joan messaged only that morning. She would be in town for one day and could Maggie find some time because she would absolutely love to see her favorite niece as it had been entirely too long and she knew just the place.
Maggie indulged in a smile. Aunt Joan had been a model once. During the romantic era of magazines. Pages filled with perfume samples that floated onto Maggie's lap like butterflies. Joan was tall, fashionable, sublime. She had fluttered in and out of Maggie's youth, as fragrant and colorful as the photos she adorned.
Maggie had been waiting at her table for half an hour when the door to the cafe finally opened. Aunt Joan waltzed in, tossed her coat to the Maître D and strode across the restaurant. Her long green dress swishing like seaweed. Expertly dyed hair slipping about her cheeks in shiny waves. Lips red. Eyes bright.
But there was something amiss with her pashmina. Maggie squinted. Then blinked.
Draped over Aunt Joan's shoulder was a small baby. Its face nuzzled into her neck, its small body heavy against her collarbone.
"Darling!" Aunt Joan opened her arms in the gesture of a hug, but sat down before they could connect. The baby slipped a bit, and Aunt Joan grabbed its small head and rump, and casually readjusted it.
Aunt Joan called for the waiter, ordered the chef's specialty, and sent him away, all in one breath.
She gave the table a friendly pat with her slender hands, just beginning to show the soft raised veins of age. "Now Margaret, dear, tell me everything. How is school? Your classes?"
Maggie beamed. "Aunt Joan! You have a baby!"
"Why yes!" Aunt Joan said brightly. "I just got it. What do you think?"
"She's beautiful! Or is it a boy? I don't care! Can I hold her?"
"You can try it on later if you'd like. I haven't the slightest if it's a boy or girl, but it should be beautiful considering how dearly I paid for it."
Maggie gave her head a quick shake. "I don't understand, did you adopt--"
"Adopt? How pedestrian! Margaret dear, it's the latest fashion. A re-invention of an old accessory--do close your mouth, Margaret dear, you're making yourself most unattractive--Women have been wearing babies for years, of course," she continued, with a note of disdain, "but in these cumbersome slings or packs or some other contrived plebeian conveyance. Completely ruins the lines of an outfit. This baby is fastened here and here." She pointed to the baby's feet and hands. Maggie could see now a nearly invisible, heavy-duty zipper from the baby's booties to the armpit seam of Joan's dress. "The other attaches at the collar," she explained.
The baby didn't seem to be moving except for a gentle rise and fall of its soft rounded back. Maggie felt her lungs quiver. "Is it sleeping?" She whispered.