The Forgotten Dress

The Forgotten Dress


Her hand trembled when she raised the white porcelain cup to her lips for a sip of coffee. Gazing through the coffee shop window, she watched the patio fill quickly with people on this splendid sun-drenched day. However, she wanted to sit inside in a secluded corner and try to gather her thoughts in solitude.

            Her marriage was quickly unraveling at its seams and no amount of effort could stitch it back up. Their clashes were more and more frequent, deepening the chasms of a divide between them. All of a sudden, he began pressuring her to leave her job as an editor in a publishing house, arguing that as a software developer, he was making more than enough money to meet their needs. She could not explain to him that it was not a matter of money; her job was her passion that was closely tied to her educational background in postmodern literature and her deep love of reading. He wanted her to conceive, have children, and devote her time to raising them, as most women in the culture he came from had done for centuries.

            Furious with him, she would tell him to go back to his homeland as she had little in common with the culture of his birth.  She had not gone to graduate school to be held in the captivity of domestic life. Moreover, she did not intend to change the way she dressed in order to reflect whatever standards of feminine elegance the women in his country of birth embraced. She resented being compared to his sisters and some elusive but high standard she was unlikely to reach.

            Replaying their latest fight in her mind over her getting a Pixie haircut without having consulted him, she forgot she was holding a cup of hot coffee in her hand, and she stifled a scream of pain when a splash of the hot liquid fell on her bare knee.

            Quickly, she placed a napkin on the affected skin absorbing some of the coffee and looked around in search of more napkins so that she could mop it off the floor when a male hand proffered a wad of them. She raised her eyes and locked gazes with a man who looked about fifty years old, and whose green eyes seemed to sparkle with amusement.

            “Did you burn yourself?” he asked, and she detected an undertone of concern in his melodious voice.

            “Not really,” she replied and looked at her knee which was slightly red. “And thank you for the napkins.”

            A smile frolicked on his lips when he said, “I believe I know you from a book reading. In fact, we have a friend in common. I went to Alan White’s book launch, and it was you who gave an introductory talk about his book for which you had also written a foreword. Is my memory serving me, right?”

            He looked at her with expectation in his eyes. At the same moment, a barista called, “Damian,” and the man excused himself and went to get his coffee.

            She remembered that she had not been able to stay long at Alan’s book launch, as she had promised her husband, she would be back home in two hours at the most. Anger swelled up within her thinking about her husband’s possessiveness and jealousy making her feel enslaved in her marriage. 

            “May I join you? I have about half an hour before my next class starts,” asked Damian holding a cup of cappuccino in his left hand.

            “Yes, of course,” she said extending her hand. “I’m Eliza. And yes, I was the one who had introduced Alan’s book that night. He is a close friend. His book was a great success. I am normally not drawn to the supernatural in literature, but the ghosts in his story were so credible.

            “So, I suppose you teach across the street at the school of comparative literary studies, right?” asked Eliza.

            “Excellent guess. I teach graduate courses,” he replied.

            “I did my Ph.D. there and soon after graduation I got a job as an editor at the Neptune Publishing House two streets down,” said Eliza.

            They spent the next 30 minutes in animated banter about arts and their influence on each other. They also talked about the manuscripts she was currently reading and considering for acceptance for publication. Damien mentioned he was working on a book of non-fiction about the political influences of postmodern writers, and once his manuscript has been completed, he would like to submit it to her publishing company.

            When he stood up to leave, he said he hoped to see her again.

            “I usually spend my Wednesday lunch hour here,” blurted Eliza feeling a blush tint her face because of the lie she had just uttered.

            “It’s a date then,” Damian said winking at her.

            She was stunned by her not so implicit invitation that they meet next Wednesday. She also realized how much she had yearned for conversations linked to literary theory and arts, in general. That she felt attracted to Damian, but she would not dare admit to herself under any type of coercion. 

            Once she arrived home, she looked at her phone and saw that she had missed four calls from her husband. She called him back and lied that she did not hear the phone ring as she was engrossed in editing a manuscript and the phone was in her bag.


The following Wednesday, Eliza put on a pair of newly purchased white designer jeans and a lavender form-fitting shirt. She wanted to look casual chic.

            Entering the coffee shop, she could feel a frenzied swirl of butterflies in her belly.      “What in the world is happening to me?” she thought, considering leaving while there was still time.

            The door opened and he came in looking rushed. His grin was wide and warm upon seeing her.

            “I hope your lunch break can be extended as I’m free this afternoon,” he said animatedly.

            “Sorry, I can only stay an hour as we have a meeting I could not possibly miss,” Eliza replied pleased she did not have to lie about her afternoon commitments.

