She walked into the department store. She needed a new dress for a lavish party that night. Nothing in her current wardrobe was quite right. Soft pop music played on the store speakers. People were trying on shoes. It smelled like someone spilled a gallon of perfume.

She made her way to the women’s clothing section. Nothing really caught her eye in sleepwear and intimates. Nothing worth stopping over, at least.

A few tops were on promotion at the start of the women’s clothing section. Pretty cute ones. Desaturated colors were in again. Simple and muted. Flashy was on its way out. So last season. Corporations need new product to sell; people need to be excited about buying it. And they want to feel good, they want to be current.

A little further down the aisle, in the heart of the section, a mannequin stood wearing a salmon-colored dress. It went to right above the knees. It was modest. Cute. Not too severe in its cut.

The mannequin noticed the woman and shifted its weight from hip to hip. The woman stayed, watching. The skin tone of the mannequin transitioned from olive to midnight. It then began cycling through a set series of poses.

“Cute, very cute,” the woman said. She felt the fabric between her fingers. Soft. And surprisingly light.

The mannequin spun around. A deep V ran down the back, exposing its shoulder blades. “Huh, didn’t expect that. Still, it is cute. How much is it?”

“One-hundred ninety-nine dollars, ninety-nine cents,” the mannequin said in a feminine voice infused with a hint of synthesis.

“Do you have it in my size?” the woman asked. The mannequin looked at her from head to toe and then paused for a few seconds.

“Our sincerest apologies, but we do not have your size in stock. But we can order it for you and have it delivered tomorrow. Shall I place the order?”

She scratched the back of her head. Phantom itch. Nervous tick.

“Next time,” she said. “I’d need it for tonight. Thanks though, it’s a nice dress.”

She walked through the rest of the women’s section and didn’t find anything half as cute. She made do with what she had in her closet. Everyone at the party loved her look, even though she recently wore the dress to a friend’s wedding not more than two months ago, with most of the same people in attendance. “I love your dress,” they all said. “Oh, this old thing?” she said. “I got it for sixty dollars on clearance a few months back.” “Wow, what a great deal,” they all said.

Collected in Brief Moments of Life