The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Beauty by Christina Chiu

This selection, chosen by guest curator Heather Leigh, is from Beauty by Christina Chiu, released by SFWP in 2020. 

Content note: Beauty contains graphic depictions of consensual sexual encounters.

            My mind swarms with a mishmash of random, nagging thoughts. Call Georgie about Ma’s birthday gift. Add “sugar” to the shopping list. Ask that new mom in the playgroup for the name of her pediatric allergist. Call the tree company to test the towering Oak hovering directly above Alex’s bedroom.

            There’s something inside me, something important I need to say right now, if only I could figure out what it is. Only three years ago, I was an aspiring designer fresh out of grad school. I combed through fashion collections, reading up on various designers and working straight through the night, testing fabrics, cutting, pinning, and sewing. Often, I’d still be there to watch the sanitation trucks do their early morning pick-ups. I poured over drawings with friends, savoring delicious cups of coffee while taking turns commenting on our work. We gossiped about lovers and partners, talked about books and movies, and discussed life—what it was, and what it possibly could be—as if we were at the beginning and it would last forever.

            But, then, Jeff and I moved out to a house in the suburbs. “A boy needs space enough to throw a football,” Jeff said.

            “You don’t even like football.” I wasn’t happy. I was just beginning to get some “new designer” attention in the industry. But, I didn’t say anything. What could I say? My belly grew larger and more bloated each day. Suddenly, I was fat and ugly. Something to be hidden away, and in truth, I was okay with hiding. I had a secret. The pregnancy occurred around the time I messed up taking the pill. It was only one exchange with Rick compared to the many I had with Jeff, so chances were Jeff was the father, but I didn’t know for certain. Maybe Jeff sensed it, somehow, or maybe he fell into his old patterns. He started to look elsewhere. He came home reeking of sex and Coco Mademoiselle.

            Fashion is a small industry. Everyone knew, which made me feel all the more helpless and ashamed. Everything here, everything that’s yours is mine, Dad used to say.

            So, this is what I understood: Everything that was mine was Jeff’s; everything that was Jeff’s was not mine. I had signed the prenup. Even still, one of the tabloids doctored a photo of me dressed in one of Jeff’s “Empress” gowns. The heading read: “Down with the Dowager.” The article described me as controlling and “money grubbing.” It said I married Jeff for social stature and to get a leg up in the fashion industry.

            I kissed Jeff at Helena’s party four years ago. Now, despite everything, I could never live it down.

Christina Chiu is the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The New Guard Literary Review, Washington Square, The MacGuffin, and elsewhere. Troublemaker won the Asian American Literary Award and was chosen for the Alternate Section of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Chiu received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia. She is a founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and has worked in the fashion industry as a shoe designer.

Heather Leigh is a queer, disabled writer and editor who has been working within Chicago’s publishing world for more than twenty years, editing poetry for the likes of Curbside Splendor and reading prose and poetry for Uncanny Magazine. She has recently began to focus on her own publication goals between semesters teaching English, writing, reading, and journalism at various midwestern community colleges. She is a three-time SAFTA fellowship recipient, a multiple resident of Firefly Farms, and most recently had a speculative horror story published in Bloodlet, an anthology by CultureCult Press. She lives in Chicago with a retired cage-fighting poet, two rescue cats names after Buffy watchers, enjoying life with the family that caught her by surprise.

Leave a Reply