            Again, minutes flew by on the wings of star-filled gazes and captivating conversations about arts and literature, as well as the current political happenings. In one of his passing remarks, he mentioned that his late wife had owned a bookstore.

            “How long ago did she die?” asked Eliza.

            “It will be four years at the end of this month.”

            “What did she die of, if you do not mind my asking?”


            A shadow passed over Damian’s face and Eliza steered their conversation in another direction.

            When she looked at the time on her cell phone, she stood up saying she had to leave in order not to be late for her meeting. 

            “See you next Wednesday, then!” Damian exclaimed and she nodded.


Wednesdays at noon became their regular meeting time. The attraction between them was palpable and Eliza felt she was cheating on her husband, as Damian had become part of her day and night dreams. She felt she was walking on clouds, intoxicated with feelings of infatuation. 

            When after one meeting at the coffee shop Damian asked her out to dinner, she decided it was time to break the spell and tell him she was married and would not meet him for dinner until her divorce was finalized. She asked him for his phone number saying she would contact him once she was single again. Wordlessly, he wrote down his phone number, his email address as well as his home address on a piece of paper he pulled out of his knapsack and handed it to her.

            That evening, she packed whatever could fit in a large suitcase and left her apartment. She sent her husband an email in which she explained how she had felt unhappy in their marriage for a long time, how incompatible they were and how she wished he would find the right kind of woman for himself. She also said she did not want anything from him but an uncomplicated divorce.

            Eliza’s mother lived about an hour away from the city centre where Eliza resided, and she welcomed her daughter with arms wide open. She only said Eliza was lucky not to have had children because moving on would have been more complicated.

            It took only three months for the divorce papers to be finalized, as unexpectedly her husband had readily agreed to all the terms proposed by Eliza’s lawyer. Eliza realized that he had also probably been unhappy with her and welcomed the chance to start a new life.

She celebrated her divorce with a small group of friends in a cozy restaurant and after a couple of glasses of sparkling wine, mustered up the courage to send Damian a text message proposing they meet at the coffee shop the following Wednesday. His response was almost immediate and radiated with joy. He said that hearing from her was one of the most thrilling surprises of his life.


Their relationship developed at a dizzying speed. Eliza had never felt so madly in love before. When he proposed to her during a walk through a meadow full of wildflowers, she was so choked up that she could only nod her head in silent acceptance.

            After their honeymoon in Italy, they moved into Damian’s charming redbrick, Victorian house and began renovating it. As Eliza’s grandmother had left her a small inheritance, Eliza decided to invest it into turning Damian’s house into a more contemporary space. His ex-wife had furnished it with heavy and old-fashioned pieces of furniture, burgundy curtains and had painted the walls in dark grey. The hardwood floors were of a reddish hue. Eliza liked airy and light spaces, as well as white walls and blonde or walnut hardwood floors and furniture. Damien told her to redecorate and renovate the house according to her taste, as he had been reluctant to make any changes after his first wife’s death but was finally ready for a new beginning. He had purchased the house before he was married to Fiona but had let her furnish it the way that made her happy.

            Between her job and meetings with the contractors, Eliza found herself busy but also filled with enthusiasm and content with the changes rapidly taking place in her new home. The living room was suddenly converted from a gloomy and oppressive space into a light and bright room with large French doors opening onto an expansive garden.

            One evening, after cleaning the dust and splotches of wall paint on the new hardwood floors left by the contractors, Eliza went into the bathroom to take a shower. Just as she began taking off her makeup, she screamed and froze having seen the reflection of a woman in the mirror above the sink. The woman in the mirror had long brown hair and her eyes were wide open as if in wild disbelief or anger over seeing Eliza. She wore a bright red satin evening gown with sequined silver piping along the deep plunging V-neckline. When Eliza turned around, the woman was gone. Shivering in fear and panic, she ran back into the living room looking for her cell phone. She called the police saying there was an intruder in her house. She also called Damian who left his class in the middle of a lecture to rush back home.

            The police arrived after a few minutes and searched the house thoroughly, as well as the back and front yard finding no sign of an intruder. All the doors and windows had been closed, and there was no evidence of an attempted break-in. They asked her to describe the woman and as Eliza began describing her, she noticed the pallor in Damian’s face.  

            After the police had left, Damian poured her a glass of cognac, and she drank it even though she disliked hard liquor. 

            The next few days she ensured she was never alone at home. She went back to work and scheduled contractors in the afternoon hours. 

            One day, while sitting in the living room and admiring the new elegance of a light-colored hardwood floor and white sofas with blue cushions, she heard the sound of glass breakage coming from upstairs. She had thought one of the workers, who was painting the bedroom and hallway walls, had broken something, and she ran upstairs to check. When she entered her and Damian’s bedroom, she found the glass frame of their wedding photo smashed beneath the dresser it had stood on. She picked up the shards wondering how the photo could have fallen off the middle of the dresser. She also felt a sudden chill in the air as if the room had suddenly become cold in spite of the warm September weather.

