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Genre: Fantasy
Character: A needleworker
Subject: A Discovery

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

It Saves Nine

{Synopsis: Leda inherited her grandmother’s thimble, a small token with big possibilities.}

Leda Morris wondered what it would be like to be rich. Not a millionaire, but rich enough to wear one of the dresses in her “to be altered” pile. Rich enough for Christmas Cocktail parties and holiday galas. Rich enough to pay people like Leda to alter their clothes. She sighed and inspected the thimble on her left middle finger – a slightly tarnished silver cup with a row of stars surrounding the rim. Her Gran had given it to her right before she died. Gran had said that Leda would appreciate it more than her mother. 

“Quit your daydreaming and get moving. Those dresses aren’t going to alter themselves!” Myrt said, looking up from her own work. She had been the tailor at the UpTown Dry Cleaning for over 30 years now, and Leda was lucky to be Myrt’s apprentice. With her grades, college was not an option, and tailoring seemed better than cleaning houses like her mother. Mom probably didn’t realize what it was like sitting in the steamy dry cleaners every day, with the roar of the equipment and Myrt’s staticky talk radio to keep her company. 

Myrt got up and walked over to Leda. She patted the deep green sequined gown on top of the to-do pile. “We keep adding rather than taking out lately. It’s going to be hard to get it all done in time with you only working after school.” Her regular frown was relaxed from exhaustion. She moved the green dress and touched the black one underneath. “What do you think about skipping school for the next two weeks to get it all done? I don’t trust a temp, and I know your family could use the money. You’re as fast as your grandmother was and your seams are just as strong. It’s time and a half overtime.”

Leda took a deep breath. On the one hand, Myrt was right. With Dad out of work, the money would help. But skipping two weeks of school? How would she ever catch up?

After dinner that night, Leda brought up Myrt’s question. There was no debate, Leda’s mom said. “We need the money. Ask her if it’s just for the rest of the season or if you should drop out.”

“Drop out? Mom, I have to finish high school.” Leda’s eyes started to burn with tears.

“Sweetie, why waste your time? You are not going to college. Do you want to clean houses all your life? You have the chance to learn a trade. Myrt isn’t going to be there forever, and then you can get her job. You tell her yes.“

Leda wiped away a tear. Mom was right. Mom was always right. The next day, Myrt was almost giddy when Leda told her that dropping out of high school was a possibility. “You can get a GED if you want a piece of paper. But you know enough math to measure and cut fabric.”

Leda looked around the shop, steam rising from the irons where the crew was pressing slacks and shirts. Was this really where she would spend the rest of her days? Would she look like Myrt after thirty years, gray and in need of pressing herself? She sighed and picked up the next dress, a soft gray with a bejeweled neckline. Somehow, she had to find four inches of fabric in the seams to let out the waistline. Absorbed in pulling out the seams, she didn’t notice the man standing at the counter. 

Not until she heard him clear his throat. Myrt was nowhere to be found, so Leda got up and went to the counter. “So sorry, I am not sure where everyone is.” 

The man smiled. He wore a charcoal Armani suit, perfectly fitted to his body. Leda appreciated good tailoring. He held out a small piece of brightly colored fabric. “That’s fine, it’s you I came to see. You are Leda, right?”

Leda felt her stomach lurch. Was he a truant officer? Was she going to jail for not being at school? “Um, sir, I am only working extra hours for the holiday, ….”

“What?” He pointed to the fabric that he had placed on the counter. “I need you to repair this pouch. It’s rather special, and you are the one to do it.”

Leda picked up the bag. It was softly worn crushed velvet with a swirled pattern. The side seam was torn. About 2 minutes to restitch, 30 seconds if she could do it by machine. “Of course, sir, it shouldn’t take long, but  the other customers….”

“Of course. No rush. But it will take longer than you think. The pattern must be perfectly matched.” He pointed to the swirls. “The seams should be nearly invisible.”

