The Red Button
Buttons grew like poisonous mushrooms down the front of the dress, an almost perfect row. Except that one was missing, and it was not her dress.
The missing button was a small, round, red headache that woke her in the middle of the night. Searching for it, she discovered how many small,round, red things there are in the world: a chip off a cup, a bit of paper, legos.
She hunted for it until the sun popped up, far away, bright and round and red as a button. It rose slowly, growing larger and brighter until, by 10:00 a.m. when the clothing store opened, it was as big as God's wrath.
A swarm of dresses in this year's colors: lint, damp toast, mummy wrap, raw liver, wet dog. There it was: the identical incendiary red dress, with an identical row of buttons, plus one.
She lifted the dress off the rack, dragged it behind the prom dresses (in this year's colors of gravel and peeled eggplant) and yanked at the button. It was like trying to pull a mole off someone's face.
She took the dress into a fitting room and slid the dress over her head, catching sight of herself in the mirror: the vermilion veins in her eyes, the carmine rim, her grenadine cheeks. And inside she wore that same identical dress, made of blood and muscle and sinew and bone. And one button short.
She paid for the dress at the check out, carried it, smoking, out the door, drove it, steaming, home, and cut the button off with a scissors. Then she plunged a needle into the borrowed red dress and pulled the needle, hissing, through the cloth, sewing the new button onto the old dress. Finished, she hung the dress in the closet, the other clothes peeling away from it like layers of skin from a wound.
In the morning, she took the new dress back to the store.
"This dress is missing a button!" she said in what she hoped was a shocked voice.
"Would you like to exchange it?" the clerk said.
"No!" she said. She hadn't considered that possibility. "I want my money back."
She got it. And walking out the door, she noticed that the earth had tipped slightly, everything ever so slightly askew, as if buildings, cars, or even tiny objects, paper clips or buttons, for instance, might start sliding along the face of it.
The borrowed dress, hanging in the back of the car with its perfect row of buttons, now seemed oddly calm and lovely, while she felt the world in chaos all around her, the real red button still loose in the world, burrowing itself under a rock, working away at the earth until it would split and crack open-and eventually-it could take a while-everything would slide into that crack: rocks, trees, her house, herself, the beautiful red dress, with its row of buttons, plus one.
About the author: Margi Preus writes scripts, childrens books, and, apparently, mini-stories in Duluth. During her 20 years as artistic director of Colder by the Lake Comedy Theatre, she wrote satire and comedy in the form of plays, sketches, adaptations, radio shows, and comic operas. She, along with co-writer Jean Sramek, is at work on a couple of childrens musicals and a future Colder by the Lake production, The Idiot and the Oddity. Her new picture book, The Peace Bell, is forthcoming from Henry Holt in October, 2008.