Short Story – She had never been much of a Seamstress by Shullie H Porter
She’d never been much of a seamstress, thank goodness for the internet. She found the oversized gingerbread man pattern online and printed it out using the new overpriced laser printer he’d insisted they buy.
Looking for some fabric, she found one of his old shirts at the back of the wardrobe. Crumpled, tossed away and forgotten, just like her. Holding it to herself, she breathed him in. Once upon a time, she’d have worn it to bed, close to her skin, but not now.
Sitting on the bedroom floor, she made herself comfortable and carefully placed the paper pattern on the back of the creased cotton. Then, taking her Grandmother’s old familiar dressmaking scissors, she cut around it. Pleased with the results, she gathered up the unmade man and took him downstairs to the dining room, where she’d already threaded up to the old Singer sewing machine. Like the scissors, it had been left to her by her Grandmother, in the hope she’d take up the craft, but he didn’t like the idea, so it was placed under the stairs, in the darkness to bind its time.
She stroked the silver wheel and memories of the woman who she’d been so close to and who’d taught her so much, drifted through the house. The chatter, the laughter and most of all the unconditional love. Placing the two ‘wrong sides’ together, she began to sing the song he’d organised to be played for their first dance. It wasn’t her choice, but he liked it.
Never gonna to give you up,
Never gonna run around and desert you.
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you. . . ‘
Pushing down her foot, she methodically stitched, as the words of the song and the rhythm of the needle encircled each other. Turning the figure the right way round, she took one of his 2HB pencils and pushed it in through the slit on the back, first to the left and then the right, making sure each of the corners was pushed out. Finally, happy with the shape, she turned it back over and laid it flat on the table. Reaching for the fine silver needle and black thread she prepared earlier, she carefully embroidered his face onto the anonymous character, making sure she added the small freckle birthmark above his top lip.
She’d lovingly teased him about it when they’d first got together and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to be proud of his ‘devil’s kiss’ as her Grandmother called it. At first, he’d blush and laugh, but one morning, a few months later, as they lay in bed and she reached up to stroke it, he made it clear her comments were not acceptable. That was the first time, of course, he apologised afterwards like he did every other time. And she believed him until it became second nature.
She stroked the figure knowingly and hesitated just for a second or two, taking a breath, before nimbly stuffing the flaccid casing with the remains of the shirt and a few other items she’d judiciously chosen:
- The small piece of paper with its distinctive red marks.
- The wax from the candle she’d burnt over the last few weeks.
- The piece of his hair she’d carefully kept. She’d cut the dark black lock from him on their honeymoon, just after they’d made love. She’d told him it was a family tradition and she’d kept it forever close to her heart. He’d laughed and said he found it sweet and it was ‘part of her charm, her naivety’ and that’s why he loved her’. Before, he yawned, rolled over and fell asleep, leaving her to lay beside him, alone.
- A portion of the tissue she’d wiped herself with the last time he visited. He always said ‘make-up sex’ was the best. Except he’d not come to make up but to tell her he was moving on with his life, including finally moving in with the soon to be mother of his unborn offspring, and so would have to move out of the home she had so lovingly created.
Slowly and meticulously she stitched around the small figure, again, closing the hole on the back, but making sure to leave a small gap at the crotch, which she fastened with an exquisite gold safety pin.
Over the next month, she took him with her everywhere she went. At first, it was shopping, then it was the necessary appointments with the solicitors and when she started her new job, to the office. At lunchtime, she’d make sure he joined her for lunch in the Peace Gardens, feeding him titbits from her sandwiches. In the evening, at home, she laid a place for him at the table, offering him sips of his favourite wine and tasty morsels of his favourite food.
At night, when she went to bed, she would lovingly take him and lay him by her side, making sure his head rested on the pillow next to hers, before kissing him goodnight.
As the moon entered its final stage, she found and prepared the rest of the items she needed.
- She half-filled a jam jar with the 50-year-old Garrafeira Port they’d brought back from Lisbon the year he started to work for himself then added the bottle of plant food she’d kept under the sink, for the tomatoes she’d not been allowed to cultivate. He couldn’t see the point he told her, and he hated the smell. She’d checked the label, and like her, was still in date, just. A potion of his success and her unused fertility.
- She opened and removed the small immaculate and never used, small pearl-handled silver knife from the cutlery set they’d been given as a wedding present. A family heirloom, his mother never failed to tell her.
- The small trowel he’d bought her at the garden centre. Although he was never interested in gardening, the real reason he’d agree to go with her, he used to joke, was for the Devil’s Chocolate cake. So much better than hers.
- Finally the Blackberries. She’d been out at dawn to pick them. He’d said he loved her home-made, Blackberry Jam. At least that was something she could do right. ‘It was like Magic’, he would say as he spread it on his morning toast.
He’d insisted she stay at home and be a ‘Homemaker,’ just like his mother. Didn’t he make enough money for both of them? When she tried to discuss it with him, he’d make her feel ungrateful. When she’d said she was lonely, he’d get moody and say he didn’t ‘understand.’ He’d ask, ‘What about their children?’ When they had them. ‘What then?’ Or was she going to be like her ‘own’ mother?’ ‘Selfish,’ leaving her in the care of her ‘Others.’ She tried to say it wasn’t ‘Others’, it was her Grandmother, and that she’d had a lovely childhood growing up in the middle of nowhere, living among the fields and the woods. But he’d wave his hand and dismiss her. In the end, it was easier to agree, to believe he was right, so she’d give in and feel terrible, apologising and telling herself she should be grateful.
