by Richard Stimac
One morning, a young mother of one of the village girls stood at the counter of the local seamstress shop and begged for a new coat for her daughter. Sitting behind the counter on a stool, the Seamstress drew on her pipe, hmphed, and quoted a price too high for the poor woman.
“We can barely afford food,” the young mother said.
“The good you pay for,” the Seamstress said. “It’s the bad you get for cheap.”
She tapped the ashes of her pipe onto the floor. As she was opening her tobacco pouch, the young woman reached across the counter and took the Seamstress by both wrists.
“The fall is coming,” she said. “I need a new coat to protect my daughter, for the cold and the rain.”
The Seamstress chuckled. She shook her arms free and refilled her pipe.
“Protect your daughter all you want,” she said. “In the end, she’ll be both cold and wet.”
The younger woman began to cry.
“It seems—" she said.
“Seems? Seems?” the Seamstress scoffed. “A woman is she seems.”
The mother stopped crying. Her face screwed into a scowl.
“You’ve forgotten what it’s like to love,” she said. “You’ve grown cold in your own way while still alive.”
The Seamstress lit her pipe with a match. She watched the match burn down to the fingertips then tossed the match onto the floor covered with tobacco ash and scraps of cloths. It was true, the Seamstress thought. She had grown old, and alone, but not lonely.
She looked out the window to the dark and deep woods beyond the village fence. Once, she was a young girl, younger than this woman before her. In her memory, the Seamstress saw the dappled sunlight among the trees and the small yellow flowers along the path. And up, further, hidden behind a tree, she saw who she thought was her lover, the most handsome young man in the village, in the entire county! She would go, and kiss him. That was end of love for the Seamstress. Even now, she felt like a fool for what happened and hardened her heart.
Her pipe had gone out.
“Please,” the young mother begged.
The sound of another’s voice awoke the Seamstress from her daydream. She lit a second patch and puffed on her pipe until fully lit.
“Come back in three days,” the Seamstress said. “I will have a new coat for your daughter.”
When the young mother left, the Seamstress hobbled from behind the counter. She deadbolted the front door and slid the drawbar into place. Through the window, she watched the young mother made her way down the side street. The sun was setting and the shadows grew long and the darkness deepened.
As she watched the young mother, the Seamstress saw one of the bad men of the village. Already drunk before sundown, he lounged against a tree in the common and watched the woman pass him. He wet his lips and ran his tongue across his teeth. His eyes glowed in the dimming light. The Seamstress knew this man. He looked at her. She, at him. He nodded and smiled. His teeth shown large. The Seamstress pulled the curtains shut.
In the back room of the shop, the Seamstress poured herself a half cup of wormwood tea then filled the rest with clear liquor from a flask. Sat at her stool, she sipped from the bitter cup and smoked her pipe. When finished with both, she tapped her pipe out onto the floor and examined the dregs in the bottom of the tea cup then tossed them onto the floor, too. She staggered to her workbench.
It is love, she thought, isn’t it, that makes us what we are.
A tightly-bound package of waxed butcher paper lay on the well-worn benchtop. With a pair of scissors, the Seamstress cut the twine and loosened the wrapping. She had bought the cape from another young mother dressed in black. This seller had folded the cape in such a way as to hide the tears and stains.
The Seamstress undraped the coat and held it up to the flickering lamplight so that it hung fully before her. So small, the Seamstress thought, to protect such a tiny body. She fingered the hole along the right shoulder.
“Here,” she said, “I will put crimson silk patches, epaulettes befitting a little princess.”
The Seamstress spoke as if someone were there, stood beside her.
“What do you think? Do I give it to her for free. No? People have contempt for things they do not pay for.”
She drew the loose threads at the neck until the edging began to unravel. These seams never hold, she thought, and showed the wayward thread to her companion.
“And here, on the collar, I will fasten cutwork lace.”
In her own mind’s image, she could see this used coat remade into what it should be.
“And the stain,” she said as she pulled the back cloth tight between her hands. “What to do with the stain?”
She shook the cape in the face of the person who was not there.
See, look here, her actions spoke.
Outside, the sounds of night began. The hoot of an owl. The softness that comes with the setting of the sun. Maybe, in the distance, the talk, laughter, and happiness from the tavern. And the whisper of the wild, both those things never tamed, and those gone feral.
“A good dying,” the Seamstress said, “then three days’ rest and this red velvet cape will be born anew.”
She spread the red velvet cape on the bench, her scissors to her right, her thread and needles to her left, and like a priest about to consecrate, she folded her hands before her, bowed her head, took a deep breath, and began her work.