“Clamp your fabrics! Keep ‘em taut! No wrinkles! No waste!”

Charlie imagines a steam whistle blaring as he mumbles. His scissors cut away excess fabric. He flips the small dress inside-out and finishes a stitch. The bell attached to the front door’s handle jingles as a customer enters.

“Hi there. I’ll be with you in just a second.”

Keeping his back to whomever entered, Charlie picks up the dress then hugs it close to his body as if it contained a younger sister, or niece, or other small female relative. He sighs. He remembers the customer.

“What can I do for you today?” says Charlie, after folding the dress and turning around.

He notices the belly of the woman and suppresses an urge to mention pregnancy. Charlie does not need another incident involving a woman stronger than him and a lot of assumptions. He helps the woman pick out something fancy—complete with lace collar and frilly frock—and promises free repairs on the dress as long as it fits her little girl. She leaves wearing a smile.

The next week, Charlie smiles at the woman as she enters his shop. He looks from her belly to the garment bag on the counter. She smiles back at him.

“Free repairs, right?”

“As long as the dress fits her, yes.”

“When can I pick this up?”

“How about tomorrow, at around the same time?”

They both look at the clock on the wall. Noon.

“Super. I’ll see you then. Bye, Charlie.”

He watches her leave, then picks up the black bag. The dress inside feels limp, almost like the fur of an improperly-skinned animal. He opens the bag and drops it, hands trembling. A smell wafts up. How could she do this? Who could do this? What could? Charlie falls to his knees. His forehead hits the floor. Charlie feels the child-sized mannequins around the store staring at him, wearing his dresses. He should have noticed the hairs on the woman’s coat when she first walked in.

“I’m sorry,” he whimpers, “I didn’t know.”

He should have noticed that the hairs were not hairs, but fur. Fur! Charlie stands up and puts the dress on the counter. He runs his fingers along the bite marks and saliva that have damaged it. Charlie holds it close to his chest and strokes it gently, softly crying as he does so. He begins to rub it against his face, but stops. The dress is beyond saving. Charlie imagines the dog’s mouth on it.

His neck goes stiff as his vision begins to shake. Charlie rubs his eyes. He vomits. Most of it dribbles through his clenched teeth. He thinks about the woman putting this dress on her dog. He gags, retches. The door of the shop opens. A man and his daughter stare at Charlie. The daughter puts her hand to her mouth and the pair leaves. Charlie lets out a cry of anguish and sees bright dots in his vision. The dots group together and intensify, blinding him like the flash of a camera. He slumps over.

Hours later, the street outside is dark as Charlie regains consciousness. He strips off his soiled clothing, then stands and walks to the largest mannequin and dress in the store. Charlie breathes heavily as he struggles his body into it. He looks in one of the store’s floor-length mirrors and his shoulders drop. Charlie’s neck begins to shake again. He finds fabric—nainsook, for its softness—and jams it between his body and the dress. He fills in all the gaps until the dress is taut on his body, then twirls a little while keeping his head steady and looking in the mirror. He admires his backside while standing on one foot, then the other. He puts a hand on his hip. Charlie sighs. He looks again at the soiled dress the woman had brought in today and cocks his head to the side. He opens his lips—not to smile—just to bare his teeth.

Charlie walks outside and locks the shop door. He leans his head back and inhales deeply. A chill creeps up his legs and down his back. Charlie considers stepping back inside to grab a coat, or perhaps a hat, but instead shivers, chatters his teeth, and begins walking. The woman’s house could not be far. He heard no jingle of car keys about her, which meant she had to have walked. And the walk must have been short, given that belly. Her house will reveal itself; the signs of a person like her living there would be clear, he knew. Charlie spends an hour walking around the city, peering at living spaces and ignoring the biting cold. He arrives at an apartment complex with animal shit on the front lawn.

“Dog,” he breathes. He picks up the turd and flings it at the nearest door.

“DOG,” Charlie screams, “WHERE IS THE DOG?”

He bares his teeth and shakes his head. The bunched-up nainsook under his dress begins to spill out. A few lights in the apartment complex turn on.

“I don’t need YOU,” screams Charlie, pointing at a person looking out their window. “NO. WHERE IS HER DOG?”

Charlie runs into one of the apartment doors on the bottom floor.

“Is the dog HERE?” he barks, stepping back to launch himself into the door again. He turns, runs beside doorways, kicking and punching them, only pausing to catch his breath. Charlie runs into the parking lot, points his face at the sky, and screams. The person living in apartment 9B calls the police. The woman from the store wakes up and looks out her window. She sees Charlie crouching in the parking lot, wearing a frilly dress. She does not recognize him at first, then he points a finger at her. He howls again.


The woman opens her door to get a better look outside. Her dog barks.

“DOG,” he screams again, sprinting towards the woman’s apartment on the second floor. She closes and locks the door as he bounds up the stairs on all fours. She can hear Charlie making noises resembling the vowel sound in the word “dog.” Almost like he is choking. The door rattles as Charlie throws his body against it. Three police cars show up, lights on. Charlie’s noises continue as the dog scratches the inside of the door.

“STOP,” says an authoritative voice from the parking lot.

Charlie pulls some fabric from under his dress and wraps his fist with it. He smashes through the woman’s front window. His wrist is cut. The police walk up the stairs, weapons raised.

“Put your hands on your head and get face-down on the ground,” says the one in front. “NOW.” He holds a Taser. “ONE LAST CHANCE. GET DOWN ON THE GROUND NOW.”

Charlie finally acknowledges them. He turns slightly. “BUT THIS DOG.” He points through the open window of the house. The officer in front fires his Taser. Two small barbs shoot out, arcing electricity between them. They stick into Charlie. He whimpers, stiffens for a moment, but seems more calmed than immobilized. One of the barbs must not have fully connected. The officers take weary steps back from the bloodied, dress-wearing man, holster their tasers, and pull out their guns. Charlie clears more glass from the broken window. He can almost see the dog. Charlie turns to look at the officers. They look at him. They tell him to put his hands up and get down on the ground. He unravels the blood-soaked fabric from his fist.

“Do you know what this is? It’s called nainsook. I use it on the inside of all my dresses. It’s very soft.”

They continue staring while holding their weapons. They tell him to get on the ground.

He brushes the fabric against his cheek.

He takes a step toward the officers.