Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku.

I wore a particular ’50s-style suit for almost a year when I was in graduate school. I realized what was going on one afternoon when I was standing in the English Department’s mailroom. I was a graduate assistant at the time. A man who had the name of another man was in the room with me, getting his mail. Soon he would die. He was loved and appreciated at that school, though he worked for limited and unfair pay (the adjunct scale). I chose to wear the suit because there was a scale, and on one side was success and allure and affect, and on the other side was rumpled-ness and sorrow and suicide. The suit I wore was my mother’s wedding suit. She wore a suit, rather than a white dress, that singular day. The wedding took place on the army base in Fort Dix, New Jersey, and I was in her belly already, a firmament of my own behind the still-flat skirt panel, behind the small bouquet. She also wore a hat. Her mother was there, at the wedding, and her mother was also wearing a suit and a hat. The suit I wore for so many days in a row was comprised of a slim skirt and a short boxy jacket with half sleeves and one large mother-of-pearl button at the neck. The important thing about the suit is that it clung and held, trimming you up and making sure you were all in one place, headed in the right direction. You couldn’t actually move your arms that much. You couldn’t reach too far for things. And of course you couldn’t walk forward with great strides, either, but needed to almost shuffle forward. High heels were best, obviously, or little Chinese slippers (created a nice sound with the shuffling). Hard to find the right blouse to go underneath (not too billowy), or the exact right hairstyle (something contrasting, but also coiffed), but if you got those things right, you could pretty much remain in neutral and feel satisfied.

In those days, I also slept in the suit, in a coffin. Actually, it wasn’t a coffin, but a single bed with a thin mattress and very high sides, so I did have to stumble in, straining the suit as I flipped myself into the horizontal resting place. I held my arms to my body. I didn’t wear shoes, but kept my shoes (pumps or flats) on the floor at the foot of the bed. Sleep wasn’t always as restful as it could have been.

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This excerpt from the short collection Once into the Night appears with permission of FC2/University of Alabama Press. Copyright 2018 Aurelie Sheehan.

Aurelie Sheehan

Aurelie Sheehan is the winner of FC2’s 2018 Catherine L. Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize for Once into the Night, to be published in February 2019. She is the author of three previous short story collections and two novels. Her writing has appeared in Conjunctions, Guernica, Mississippi Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and other journals. She is a professor of fiction and head of the English Department at the University of Arizona.

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