But it never happened, as much as they tried. Even after all the tests, the numerous injections and hormones. Not Once. According to the doctors, there was ‘no reason’, it was ‘a mystery,’ ‘just one of those things.’ The consultant finally asked them if they’d ever considered adoption? He’s said No and refused to consider it. Telling her she needed to relax more, if she had more faith then it would happen. So she stayed at home, doing the ‘making’, keeping ‘the faith’ and waiting.
His mother blamed her. In the beginning, he did defend her, but as time passed he found himself agreeing. His business took off and he worked harder and harder, travelling the world, staying in hotels, living a life he felt he deserved. His mother was right, he said, it was not his fault.
She brought the items upstairs and carefully placed them around the cotton figure that lay mutely on the bed. Removing the golden pin, she opened the groin, before picking three of the biggest and juiciest blackberries. Three was his lucky number, or so he used to tell her. Three’s a charm. She sang again, this time a song of her own making, as she popped the fruits into the opening, nudging them gently and making sure they sat where they should. Taking the same silver needle as before though this time threaded with scarlet, she nimbly sewed the hole neatly up. Dark purple juice ran voluptuously down her hand, staining her fingertips. She smiled and hungrily licked it off, the bittersweet flavour pirouetted on her tongue with expectation. Finally, placing him and the other items in the wicker basket she used for cut flowers, she took him and them downstairs.
The moon’s face was completely hidden as she grabbed the long leather lead and called for the large black dog, she recently adopted. Checking the door, they both left the exclusive detached and walked purposely to the small urban park, hidden behind the executive new-build estate.
The sound of the city traffic faded away as she opened the Victorian park gate and walked into the darkness. Unhurriedly she made her way up the Lime Tree Avenue until she came to where the path split into three. A tall battered metal sentry signposted the unknowing the wrong way while behind it, guarding the way stood the large Oak. Pausing, she checked to make sure no one no other curious late-night dog walkers were following her and satisfied, she dipped under the metallic bar into the shadows of the ancient woodland. The obscurity embraced her like long lost family. Breathing in the heavy scent of damp, musk and otherness she made her way into its midst and opened her bag. Kneeling as if in prayer, she took the small trowel and worked quickly.
Comforted by the presence of those who once had eyes, she took him out of the basket and kissed him one more time, before reaching for the small silver pearl-handled knife. As those who watched held their breath, she anointed him. First, his head, followed by his heart before finally, holding the knife over his groin, she muttering the ancient rhymes and couplets before placing him into the newly dug hole.
The dog knowingly sat and watched.
At the screech of an Owl, she took the jam-jar libation and poured it generously over the prostrate supplicant. Soaking him to ‘the bone’, before covering him with the moist dark earth, making sure the earth fully covered him and that he was protected enough so he couldn’t be consumed by any passing rat. Though the irony of it made her giggle as she lifted her skirt, crouched over and pissed on him.
That night she slept better than she’d done for many months.
The rest of the year passed quickly. First Samhain, and then Yule, her first one alone. On Christmas Day she volunteered for the local Homeless Shelter.
Throughout the dark months, she kept herself busy; work was good, she enjoyed it, and when she got home, she would read, listen to the radio and occasionally watch a film She and the Black Dog would walk through the park, along the tree-lined Avenue and pass the woodland every morning and every night. Each time paying their respects to the Oak and those who lived within and behind it.
Soon it was Spring. Her heart felt the sap rising as life returned to the Avenue’s sleeping giants. She laughed at the nodding daffodils as they danced in the wind, and listened to amorous birds as they began to lay.
Finally, a truly typical English Summer arrived, with its warm wet June and July, followed by a hot ripening August. She and the Dog continued their pilgrimages through the park, nodding to the Oak as they passed.
Behind it, deep in the woodland, the brambles grew. First, the flowers appeared, the sound of bees, and as the heat became too much, the fruit. So much fruit. She returned and picked buckets of the large ripe blackberries, leaving a touch of blood as payment in return. She made pies and jam, giving most of it away to newly made friends and people at work. Everyone was amazed at her gift saying how clever she was, how tasty the pies were, how the jam shone jewel-like when you held the jar up to the light. She’d smile, blush at their praise and say that it wasn’t her, not really, she could only work with what she’d been given. It was the blackberries themselves they should thank.
The news came at the end of September. He’d been taken ill, some kind of growth in his groin. The highly paid private consultants were not sure exactly what it was. It grew and grew, leaving purplish marks all over his lower body.
When the growth erupted through his left thigh, bursting his femoral artery, he’d bled to death. Despite trying everything, no one could stop the bleeding, his blood dark, sweet and black
At the funeral, as they’d lowered the coffin into the freshly dug grave, she’d politely stood to one side as his mother and his new partner had to be carried away.
She waited as the gravediggers diligently covered the coffin and filled the hole with the consecrated soil. As a way of thanks, she passed them each a little jar of something, a token of her appreciation for all of their hard work. In return they left her alone by the graveside, to take a moment or two, saying what ‘a nice lady’ she was, all things considered.
Alone, at last, she knelt by the mound of dirt and opened her bag, letting the dutifully collected ripe blackberries she gathered that morning, fall onto the soil. Then usisng the small silver pearl-handled knife that had accompanied them, she pushed each one deep into the sullied earth.