Monstrous Femme

Atropos’s Second-Hand Gifts

Atropos’s Second-Hand Gifts

Tapping her pencil against the nearly full notepad, Alice let out a long, exasperated sigh. It was going to be a tight month between her regular bills, unexpected repairs, and just covering the basic necessities like food. She could not even fathom adding in Christmas gifts for her family and friends. She ran her hands through her auburn hair, pulling it into a high ponytail and out of her face. Her custom-made designs were not selling like they used to and she had been relying more and more on the alterations side of her business to make ends meet. Alice really needed to start replacing some of her sewing tools, especially her scissors, but that would have to wait another month or two. Maybe she would simply get her scissors sharpened again; hopefully that would help extend their life a little while longer. It could be her own Christmas gift to herself. The front door bell chimed as her next appointment came in for their fitting. Alice quickly gathered her things as she prepared herself mentally for the appointment. Not every customer was perfect. She had a few consistent customers who were a little rude or demanding, but they paid on time and continued to return, so she simply had to grin and bear it.

It was not that Brandon was rude, but he was a smidge too crude for Alice’s tastes. She only saw him a handful of times; she never understood why he felt so compelled to tell her about his wild party life. She was pretty sure there was a few years age gap between them and she knew her small stature and lack of curves did not fit his typical one-night stand girls. Not that she would want that, but Brandon was always extra chatty with her during his appointments. Alice simply grinned and bore it. She would laugh and nod along to his stories and only if they got too graphic did she draw the line and remind him of her boundaries. A handful of times Alice had to remind Brandon that she was just a seamstress – not one of his frat bro friends.

As usual, after he came in, he started talking just a little too loud and a little too explicit for her tastes. He has a one of those puffer coats one, in bright green, and as soon as he hit the platform he started to remove clothes. She did not want to hear Brandon’s locker room talk about his weekend plans, but she decided to just move along with the fitting. He started to change shirts on the platform instead of a fitting room. He must have gotten a new chest tattoo between fittings, Alice noted. While she wasn’t a huge fan of Brandon, she did understand that everyone had different bodies and she could understand that having a lot of muscle definition could limit your clothing options. She figured he had a hard time with anything that was not athletic wear with elastic and stretchy fabric.

As he exchanged his business polo for a long-sleeve button down that she had already taken in a few inches, he started to complain about how it still wasn’t tight enough. In her opinion, it was already way too tight. Anyone for a mile around would see he had muscles, why did the shirt have to almost rip at the seams to provide evidence? He wasn’t a superhero, he was just a guy who liked clubbing and partying. Instead of speaking her initial thoughts, she nodded along and gently explained that she would not be able to take it in any further. She tried to explain that there was a risk of the seams ripping and gave a brief overview of the original construction of the garment in hopes for him to understand why she could not keep making it smaller. Luckily, he was satisfied with that but then asked her to replace on the buttons. He wanted something a little different for the shirt. At least it was an easy request this time, and a short turn around too. Brandon swiftly changed back and reached in his coat pocket for his wallet. Handing off his card, she was happy this encounter was quick compared to others. He had a tangent about how he hoped the club would be hopping and how all the women were sure to be soaking up his good looks when he saw him in his latest altered shirt. After running the transaction, she returned his card and they scheduled his next appointment.

With a “ding” he left the shop and Alice took the brief moments of silence to organize her space before her next appointment arrived. Double checking the clock and her schedule she noted her next appointment, George, was running behind. She groaned out loud in the empty shop. He was an unusual customer. While George appeared like a regular, older gentleman who dressed well and had old-school manners, his mood could take a sharp turn if even the smallest thing did not go right. Alice sent a quick prayer to the sewing gods and hoped he would be in a good mood. After her long week she could not take an unruly customer. With another chime, the front door opened and in walked Selene. She strode in with an air of elegance and sophistication that all women dream of exuding when entering a room.

