3. Heather

Heather stood in front of the glass door, arms wrapped around herself. She closed her eyes and leaned her cheek against the glass, which was cold despite the heat inside the shop. She shivered, the chill in her cheek spreading within moments to the rest of her body through her bloodstream. She jerked away from the door, and turned back to the warmth inside.

Miranda was still sitting at the table at the very end of what looked less like a shop and more like a deep and narrow closet. The entire shop was just a bit wider than the door leading into it, and both walls were lined with racks. The racks were filled completely with clothing inside plastic bags, to keep them all separated, clean and neat. Miranda, who was ancient, dumpy, tiny, and brought to mind things like tin cans full of a animal crackers and yellowing newspapers, had owned the shop for the past fifty years and didn’t seem to be thinking of leaving it any time soon. The biggest and only change she’d made to it in years was hiring Heather, because one of her eyes had gone blind and the doctors had forbidden her to keep sewing and straining her eyes. She didn’t listen to them, of course, but instead merely hired some help so that she’d only have to sew about half as much as she’d had to before.

Heather sat across from Miranda at the rickety old table at the end of the shop and rested her elbows carefully on it, making sure not to move the dress that was half stuck in the sewing machine in front of her. She felt stiff. That damn tear in the evening dress had been plaguing her for the past hour, as she tried to sew the old and thin fabric back together perfectly. Miranda prided herself on the miracles she performed, mending any type of clothing and never saying no to a job, and she made sure that Heather was capable of doing the same when she’d hired her to help out.

Miranda worked odd hours. Her shop was open from late afternoon until late at night, so Heather got to sleep in every morning. But some nights, like tonight, she really craved a good, strong cup of coffee. Miranda forbade her from bringing coffee into the shop, though, claiming that the smell made her gag. Heather considered trying to bring a travel-mug of coffee and tell her employer it was tea and see if she’d actually notice the smell. Maybe tomorrow.

Miranda lifted her head from her work and gave Heather a piercing glance. Heather smiled reassuringly and bent back over the dress. It was going to be a long evening yet for her.

Another Excerpt

Here is another scene in the story I’m working on. It is the beginning of the first chapter, and follows a prologue, which I may or may not post here eventually. For those who may not have realized it yet, I wanted to explain the nature of this story. It’s a fantasy story, based in a kingdom where class and nobility matter.

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At fourteen, when everything changed for me, I was a beautiful girl. I had been a beautiful child as well. I knew this. I was the noble daughter of Duke Pietro der-Milt and his Lady Dermira. How ever could I not be beautiful? I was taught that the noble houses held the most beautiful people in the land, the most gifted thinkers, the greatest of artists and the kindest of spirits. So my governess told me during my childhood, using my parents as the best examples.
“Look at your pretty mother, little Miya! see what a beauty she is?” Pirima would say. She’d point at my mother, sitting in our great drawing room or in my father’s study or in the corner of my nursery. She was a beauty indeed. My mother always knew how to look beautiful and delicate. She could embroider, read, write letters, instruct servants, talk with my father, survey the accounts – all while looking as pretty as a picture, without a hair out of place or wrinkle in her dress. Pirima often whispered to me that she wished she could look like my mother, and her lips would twist in a sad little frown. I didn’t understand the nature of jealousy or envy when I was young; I merely thought it natural that everyone would want to look like Mama, who was, I was sure, the most beautiful woman in the world.
There were plenty of mirrors in our home, so I learned early on that I was a beautiful child. My skin was smooth and healthy, a few shades darker than my mother’s milky-white complexion. My hair, which was black as coal, thick and wavy, hung down my back when I was a little girl, kept away from my face by a neat little bow which Pirima would tie into it every morning. My eyes were grey, and Pirima always said they reminded her of the stormy sea because when I was angry or sad they turned dark blue. My black eyebrows were delicate and thin, and my nose was small and rather flat, accentuating the fullness of my red lips. My body was that of a healthy little girl – rounded with the healthy fat that children possess, my limbs strong with activity.
One day, when I was about six or seven, I stood looking into the tall, gilded mirror that stood in one of the corridors. As I stood there, admiring myself, I watched my mother come up behind me. She laid one white hand on my shoulder and smiled at me in the mirror. My eyes widened.
“I look like you, Mama!” I cried with delight.
“You do, my dove. You look like your papa as well. You have his hair and his nose,” she touched my hair and my nose as she said this, then knelt down behind me in a rare motherly gesture and hugged me tight, arms encircling my stomach. She usually didn’t touch me much. My joy at seeing we were alike, though, seemed to make her emotional. I had no cynicism at that age, and I didn’t see her emotion for what it was – a kind of vanity. I was happy to be in her arms, happy that she smiled at me, happy that I looked like her and like Papa.
“Now, Miyara, let’s go visit your papa in his study, hmm?” she took me by the hand and we spent a quiet afternoon in the study with Papa, who was in a good mood as well. I remember that day as one of the happiest of my childhood. It wasn’t often that my parents made any effort to spend time with me. We usually met only during meals. The rest of the time I spent with Pirima, who was my only other company for a long time.

