Prom Night Ghosts By Clarinda Harriss Raymond

May 26, 1991

RETURNING FROM A CONCERT ONE LILAC-SCENTED MIDNIGHT NOT LONG ago, my husband and I were greeted from inside our own front door by a couple of strangers.

At first, in shock, we couldn't place who they were. But within seconds I was able to place them in time. They were a couple -- no, they were every couple -- I'd partied with 20 years ago.

The strange pair looked good together. They had clearly planned their outfits with an eye to making a handsome couple, a matched set. She, in fact, looked genuinely lovely, in a Barbie-Doll sort of way. She wore a slinky spaghetti-strapped trapeze dress made of a thin, stretchy artificial silk I remembered being popularized as Qiana. Its electric blue color was echoed in her eye shadow as well as in her evening sandals -- shoes with high, fat heels and lots of straps. Her red-blond hair had been flipped back in feathered layers and battened down with a gale of hair spray.

He was more alarming. His outfit picked up his partner's electric blue in the leather leisure jacket he sported. From it protruded the hot-pink ruffles of an open-to-the-sternum "After Six" shirt revealing a fat gold chain. Lime-green bell-bottomed polyester pants led the astonished eye down to his white vinyl shoes. But what the eye kept returning to -- as if for a reality check -- was his head: It was volley-ball size, crowned with a giant aureole of wiry red-brown curls brushed up and out to the consistency of newly carded wool. From the front of this vast mass extended a nose that appeared to bend under the weight of huge horn-rimmed glasses.

"Hi, Mom," the apparition murmured. 'We just got home from a '70s Party."

What I had recognized right away were the types. But now I began to recognize the specific garments. My son's ensemble was traceable only as far as a Towson thrift/vintage store whose Any Item Fifty Cents bin he used to raid during his crusade to demonstrate to his alma mater-prep school how startling a person could look while still following the dress code to the letter. "Nobody could call these jeans," I recall him chortling over the lime-green bell bottoms, "and this shirt not only has a collar, it has about 17 collars." The glasses had been left at our house by a long-ago guest. All I was forced to take full responsibility for were the wide, white vinyl belt with the five-inch gold buckle, the gold neck chain and, of course, the hair -- genes for which I'd supplied him with in abundance.

His girlfriend's outfit was another story. Why, I'd tried that dreson only a few months ago, as a serious contender for the dinner dance; the only reason I ruled it out was that I knew all the other women were going floor-length. Where, where was the clothes conscience that should have leapt onto my shoulder and given )) me the tacky raspberry?

Worse yet, her shoes came out of my downstairs closet. Thehad never even made it to the attic. And it was my top bureau drawer, the section reserved for items certain to come in handy ** very soon, that had yielded the electric-blue eye shadow. Ditto the curling iron.

Dashing into the den for my camera gave me a much-needed moment to recover. I posed the pair against the '60s-style window-wall of plants in the dining room, barked "Smile" into their Vogue-ishly immobile faces, and used up a whole roll of film.

"I feel like it's prom night or something," the pretty lady laughedher pink-plastered lips relaxing into a lovely smile just as I ran out of film.

"You look like it's prom night," I countered. And I knew exactlwhich prom: the one where my eldest godchild and her high-school boyfriend went after they stopped by for a photo session amid the May bloom in our then-sunny back yard. That was around 1975, before the young chokecherry trees and birches and ornamental maples grew large enough to cast the yard into a deep, sweetly melancholic shade. I still have copies of those snapshots, golden with late-afternoon sun: a short, spaghetti-strapped Qiana dress flows from my goddaughter's thin shoulders, and the boy's hair -- what was his name, anyway? -- flames fiercely around his small middle-European head in an imitation "Afro" we affectionately termed "Isro."

"I really love your outfit," the blue-gowned erstwhile model tolme as I extricated myself from my camera strap. This is a young woman totally without irony, so I looked down at myself. I beheld a longish peach-colored jacket, man-shouldered but tapering, a sort of zoot-suit effect, I think. (Trust me, I don't know anything first-hand about '40s zoot suits.) My jacket was underpinned by black leggings, flowered socks and low black boots that may or may not have been meant for hiking. They had done plenty of hiking in place -- some would have called it stomping -- at the jazz-rock concert, where my husband had been among the performing artists.

Suddenly I could imagine my whole outfit being liberated frothe attic closet in the year 2010 by a future grandchild. She -- or he -- would wear it to a '90s Party.

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