Wakefield’s Wardrobe managed to hold its place for more than half a decade, but that was all Wilma had to say about her grandmother’s collection. She saw five customers this morning, two of which were eager enough to buy something, one a set of pants and the other a cheerful white shirt with sunflower prints that Wilma had planned to set aside for clearance. A questionable sense of fashion, but respectable as long as it brought her money. The other three spent less than two minutes each and left, taking one glance at the store’s excessive vintage sign that, according to Wilma’s grandmother, was good for business. Wilma had more than enough reasons to say otherwise, but she didn’t dare question her grandmother’s methods. Wilma knew next to nothing about fashion or business, first of all. But she stayed because she had an obligation. Not because she would be betraying her grandmother if she didn’t. The store was a shell of her grandmother’s existence. To close it would be removing her from her self-designed history book.
So it was only normal that Wilma had enough time to stare at the mannequin that stood directly in front of her. It was the standard white woman with the kind of legs that made people think the clothes it had on would look just as good on them. It was also the reason why they came back to Wilma to demand a refund. ”My clothes are a different fit from the mannequin’s.” “No, Karen. You’re a different fit from the mannequin.” Ever since the car accident, the mannequin sported a plain white shirt and a blue skirt with diagonal white stripes, one that originally belonged to her grandmother. It was in her will. In fact, it was the only thing in her will, to keep the blue skirt on the damn mannequin. It was the only thing she cared about, right up until her death. ”Is it on sale? “No, it isn’t. I’m sorry.” “Why would you have something on the mannequin that you’re not going to sell?” “I don’t know, ask my dead grandmother.” That usually shut the other person up.
After a depressing thirty minutes of no customers, Wilma was more than glad to hear the jangle of bells and footsteps through the door. She looked up. It was a girl in her late teens or early 20’s. She tried to ignore the fact that the girl had hair that looked like it stayed away from shampoo for at least a week, or that she looked in no condition to buy anything, much less clothes that her grandmother liked to price high. Her hoodie was frayed in its edges and she wore jeans that looked like they were past their expiration date. Nevertheless, she continued towards the clothes with such confidence that Wilma stopped staring and fiddled with the cash register.
That turned out to be a mistake, because a loud crash and a scream later, Wilma looked up to see the new season’s rack toppled over in its entirety and the girl was on the ground, wailing and grabbing her knees.
She rushed over. “Oh, my god. Are you okay?”
The girl glared at her. “I’m obviously not.”
“Okay, um…” Wilma placed her hands on her waist. “I’ll call the ambulance.”
She ran to the counter and picked up the phone so old that it was no longer white, but rather an uncomfortable shade of yellow. ”I don’t waste my money on phones,” was what her grandmother said.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“A girl in my store just—“
Wilma turned around to describe the girl’s condition, only to discover she was gone. She slammed the phone down on the counter. Shit. What did she take? The mannequin proudly bared its half-nakedness to her. The skirt. Wilma hissed at it. Her grandmother would rain down knives from wherever she was if she saw this. She pressed her arms down the counter and grabbed her head so tightly that it began to hurt. She picked up the phone a second time.
“I was just robbed.”
The mannequin was still half-naked when she returned to work. The police hadn’t identified the girl yet. Wilma could make a whole fuss to choose a new skirt for the mannequin, but she didn’t feel like it. Its legs annoyed her.
A few customers came in to ask why. She would smile and answer, ”I didn’t feel like anything would do it justice.” It was the truth, sort of. But she was covering for the mannequin, more than she really should. The lack of customers in her store has made her develop a personal relationship with the mannequin during her free time. One customer tried to strike up a debate on whether a naked mannequin was justified. Wilma waved him off. Robbery was bad for business.
Her phone vibrated. She picked it up.
Exclusive: Zoe Zelikman, aged 19, dies in tragic accident.
Her finger hovered above the headline. When she finally found it in herself to click on it, a photo started to load on a new tab, layer by layer. When it reached the nose, Wilma gasped, because she recognized Zoe Zelikman. It was the girl from yesterday. She furiously scrolled further down the article.
Zelikman lost control of the wheels, flipped once and hit the guardrails, according to an eyewitness. Experts are unsure as to whether or not she was drunk, but most are certain that the incident would have killed her instantly.
Wilma turned her phone off and stared once again at the mannequin. She knew, somehow, that the skirt was responsible. Her grandmother’s death, that girl’s death, they were connected, Wilma was sure of it. She would’ve called herself paranoid just yesterday. This is a joke, she would have told herself. But she knew it wasn’t, not anymore. If she didn’t find that skirt, more people would die the same way two people already did.
The police station was an obvious destination for such an investigation. She snatched the light jacket from the stool next to her and drove there. It was chaos inside: phones ringing everywhere, police officers running left and right to do their duties. No one even gave Wilma notice. A girl sat next to the door. She looked no more than eight or nine. Wilma caught a glimpse of tears on her face. They were almost dried up. Her eyes were swollen. She looked close to passing out.
Wilma gingerly sat next to her. “Excuse me, do you happen to know Zoe Zelikman?”
She turned to look at her with a blank expression that a girl like her should not have to have. “I’m her sister.”
“Okay,” Wilma said slowly. “I was her friend. Can we talk?”