            When she turned the doorknob to go back downstairs, she could not open it no matter how hard she twisted it and pulled on it. At the same time, she felt an icy breath on her neck and froze in fear not daring to turn around. Her mouth went dry, and her heart palpitations became so intense that she thought she would die of sudden heart failure. When the door opened, she collapsed in the arms of one of the workers.

            “Are you alright, ma’am? I could hear you trying to open the door as I was passing by. We are done painting for the day.”

            “Thank you, Sam. I guess the knob got stuck, somehow.” Eliza composed herself and moved quickly past Sam and called Damian as soon she found her phone. Her voice faltered as she was trying to explain to her husband what had happened. She told him she was sure the woman she had seen in the bathroom was still in the house.

            Damian tried to calm her down and told her that the bedroom doorknob would sometimes get jammed and that it needed to be changed.  He suggested they go out for dinner, and she agreed. 

            When they returned home, Eliza went straight to bed feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. She fell into a deep sleep dreaming about running through a dark alley and trying to escape from something evil that was pursuing her. Just as she was about to turn a corner and step into a lighted square, someone grabbed her by the neck and started strangling her from behind. She screamed and trued to pry off hands with blood-red nails. She woke up screaming and gasping for air. Damian was trying to embrace her, but she was too hysterical to allow him to touch her.

            “There is something evil in this house and it is trying to harm me,” she sobbed. “I am not crazy. I am not imagining things. My neck hurts.” 

            “It was just a nightmare, honey,” Damian said in a voice brimming with worry upon seeing red marks on Eliza’s neck. 

            Eliza suddenly turned toward him and said, “Show me a picture of your wife and tell me how she died and what happened between you.”

            Damian looked uncomfortable. “Can we leave that conversation for tomorrow, it is 2 am?”

            “No,” exclaimed Eliza. “I want to know everything about her. I have a feeling her ghost is haunting this house and cannot tolerate my presence.

            “You believe in ghosts?” asked Damian incredulously.

            “How else could you explain the woman I saw in the bathroom mirror? There were no signs of a break-in.”

            “What do you want to know?”

            “Why did she kill herself?”

            Damian sighed and said, “I was going to leave her. Fiona was mentally unstable but would not seek help. She would get into fits of rage and throw things at me. This little scar on my forehead was the result of a cut with a porcelain cup she broke on my forehead. When I said one day I’d had enough and was leaving her, she threatened she would kill herself. I didn't believe her, but to my horror, I found her dead one day on the living room sofa. She had taken a full bottle of sleeping pills.”

            “So, she died in this house?”

            “Yes,” Damian replied softly.

            “Did she have a red satin evening gown?” asked Eliza pacing the room.

            “I believe she had a red gown that she wore once for the official opening celebration of her bookstore. I remember thinking she looked a bit overdressed for the occasion.”

            “Where is that dress?” asked Eliza excitedly.

            “I’m not sure. I gave away most of her clothes and possessions, but there may still be some of her belongings in the attic. She kept things there she no longer wore and planned to discard,” said Damian. 

            They were both wide awake now, while outside, the night had already begun to recede before dawn.

            “I want to search the attic now,” said Eliza decidedly.

            “Put your shoes on as there may be broken glass or scattered screws and nails on the floor,” said Damian.

            When Damian turned on the light in the attic, Eliza saw a couple of old velvety armchairs, a bookcase that had no books on the shelves, but only a bookend in the shape of a bear made of green stone that looked like malachite. In the right corner, below an oval window was a large blue plastic box. 

            “What’s in the blue box?” she asked.

            “Fiona’s stuff, I believe. It seems I had completely forgotten about it; otherwise, I would have gotten rid of it.”

            When Eliza opened the box, she found woolen skirts and sweaters in the first couple of layers.

            “She kept the winter clothes she no longer planned to wear in that box,” said Damian.

            Eliza placed the clothes on the floor beside the box and continued rummaging in it. When her hand touched a silky fabric, she pulled it out from under a black sweater and spread it on the floor. Before her eyes lay the red satin dress she had seen on the woman in the bathroom. The dress looked brand new.

            Eliza cast one last glance into the box and saw a small photo album on the bottom. She opened it and let out a gasp when a photo fell out of it. In it, a woman with long brown curly hair, wearing the red satin dress was standing in front of a large bookshelf and holding a glass of champagne. On the back of the photo was the inscription, “Bookstore opening night.”

