Jackie Eastman is a secondary but very important character in SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING, my science fiction comedy of bad manners. He’s overweight and funny-looking, but I kind of have a crush on him. I think he represents my better nature. God knows I don’t.
ANYWAY, today’s Story A Day in May story is about Jackie, after he moves to the planet Marner. If you haven’t read SIDESHOW, you know why, but the why isn’t important to this story.
Dressed to Kill
by Marian Allen
It’s a good thing I’m a man who’s comfortable in his skin, because I’m considered as much of an oddball here on Marner as I was on Earth.
My mother used to tell me about the time she took me clothes shopping when I was two, and all I wanted to look at was the girls’ clothes. She scanned the tag of the one I liked best and projected a hologram of me, wearing it, and I roared and tried to punch the hologram. She took me to the doctor to explore my gender options, and he said what I already knew at two: I was attracted to women in that special me-Tarzan-you-Jane kind of way, I didn’t want to be one, and I didn’t want to dress like one, I just loved their clothes and the way their clothes looked on them.
That seems to strike everybody in the universe as weird, but that’s me, and that’s the baseline for how I grew up to be “Jackie Eastman, Designer to the Stars.”
So I’m in my office on Marner when my indispensable assistant, Eppy, came in and closed the door behind her.
It surprised me, since she loves the interoffice phone so much I’m always surprised she doesn’t use it when I’m standing right there next to her.
You know how Marneri look kind of like human cats to us? Eppy looked especially like one. Her muzzle was more pronounced than most Marneri’s and her ears are higher up the sides of her head than usual. Her dull brown fur grows in medium-long corkscrew curls. She tells me she was “what you call on Earth an ugly duck” until she watched my book on Marneri fashion and accessorizing. Now, judging by the reactions of the Marneri men I’ve seen around her, she’s considered a knockout.
“What’s up, Eppy?” I kept my voice low, since she was flapping a hand at me to signal quiet, her gilded nails flashing in the light.
“It’s her,” she hissed. “It’s that flying woman.”
I knew who she meant. That flying woman is what she called Berra, the first female to be inducted into the Flying Corp anywhere on Marner. No one would ever know if she was good in combat, because she was always doing publicity tours and interviews.
“What does she want?” Like most Marneri and like all Marneri military, she wore nothing but her own fur and a sash-of-rank pinned with medals signifying achievements. Even on non-military occasions, when she was more or less a civilian, she wore little more than decorative fur clips.
“She says she wants a special outfit.”
“She getting married again?” I was ashamed of myself the minute I said it. It made Eppy laugh, which made me feel even worse. I try not to be mean; being mean and getting rewarded for it is just wrong.
It was a cheap joke, too. Berra had been, as they said on the cover of the gossip magazines, unlucky in love. She had formed a mating pair three times, had dissolved the pairing every time before a year was up, and hadn’t generated kits once. Her exes had walked away with apparently bruised hearts and egos, not to mention big chunks of her military pay.
“Show her in.”
Eppy wrinkled her nose. “Really?”
I’m not anywhere near as good as my wife is at reading Marneri facial and body cues, but even I could tell Berra was a woman on a mission. Her lips were parted and stretched and her eyes were narrowed in a smile. She gave me a firm handshake, showing she was familiar with Earth courtesy. I had gotten reconciled to licking noses, which was the Marneri way, but I never did like it, so I appreciated her cultural sensitivity. That was the PR people at work, I guess.
“Sit down,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m told you’re a blunt man. Is that true?”
How was I supposed to answer that? Usually, if somebody says, “I’m blunt,” what they mean is, “I’m rude.” I shrugged and said, “I don’t mince words.”
She nodded. “That’s good. I hope you don’t mind if I speak plainly, too. I’ve spent the past few years of my life watching everything I say, publicly and privately, and I’m tired of it.”
“Then I might as well begin by saying that I’ve never approved of clothing for Marneri. It’s silly. If the High Empress had meant us to wear clothes, she wouldn’t have given us fur.”
“I see your point,” I admitted.
“But there’s something about people in special clothing for special events. It seems to add to the importance of the function. It seems to make them feel more in tune with what’s happening, more a part of it. It seems to be a sort of gift they give to themselves and a tribute they pay to the occasion.”
“That’s very well put.” I scribbled it down. “Mind if I use that in an ad?”
“Just don’t quote me,” she said.
I wrote Anonymous after the quote and nodded.
“I have a special occasion coming up, and I’ve decided I want something very special to wear. Something that suits me in particular. I don’t know what you charge for a personal design, but tell me and I’ll make sure to have the funds available.”
“If I can claim you as a client,” I said, “I can give you a nice discount.”
She shook her head. “I’m not allowed to do endorsements of any kind, and I believe that would count as an endorsement.”
Well, of course, that was my idea, but I understood that the military didn’t want to get into the business of boosting a fashion designer.
“We’ll negotiate the price,” I said. Considering the dissolution gifts she’d given her ex-partners, I knew she could afford me.
“I’ll be flying my personal plane to this event,” she said, “so the clothing has to be something I can fly in. It has to leave my arms free. It has to be warm. It shouldn’t be elaborate, but I want it to be beautiful.”
Eppy took her measurements and I questioned her and showed her fabric samples, matching them against her fur.
Unlike Eppy, Berra’s fur was short; a soft blue-gray with a white patch just below her throat. By the time she left, I had a concept sketch for her. She initialed it, and Eppy and I went to work, constructing every stitch of it ourselves.
I would have liked to put her in red, but she vetoed that as too flashy, so we chose a coarse silk fabric with a dull gold background and a curling abstract pattern in thin black, thick white, and a silver that had a blue cast to it and almost looked like transparency showing the fur beneath. It had a high neck with a triangle cut out, leaving the white patch below her throat exposed. A black pearl pendant hung from the collar to the exact center of the white patch. The full, roomy sleeves fastened at her wrists with gold cufflinks stamped with her military insignia, and the simple black trousers buttoned at her ankles. She balked at new shoes, preferring to wear her flying boots. It spoiled the effect, I thought, but she was the customer, so boots it was.
At the final try-on, she stood in front of the mirror for a long time – my ladies often do that. She stroked the cloth covering her arms.
“How does it feel?”
“Suitable for the occasion?” She never had told us what it was.
“Perfect. It’s just what I had hoped: beautiful, dignified, luxurious, simple. I feel strong in it. I feel … happy.”
That was funny, because she didn’t look happy. Determined and ready to be satisfied about something, yes, but not what I would call happy.
So that was the last time I saw her. It was two days later when Connie showed me the paper. She didn’t know Berra had been to see me, of course; I had promised Berra absolute confidentiality, and I always deliver on my promises.
Connie said, “Now why would a flying ace suddenly crash into a mountain? Think it was sabotage?”
Nobody ever knew for sure. There was a rumor that she had never generated kits because she was sterile, and she found that out and crashed her plane. There was a rumor that she had a terminal illness. There was a rumor that she had sold military secrets to a foreign power, although what military secrets a publicity figure would have is anybody’s guess. There was a rumor she was being blackmailed, and a million rumors as to what that was.
Me, I think she worked her butt off breaking a barrier and becoming what she born wanting to be, and then she wasn’t allowed to do it. I think it poisoned every crack and corner of her adult life, and I think she didn’t see any end to it. I think she saw flying into a mountain as the most special occasion she’d ever attended – a defiant celebration of herself.
I could be wrong.
By the way, I posted on the 21st at The Write Type with 5 Hints for Story A Day May.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: kids, woman air force pilot, femme fatale