The inspiration for this short story was a recent shopping trip where I noticed a pair of tattered jeans on a rack for $235. I throw away clothes that look like this. I might use them for gardening. I certainly would not wear them anywhere or gift them to anyone. They look awful and I find it appalling that a department store would have the nerve to put this on display, not to mention the price tag. Nevertheless, some fool must be buying these.
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In his 39th year, Jana’s son Chad had acquired his fourth wife, Marta. Jana could only conclude that her son made a good deal of money as CEO of a tech firm to be able to support his financial obligations to so many ex-wives and a young son and daughter.
Jana recalled the first time she laid eyes on Marta. Jana had been sitting at a fashionable outdoor restaurant waiting for the arrival of her son and his then fiancée. They pulled up to valet parking in a bright red Tesla and Chad gallantly held the car door open. Out popped Marta with her blond streaked tresses, designer shades, and large hoop earrings. She was wearing tight black leather pants and a low-cut silk blouse. Marta listed forward from the weight of over-sized breast implants and her precarious perch on impossibly high-heeled shoes. Jana watched them stride into the restaurant. Such confident, beautiful people in their own little happy bubble. And when she offered her hand in greeting, Jana noticed Marta’s French manicure; the bling on her fingers, wrists and throat; the perfect white teeth; the scent of expensive perfume. Jana wondered if Marta would be as avaricious and narcissistic as her predecessors.
That was when it occurred to Jana, between all the happy small talk and wine at that first dinner, that she must be a failure as a mother. Somehow she had failed to impart some important truths to her son. Nevertheless, she would bite her tongue and do her best to be accepting of her son’s choices in life.
Now as Jana drifted through the racks of clothes and contemplated a purchase of jewelry in this upscale department store, her eyes settled on a pair of blue jeans, torn and faded. Jana fingered the $235 price tag. She imagined Marta tip toeing across the travertine in high heels and these blue jeans as she sipped a glass of white wine and flashed one of those condescending looks she was so fond of inflicting on her. This was the perfect gift. Jana pulled the size 8 jeans from the rack and headed for the cashier. Nothing was too good for her daughter-in-law.
The next morning Jana headed to her favorite consignment store and picked out a nondescript pair of size 8 blue jeans for five dollars. She brought them home and laid them out on the garage work bench next to the expensive department store jeans. Next she took a pair of scissors, her cat’s wire hair brush, and a meat tenderizer. She slashed, pounded, and shredded the five dollar jeans until they resembled the department store jeans and then she strategically doused them with bleach water. When she was satisfied with her artistic endeavor, she tossed the jeans into the washing machine while she contemplated how she would replicate a fashionable label and an expensive price tag.
Ah, she was a genius. A little sewing machine magic and some clever work with fancy paper and stamps and she was in business. Jana carefully wrapped her masterpiece in tissue paper and placed it in the department store box, wrapped it in gift paper, and tied it up with a bow. God, she hoped Marta wouldn’t try to return these. She laughed. Well, that might be fun.
On the day of Marta’s birthday, Jana arrived at the dinner party, uninvited, and breathlessly explained that she had dropped by to bring Marta her gift on the occasion of her very special birthday. Marta set down her glass of white wine and managed a stiff smile as she accepted the gift.
“Oh, do open it now,” Jana watched as her daughter-in-law untied the ribbon and pried off the gift wrap.
Marta unfolded the jeans and held them up. “Wow. How cool.”
“You can return them if you need to.”
“Oh, no.” Marta peered at the size tag. “It looks to be the right size.”
Jana had been careful to conceal a convincing replica of a price tag in a way that made it look like oversight. Marta’s greedy little eyes widened with surprise as she spied it.
And so that was how the empress Marta came to dress herself in rags and neither she nor any of her family or friends dared to think that those jeans were anything other than the classiest, sexiest fashion statement—except, of course, her wicked mother-in-law who laughed all the way home (and returned the $235 pair of jeans).
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OK, so I ripped off that old fairy tale The Emperor's New Clothes.