Something Ladylike

By Megan Willis

Prom was a week away and, to my deepest surprise, I was excited. 


“Are you ready?”


My question was posed from behind the door. I rushed through it and into the living room, without bothering to wait for a response. Mum was curled up on our faded old sofa, wrapped up in a shawl despite already being by the fire, nursing a cup of tea and a slice of shortbread. I’d caught her engrossed in one of her dull antique programmes. She reluctantly muted it at my arrival, patting around half-heartedly in search of her glasses, keeping her eyes on the screen. 


“Ooh!” Her scowl perked up into a smile. “I never thought I’d see the day. Give us a twirl, then.” 


I did as she asked; in my own wobbly version of a pirouette I spun until I was dizzy, my toes scorched from their friction with the carpet. The heavy pleated skirt of the floor-length dress fanned out elegantly as I turned, so much so that a strong gust could have carried me off, like an open brolly, had I not been lucky enough to find myself indoors. But despite it all I felt graceful. Dresses weren’t something I wore often, and they had always been hand-me-downs before. This dress was new. 


“I can see you’ve got my figure, now that you aren’t hiding it.” She teased. “You do look awfully grown up. I can’t believe that’s you almost finished school, it seems like only yesterday you were starting. Tell you what, I’ll give you some money and you can go find yourself a smart pair of heels to go under it.”


“The dress is too long to see my feet.” I said with a shrug, without thinking. “Heels hurt– they weren’t made for dancing, or much of any movement at all for that matter. I’m gonna wear my Docs.”


“Indeed you will not!” Mum shrieked. You’d have thought I’d just announced I was planning on doing away with the dress altogether and going naked, from the way her eyebrows fled into her hairline. She stood and pointed a finger at me menacingly, the shortbread crumbs that had been collecting on her lap tumbling to the floor. “Those things belong on the landfill, not on the dance floor of The Balmoral. You might as well wear your bloody wellies!”


“Obviously,” I said quickly, “I’ll clean them beforehand.”


“Clean or not, those boots are not suitable footwear for a girl to wear to her prom. I know you aren’t a fan of girly business, but you’re just going to have to grin and bear it. You need something proper. Something ladylike.”


“But–”


“Honestly,” She interrupted, “I don’t know what goes on in that head of yours sometimes, I really don’t. You can go off in a huff if you want, but you aren’t wearing them, and that’s final. Now, go boil the kettle. My teas gone cold.”


She sat back down and, with a sharp look, unmuted the television.


                                                                                        ***


It was the night of prom and in the time that had passed between then and now, I’d done some thinking. 


“Lift up that skirt, misses. Don’t think I didn’t remember.” 


Mum had been hovering outside my door like a jack in the box, wound up tight, waiting to spring. With exaggerated movements, I wheeched up my skirt and thrust out my foot which was sporting a slender silk heel that bit into the back of my ankle until it bled. They were cherry red, to match my dress and lipstick. 


“See, I was right. Are heels not better? Did I not tell you so?”


“Yes, mum.” I lied. “You were right, the heels are much better. Much more ladylike, as you said.” 


I followed her downstairs, wincing at the sharp obnoxious sound of the heels on the hardwood. I stood patiently as she fidgeted over me, poking and pruning, before finally helping me on with my coat. We had almost left, when it occurred to me to use the bathroom. Mum rolled her eyes, but didn’t complain.


I wasn’t in there long, but then again I didn’t need to be. It took mere seconds to cross to the corner of the room, to where the cupboard that housed the boiler stood, and only another minute to retrieve the well-loved treasure that I’d hidden inside the night before and replace them with the heels. I felt like Cinderella putting on my boots; they fit just right.


Mum was right. Sometimes. Sometimes, she wasn’t– but she didn’t need to know that.


Prom was here, and I was ready to dance.


prom, Doc-Marten rebel, mother-daughter relationship