Small Talk: The Dress


Oct 13, 2019


Illustration by Shreyaa Krritika Das

Niece – There.

Me – Yup. There it is. Wow.

Niece – It’s my princess dress.

Me – I know, it just looks a little … different. On Aadhi.

Niece – Ya. Because he’s Aadhi.

Me – Right. And Aadhi, dude, you’re wearing that to the birthday party, are you?

Niece – He says yes. 

Me – Did he though? It sounded like mice or something.

Niece – Should he wear wings but?

Me – Um … you know, about this dress thing–

Niece – I think he should wear wings.

Me – Well, why don’t we ask Aadhi what he wants. Aadhi, do you really, really, REALLY, want to wear that dress to the birthday party?

Niece – And wings. He says yes. 

Me – It sounds different than the noise he made before. Aadhi, dude, nod like this if you really want to wear the dress.

Niece – And wings.

Me – Are you sure? Like really sure?

Niece – See? He wants to.

Me – Why do I feel like I’m going to get in trouble for this?

Niece – Why? Did you say bum?

Me – Some people might not like him wearing a dress.

Niece – Why?

Me – Because … well, some people might not like that he’s a boy and he’s wearing your dress.

Niece – But that’s because he doesn’t have his own dress.

Me – Aadhi, you realize some people might say mean things to you? Or make fun of you? For wearing a dress?

Niece – Who people?

Me – Like, I feel, so many people. 

Niece – I thought you said boys could wear dresses. Your friend wears dresses you said.

Me – Yeah but … I mean this is different.

Niece – Because Aadhi doesn’t have a beard.

Me – No, because … Aadhi, listen. Let me call your mom and ask her.

Niece – Ask her what?

Me – If he can wear your princess dress to the party.

Niece – Is it bad?

Me – No, it’s just … let me ask her. I think your mom’s number is–

Niece – Aadhi’s mom is in Thailand.

Me – Oh. It might be weird if I call her in Thailand to ask if it is okay if her son wears your princess dress to a birthday party. No?

Niece – You said it wasn’t bad.

Me – It’s not, dude, really. It’s just– whose party is it?

Niece – Aaryan.

Me – Okay, let me call his mom and ask if it’s okay.

Niece – I’m also wearing a dress but.

Me – Yeah, that’s not what people will have a problem with though. 

Niece – You said it wasn’t bad.

Me – Dude, it is not bad. No matter what happens with this, Aadhi wearing a dress is not bad, okay? Now, which one is Aaryan’s mom — do I like her?

Niece – No.

Me – Great. This should be a fun conversation.


Me – Oh my hecking god.

Niece – What she said.

Me – That was the longest hecking phone call of my entire life.

Niece – What she said but.

Me – Well, after having a family conference which, for some reason, involved assorted second cousins in Delhi, it was decided that Aadhi shouldn’t be allowed to wear a dress to the party.

Niece – Why but.

Me – Because it might make other boys wear dresses, too.

Niece – We bring dresses for everyone then.

Me – What do they think this is, some kind of viral fever?

Niece – Are they mad I’m wearing a dress, too?

Me – No, you’re fine. And they seem fine with Aadhi wearing wings. As long as he’s wearing pants or shorts with them. 

Niece – But I can’t wear pants or shorts.

Me – No, you can. 

Niece – Why.

Me – I don’t know. There are those who think you can’t wear pants or shorts though. FYI.

Niece – We should wear nothing.

Me – No, definitely not that. Ever. 

Niece – I don’t know what’s happening.

Me – So, here’s the deal. Aadhi can wear the wings, pants or shorts, but no dress. You can wear anything.

Niece – I wear my plastic bag dress then.

Me – You can’t wear that.

Niece – You said–

Me – Dude, that’s literally just a plastic bag. You cannot wear a plastic bag to a party. Your mom will shave off my eyebrows.

Niece – Can I shave off my eyebrows?

Me – No.

Niece – Can I shave off Aadhi’s eyebrows?

Me – No, dude. What the heck?

Niece – Aadhi wants to wear the dress but.

Me – Aadhi, you can totally wear the dress anytime here, whenever you want. 

Niece – Okay.

Me – But if you want to go to the party–

Niece – We stay here.

Me – But I thought you guys were excited to go. I thought there was going to be pizza.

Niece – It’s fine. We will wear dresses and stay here.

Me – Okay. We can order pizza, I guess.

Niece – And we can dance. 

Me – Sure, why not.

Niece – And do adding-subtracting. With big numbers.

Me – Wow, when you guys party, you don’t fool around.

Niece – Will you also do?

Me – Adding-subtracting? Absolutely not. 

Niece – With big numbers?

Me – Definitely not with big numbers.

Niece – You can watch us then.

Me – Sure, that sounds like a lot of fun. You’re absolutely sure you don’t want to go? We still can, if you want.

Niece – No. We stay here. We can do adding-subtracting and dance. 

Me – Sounds like a good time to me. 

Niece – Ya. It will be.

Small Talk chronicles conversations between the author and her niece that could, in an alternate universe or in this one, be real.


Written By Kuzhali Manickavel

Kuzhali Manickavel’s collections “Things We Found During the Autopsy,” “Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings,” and chapbooks “The Lucy Temerlin Institute for Broken Shapeshifters Guide to Starving Boys” and “Eating Sugar, Telling Lies” are available from Blaft Publications, Chennai. Her work has also appeared in Granta, Strange Horizons, Agni, Subtropics, Michigan Quarterly Review and DIAGRAM. She used to blog at http://thirdworldghettovampire.blogspot.com/.


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