By far Alice’s most favorite customer; Selene had modest requests and knew that Alice’s timelines and prices were always fair. In one fitting Selene had even divulged how she had been a seamstress once, and how cutting out garments was her favorite part of the job. They had bonded over proper care of sewing tools and the love of a good pair of tailoring shears. Today Selene’s long grey hair was pulled up in a chignon style and underneath her grey overcoat peaked well-tailored tweed suit was a dazzling shade of emerald green. In addition to a simple silver chain necklace, her only other accessory was a silver broach pinned to the collar of her jacket. The broach was stunning and simple. It was the initials “SA” and tiny emeralds sprinkled on it. After exchanging air kisses, Alice explained to Selene that she could get her started but her current scheduled customer may come in at any moment. Selene took the garment bag Alice offered to her, and proceeded to one of the fitting rooms to change. Just like a tornado, when the door opened next with a blast of cold winter air, in came George. He was red in the face and slightly out of breath. Noticing she was helping Selene get situated into a fitting room, he started to raise his voice at Alice.

“I’m not even five minutes late and you’ve given away my appointment?” he screeched at her while pointing a finger at Selene.

“No, I am just allowing her to change before her appointment, which occurs immediately following yours.” It took all of her energy to remain calm and collected in front of Selene. The elderly woman did not seem frail, but in her stoic quietness, Alice still wanted to keep her out of a confrontational situation. “If you would like to go into the other fitting room, I have already hung your suit up. I have marked the hem line on the jacket but the pants are finished.”

George, seeming to acknowledge his actions were rude huffed and just replied, “Fine, I’ll change, but I still expect to use my full appointment slot.”

With a simple, “but of course,” Alice headed over to the table by the platform and waited for George to emerge. She silently hoped Selene would remain seated within her fitting room and wait until she heard Alice finish with George’s appointment. He came out, the pants fitting perfectly, and stood on the platform ready to have her pin the jacket sleeves and hemline. The store atmosphere remained tense, yet everyone was calm, for the remainder of his appointment. George seemed as rigid as the season, but he left with a receipt and his next fitting scheduled all without another yelling scene. After he had left Selene came out and stood silently, waiting for Alice to finish her notes before starting to pin the dress’s hem.

“Oh dearie, you shouldn’t let your customers be so rude to you,” Selene practically whispered, as Alice started to mark a faint line to help her get an idea of the proposed hemline.

“I know, but unfortunately, he’s not even the worst. Plus, I cannot be selective of my customers right now. I need to buy some new tools and it is Christmas time. My scissors can only get sharpened so many times before they need replaced.”

“You know, ever since the arthritis plagued my hands, I have not touched my sewing kit. I would love to pass them along to you.” And without even letting Alice protest, Selene continued, “I will bring them tomorrow. And if you do not need them, you can simply give them back at our next fitting.”

“You’re too kind,” Alice said with a slight lump in her throat.

“But of course, we seamstresses have to look out for each other, and you can even think of it as a Christmas bonus,” and with a sharp nod she seemed to be done with the conversation.

They finished the rest of the fitting in a peaceful silence. Selene left and Alice got everything ready to close the store. She really could use a win for once. With a twist of her key, she locked the front door and with a quick glance up towards the sky she really hoped the sewing tools would turn out okay.

The next day started out as every other typical business day. Alice unlocked the doors, turned on the music and lights, double checked the schedule, and hung up the items needed for the day’s fittings. Shortly after she was finished with her little list of tasks Selene came in with an antique looking sewing basket. As usual, Selene’s grey hair was perfectly done and beneath her wool winter coat, her tweed suit had an enchanting broach pinned to her jacket. Today’s broach was a gold pair of tailoring shears with small diamonds along the handle. It was exquisite. It could have looked gaudy, but as usual Selene looked like a queen from another decade. After greeting one another, Selene placed the sewing kit on Alice’s cutting table and started to open it. Upon further inspection, the older looking kit was a faded black color with intricate silver detailing wrapped around it, like thousands of threads woven within the black but without making any type of discernible pattern.