Boots [Part III]

Part I

Part II

“Awesome?” Sandy asked. The boots did look good. They clung, made her knees look good, gave a few inches to her height – they looked incredible on her legs. But with the light blue dress… She thought to herself a bit. Came to a decision. She gave the red-haired woman a half smile.

“Almost awesome,” she said. “I’ll take them, though.”

The red-haired woman rung the boots up, but was puzzled. As the sweet girl left with her new boots in a big bag, she looked determined; her face was set, her mouth a hard line. The red-haired woman had expected the girl to be ecstatic with her new gear, to leave the store with a smile and a bounce in her step. She’d looked instead like someone who had made an important decision, and maybe not a welcome one. Well, she thought to herself, what do I know? Maybe that’s just how the girl shows she’s pleased. She turned to the TV screen, peered surreptitiously at the doorway to make sure no one was there, clicked a button on the remote and sat back happily.

Between shifts at the restaurant and the tutoring she did at the elementary-school, Sandy spent her little spare time that week working on her closet at home. She piled lots of things into a big box. She shoved the box into a corner and left it there. At the end of the week, Sandy looked at what was left in her closet, and frowned, worried. She’d have to go back to the store, she decided. She put her hair up, shoved a couple of black chopsticks through it, smeared some of her cheap new make-up on, donned her boots, and left her apartment.

When Sandy walked into the shop this time, the red-haired woman was just switching on the tape of the horror film on the TV. She looked up from the remote, smiled a distant smile, and said “May I help you?”

“Don’t you recognize me?” Sandy was surprised. She had gotten the feeling that this woman was one of those who didn’t forget anything. Then she saw the red-haired woman’s jaw drop as she looked her over. My, my, the red-haired woman thought. Lookie here.

Sandy was attired head to toe in black. A knee-length black skirt, a black top that clung to her and showed off her white arms, a black band around her throat, and of course the boots. Her eyes were surrounded by thick black make-up, and her lips were tinted to a dark color as well. “Aw, Honey…” the red-haired woman breathed.

“I’m here for some clothes,” Sandy declared. “I don’t own enough black stuff to get me through a whole week, unless I do laundry at least twice.”

“But- I mean- Well, why?” The red-haired woman felt flustered. She had not seen this coming. “What’s wrong with what you used to wear? You know, those cute dresses you had on those times I saw you.” Frankly, the red-haired woman was disappointed. She’d thought she’d found someone who really got it. But no. Maybe not.

Sandy’s lip quivered just a bit as she answered. “Because,” she sighed. “I can’t pull off those boots without the whole- well, the whole look, you know.” Then she mumbled “Like you…”

The red-haired woman stared at Sandy. Then at the TV. Then at Sandy again. “You’re telling me you thought you needed the black clothes so you could wear the boots?”

“Yes.”

“Well, do you like black clothing?”

“Um,” Sandy looked shifty. “No. Not really. My mom always said it made me look pale as death. Which is kind of good for the look, I suppose…” Looking up, Sandy saw the red-haired woman giving her the warmest smile she’d ever received. There was compassion in that smile, appreciation and amusement as well, but most of all, kindness.

“Honey, let me show you something.” The red-haired woman flicked the remote at the TV. The image changed. From a screaming woman, it changed to Tara Banks and a line of girls in front of her, waiting to be judged. “That’s my favorite show.”

Sandy gaped. “America’s Best Top Model?!” She squeaked. “But… aren’t people like you too- too, I don’t know, too cool for that show?”

“That’s why I can’t have it on here. I beg my boyfriend to come and take over the evening shift here so that I can watch it at home, but two days a week he’s working another job and he can’t. So I make sure no one’s in the shop, and switch off the video. Until someone comes in, that is, and then I’ve got to turn the video back on real quick before anyone sees.”