Nothing hard about that. “Of course, sir.” She started filling out a claim receipt.

“Oh, no paperwork, please. I trust you to remember me.” He patted the little pouch. “All matched up, right? I will pick it up as soon as it’s done.” And he turned and rushed out the door. 

Leda picked up the pouch. It wasn’t complicated; the swirls were not too small and seemed to be close to lining up. She watched him drive off and realized that without the claim receipt, she could not contact him when it was done. 

 Myrt came from the back door. Leda pushed the pouch under her alteration pile. She would look at it later. 

She remembered the pouch at 8:00 when the doors were locked for the night.  Myrt put on her black pea coat. “Don’t spend the night. It will be here for you in the morning.”

Leda nodded. “I’m just going to tidy up,” she said, waving toward the pile of dresses and slacks to be hung and sent over to the dry cleaner side of the shop.

Once alone, she saw the pouch peeking out from the bottom of her pile. She pulled it out and studied the pattern. It wouldn’t be hard. She pulled the bag inside out and found that the pattern was on both sides. No worries, she thought, five minutes and she would go home. Pulling out her box of pins, she started to line up the swirls…

But wait…

Was it…moving? Leda dropped it and rubbed her eyes. She was obviously tired. Again, she picked it up and lined up the swirls. As she started to pin the fabric, the swirls moved again, sliding ever so slightly up and away from the pin so that it no longer lined up. Impossible! She was tired, and she had been staring at needles all day. That was it. Tucking it back in the pile, Leda vowed to sew it after a good night’s sleep. Maybe even come a few minutes early before Myrt.

***

First thing in the morning, Myrt was out back drinking coffee and smoking with the dry cleaner staff, so Leda pulled out the pouch and started lining up the swirls again. Just like last night, they would line up perfectly, but once Leda got anywhere close with a pin to hold it in place, the things would rotate and move away from the fabric edge. What the fuck? Leda thought. She saw Myrt coming in the back door and stuffed the sack back into the bottom of the pile. This had to be some kind of joke, either Myrt or the dry cleaner staff trying to pull a fast one on her. That had to be it. Leda stared at the pouch, so small and ordinary looking. If it was a joke, how the hell did they do it?

As she worked the rest of the day, hemming suit pants, adjusting waistlines, and repairing tears, Leda’s thoughts would drift to the puzzling pouch. Who was the man who left it? Was it a friend of Myrt’s? Did Myrt even have friends, Leda wondered. She never saw Myrt talk to anyone besides the dry cleaners and the occasional UPS delivery driver. Myrt never talked about having a family, a husband, or children. Leda felt a bit ashamed. She told Myrt all kinds of things about school, her friends, her family.  Myrt was a good listener and never gave advice unless specifically asked for it, unlike her mother and her teachers, who always seemed to think that they knew what was best for Leda.

She picked up her thimble and studied it for a moment. Her grandmother had brought it from the old country, where she has been a seamstress to wealthy families. Then she came to America, and ended up in Hollywood, sewing costumes for the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Ginger Rogers. The weight of the thimble felt good to Leda, it made her feel more important, more professional than just a fifteen-year-old girl who wasn’t smart enough for high school. The slightly tarnished silver could tell stories, she thought, of picky starlets and corrupt government officials’ wives. But here, in Navasota, Texas, all it knew was who gained weight this year, and whose weight loss surgery was a success.

“Good, you have your thimble out,” Myrt said as she was adding more alterations to each of their work piles.

Leda stifled a sigh. Just what she needed, more to do. She felt like she would never get to the little sack. Then she realized what Myrt just said. “What do you mean, good thing I have my thimble out?” She moved the small silver cup through her fingers.

“Nothing, just that you seem to work faster when you have it out.” Myrt sat down and put her own thimble on her finger. She tapped on the table with it. “Just something I noticed.”

