Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Yellow Sundress - A Story for Mother's Day

In honor of Mother's Day I thought I would share with you a short story I wrote in college. It is (not so) loosely based on my Mom and I, and has the distinction of being the first story I ever published as it was included in my university's literary journal. I hope you enjoy it and Happy Mother's Day!

"I had a vision." Lorraine insisted as she rifled through the sales rack, sliding the hangers down with a determined click-click.

Lucy raised an eyebrow. "A vision? You've got to be kidding me."
"No, I am not kidding you, a vision . . . a picture . . . I can see it in my head. Now we just have to find it." She reached the end of the sales rack with a sigh. "They don't have it here. Let's go."

"Mom, they have plenty of nice dresses; can't we look at them?"

"No, Lucy, we can't be distracted by other dresses. We need to find a yellow sundress. If you're spending the summer in Paris, you have to have a yellow sundress; that's just the way it is. Oh, and you have to buy flowers from a sidewalk vendor."

"While wearing the yellow sundress?" asked Lucy.

"Of course." Lorraine guided her daughter past the rest of the dresses and out the door of the department store. "I know what we are looking for," she insisted, fishing for her car keys in her purse, "You'll see—as soon as we find it."
Lucy only had two days left before she flew to Paris with her summer school French class. She was conscious of all the packing and planning that she'd left until the last minute. They really didn't have time to be driving around town in search of a mythical sundress. Lucy knew, though, that once her mother got an idea in her head, it was hard to dissuade her, as evidenced by the black silk dancing dress with "a scoop neck and a flirty ruffled hem" hanging in her closet. The dancing dress had been one of her mother's visions, brought on by Lucy's two-month love affair with the swing-dancing classes offered at the local community college. It had taken seven hours, thirteen stores and one hundred twenty-five dollars to procure. They were only on store number three in the “Quest for the Yellow Sundress.”
"Mom, I don't even want to take a dress. It's going to be July, it will be hot and sticky and yucky, and I hate it when my legs stick together. I just want to take jeans and t-shirts."

"Lucy, this is Paris. Have you ever seen a movie or read a book where a girl wears jeans in Paris? No. Yellow sundress, I tell you. You'll look just like a Mary Stewart heroine."
"I'm not a British schoolteacher on a holiday. None of her novels are technically set in Paris anyway, usually Greece."

"Don't be difficult. You'll love it. I can see it now, just above the knee, sleeveless, but not spaghetti straps—maybe with flowers."

"Flowers?" Lucy screeched. "Flowers? I hate frou-frou; I refuse flowers."

"Not girly flowers, fun flowers." Lorraine insisted.

"Well, personally I think you and your sundress idea are off the wall."

"We'll go to Target." Lorraine ignored Lucy's comment. Lorraine had been to Target, but she'd never been to Paris. In fact, she'd never been much of anywhere. Lorraine didn't travel, she got seasick, carsick, airsick. She was also a serious homebody—hot coffee, a fluffy pillow, and a good book being the top three items she required for a good time. Her library card was so well-worn that her signature on the back was barely visible. She considered the fifty-book lending limit rather restricting.

Lucy remained quiet on the way to Target. She was resigned to the reality of the yellow sundress. Her only hope was that it wouldn't be pastel or in any other way girly. Currently her basic wardrobe consisted of jeans and t-shirts emblazoned with Mickey Mouse and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that she bought from the boys department at the Valu-2-U Mart. To Lucy, paying less than five dollars per shirt was a matter of personal pride.

Lucy couldn't wait to board a plane bound for Paris. It would be her first time out of the United States, and she was prepared to do and see, not just to read and dream. She wanted to be the adventurer, the Indiana Jones of her family. She wanted to be able to casually drop the phrase "when I was in Paris last summer" into conversations. To her, the yellow sundress was just a silly fantasy; she was going to experience real life.
When Lucy climbed on the plane at LAX two days later, a yellow sundress with blue flowers was stuffed haphazardly, half-forgotten, into her duffel bag. She nearly skipped onto the plane, eager to experience five weeks of independence and adventure. Eighteen hours later she was no longer skipping. Bleary-eyed, she followed her classmates up the four flights of stairs to their dorm in the Cite Universitaire, her duffel bag thump-thumped up the stairs behind her….


“Hey Mom, I’m here, sorry it took me so long to call…they have these weird payphones; they don’t take money. You have to buy a little card and stick it into the phone.”

“That’s ok, Luce, I knew your plane didn’t go down ‘cause I’ve been watching the news.” Lorraine replied. “Happy Birthday! Well, there anyway; here it isn’t your birthday yet."