“But then,” Sandy began. “Is it all a show? Are you just faking the whole thing? I mean, why do that?”

“Well, the fact that I wear black and I like big skull rings and spiky boots – all that’s just fashion. I like wearing this stuff. It makes me feel good and it makes me feel cool. I admit that. But sadly, I own this place and I don’t have enough business that I can afford to drop the image of the perfect gothic woman. Some of the clients really do care about all that nonsense – keeping the image, philosophizing about what it means, et cetera. So I hide my love of Tara Banks and too-skinny girls playing at being models and drama-queens.” The red-haired woman was speaking fast now, her words tumbling over each other in her enthusiasm. “But you, Honey, you came in here and had your own look! You just wanted to add to it! I’ve never seen a cooler outfit than that sweet little dress and the kick-ass boots. That’s what made it special, unique! I thought you didn’t care about the whole image bee-ess, and I was thrilled.”

Sandy had listened to the red-haired woman’s speech with amazement on her face at first, then acceptance, and then at the end, amazement again. When the woman finished, she felt silly. “What’s your name?” came out of her mouth without her expecting it.

“Sue,” said Sue. “Yours?”

“Sandy,” replied Sandy.

From that day onward, it was quite common to find a red-haired woman with black clothing visiting a small diner where a girl with a name tag reading “SANDY” greeted her with a squeal and a hug and good service. It was also quite common for a brown-haired girl wearing various pastel colored dresses and very dramatic boots to visit a small shop called “ROCKIN’-ROLL GEAR,” claiming every time that her cable at home didn’t work and begging the woman at the counter to turn on America’s Best Top Model for her. Every time someone asked, the woman at the counter would blame her friend for the show and would roll her eyes. They’d giggle about it afterwards.

The Countess

The Countess sat stiffly upon her throne-like chair. Her face was unreadable, except for the eyes. Those eyes were like endless black tunnels, drowning whoever dared look into them – the iris’s were such a dark brown that they seemed black, and it was difficult to tell the difference between them and the pupils. The Countess’s skin was a smooth, deep shade of bronze, perfect and without blemish. Her face, although expressionless, was built of contrasts: her eyebrows were a shade too thick for fashion, but were arched strongly and proudly above those cold eyes; her mouth was wide, her lips full, though her nose could almost have been seen as hawk-like on a less imposing woman; her cheekbones were high and sharp, though her chin was more rounded. The Countess’s hair was a tumble of ebony curls, pinned in an elegant knot at the back of her head and covered in a sheer veil.

The Countess was resplendent in a black gown, cut low to bear more of her smooth skin and to accent her long, slender neck and full bosom. Although black, the gown shimmered with a hundred points of light that came from the tiny crystal beads that were sewn into it, making the Countess glimmer and blind those who stood before her with every shift of the cloth, as those beads sparkled in the light coming through the tall windows.

The Countess was feared through-out several lands, and respected and feared in her own. She knew this. She used her power. She wrote laws, built bridges, waged war and made peace, all while sitting stiffly on her hard, wooden chair, gilded in gold paint that was never allowed to chip. Her power seemed limitless to those who were in awe of her, and unnaturally so to those who feared her. The Countess alone knew, and pondered, that a day would come when her stiffness would give way to fatigue and her convictions would shatter in the face of weariness. She alone knew that she would not last forever. But until the rest of them realized it, she would never, ever, let it be known that she knew it.

Original Barbie

Did you know that once upon a time, Barbie was a red-head? She was, indeed. She had red hair, shortish, only down to her neck. She had dark eyes, not blue. She was super-duper thin of course, but that’s just how it is, I suppose.

Skipper, Barbie’s sister or friend or something, was the blond one. She was shorter, and she had the long blond hair and blue eyes. Sometime over the years, Barbie became her sister apparently, and only her chest seemed to keep growing – ah yes, Skipper was completely flat-chested.

Also, all the original Barbie clothes were properly adorable. They weren’t flashy, they weren’t made of plastic material and they didn’t have velcro. No, the original clothing was all real cloth, with miniature zippers and buttons and real pleats in the skirts, and a real shine to the cocktail dresses. All the shoes fit properly and were actually sturdy. Those clothes were so beautiful.

The reason I know all this is because I’m sentimental, overly so, and I actually have the same Barbie-box that my mom had when she was a girl. It’s tucked away deep under my desk, but once in a while I delve into it out of curiosity and actually envy Miss Redhead for her clothing.