The first time she went to Madam Lucia’s dress shop it was closed. It didn’t surprise her, given the chaotic events of the last few days. The second time that she went, Anita came to the door quickly and closed it in her face. “You are too white to come in here,” she said. She felt like Anita had slapped her. Of all the reasons she had been tossed out of joints before being white had never been one of them. But then she remembered. They had told Anita that she was too brown to come into Doc’s candy shop. The words stung more because they reminded her of that night and there was nothing about that night that didn’t hurt to remember.
The third time she got lucky. She walked into the store and both Maria and Anita were there. They stared at her blankly but they had to let her stay, didn’t they? This was a shop and she was a customer. She showed them the few crumpled bills she had gathered together and said the words she never thought she’d say, “I need a dress.”
Anita rolled her eyes and laughed, a short, barking laugh. “That wouldn’t buy half a dress here.”
“A skirt, maybe? I have funerals to go to.” Funerals. More than one. Both Riff and Tony gone. The only people she had ever looked up to.
Anita made a wide, dismissing gesture that encompassed the entire shop. “These dresses are for weddings. Happy people in happy times. Not for mourning.” She was right. There was nothing but fluffy pastel rainbows in chiffon and crepe.
“Anita, why do you not help her?” Maria said, and smiled forlornly at the boyish figure. “She tried to help Tony.”
“But she didn’t—” Anita stopped. She had never told Maria what happened in Doc’s candy store.
“We could cut down one of my dresses,” Maria offered.
“Better to be one of mine,” Anita said. “She’s small, but no one has a waist smaller than yours. I have something in the back that would do.”
“What is your name?” Maria asked, leading her into the back room.
“They call me Anybodys.” Both girls stopped and looked at her in surprise.
“The story is when they asked my mom who my dad was, she said I could be anybody’s. But they called me Buddyboy when I found Tony. I think I like Buddy, and I thought that they finally would let me join—really join—and be part of the gang. But maybe that’s because Riff was gone. He always made me go home when things got rough.” She was rambling, and worse, tearing up. “I don’t think there are going to be any Jets any more.”
“Or Sharks,” Anita added.
Maria’s voice became even more gentle, if possible. “What did they call you in school?”
Anita scowled as she brought out the dress. It was black but had ruffles and bows in red. Bernardo’s favorite colors. “I’m not going to be needing this any more.”
Ann finally caught on that they wanted her to take off her shirt and they slipped the dress over her head.
“Why do you do this to yourself?” Anita chided.
“Dress like a boy. And a badly dressed boy. You are a white girl. You have no accent. And you have a pretty face. You could get anything you want.”
The dress looked awful. It was big and puffy and the red clashed with her hair. She stuck her feet in the red high heels Maria brought over. It was making her mad, really mad. But she didn’t want to argue; she wanted to explain.
I don’t like being a girl/Wearing my hair in curlers/Hands clutching at my pearls/Having a skirt that twirls
Maria and Anita looked askance at each other. “No hair for curls!” Maria sang back. “No money for pearls!” Anita sang.
But then she said, “straight skirt.” She started pinning up the sides of the skirt.
I don’t like being a girl/High heeled shoes hurt my feet (<Anita ducks a flying shoe>)/Chafing from poofy sleeves (<Maria starts ripping a sleeve off; Anybodys rips off the other one>)/Ruffles are not so neat
I want to join the fight/Start the fight/End the fight/Walk the night. Alone.
I want to run and jump and hang upside down. No makeup like a clown.
I won’t stop being a girl (<Maria and Anita sing back as they dismantle the dress>)/Don’t care if my hair’s too long/Wearing hoops on my ears/The boys might come on too strong/But I will live with my fears.
The dress is now simple. Sleeveless, with a square neckline. It’s past her knees and every bit of red is gone, as are the ruffles and bows. Both girls are smiling, which confuses Anybodys.
“You’re beautiful. Elegant.”
“You look like Audrey Hepburn.”
“Yes. Audrey Hepburn.”
“You have to bring the skirt up, Anita, or she won’t be able to walk.”
“Scabby knees. I’ll put a slit in it.”
The shop bell rang and Maria went to answer it.
“Did they make you work today?” Anybodys asked.
‘The dresses won’t sew themselves,” Anita said. “And we’ll be taking enough time off for the funerals. My Mama always said a woman’s life was full of tears, and not too many are happy ones.”
This was her chance to do what she had really come here for, but her courage faltered. Anita took her over to the vanity. “Just a little bit of makeup, okay? Not like a clown.”
She nodded. “I really don’t care about the dress. I mean, I’m glad you’re helping me and it looks good, but that’s not why I came here.”
“Then why did you come here?” Anita was preoccupied, doing something with her hair. Trying to smooth out the unruly cowlicks, no doubt.
“I wanted to tell you I am sorry. I said some bad things to you.”
“We don’t need to talk about it.”
“I do. I thought you were going to turn Tony in or I wouldn’t have tried to scare you away with words. What the guys did—it was wrong! I was so scared. I just froze against the wall. I didn’t do anything. I am so sorry. I wanted to be one of them, but I don’t want to be like that. I just don’t want it to happen to me.”
“I know,” Anita said. “Now look, isn’t that better?” And it was. Her hair was straight and silky. Like Audrey Hepburn.
“I did hurt him.” Anita said, as she put mysterious things back in the little drawers. “Tony. I didn’t want to hurt him, or Maria. I wanted to hurt you. All of you. But he wouldn’t be dead if I hadn’t told that lie.”
Anybodys could see that Anita’s eyes were filled with tears. “You didn’t kill him. Chino did, with a gun. Love didn’t kill him. Hate did.”
“I didn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell her. It’s killing me.”
“You should. She will forgive you. She didn’t shoot Chino, did she?”
“Maybe,” Anita said.
“We’ll loan you some flats. You can’t wear old white tennis shoes with the lovely dress I am making you. It will be ready tomorrow, if you want to come to Bernardo’s funeral. You can come if you want to.”
“I can,” she said. “And I can wear the dress. Because of you, I know that girls can be brave and loyal, too.”
Congratulations to Teresa, who won a VIP ticket package to West Side Story, and a signed copy of Jamie Bernstein’s new book, Famous Father Girl.