Miss Sharon Hastings was a senior at the Adams Academy. Four years younger than her brother, Tim, she had much the same long and lean body type and some of the same facial features. However, where Tim was unambiguously blonde with blue eyes, Sharon’s hair and complexion were darker, and her various ID cards couldn’t seem to agree on the color of her eyes. In all, she was thought to be a throwback to some mysterious ancestress, possibly a not terribly civilized one. Indeed, seeming always to be in motion, her visible energy gave her an almost formidable aspect. However, people who might have taken half a step back on first meeting her were quickly disarmed by her light-hearted and fun-loving personality.
The Adams Academy was old, and possessed of ivy-covered buildings that were widely said to be pretty. It was also expensive. A few scholarships were given to minorities, more out of public relations concerns than ideological ones.
As one of the few remaining all-girls prep schools, it had been thought to be a safe place to put young ladies until they developed the judgment and maturity to deal with the opposite sex. It was, after all, important not to get off on the wrong foot with the wrong boy.
Unfortunately, enrollment suffered because of this policy, and a new principal had recently been hired to bring the school up to date. In this first year of integration, there were six boys amid one hundred and seventy girls. The one now speaking to Sharon believed himself to be a real hot-shot.
A hot-shot he might have been, but he was also an idiot. Sharon, trying to be polite, explained that she didn’t go out on dates. She was met with blank incomprehension. Then, before that state was succeeded by something worse, she pointed behind him and said, “Those boys over there are laughing at you.”
By the time that he looked furiously behind him, and then back at her, she was moving rapidly away. Such was life these days.
In order to minimize interviews of this sort, Sharon dressed as unglamorously as allowed by the school rules. The old administration had required a lady-like appearance and demeanor in all respects, but the new one was less rigid. Sharon’s usual costume consisted of men’s jeans, a size too big, and a sweatshirt with a race or athletic logo, also a bit big. And, of course, there was no lipstick or make-up of any kind. For the most part, this strategy worked quite well. Most of the boys she knew, far from harassing her, were happy to play sports with her. She had more natural athletic ability than her brother, and was widely admired for it.
Unknown to absolutely everyone, Sharon liked to be a girly girl once a month or so. She didn’t do anything that anyone could have objected to, and, in fact, her mother, a pleasant and mildly depressed woman, would probably have been pleased. However, serious discussions with her mother, while always civilized, had so many nuances and complexities that it was easier to avoid them. Quite apart from that, Sharon didn’t want to have to explain herself to, or be questioned by, anyone.
It happened that a great aunt on their mother’s side had left Tim and Sharon modest incomes from a trust fund set up for that purpose. Her father could have grabbed it by making her, like Tim, pay part of her own school expenses. However, obviously preferring her to her brother, he hadn’t.
In any case, Sharon was quite frugal, buying an old and much-blemished Toyota which was nevertheless in good mechanical condition. With her mobility assured, she then indulged herself in odd little things.
As the prime example, she secretly joined a sports club in Cambridge, most of whose members were business or professional people. It had a nice pool, and it was good to swim in an environment of adult strangers.
In a full length locker there, Sharon kept a small wardrobe of the sorts of clothes and accessories that an affluent young woman of thirty might have had. She could swim on a weekend or holiday morning, and then spend the rest of the day in Boston, perhaps lunching and shopping. She could look much older than her actual age, and she was accepted everywhere. On running into Tim in Harvard Square one time, she had clicked right past him in high heels without being recognized. That was great fun!
Since there were no classes on the next day because of teacher conferences, Sharon set off in the morning and swam a mile effortlessly without trying to break any personal records. The hard part was getting her hair dry afterwards. However, since it was curly, and cut fairly short, it looked only slightly unconventional, even when a little damp. Some men might not have wanted to trust their millions to a stock-brokess with untamed hair, but some compromises had to be made.