Leda hadn’t noticed that herself, but she did feel more like a tailor with it. She had hoped her gran was smiling at her as she used it.  She pulled out the first dress and began pulling seams. The work went quickly and she glanced over at Myrt, who almost seemed to be going in slow motion. That was odd. Leda glanced over at the customer carrying her dry cleaning to the counter, and she too was walking slowly. Leda blinked a few times, maybe it was her eyes. But no, the world around her was moving slowly. Just for grins, she dropped the thimble on the table, letting it fall with a clatter. 

“Girl, you ok?” Myrt asked. 

Leda watched the woman at the counter drop off the clothing and hurry out the door. Regular speed. She slipped the thimble back on and decided just to get to her tasks. Obviously, she was working too hard, so may as well get it over with so she could go home. 

One of the dry-cleaning staff was locking the front door when Leda realized what time it was. She looked over at her work pile and all that remained was the pouch. Myrt still had at least half of her to-do pile still in front of her. 

“I don’t know how you do that, but look, you’re all done except for that little thing,” Myrt said, getting up and stretching. “So, you are going to be stuck helping me finish in the morning.” She pushed the chair under the table. “Come on, let’s take an early night.”

Leda looked at the pouch. “I think I will just fix this little thing before I go.”

Myrt shrugged. “Suit yourself. Don’t stay too late.”

Leda picked up the pouch. The pattern once again lined up perfectly, until she got anywhere near it with a needle. She slipped on Gran’s thimble and tried it again.  This time, nothing moved. It acted as if it was a normal piece of fabric. That was so strange. Leda took off the thimble and tried to sew. The swirls moved further away from the needle than before. Thimble on, and perfectly normal. She kept the thimble on and quickly did the repair. Once done, she tugged at it and made sure it held, then gently laid it back on the table. This was the weirdest thing she had ever seen. 

A knock on the shop door startled her. Who would be expecting the door to be open this late? What was it, 9 o’clock, 10? Leda glanced at her watch. 6:55.

She tapped on the face of the watch, surely it was wrong. No way it had only been  45 minutes since Myrt left. Whoever was at the door kept knocking. Did someone know she was there alone? Or maybe it was her brother, checking on why she was so late, although usually, he came to the back door. 

Leda got up and crept to the counter where she could see out to the door without being seen herself. The knocking continued and Leda saw that it was the well-dressed man who had dropped off the strange pouch.  Did he somehow know it was done? Or maybe he thought she was taking too long and decided to check on it. Leda could almost hear Gran’s voice in her head, “Quit trying to guess what he is thinking and go find out!”

Leda went to the door and fumbled with the lock. As the door opened, the man smiled. “Good evening, Leda, I suspect you are through with my little project?”

Leda took a step back and let him in. “Yes, sir. Just finished it a few minutes ago.” How did he know?

“Yes. You are very fast, just like your grandmother, aren’t you?”

That threw Leda off. “You knew my Gran?”

“She fixed this little pouch once herself, a long time ago. Maybe about your age, if I remember correctly.”

Leda studied the man. Gran was 90 when she passed last year, and if this man knew her when she was 15…no, that could not be.

“An excellent seamstress, your grandmother was. And we are all delighted that you are just as talented.” He walked over to the table and picked up the pouch. He checked that the swirly pattern matched up and tugged on the seam. “Did it give you any trouble?”

Leda swallowed hard. Should she tell him about the patterns refusing to line up? That every time she approached it with a needle, the pattern fled to the middle of the pouch? Or did he already know? “It’s just a small pouch, an easy fix.”

The man looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “That’s good. Usually, the pattern tends to be a bit, shall we say, uncooperative.”

He knows, Leda thought. “I have my Gran’s thimble.”

“We were hoping that.” The man tucked the pouch into his pocket and started towards the door.

“Wait, who was hoping?” Leda called after him.

“You’ll find out soon enough. This was a test. We have to know who we can trust to fix the fabric of time.” He smiled and walked out to his car.