Mission – Make a Fairy Tale

by | Feb 3, 2023

This was one tough morning. No real coffee left in the canister and only enough bread for him to have toast. I get to the store late, wishing I wore my comfortable shoes, I am just lifting the window gates from in front of the storefront display

when I see them park the car.

I recognize the older woman. She was in here last week looking at wedding gowns, something for her oldest daughter. The girl is a surprise, very young, very tall, so very not in possession of her body’s recent blooming. Staring into the glittering window display of bridal gowns, veils, peignoirs, special day shoes,

her misery is striking. Her mama puts her arm around the girl’s shirt-waisted body, kisses her curly blonde hair urges her forward into the store into a future. I almost protest this child is not old enough to be married off. “Please, for me,” her mama asks. It is not the heat’s shimmer I see in the room with us

but time closing in on them.

I am skilled at imagining, then creating gossamer dreams for all kinds of wedding days and nights leading to long days of laundry, babies, and bills beyond. But this, it is clear there is not a real wedding day to plan, the groom is still unknown. This is

a mercy mission, comfort for an absence coming.

I cannot hesitate. I have a business to run, real bridal parties due for fittings in an hour. The mother knows, “Please can she just try on one or two dresses so I can see her?” To the girl, “Honey, let’s pretend, which dress?” When the girl’s tongue starts to move around her closed mouth, the mama makes a quick choice. A fairy tale of a dress with long lace sleeves, and offset neckline, fitted waist, and a skirt that will move with those long legs but not too too

I help the breathless girl into it. Looking in the mirror I see her start to realize

whom she might become. We walk down the long aisle into the front of the store. Her mother is crumpled in a chair. She looks up and smiles at her daughter’s glory. “You look like a precious dream,” she whispers. The girl is already at the mother’s knee. She is now in command. Opening her mother’s purse she quickly gives her
a tiny pill from a medicine bottle.

I look away. This girl moves fast and is suddenly changed back into the plain blue shirt waist dress. She thanks me, helps her mother up and out the door.

They are gone.


  1. Dominique Christina

    This story was interesting to me. The narrator almost seems to operate from a bit of distance. They give you impressions and moments but leave their thoughts about much of it off the table. For now, anyway, it seems to be about seeing the scene. And I do. Seeing this mother frenzied with her own agenda which doesn’t seem to regard the feelings and wishes of her daughter very much at all. Seeing the narrator bear witness. Pinned down by the moment, perhaps. I hope you will keep going with this. It’s very interesting. I’d like to know more about the speaker’s interior life.

    • Karen Keefe

      Thank you, Christina. This POV is a big change for me, but is important and interesting to explore. Much of my work is situated in exploration of how people deal with ongoing, hidden situations. The awareness of the view outside: who is watching you, how you are being talked about, what you can reveal, all those things, the benign or cruel regard and judgement, that is all very rich memory to me. I so appreciate this opportunity and am learning so much.

  2. Meg Tuite

    Hi Karen,
    I would cut this to the most interesting sentence to start with. “Staring into the glittering window display of bridal gowns, veils, peignoirs, special day shoes,her misery is striking.” That sparks something that gets it all moving. Hone this baby in. There are many awkward sentences this that could be worked over: “The girl is a surprise, very young, very tall, so very not in possession of her body’s recent blooming.” (so very not?) Think of the musicality of language as you write. ‘laundry, babies, bills’ (try to create the tension through the uniqueness of your voice) . These are suggestions. You might also consider changing POV and bringing us closer to these people. Feels very distant and hard to emote with. Good first draft.

    • Karen Keefe

      Dear Meg, thank you so much for reading this over and giving me such detailed suggestions. Yes, time to sharpen the focus and dig deeper.

  3. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Karen, you paint a very vivid scene here, filled with many wondrous descriptions. And the POV, told from bridal gown store owner, was overt. I wonder if it might be better told in the girl’s POV? It reminded me of one of my favorite memoirs called Ghost Bread by Sonja Livingston: (https://www.sonjalivingston.com)

    • Karen Keefe

      Dear Robert, thank you for helping me move this piece forward. My usual POV would be the girl, I decided this workshop gave me a chance to explore how to use the POV of someone observing a public event for a family in a situation. I do not mean to be overly vague. It is very useful to me to be able to have this much feedback. I really need to know what readers see, hear, feel, as we all do. I so appreciate you all providing this opportunity!

  4. Len Kuntz

    Hi Karen.

    This was really powerful. I read it a few times. All of the details are striking and I love the unique way you use line-breaks: that gave it a poetic quality, and also author authority. This line really popped–urges her forward into the store into a future.
    And then the pill at the end, it flipped things in such a clever way.

    • Karen Keefe

      Dear Len, I really appreciate your comments. Coming up with a page form for this was a challenge so your appraisal is so useful to me. Thank you!

  5. Sheree Shatsky

    The store owner so accustomed to wedding parties, becomes a party to what may never come to be. Intriguing POV, to stand witness to this outside view of a typically a mother-daughter tradition. Nice.

  6. Julia Bouwsma

    This piece had me so intrigued! I love all the visual descriptions, especially of the mother and daughter near the end. But also, I feel like there are so many unanswered questions here, and I just want to know more. More about the relationship between the mother and daughter. More about the narrator’s context and perspective. I want to know who the “he” who had toast…is he a son? I want to know more about “This is a mercy mission, comfort for an absence coming.” Basically, I just want more…more about where this coming from and where it’s going.

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