Having done her best with the hand-held hair dryer, she put on white underwear and went to the row of sinks and mirrors with her little make-up kit. The women there dabbing at their faces could be slyly observed in the mirrors by one who knew hardly anything of such arts. Sharon simply copied what she saw, always toning it down. After all, she didn’t have to hide middle-aged blemishes. Returning to her locker, she mounted pumps with fairly high heels, and slid into a dark blue cashmere dress. A coat to match would have been nice, but too bulky to keep in the locker. No one in the room seemed to suspect her of being a teen-ager, and, on the contrary, there were some looks of favorable appraisal.
It amused Sharon to go to a lady-like little restaurant and have a lady-like little lunch at a little table amid all the gossip bouncing around the room. When no one seemed to be looking, she snuck a power-bar out of her purse and consumed it while waiting for the bill.
The next stop was an odd little dress shop on the edge of the Back Bay. It was owned and run by a young Japanese lady who had been in the country some ten years, and who spoke a charmingly accented English. Perhaps the most expensive second-hand shop in the city, Mitsuko paid cash for clothing, as opposed to taking it on consignment. It was simpler that way, and wealthy customers liked simplicity.
Sometimes, a woman who brought in a dress she had worn, perhaps twice, would be tempted by something one of her peers had also worn a couple of times. Many of the customers knew one other, and there was always the chance that a woman at a party would find herself in the ex-dress of a friend. But these were women with enough social confidence to take as a joke something that might have humiliated lesser mortals.
Another selling point was Mitsuko’s memory and intuition. With an inventory of limited edition dresses, each in only one size, she could look at a customer, even a new one, and pick out everything that was most suitable. Moreover, she would take into account, not only style and preferences, but social and financial standing.
Perhaps because of these attributes, Mitsuko had quickly divined Sharon’s secret. Happy to co-operate with a young lady who could own only three dresses, she also seemed to feel something in common with a teen-ager who wanted to tweak her elders in subtle ways. Indeed, she would buy back a dress from Sharon for almost as much as she had sold it. She might also have thought it good business to have her customers see Sharon floating around her store, trying on dresses.
Whatever rebellious tendencies Mitsuko might have had, one wouldn’t have known it by watching her operation. The shop itself looked much more like an expensive boutique than a re-sale shop, and Mitsuko, tall for a Japanese woman, was exquisite. Walking as if in ceremonial robes with a total economy of movement, she looked as if she could order her environment simply by smiling on it. She had once joked to Sharon, “One customer told me that I dress a woman as if I were doing origami. A little touch here, a little smoothing there, and voila!”
Sharon was fascinated by someone so smart and knowing who was so unlike herself.
Finding a minimal parking space only a block away, Sharon twisted in. She then entered the shop to find only a few people in the fairly spacious area filled with mirrors and flowers. Mitsuko, guiding a woman in a green dress to a mirror, gave Sharon one of her American looks while making a slight gesture with her hand behind the woman’s back. It was only momentary, but it was meant to suggest the traditional saleswoman’s technique of bunching material in back to make a garment seem to fit. The dress was, in fact, too big. However, Sharon knew that Mitsuko had a demon of a seamstress who could solve such problems. When the woman turned toward her, Mitsuko produced her rapt Japanese look, as if being guided by inner spiritual resources to the right decision in the matter of clothing. Sharon settled down in one of the chairs to watch the performance.
The woman in the green dress, now being disrobed by Mitsuko in a fitting room with the curtains slightly ajar, didn’t seem to be a favorite customer. A little awkward and ungainly with a bit of a horse’s face, she might have been a marginal member of the upper class. Sharon could imagine a note of uncertainty in her voice as she gave orders to her servants.
Mitsuko next came to Sharon and the middle-aged man in a nearby chair. Sharon had thought that he might be the husband of the green dress woman, but, introducing them, Mitsuko said, “Mr. Harrison has come to buy some things for his wife and daughter. If you have a few minutes, Sharon, I wonder if you could model a dress or two for him.”
