was on the third floor up, past slipcovers and tablecloths. There was even an
elevator girl in a black-and-white uniform who listed each floor’s contents,
Ladies’ apparel, china, silver plate, until almost halfway into the nineties,
when Carl’s, the last of three department stores downtown, took down its last Christmas
window, outlasting my mother, who near the end was no longer able to tear through
dress racks for bargains, and sat thinly on a chair while I brought her the flowery

sarong she insisted I try on, too, to be sure I could wear it, since, she frowned, “I
can’t even be buried in it.” The price tags were still on it when she died. My sister,
too large then even to put it on, kept it as hostage, a souvenir, like the bottles
of Joy she despised, even as she shared their name. On what I thought would
be my mother’s last trip to my house, we stopped at the store’s cafe, which she loved,
where so many older downtown Schenectady ladies put on once-stylish,

expensive clothes for a late-afternoon lunch or tea, where
she ordered a shake and a cheese sandwich that she barely could swallow, and we hurried
to the ladies’ room upstairs. Everything in this store was for ladies and girls, not
women, not persons. It was the ladiest ladies’ room ever, a whole separate sitting room
of pink cloth and pale wicker — a true rest room where
you could rest forever, read, have a cigarette. Salesclerks on break would slip into

the rose-and-shell-pink sanctuary, light up a Camel, slip off heels that made
their nyloned feet ache. Seventeen shades the color of lips and nipples, a
rouge snow, a bloody ruby, garnet, cream, peach. Azalea colors in
between. A room for a baby girl’s shower. Rose-scented soap in a bowl, pastel
sunset-colored towels to wipe away anything a lady would want

wiped away. Not elegant dark marble, like at Macy’s, but flouncy, lacy, fluttery as
the butterfly-fragile ladies mounted in oval frames on the walls, who seemed to have,
unlike those of us standing in their pink shadows, nothing to regret or worry about.