Instead of answering, the girl stared straight ahead. Wilma didn’t want to bother her. She knew too well what it was like to deal with a sudden loss. But she had to. For Zoe. For her grandmother. For everyone else that was about to lose their lives due to a skirt. A skirt. There were better ways to die, Wilma figured.
Wilma half-led, half-pulled the girl out of the station. The girl yanked herself out of her grip.
“I don’t know you.”
“I get it. But Zoe and I met at the gym, just three weeks ago. That’s how I know her.”
The girl frowned. “But she hates exercising.”
“Um…” Wilma bit her lips. “She… she had a change of mind.”
“Okay.” She didn’t look convinced. Wilma didn’t blame her.
By the end of the conversation, however, Wilma managed to befriend the girl enough to learn her name, which was Zara, and also earn an invitation to her house.
Zara obviously didn’t trust her enough, because she followed Wilma around the entire house like a chihuahua as she searched for the skirt. She would only let Wilma open Zoe’s closet once, but even then she realized the skirt was really nowhere in the house. Zoe’s room was as messy as hers. Books, clothes, and random sheets of paper were thrown everywhere. Books that she would never finish. Clothes that she would never wear. Wilma stood there, shame and guilt and pain creeping up her spine. This felt like her fault. This was her fault. And Zara was too young to tell her otherwise.
A laptop sat on the table, open and clearly recently used. She turned to Zara.
“Do you know the password?”
“Yeah, she used to let me play the Sims once. But why?”
“I want to know if she sold the skirt to anyone.”
Zara bent over and pressed 1 four times. The laptop unlocked with a click. Wilma snorted. She barely knew Zoe, but that definitely felt like a password she would have. She sat down in front of the laptop and started digging through her Internet search history. I’m sorry, Zoe.
Facebook, Twitter, she didn’t need that. She scrolled faster. Then she saw it. eBay.
“That’s it,” she said excitedly. “She sold the skirt on eBay.”
“What’s eBay?” was Zara’s response.
“Never mind,” Wilma muttered. She found a customer, but barely had time to rejoice, because the skirt had already been shipped to the other side of the country.
“Shit. Shit,” she said, next to a bewildered Zara that shouldn’t have to listen to someone swear. But then again, she’d been through worse. “I’m going to be late.”
Awkwardly thanking Zara, Wilma ran back to her car.
It was a five-hour drive to a remote town in the middle of nowhere but with plenty of residence. 13-1, 13-2… when she reached 13-6, where the package was supposed to have been delivered, her tires screeched to a stop. She hastily stepped outside, only to stare at the scene that was in front of her, feet frozen to the ground. In the garage was a badly damaged car that seemed to have rammed itself into the wall. She turned her gaze to the pavement, where a pool of blood was seeping further and further into the grass. Only when five minutes or so passed did she manage to step forward and pull open the back door of the car.
A corpse fell out with a thump. Wilma screamed, then immediately covered her mouth with her hands. It was a girl—her head too severely damaged to make out her face, and covered plenty with blood—with the exact blue-and-white skirt that Wilma was looking for. More blood was splattered on several of the stripes but the rest was the same. Then she heard sirens. Sirens that she knew in a quiet town, they had only one destination. She desperately tugged on the zipper on the girl’s hip, and managed to pull the skirt down her stiff, pale legs. They landed back on the ground with a heavy blow.
Wilma stood up.
She heard a gun cock behind her head.
Wilma had no choice but to raise her hands above her head. The skirt dropped on the girl’s body. Four officers moved slowly towards her with their guns out. A blonde detective came forward and picked up the skirt. Blood dripped from it and colored the pavement. The detective’s face went pale.
”No,” Wilma screamed, now on her knees with guns still pointed at her head. “You can’t touch it. You can’t take it to the police station. You’ll die. Arrest me, shoot me, whatever, but you can’t take that skirt.”
“Shut up,” said the detective, forcing Wilma to her feet and practically dragging her to the police car. Wilma fought back the entire time, screaming about the skirt like a maniac, which the police probably thought she was, but she didn’t care. She didn’t want another death on her conscience.
”Please,” she said, tears now bubbling down her face. “Please just listen to me.”
The detective pushed Wilma into the back seat and got in the front, throwing the plastic bag next to her with the skirt inside. A wall separated them from each other, just like Wilma saw in the movies. Wilma pounded on it, her voice hoarse from screaming too much. The detective shouted something back, but her voice was muffled.
”You will die! You will die in this car right now!”
Wilma looked up. A truck had escaped its lane and was speeding towards the car. The detective slammed on the breaks and swerved right, panic evident even from behind.
Wilma didn’t really understand how the curse worked. But if one thing was clear, it was that it had made her a murderer. She didn’t care about saving herself, not at this point. She saw the truck coming closer and closer. She closed her eyes.
“The skirt is mine, detective,” she whispered.
The truck slammed into the side of the car, slowly crushing Wilma’s ribs. Then everything was silent. Was this what it was like to die? The light dimmed from Wilma’s eyes as she watched the detective scramble out of the car, severely hurt but clearly alive. She managed a sigh in relief. As the scene blackened in front of her, she saw her grandmother for the last time. Weslie Wakefield opened her mouth.
“I didn’t want it to be you, Wilma.”