From the shoreline a hooded figure climbed up out of the mist. Shouldering a basket, the woman looked pale, troubled. With every step she stabbed the earth with a blackthorn staff making for the higher ground, where, perched on a standing stone, a raven tore at a drowned rabbit. At the sound of her labouredbreath, the bird flapped up and away, the slung rabbit a pendulum in the rain. The woman stumbled and slumped against the granite slab. She remained motionless, the creel rasping under the weight of a sack, her sodden skirts clinging to her lace up boots. It was as if she had fallen asleep. When her left knee buckled she roused and let out a bawl so powerful that gulls rose up from the rigged masts below. Her whole body shook until the landscape seemed to call her.
She veered east, past birch and rowan to disappear amongst yellow gorse. When shereached a bog pool, she waded out through reeds and stood in the midst of the amber waters. Lowering the basket, she slipped a hand beneath her cape and teased a bundle into the light. A tuft of clotted hair caught the breeze. Barely bigger than the palm of her hand she brought her nose to the eyebrows and filled her lungs with the child’s scent. She wiped a smear from the forehead, gazed at the closed eyelids, the silent mouth, kissed the soft ear and whispered. Through anguished sobs she removed a length of rope from her cape, secured one end to the sack, and the other to the stillborn. She toppled the basket. The sack plunged. Her fingers trembled over her mouth.
‘Send your Holy Spirit upon these waters,’ she said as the tiny bundle sank from view.
Pinned by Damhnait Monaghan
When Jimmy came home with the Singer, you didn’t ask where he got it. You’d no notionhow to work it, but you learned quick. It only hurt a bit the first time the needle ran away from you, like Jimmy does sometimes.
People always said you were a dab hand at sewing. Now you make all manner of fripperies: wedding dresses, christening gowns, First Communion finery. ‘Thank Christ for the Church,’ Jimmy says.
You pump the pedal and listen to it purr, while your mind wanders, wonders where Jimmy goes of an evening. He always comes back, just like the garments; lacy white revenants tossed in your lap to be reborn; a second chance with another bride or a new baby.
You let out seams, while you hold in sighs,
Unpick stitches while you parse his lies.
L’étoile by Michelle Walshe
Fear sat in the pit of her stomach. He pushed her through a huge wooden door. He spoke rapidly, gutturally, in a language she should know but didn’t. She tried to concentrate, to pick up some familiar words.
The room smelt old and damp. Her eyes adjusting to the gloom, she gasped. Une machine à coudre. She looked at him bewildered. They knew who she was, la grande couturière de Paris. They had taken her from her salon with her needle and thread still in her hand. She closed her eyes to try to block the memory. Her assistants screaming, soldiers thundering, plundering, heavy boots hammering on the marble staircase. Beauty beaten, banished and vanquished in one raid.
What was she to sew here, in this barren room? How could creativity flourish here? He pointed at two pieces of clothing hanging above the table. She gazed at them, uncomprehending.
He shoved her into a chair and opened a leather bag. He pulled out a ledger. He jabbed his manicured index finger at the empty column on the right. The column on the left contained a list of names in spidery handwriting. She peered at them. Her eyesight destroyed by years of leaning over a sewing machine. ‘Mais, jenecomprendrerien, Monsieur.’ The names meant nothing to her. He puffed out his cheeks and slowly exhaled. Still speaking, but muttering now, he dragged her from the chair to the ladder in the corner. ‘Geh’ los’ he said, indicating she should climb. Her fear was beginning to climb too, up from her stomach, through her gut, until she could taste it at the back of her throat. The rotting, rancid smell was stronger here at the foot of the ladder. She stumbled on the second rung. Before she could right herself, he pushed her upwards. Her body trembling, she continued to climb.
At the top, she fell forward on to something coarse to the touch. It was pitch dark. The smell was overwhelming. She pulled at it. It came away easily. She let it fall to the ground below. In the gloom, its yellow colour was like a light bulb. She eased herself back down. They stood at the foot of the ladder, a piece of bright yellow cloth between them.
Calmly, not speaking at all now, he picked up the material and led her to the sewing machine. He gave her a pen, a scissors and a stencil in the shape of a star. He pointed again to the two shirts above the table. This time, closer to the clothing, she noticed the sleeves.
Abruptly, he turned back to the ladder and taking it two rungs at a time, threw down sack after sack that landed with a dull thud on the ground, releasing the rank odour over and over. He took her slender, nimble, dressmaking hands in his and showed her how to untie the sacks. Pair after pair of striped pyjamas spilled from them.