August 19, 2013 § 12 Comments


Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother forty whacks/ When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

What could have possibly driven the New England spinster to murder her parents on that fateful day in 1892?  Recently I did some research on that infamous crime, and realized something:  She killed her parents on August 16.  The height of summer.

Swimsuit season.

I have carefully reconstructed the events of that day, when a trip to Macy’s and a book on oceanography collided with truly morbid consequences:

August 4, 1892

Lizzie Borden heads to Macy’s on a horse-drawn wagon and is ushered into the swimsuit department, where she finds rack after rack of mismatched bikini tops and bottoms.  The tops are too small, and the bottoms are in that V-shape that threatens an inexorable crack-crawl that will begin the moment they are drawn around the buttocks, but collectively the bright colors and cheerful labels mumble promises of glamour.

The Scopes Monkey trial, and its bold assertion that finding just the right swimsuit is an evolutionary process originating in simian groups, is a mere thirty-three years away.

Lizzie selects several items and skulks into a room to try them on. Macy’s, a true pioneer in the art of crushing self-esteem, has already installed dressing room mirrors that add ten years and twenty pounds. In the coming years, all other department stores will follow their lead.

The lighting is grim, eye-deadening, flaw-exposing, reaching past the epidermal layer to expose the future trail of each varicose vein that will emerge in the coming decades. This lighting will later be used at the Nuremberg trials and, still later, on The View.

On the walls of the dressing room, the maddened fingernails of women who tried on swimsuits in years past have scratched messages like “Tell Albert I love him,” and. “Please help me put out my own eyes.” And down near the carpet, as though clawed by a prone woman with her last strength, is written: “I swear to God it’s water weight.”

Lizzie hangs her purse on the hook and begins to undress. Finally she stands in nothing but a pair of Chlorox-spotty granny panties, staring at her own reflection. She is not an obese woman or even a heavy one. But in this magically evil mirror, in this chamber where the self unravels like a Walmart scarf in a tornado, she finds herself pale and enormous. Her breasts, supple and proud by dawn light of that same day, have slumped downwards and now rock gently as she shakes her head in disbelief. Her hips have settled. Her post-pregnancy weight has come back, even though she has never been pregnant.

She slides on the first bikini. The bottoms slump over her pelvic bone, exposing a large bristle of pubic hair no man has ever breached, and she feels the fabric across her hindquarters make an effortless slide toward her crevasse. Meanwhile, the bikini top manhandles her breasts like a TSA agent groping for contraband Xanax.

Each bikini she tries on brings its own indignities. Lizzie stares at herself, fighting back tears, certain that she will remain a spinster forever, certain that the time she slept naked and her cat went under the covers, stretched sleepily and accidentally fisted her will be the closest she will ever come to sexual intimacy.

She has just tried on the last bikini when she senses a presence. She glances in the mirror and finds that two winsome boy-girl twins, about six years old, have craned their heads under the dressing room door and are staring up at her.

“Dear God,” says the boy. “What is that?”

“It’s a bikini,” says the girl.

“But why does it leave mounds of cellulitic cheek-flesh exposed?”

“The fabric has taken refuge in the crevasse.”

“That reminds me of the time a hurricane drove one of grandfather’s work shirts off the clothesline and up the hind quarters of his favorite dray mule. It took three strong men to pry it out.”

Lizzie cannot bear it anymore. She aims a large foot at their heads and lashes out savagely, expecting to feel the satisfying crunch of twin-flesh but instead connecting with empty air as the children beat a hasty retreat.

Lizzie quickly abandons the final bikini and turns to the last refuge of those who linger like cornered queens on the chessboard of retail fashion: the one-piece.

She stands looking at herself.  She doesn’t look too bad, she decides. Perhaps she will walk away with her last shred of dignity intact.

Then she realizes that the mirror can be unfolded into a three-way.

“No, no, not the three-way, you self-sabotaging fool,” hiss the ghosts of women past.

But Lizzie does it anyway, though even as she unfolds the creaking mirror she can hear three-way mirrors unfolding one by one in the other dressing rooms, followed by screams and the thumps of bodies hitting the floor for a round of desperate crunches.

Studying her body from all sides in the three way mirror, Lizzie feels her last modicum of self-belief whirling down some unseen drain.

Just then, she hears the voices of the heinous twins, who are once again peering at her under the door.

“I hope I don’t look like that from behind,” says the girl.

“Nonsense,” says the boy. “It’s all about genetics. We are Paltrows, a wonder tribe of tall, lithe, fatless blondes living on acai berries and denatured silkworms. Generations from now, we will annoy people with our self-righteous juice cleanses and vegan colonics. But the pale, amorphous parents of this poor woman are no doubt to blame for how she looks in that three-way mirror, which is an absolute and faithful, Honest-Abe reflection of how she looks in real life.”

“My parents are to blame,” Lizzie murmurs, nearly fainting from the damning realization. “Of course.  It makes total sense. I should murder them with an axe.”

She tears the tag off her swimsuit and throws her shirtwaist dress on over it, fleeing the dressing room.

“Here,” she says as she hands the tag to the clerk, “I’m wearing the swimsuit under my dress.”

“Would you like to open a Macy’s account? You can get 10% off today’s purchase.”

“No, I have too many credit cards. Besides, I’m going to go home and murder my parents with an axe.”

“Oh,” the clerk laughs, “If I had a dime for every woman who comes out of that dressing room wanting to murder someone, I’d be a rich for sure!”

“You don’t understand. I have a specific plan to give my mother forty-whacks, and then once I see what I have done, to give my father forty-one.”

“If you ask me, dear, anything over twenty whacks is overkill.  Now, do you want your receipt in the bag?”


Lizzie’s father, a property developer and president of the Union Savings Bank, sits reading his coffee table book of oceanography.

“Something’s wrong with Lizzie,” he says to his wife. “She’s grown distant. Cold. She barely acknowledges me.”

“She’s a teenager,” says Mrs. Borden.

“She’s thirty-two.”

“You should try being warmer to her,” she advises.  “More playful.  Maybe give her a nickname.”

“A nickname?”

“Yes. My father’s nickname for me was Little Squirrel.”

Just then, Lizzie enters.  Her hair is a bit disheveled. Eyes a bit wild. Anyone standing behind her would notice, through the fabric of her dress, the seams of her swimsuit bottom sliding ominously toward the crevasse.

Her father takes a quick glance down at his book and then back at Lizzie and says, “Hey, there… Orca.”

His wife shoots him a withering look.

Lizzie stares at him a long moment.

“I’m going to my room,” she says finally, and disappears up the stairwell.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Mrs. Borden scolds her husband.


“You called her a whale!”

“I called her an Orca. They’re the lions of the sea. I’d have been proud if my father had ever taken the time to thumb through an oceanography book and give me an aquatic nickname.”

“Go apologize to her. Women are very delicate after they have gone swimsuit shopping.“

“Fine, fine. I’m the bad guy. Everyone dog-pile on the father.”

He stands up.

“Wait,” says the mother. “I’ll go with you. You’ll just screw it up.”

He mounts the stairs two at a time, his wife close behind. He tries out new nicknames for his daughter as he ascends.

“Come on Libster,” he calls. “Daddy didn’t mean it!”

“Come on Liz-dog!”

“Come on Lizzorama!”

“Come on Little Squirrel!”



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