“I know, isn’t that freaky? I got on the plane seventeen and got off eighteen. That’s just bizarre. Mom, I’m so tired; I’m gonna go get some sleep. Professor Beltin is dragging us all over tomorrow and I want to be able to see everything!”



“Lucy, what’s wrong?” Lorraine’s voice sounded anxious, even through the static that permanently plagued the downstairs phone of the dormitory.

“We got assigned to our classes today at the university, and everyone from my school is in one class and I’m in another one all by myself with a bunch of people I don’t know,” sobbed Lucy. “And it’s not even at the Sorbonne; it's at an extension campus, so I have to go an hour earlier than everyone else and find it all by myself, and….and classes start tomorrow, but that's the Fourth of July!"

“Ok, Lucy, slow down…calm down, it’s going to be ok. I’m sorry they are separating you from your class, but maybe you’ll have a really great teacher.”

“Yeah, maybe. But it’s the Fourth of July! Going to school is like wrong or something, my brain can’t get around it. It’s unpatriotic!”

“No, it’s not, sweetie. We’ll light some fireworks for you. I know: why don’t you wear your American flag t-shirt? That will make you feel patriotic.”

“Ok, I will. I gotta go mom, there is a line for the phone.


Sometime around week three, after conjugating the wrong verb and getting a low score on her first test, missing her subway exit three times, and being forced to watch “Memphis Belle” completely dubbed in French while she did her laundry in the dorm basement, Lucy began longing for a fluffy pillow and a good book.

“Completely in French I tell you! I mean Matthew Modine and D. B. Sweeny in a World War II American bomber, speaking French?”

“Well, we watch foreign films” Lorraine pointed out reasonably.

“Not if they’re dubbed, we don’t. We watch subtitles. It just looks so stupid 'cause you can totally tell by their mouths what they are saying, but the French translation is so long that the voice keeps going after the mouths have stopped moving.”

“GYou have a point. So,” Lorraine changed the subject, “have you seen any of those sidewalk flower shops?”

“Sure, Mom, they are all over the place.”

“So, um, worn your sundress yet?”

“My what?” Lucy asked, puzzled. “Oh that! No, it’s probably somewhere in my bag still. I’ll dig it out if it cools down, I guess. It’s like 89 degrees and the humidity is ridiculous; you know I hate wearing dresses when I get sweaty…and we have to walk everywhere.”


Around week four she realized Paris could never be as fantastic as it was in her mother's head. The museums were all beginning to blur together. She missed her friends, her family, and her language. When separated from her classmates for most of the day the only English she heard was from a street musician. Every morning on the subway he’d run through a string of Eric Clapton songs on his guitar.

“Hi Mom, I’m coming home in a week and a half.”

“We can’t wait to see you. Are you having fun?”

“Not really;” Lucy sighed. “I’m just sort of tired.”

“Did you get the package I sent you?” queried Lorraine.

“No.” Lucy perked up. “You sent me a package? What is in it?”

“Well, if I tell you it won’t be a surprise; you’ll see when you get it.”


The package arrived the Monday of her last week in Paris and contained two of Lucy’s favorite Mary Stewart novels and twenty dollars. Lucy went out and bought a stack of chocolate bars and spent the night curled up in bed reading the familiar words.

The next morning found her on a crowded subway, clutching a bright bouquet of flowers wrapped in brown paper in one hand, while trying with the other to keep them from getting crushed by the press of rush hour. The yellow of the daisies almost matched her dress.


  1. What a beautiful story; you have a talent we did not know about!
    I especially like the metaphor at the end of the flowers getting crushed by rush hour--I interpreted this as Lucy, flowering into womanhood, trying not to get crushed by the world.
    Thank for sharing this short story in honor of Mother's Day♥

  2. Lovely, Jessica. You included so many details about your mom, plus the story itself was spot on.

    How much is autobiographical? Did you study for a summer in Paris? I remember how quickly and unexpectedly I shifted from being excited to be the traveler in the family to being terribly, horribly, homesick. Your portrayal of that really hit home for me.

  3. I enjoyed the story and the mother-daughter bond it illuminates. I always knew I could call my mom when I was lonely/scared/frustrated/ready to give up. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks ladies!

    Nancy - It's extremely autobiographical actually . . . and yes, I did study for a summer in Paris (well 5 weeks).

    Duff - Thank you! I love that you saw that!

    Shannon - I can always call my mom too :)

  5. Beautiful story, Jessica! I enjoyed it immensely. You are a very gifted writer. And do you still have the dress? :D Thank you for sharing it. I look forward to reading more of your writings. ;)

  6. You have a lovely style of writing. I look forward to reading more of your work.


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