After pulling a few pieces out, Selene explained to Alice how these supplies and tools had not been used in a while, but they would be good as new in her young, hardworking hands. She continued to smile as they opened the kit and Selene pulled out a pair of gold scissors. It made Alice glance back to Selene’s broach and chuckle to herself, of course she would match today. For a moment, the graceful older woman’s entire body language shifted. Her face became stern as she held the scissors, holding Alice’s eyes, before continuing speaking.

“Please just be careful with these,” Selene explained while holding the gold shears out towards Alice, “they come in handy on tricky projects and they can cut through anything like butter.” Selene’s demeanor changed back to the dainty old woman she had always been as soon as Alice had the shears in hand.

Alice felt the weight of the shears in her hands. The air felt electric, like something magical had just happened. It was as if by accepting the metal shears she had unknowingly agreed on something. Alice brushed that silly thought away; she was so thankful to Selene and the wonderful supplies she was willing to part with at this time. The two of them chatted briefly until Alice’s first fitting of the day showed up. With a brief hug, Selene left Alice to her work.

The day passed by quickly and by the end of work all she wanted to was sit down with a nice cup of hot tea. Alice had just closed the store and was finishing up fitting notes for a truly awful bridezilla, named Heather. The bride’s mother had tagged along as well, but she was no bed of roses either. Alice always had a soft spot for brides, despite never being a bride before, she wanted to help them have the picture-perfect day they imagined. However, Heather really tested Alice’s saneness. It was December, and Heather was having a Christmas themed wedding – everything was red and silver – and her dress had been a custom-made gown by another designer. Alice had to wonder how many times she had worked with the designer before seeking out Alice’s tailoring skills. Because who asks someone to take out a perfectly good invisible zipper in an over-the-top wedding dress and replace it with a corset back with just three weeks before the wedding? Heather apparently. She had been so adamant about the change she was going to pay her double if Alice could finish it the Friday before the wedding. It was a tight deadline, especially with the holiday season upon them but since she needed the money, Alice agreed to the alteration and the deadline. Unfortunately, after they left, Alice had discovered the materials for the corset needed to be special ordered and would not be here until a few days before the decided deadline. She sighed; the next few days were going to be frustratingly long.

The next week passed in a blur of routine motions for Alice. She was grateful for Selene’s gifts. She had been able to use buttons from Selene’s basket for Brandon’s shirt and had found the perfect sized hand sewing needles to use when finishing up George’s suit jacket. Not only did it save her time from sourcing the right items, but it also saved her a little bit of money in the process. It seemed like everything was running smoothly for once. Internally she was proud of herself for being so on top of it. With the completed projects, she was more than ready for both men’s fittings today.

Both of her fittings went swimmingly with Brandon and George. They were their usual selves of course, but the alterations aspect went smoothly. Both men were able to take their garments home with no more changes needing made. At the end of the day, she did her usual notes and tidying up. She knew she should start with the zipper on Heather’s poufy wedding cake shaped satin dress, but she really didn’t want to work on it. The whole situation made her annoyed and frustrated. Just because she was a bride Heather felt entitled to being catered to her every whim. Possibly even more so because it was Christmas time. Heather seemed to have one ridiculous request after another during the whole alterations process. What started out as a simple hem fix had turned into adding lace applique, swapping out boning, adjusting the bust, redoing the hem of course, and so on. Each fitting had an accompanying screaming fit over how her whole wedding was ruined because something else was now wrong. This corset and zipper fiasco was just the latest of Heather’s ridiculous requests. Alice hated that she had continuously said yes to the bride’s requests, but she needed the money. Besides, if she was getting yelled at for fixing things, she might as well get paid handsomely for her time.