Sharon was delighted at this opportunity to join in the game of sales, and readily agreed. A young lawyer might not have wanted to spend twenty minutes modeling dresses, but a twenty three year old society girl might well be vain enough. The green woman, now in blue, came out with no intention of buying anything. However, Mitsuko, with a Japanese smile, actually bowed her out of the shop. She would be back with her money another day.
Returning to them, Mitsuko said,
“Miss Hastings is five-eleven, Mr. Harrison, two inches taller than
your daughter, but her coloring is much the same. Let me find a couple
With a blue silk dress on a hangar next to the mirror in the large fitting room, Sharon felt herself being gently undone as Mitsuko stood on tiptoe to whisper to her, “He’s very rich and loves to be around women trying on clothes. He sits right there, hoping to see between the curtains.”
“They’re pretty well closed. I don’t think he can see anything.”
“Even better. The very idea of your being undressed behind these curtains is driving him crazy.”
“Does he like being driven crazy?”
“Yes. Paradoxically, perhaps, but true.”
“He’s not exactly anyone’s dream boy friend.”
“Certainly not. We won’t show him anything. But, when he buys out the store, I’ll give you a new dress. At least if you can scrunch it in with the other three.”
Sharon, now in her slip, straightened her straps and replied,
“I think I can manage.”
Sharon had never modeled anything, and knew that models took funny little steps, crossing their feet and doing peculiar things with their bodies. Not feeling confident about that, she simply took a few steps toward Mr. Harrison, stopped and smiled. Mitsuko, off to the side, said,
“The hem’s a little too far above her knees, but it should be just right for Jennifer.”
That was all it took. One dress bought.
Back in the fitting room after the sale of two more dresses, Mitsuko whispered,
“I don’t want to overdo it. Besides, we need to find a dress for you.”
“Shall I just stay here, then?”
“It may take a while to finish up with him. You’d better put your dress back on so you can come out.”
When they were changing dresses, Sharon had felt the other woman’s fingers running lightly over her shoulders and along her waist as catches and zippers were done up and undone. It was a tickling feeling, not surprising inasmuch as Mitsuko did everything with deft light touches. It had happened before, but, this time, those touches prompted some thinking. Would there be more of them? Hopefully. But Sharon knew that there would be nothing overt or extreme. Finally getting into her dress and coming out, she said good-bye to Mr. Harrison in a rather austere fashion. After he was gone, Mitsuko started making tea and said, “I think we need a rest from all these tryings on.”
She then began to laugh. When asked what was so funny, she replied, “I was just thinking that my business here reminds me of one of the most ancient, and, indeed ridiculous, of the Japanese martial arts.”
“My brother and I’ve done some judo.”
“Then you know that a principle of judo is to throw an opponent with little effort, using his own strength against him. But this is more extreme, an offshoot of kyudo . The uke simply sits cross-legged holding a small stick. He has an impassive expression, and is obviously overflowing with Chi .”
Mitsuko then mimicked the expression to Sharon’s amusement, and continued, “The tori shoots a steel-tipped arrow at the uke’s forehead from a distance of twenty yards with great velocity. The uke makes only a slight movement with his stick, deflecting the arrow from himself.”
“My god, that’s absolutely crazy! I hope you aren’t going to shoot arrows at me.”
“By no means. But it’s an extreme case of accomplishing a great deal, saving one’s life, with an absolute minimum of movement. I, too, attempt to accomplish as much as possible while doing the least.”
“Well, you certainly didn’t work very hard selling that man those dresses.”
“That’s it. Whatever the activity, one prepares the groundwork in such a way that things happen, almost of their own accord.”
There was nothing easy or kyudish in wrenching out of the parking space Sharon had wedged into. She supposed that Mitsuko would have arranged some easeful space for herself that would allow her to park and unpark graciously.
Changing back into her regular clothes at the club, Sharon did manage to get the new dress into the locker without catching the skirt in the hinge. There was a fat woman, unusual for the club, who addressed her quasi-maternally and was inclined to talk. It occurred to Sharon to pretend not to speak English, but she was able to get away without resorting to anything so radical.