            The pallor in Eliza’s face and her trembling hands alarmed Damian.

            “You look like you'll faint. Let’s go back down,” he suggested.

            “No. We need to do something about this dress. I know what. We must burn it. Remember Alan’s book launch? In the passage he read that evening, there was mention of burning a sweater that had belonged to the ghost haunting a Mediterranean villa. That is how they got rid of it. Do you remember that Alan had said his book was inspired by a true story?  Maybe, the dress is her last connection to this house. Maybe the haunting will stop if we destroy it.”

            Eliza left the attic and went into the kitchen. She took from a cupboard the large metal bowl she used for salad preparation and then searched for matches. She also remembered the cigarette lighter she put in a kitchen drawer after she had found it in the backyard. She had assumed one of the contractors had forgotten it there. The last thing she grabbed was a pair of scissors before she went back to the attic.

            Damian held the dress while she cut it into small pieces. As she was cutting it, they could hear the banging of doors downstairs and the rattling of windowpanes.

            Damian smashed the cigarette lighter with the bookend and let the lighter fluid drip on the dress pieces. He then lit a match and dropped it into the metal bowl. The pieces of satin began to burn slowly making a spluttering noise. Suddenly and out of nowhere a chilly wind rose in the attic and crackling noises could be heard from all corners along with the sounds of moaning alternating with hissing.

            “She's here,” whispered Eliza and threw more lit matches into the bowl. In the smoke rising from the burning dress, they could delineate a contour of a face contorted into a hideous grimace of madness, howling in rage and denial.

            When Eliza spotted a yellowed newspaper protruding from under the bookcase, she quickly pulled it out and threw it into the fire to feed the flames, even though she feared the flying sparks might fall outside the bowl and start a fire that would engulf the entire house.

            Screams echoed as the dress turned into black ashes. The floor of the attic trembled, and Eliza thought the house would splinter in half. 

            When the last piece of the dress burned down, the tremors in the floor ceased, and an eerie quiet descended on the house. Damian offered Eliza his hand and helped her get off the floor. 

            The sun was shining outside, and they could hear birds chirping.

            “Could it be that we have gotten rid of her ghost?” wondered Eliza aloud.

            “Let’s sell the house and start anew, unencumbered by my past,” said Damian, visibly shaken.

            “I'm no longer afraid of her ghost,” replied Eliza, “but I would like a brand-new house, uncontaminated with the energy of other people. Looking for one or having one built could be an exciting project.”

            “New beginnings are invigorating. Let’s raise a glass of bubbly to that, even if it's only 9 am,” said Damian.

            Eliza nodded smilingly.


Reprinted from the anthology “Ghosts and Other Chthonic Macabres” published October 2022 by Broken Keys Publishing & Press


 Jana Begovic


far back as she can remember, Jana has been fascinated by storytelling. Her love of reading and writing propelled her toward studies of languages and literature resulting in B.A. degrees in English and German Languages and Literature, an M.A. Degree in Literary Criticism, as well as a B.Ed. Degree in English and Dramatic Arts.


Among her publications are academic articles published by Cambridge Scholars, UK, and the Journal for Distinguished Language Study, USA, the novel Poisonous Whispers, published by Roane Publishing, N.Y., poetry, short fiction, articles, art reviews, and blog posts featured in literary journals, such as Ariel Chart, Chantwood, the Pangolin Review, Abstract, Canada Fashion Magazine and Authors Publish (Facebook page). Her short story, Purveyors of Magic appeared in the December 2020 issue of The Black Shamrock, and her short story 2148 was published in September 2020 in the anthology Thin Places, by Broken Keys Publishing (winner of the Best Year Award in the Ottawa Faces Magazine). Her short story “The Gift in the Box Full of Darkness” was featured in the anthology Sunset Rain and her poetry in the collection As Darkness Falls, both published by 300 South Media Group. She also contributed an inspirational poem to the Thoughts and Prayers anthology published in November 2020. She acts as a senior editor for Ariel Chart literary journal and contributing editor/writer for the Canada Fashion Magazine. She has been nominated for the 2019 Best of the Net and the PushCart awards for a piece of non-fiction and a short story published in Ariel Chart. In addition, she was the first runner-up with an honourable mention in the Oyster Art Flash Fiction Contest of March 2021. Her second novel is scheduled for release in November 2022 by Manor House Publishing.

 She lives in Ottawa, Ontario and works for the Government of Canada as an education specialist in the field of military language training.

 She can also be contacted via her Author Page at


  1. like a motion picture... a soundtrack for my mind.

  2. Jana Begovic's short story, The Forgotten Dress, is available in Ghosts and Other Chthonic Macabres and available in paperback here:

    ...and through numerous ebook distributors here:

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