Vanessa Koltrane lived a routine life with her family in a little town near the Adirondack mountains. When her school changed its dress code to allow girls to wear pants, she asked her mother to buy her a pair of blue jeans, but was sternly rebuked and sent to her room. She stared out of her window at the towering mountains and pouted.
The next day, passing by her local corner store on the way to school, she saw a pair of bell-bottoms that looked just like she had seen on TV. She turned her eyes away, but the they lingered in her mind. She could barely pay attention in school. She wasn’t the only girl in a skirt, but she was sure hers was the ugliest and brownest.
On the way back, Vanessa stared longingly at the jeans. She knew she could never afford them, but maybe if she could just try them on it would be enough.
Moe took off his sunglasses to give her the side eye when she carried the pants in. He put out his cigarette and asked, “Did your mudda say ye could buy those, V? I don’t think I could sell them to yeh without permission, y’know. It’s not like she’d hafta guess which stoah they came from.” he screwed his face up into the odd, leering expression he made when he was practicing his comedy routine.
Vanessa knew Moe was from the Big City and didn’t share her mother’s old-fashioned values. “I’m just gonna try it on, Moe.”
Moe chuckled deep in his throat. “I won’t tell if you won’t.” He returned his sunglasses to his face in a symbolic show of turning a blind eye.
The pants were the most wonderful thing Vanessa had ever experienced. Just the feeling of them hugging her body was ecstasy. In the mirror she looked like she was a TV star. She stepped out of the dressing room and Moe grinned at her. “You like ’em?”
“Yes.” Vanessa twirled and leapt, exulting in the freedom of having no loose fitting cloth weighing her down. Moe laughed. “Gosh, V, I’d just give ’em to ya if ya mudda wouldn’t flay me alive. Ain’t she gonna be expectin’ you home about now?”
Vanessa froze. Why did she have to take these off? Moe was even going to give them to her for free. The only thing in the way was her mother. She wrote it off and resumed dancing.
“Hey,” Moe said after a moment, “honey, I think it’s time for you to change back and head home.
Vanessa strutted in front of the mirror in the open dressing room door. “Do you think I look like a movie star?”
“You look like a princess, sweetheart, now I know yer mom is a piece a work and it ain’t fair, but I’d really appreciate if ya could maybe get moving.”
Vanessa did not want to go home. She was happy here. She just wanted to stay here in these pants. Not forever, necessarily, just a little longer. She spun around to beg Moe for more time, but he looked different. Moe’s sunglasses were back in his hand. She watched his face contort again for his comedy routine, but it did so much too slowly to maintain any joke.
She stood silent and stared. mouth stretch out to one side and his eyes bug out as usual, but achingly slowly. They seemed to just keep stretching further and further, buggier and buggier. As this happened, Vanessa felt like the air around her had grown heavier. When she breathed in it felt like she was breathing molasses.
Soon she had stopped paying any attention to Moe and focused all her energy on forcing air in and out of her lungs. One two-ton breath in haaaaaaaaaaaaa, one two-and-a-half-ton breath out aaaaaaaaaaah. “Moe” she squeaked, “help.” For a long second, she couldn’t breathe at all. She tried to pull her arms to her neck, but the air resisted her. She was trapped. She was going to die here. Just like Mom tried to warn her, God was punishing her for wearing blue jeans.
Then Moe finished his rictus and donned a look of concern. He rushed forward and kneeled in front of Vanessa as she gulped in breath after breath of the hot, tobacco-scented air. “What the hell just happened to you? Pardon my French.”
“I’m going home, Moe,” Vanessa croaked, “I’ll take the pants off. Thanks for letting me try them.”
“Uh, yeah, no prob. You sure yer ok? Do you need a ride? I can close this place up fer five minutes, nobody comes by anyway.”
“No,” Vanessa whispered.
“What were you doin’ all of a sudden tryin’ to breathe so fast? I never seen nobody pump their lungs like that.”
Vanessa nodded and stood up. She returned to the dressing room, changed, took her pants back to the rack, and walked back home.
Little Vanessa sobbed and shook and blubbered unintelligibly in Dorothy Koltrane’s arms. “There there,” she soothed, doing her best to follow what her daughter was saying, “God still loves you. There there.”