No one could be sure what kind of dreams she had had for herself before she ended up in this foreign country with her husband and two kids, living a life she seemed to want to throw out with the day’s trash bins. She labored endlessly, not uncomplainingly, and all her tools at the tailor’s desk hurt for it. The world of her work was mostly soft, usually plushy. Woolen hems and sleeves of silk, with even the needles tucked safely away into pincushions, each prickly point with his own sleepy hole in the forgiving folds of plump cotton lumps. If she would have allowed it, the walls surrounding her little tailor’s space could have been a soft one; warm, even inviting, maybe, with the right kind of tea brewing on the corner stove.
But she was a tornado of clothespins and shears, relentlessly hemming and ferociously ironing. Laser-straight pleats, chemical-dye fumes, and blades of tiny scissors slashing through the stuffy atmosphere — these were the ingredients that made up her toxic universe, and she worked with an intensity that seemed to cry out in protest while begging for more. Every order was filled with a cold crispness, and every new customer walked out in a daze, impressed by her efficiency, but on some level, just glad to have escaped the place intact. But because she was the fastest in town, and no one ever had any complaints about her work, they always came back, except the ones – usually the old ones – that were looking to pick up conversation with their dry cleaning. Even if they weren’t asking for much, just a few fluffy words and a smile stacked atop the plastic bags, she made it clear from visit one that they’d have to look elsewhere. So her clientele remained young, busy, carefully chatterless.
It was a wonder how efficient she was, with all the storming around she did. Every pair of scissors, each clothespin, felt the weight of her wrath as it flew through the air to slam into the nearest hard surface after she was done with it, taking out her endless reserves of anger at the universe on the poor tools of her trade. She threw things away in the most literal sense of the word, propelling used instruments through the air wherever her force happened to direct itself. A bad hair day, a chatty new customer, pleasant weather that reminded her of all that she was missing out on while her life wasted away behind the sewing machine. Everything was an excuse to slam, crash, pound the surfaces of her prison of efficiency, and each delivery only added to the growing layers of prickly things ever separating her from the sunny world outside.
With every pin, every needle flung to its oblivion onto the carpeted floor, her lair grew in its prickliness. She lost hope like she lost her pins, dropping them in gratuitous rejection and anger. At what, she could no longer remember. After the first few bitter years of her labor, the original object of her violence had dissolved into a dark, formless pool, itself powerless against the acidity of that anger she carried. Everything was sour, and her brow was permanently furrowed in the rare agreement: Yes, the world is harsh and Yes today is another, yet another, day.
She hadn’t chosen this for herself. But in the drudgery of her mundane efficiency, she’d lost her vision and couldn’t see herself doing anything else with her mind and hands. She’d forgotten so completely how to dream, the ability simply excised from her soul like a lost limb, or a broken bone, damaged and never quite the same. Indeed, if notable neuroscientists had gotten a hold of her they would have had a heyday with the anatomy of her mind, this human who had permanently lost her ability for receiving nourishment of spring rains and the unfiltered goodness of summer sunshine. Happiness triggers that normal people gravitated toward, yearned for, had no effect on her except to produce more bile and bitterness. Hers was an instinctive joylessness.
So she would keep slamming. Crashing. Pounding. Begging, with each slam of her body and her instruments – her living, dying breaths – against the thickening walls of her needles-and-pins lair, to be let out. It was a tragedy, really, because her rally to live was never recognized by anyone from the outside as she continued to build up the walls thicker and higher.
Stay away, she cried. Save me, she pleaded.