As Alice moved the dress from the hanging rack to getting it situated on one of the padded dress forms, she was starting to be furious at herself for agreeing to the alteration. She should have said no, should have told Heather they were done with the dress; that there was not enough time, and that even seamstresses deserved breaks around the holidays. Alice zipped the dress up and spun the form around. The dress itself was stunning, despite having a few too many rhinestones on the bodice for her taste. Alice always hated having to seam rip someone else’s hard work. She knew the designer’s work, and knew that her dresses were all sewed by hand in their studio. Alice had already made numerous changes for Heather. It was basically a whole new dress now, the designer’s original look long gone with each alteration made. As Alice felt the fabric in her fingers, she felt a little electric shock occurred. She assumed just a little static electricity, but that reminded her of her new gold shears…she could just cut it out. The simplicity of her actions would save Alice so much time. Even though seam ripping would be the proper method, seam ripping the zipper apart from the dress would take forever. The shears were sitting on top of her cutting table, ready to be used. Beneath the overhead lighting, they seemed eager, if that was possible. Alice was getting tired though, so she finished some other simple tasks. Then, with the dress still on the form untouched, she went home.

Over the next few days, she had a steady stream of customers coming in and out of the shop. Her deadline for Heather’s dress was approaching, but the wedding dress stayed on the form in the back. Alice told herself she still needed to get the shipment in, but really, she was hoping Heather would call and cancel the request. Once or twice, Heather had been a little wishy-washy about other decisions so there was a small chance that would she change her mind. Besides, once someone has you redo a hem three times, you tend to wait a little longer to fulfill their latest request. Some of her usual clients had stopped in, bringing new garments for simple alterations such as lifting hemlines or removing belt loops. When Brandon brought in another dress shirt to take in, he told her about a weird rash he had been trying to get rid of on his hands and chest. He told her it was just the oddest thing. It was unrelated to his latest tattoo, but despite the medicine a doctor recommended, the rash persisted. He told her how he did just switch dry cleaners, so it could have been a reaction to their detergent. Then he filled her in on how all the women swooned for him at the clubs, and he just needed her to alter this shirt the same way as the last one. After some polite conversation, and avoiding any touch possible, Alice was happy when Brandon left. She did not give his rash another thought, until George came in.

George had brought in a winter coat that he hoped Alice could fix the lining inside as well as possibly hem the sleeves like she did for his suit jacket. Alice was trying to be well-mannered and talk to George while she was searching her files for his measurements and most recent alterations job.

“The craziest thing happened after that wedding I went to over the weekend. I may have some kind of food allergy; they did serve a lot of things I am not usually used to eating” George explained.

“Oh really, what do you think you are allergic to? Was it a bad stomach reaction or something more like a rash?” Alice asked sincerely.

“Nothing too serious. I am not sure what caused it, but I had these insanely itchy red scratches on both of my wrists and around my waist. It was odd, that is for sure. Oh well, I am just supposed to avoid a few things for now to see what happens. My wife loved the fit of the suit though Alice,” he genuinely smiled at her. “That is why I brought my camel coat in. The sleeves are just a hair too long. I would love them to look like my suit jacket you just did.”

By now Alice had everything she needed to make the right fitting notes for George’s coat. He paid, made an appointment, and left. It was odd to hear about two possible allergic reactions in one day, but crazier things had happened before. Once she was done making fitting notes and organizing her paperwork, she stared at the clock. She knew the materials for Heather’s dress would arrive in the morning; she had received the shipping notice right before lunchtime. She glanced over at the wedding dress, still on the dress form, patiently waiting in the corner. It was Wednesday and Heather was coming in on Friday to try it on and hopefully take it home once and for all. She knew at this point Heather was not going to change her mind. And that despite the yelling fits in the past, no matter what Heather said or how she acted, Alice always did her best work. She would not make a mistake just because she did not like her client. She cared for work and her reputation. So, she would finish the alterations, as agreed upon. But at this point she felt as though Heather no longer deserved her best work, so she opted to not seam rip the zipper seams and instead she would just cut them.

Alice looked back at the clock. It was already 10 o’clock at night, and she had an early fitting the next morning. With a heavy sigh, she reached for her gold shears. The weight in hands, the cold metal against her skin, it all felt so natural. Electricity seemed to be in the air as she made her way to the dress. Spinning the dress form around, she glanced again at the clock. Taking a shortcut had never felt so good. It felt like a sliver of revenge for everything Heather had put her through up until now. Not one for pettiness or revenge, something was bubbling to the surface in Alice. She could not quite place it, but there was a change in her as she held the scissors. They felt good in her hands, like they were meant to be hers all along.

