Viv unzipped her old Beauty and the Beast backpack. She took her time to dig through tins of pencils, old papers, and a few stuffed animals before she felt what she was looking for. Her fingers traced the straps, grounding her in the truth of a memory:
“Purple?” she asked breathlessly, undressing Emilia for the first time.
“The color of your backpack freshman year. Distinct even across the high school football field,” Emilia flashed a grin, then gently guided Viv’s hand to a bra-sheathed breast. “Go on then. Take it off.”
Fumbling excitedly, Viv unclasped the bra. It fell quietly to the floor and Emilia spread her arms.
A sigh escaped, its air on her cracked lips drawing Viv back to the present. She extracted the bra from her old backpack and held it up to the light. Just a bra. No fancy lace, no leftover scent, not even a brand name. Its simple presence served a dual reminder: proof that here, in Cambria, Illinois, she undressed a woman…and proof of the impermanence of that bliss.
Hurried footsteps, Viv’s mother’s voice: “Emilia, your father’s on the phone.”
Emilia’s terrified face, “He only calls with bad news.”
the scramble throwing her shirt on
the door banging open
the call bringing emilia to her knees
the purple bra lying beside emilia
the purple bra waiting beside emilia
“It’s my mum, Viv,” she whispered and ran out the door. Viv jumped to her feet to follow but the bra caught her foot. She grabbed it, shoved it in an old backpack where nobody would think to look, and took off. Two hours later, the phone rang again.
“Emilia’s mum,” Viv cried to her own mother. “She’s gone.”
For a few months, the bra remained out of sight and conversation. Viv supported Emilia in other ways — cooking dinner for her family, planning the funeral service, and contacting the community college to let them know of Emilia’s circumstances. It proved a good distraction, but eventually Viv’s subconscious retaliated. She dreamt of standing trial. A purple bra choked a woman to death and she, the accused, was last seen with it in her possession. The prosecutors called the first witness; Emilia stood with fury in her eyes.
Viv woke suddenly. She glanced at the strap of the backpack hanging out of her closet and picked up the phone. It rang four times.
“Look Emilia, I know it’s late but I just gotta say that I still have your — ”
“ — bra? Yeah, I know. All yours, I don’t need it back,” she sounded distant. “Look, Viv… what happened that day, it was all in good fun. But with mum gone…” she trailed off.
Viv remained quiet, silently accepting that neither would mention the subject again.
For years now, Viv had done nothing more than touch the bra, take it out, and remind herself that she had not imagined her attraction. It was a small, private victory befitting of her small, private town. Today, however, she craved something bigger. Viv unclasped the bra and hooked the straps around her shoulders. After a few moments, she stood to face the mirror. Her hand traveled to her breast, cupping it as if being led by Emilia. She smiled at her reflection, letting her hand lay claim to femininity, to the past, and to the bruised purple of memory. As she turned to face the white dress lying on her bed, the bra fell to the ground.
“All yours,” Viv whispered.
Tomorrow would mark seven years since the purple bra first fell to her bedroom floor. It would also mark her first day of marriage