The Changing Room

By Gillian Shearer

“Go on!”


The curtain parts—a shaft of light—and then the hand appears. Something yellow with blue dots swims before my eyes.


“Go on!”


The voice comes again, insisting, inciting. I sit back on the little bench. The changing room is no bigger than a cupboard. A mirror, too big for the confined space, swallows me whole. The dress hangs on the wall like a corpse. I try to imagine myself inside the dress. I imagine mum, her eyes swimming with pride at the two of us, identical yet not identical. Her two little girls like ‘two peas in a pod’. A mirror image.


We’re cut from the same cloth—my sister and me. If we look different, it’s because we are. I imagine her inside the dress, her shape moulding to the cloth, the little blue dots like cornflowers—pert and alive. I look down at my chest at the two little cups waiting to be filled. Twenty minutes between us, my little sister yet she's so much bigger than me.


“Ready?” Mum is waiting, her voice bubbling over. Next door—frantic movements and then my sister’s voice: impatient, breathless, as if she’s been running.


“Almost!”


And mum’s footsteps retreating from beneath the gap in the curtain. I hold my breath and look at myself in the mirror. My face is red and blotchy, sweat bubbles on my forehead as if I’ve been running. I take the dress down off the peg. I turn it over in my hands wringing it through as if this is my penance. My palms are sweaty. Afraid I might spoil the dress I rub my hands up and down over my thighs. The fabric of my jeans feels coarse and unforgiving.


I stand up, still holding the dress. It flops over in my arms like a headless torso. I wobble on my two-inch platforms. They’re my favourite shoes; purple with a yellow strip along the side. Of course, my sister has a pair just like them though mine are scuffed at the toes where I drag my feet.


I shake my head. I can hear mum speaking to the shop girl.


“A handful when they were babies, of course. You’d just finish feeding one and then it was onto the next…like a proper little milk factory—”


“Two for the price of one,” the girl giggles.


Mum lets out one of her long sighs. She’s heard it all before.


“Hmm…well, I must see how they’re getting on…”


But the girl isn’t finished yet, “You wouldn’t think they were twins,” she says, “I mean if it weren’t for their clothes you’d think they were just sisters.”


“I beg your pardon?” There’s an edge to mum’s voice.


“I didn’t mean…what I meant was—”


I can’t hear the rest because there’s a sudden clatter from outside the changing room and then the sound of rushing feet. Someone shouts, “for god’s sake!” I think it’s the girl and then—nothing. The silence settles like a pall.


“Are you girls anywhere near ready?” Frustration colours mum’s voice. It echoes through the changing room like a bell.


“Nearly!” I say, still holding onto the dress.


“Well hurry up because your dad’s waiting!”


I can’t help but smile. Poor dad—he hates shopping just as much as I do.


“Can we go to Woolies for a pic ‘n’ mix after?” My sister’s voice is so much like my own, I feel as if I’m hearing my own thoughts.


“Go on.”


The voice comes again. It’s there inside my head, egging me on. My brain is buzzing. I feel sick. The room shrinks to a jewel-sized box. There’s the mirror, the dress, and me. I slip off my shoes and immediately feel two inches smaller.


“Hey, sis, are you ready yet?”


“In a minute,” I say, pulling my t-shirt over my head. The air crackles. My fringe flops over my eyes. I love my sister, I really do. It’s just that I want to be—different. I know she hates it too, the constant comparisons. It’s always been ‘the twins this’ and ‘the twins that.’ In a year or two, we’ll be going to high school and no one will care what we look like, certainly not me.


“Go on.”


There it is again; hesitant, imploring. I slip my t-shirt back over my head and walk out into the changing room. Mum is nowhere to be seen. The shop girl has disappeared too. Suddenly there comes a rustling behind me. The curtain parts and there she is my little sister standing before me.


“Well, what do you think?”


I turn around expecting to see a vision in yellow and blue. She’s wearing her jeans and t-shirt. I laugh.


“What about the dress?” I say.


She shakes her head.


“It wasn’t me,” she says smiling.


everyday rebellion, individuality, sisters, family