Alice cut the zipper out, careful of the surrounding seams and fabric. Selene was right, these cut like butter, Alice muttered to herself as the task was completed in record time. Following her task she took the dress off the form, hung it on a wooden hanger, and placed it on her “to-alter” clothing rack. She then put the shears in her purse. And with that she was finished for the day. She locked up and headed home, hopeful for a good night’s sleep.

Alice woke up on her first alarm, ready to tackle the day. Something felt off, but she shrugged it off to just getting home late. She knew she had a lot scheduled in the shop and needed to have an early start. However, she desperately needed coffee before she could do anything else. Still clad in pajamas she trudged downstairs to start the coffeemaker and to grab the newspaper. She snagged the paper from the front porch to see what was happening in town. Once she was settled at the kitchen table with fresh coffee and buttered toast, she opened up the newspaper. As she was unfolding it, a black and white photo of a happy couple immediately caught her attention. She had to read the article twice all the way through before she could breathe normally again. A shortened version of the events replayed in her head, her voice an echo bouncing around in her mind.

An unfortunate event has occurred the previous evening, just before 11 o’clock. A man named Ian heard screaming coming from the master bedroom in his home. He ran into it only to discover his fiancé standing in front of the mirror, bleeding out from two large deep gashes down her back. He tried to stop the bleeding while calling for 911, but his fiancé collapsed and bled out on the floor before the emergency personnel could arrive.

“No,” Alice whispered to herself as she stared at Heather’s smiling face in the photo. Her heart raced as she thought back to all her recent alteration jobs. It had started with Brandon complaining about a rash in the areas he would have touched the enchanting new buttons she replaced. After that George had told her about itchy red scratches where she had used her new hand sewing needles to finish up his jacket’s hemlines. Finally, her mind replayed last night’s events. The shears had felt so right in her hands, as though they were eager for the tasks at hand. Pulling her towards the dress.

The newspaper article didn’t say exactly where the two cuts had been on Heather’s back, but Alice knew. She glanced at her purse, wondering why she had felt compelled to bring her shears home with her the night before. She never did work from home and if she wanted to cut out any personal projects, she did it at work on her large cutting table. But after she had used them last night, she felt a strong connection to them. In that moment Alice realized she had been concerned about their whereabouts and that’s why she had stuck them in her purse and headed home. She needed them to be near her after using them.

“No, that’s not possible,” she said out loud again. Magic does not exist. Voodoo is not real. Sewing tools and supplies could not cause rashes and scratch marks. They certainly could not harm someone as drastically as Heather’s injuries. It had to be an accident. Alice’s thoughts were too chaotic. Everything was tangled together.

Then, as if she were sitting right next to her, Alice heard Selene tell her, “Please just be careful with these, they come in handy on tricky projects and they can cut through anything like butter.” And that is exactly what they did the night before. Alice had cut through Heather’s dress like butter, and apparently, she had cut through Heather as easily as butter too. She recalled the change in Selene as she had told her about the scissors. How the old woman’s demeaner and body language had shifted when holding the shears. She always wandered about Selene’s history, she never disclosed much. All that Alice knew what that she claimed to have been a seamstress before and her closet was full of impeccable style and dazzling jewelry. Other than that, Selene was an unknown. A mystery in tweed and silk.

Instead of an overwhelming sense of fear, relief seemed to spread through Alice’s body. She set the newspaper down and sipped her coffee, cherishing the quiet of the morning and the endless possibilities.

She decided that those gold shears would indeed come in handy on certain tricky projects with difficult patrons. She would finish her coffee first of course, but after that it would be time to get ready for work. No one truly appreciated a good alterations expert anyways, Alice thought. A thin smile spread across her face as she started to plan out her day, eager to discover what other secrets were stowed away in Selene’s antique sewing basket.