this is a short story that i’ve recently submitted for a competition. as always, any feedback is welcome.
As she picked up another pair of her husband’s “favorite” pants from the mending basket, it suddenly occurred to Wendy that this pile of clothes may go on forever. An endless chasm of very old, yet very cherished clothing which just couldn’t seem to keep itself together. “Like me on a day with no sleep,” thought Wendy to herself, “falling apart at the seams and dropping buttons everywhere.” Still, she didn’t resent this endless chore. She knew that her husband appreciated her efforts to keep his clothes from heading to the trash can. After 10 years together, Wendy was well aware of how much her husband hated shopping for anything that wasn’t at a home improvement store. This tiresome task with the needle and thread kept him from going to the dreaded mall. She was fine with that, she certainly didn’t want him as a grumpy shopping companion. And so she kept feeding his procrastination a little bit of thread at a time.
The other effect that took place when she opened her sewing kit, was the awe and wonder from her 3-year-old son. It was obvious how thrilled he was whenever she performed her magic seamstress trick and reattached the limbs of a well-loved stuffed animal. Okay, sewing did have it’s rewards, but still, reattaching buttons never did make it as an Olympic sport. Maybe if she were good at this chore, she could learn to enjoy it. Make it some sort of hobby. A lot of women knit and do needle point to relax, perhaps sewing the pockets of torn cargo pants would become the next domesticated thing, like scrapbooking. If that happened then she’d never have a problem finding just the right color thread. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a large variety of shades of khaki.
But back to the sewing. Back to the grind. No matter how much her family showered praise on her for saving clothing and dolls from a slow frayed death, Wendy still felt the pain of her endeavor. And since she never could quite get the hang of using a thimble, she did literally feel pain. In fact, the mending basket seemed to be waging war against her. Not only were her fingertips sore and her neck stiff, it was fighting against her peace of mind. Certainly it wasn’t merely a coincidence that every time she seemed to have a few minutes to herself, she ended up sewing on a button or repairing a seam, hemming pants or patching a hole. Then again, her life seemed to need a mending basket of it’s own. If she could just find a way to sew together the 10 minutes waiting for her mother’s prescription, the 5 minutes waiting at the bank, and all of those other minutes at all of those other random times, why Wendy just might be able to have an hour to herself. If she could just invent a way to harvest all of those precious minutes that seemed to evaporate while running countless errands, maybe she could create a life all her own. Something that was only for her. She thought about it for a moment, stuck her index finger with the needle for the 6th time and uttered an exasperated sigh. “I guess sometimes it hurts a little to have a pretty good life,” she thought. “Maybe it isn’t all about how much time I have for myself. Maybe it’s just what I do with the time when I find it.” It might not be minutes that she needed to stitch together, maybe she just needed to make some small repairs to her life. A patchwork quilt of the person that she wanted to be. The person that she used to be when she was just Wendy, not “Honey” not “Mommy”, just Wendy. Except that she should probably fix her life with super glue or the “new “ Wendy will have little pin pricks all over her hands too. She smiled, a little contented with the thought that she might actually have a plan. To create the happy, carefree person that she used to be. “Is this what people are doing when they try to find themselves?” She wondered. “Do I need to fill out a missing persons report or just take my inner child to the zoo?
Whatever the course of action might be, Wendy knew that she could figure it out. Even though she had never been skilled with the needle, her mother had an entire room devoted to sewing when Wendy was growing up. It was completely off-limits to the children. However, when Wendy was about 6 years old, her mother made her a quilt from pieces of all of Wendy’s favorite outfits. It took quite a bit of planning and what seemed to be an entire winter bent over the sewing machine. Wendy stood in the doorway for hours watching her mother create her a masterpiece of memories. When it was finished, it was the best blanket in the world. It was full of everything that she loved about her childhood. A huge scrapbook to keep her warm. The dress from the first day of school. The shirt she didn’t take off unless it desperately needed to be washed. Party outfits and play clothes. That quilt still had a special place in her home and in her mind. Wendy knew that she could accomplish the same project that her mother had, although in a more abstract way. She forgot about sewing together her spare minutes. The fabric of time was probably too loose a weave to hold a stitch anyway. She now concentrated on how to collect and piece together a better version of herself. The first step would be to figure out which “materials” she should use.
“Your life sometimes takes on a life of it’s own.” Wendy’s father used to tell her that all the time. As she got older, those words finally started to pop into her head more and more frequently. Tonight, holding her sleeping son in the recliner, the words seemed to be fluorescent and blinking like a sign in Times Square in the 1950’s. This wasn’t the life that she had planned. This wasn’t the life she had expected. This was someone else’s life. Some woman’s life, not hers. In Wendy’s mind she was still in her twenties. Some vague, cute age that didn’t have real responsibilities or significant problems. Somewhere in her subconscious or unconscious, she still had this dream of becoming a successful writer. No, this couldn’t be her life. A husband, a son, a mortgage. Had she really worked at the copy shop for 10 years? Impossible. In her mind she was still a girl, not really a “grown up-own major appliances-have a dental plan” woman. This was all beginning to look like a downhill ride and not nearly as much fun as it had been going up. But just what was wrong with her life? Wendy’s gaze turned toward her son. He was too wonderful, too funny and too amazing to be wrong. She glanced over at the photo of her husband on the wall. Sure, they had problems like anyone else, but she couldn’t put him in the “wrong” category either. And although they fell into the “paycheck to paycheck” class of America, things weren’t horrible in a financial sense. So what was wrong? Finally, the answer came crashing into her head. A line from a poem she had written so many years ago, back when she really was a twenty-something girl. “There’s not enough living involved in my life.” And Wendy realized that she needed to find the pieces for the new quilt of a person she wanted to become.
Two days and very little time to think later, Wendy found herself once again holding the sewing basket. This time it was to try to re-size one of her 2 bras. She had one black and one white and neither of them fit. This was entirely due to the fact that both undergarments had been purchased when she was 8 months pregnant. Since her son was now three and a half years old and she had lost the extra 76 pounds she had gained while she was pregnant, the old bras just didn’t seem to fit quite right. For Wendy, buying a new bra was the equivalent of buying a new swimsuit. Neither one ever seemed to be the least bit flattering. She was certain that the people who designed these garments were not the people who had to wear them. Of course, her swimsuit was 10 years old.
“After 7 hours of concentration and less than precision stitching, Wendy finally relented and mentally planned to purchase 2 new bras.” At least that’s how Wendy would have described her attempt. In actuality, it was 15 minutes of exasperation and a healthy dose of murmured swearing before she made that mental plan, which also included buying herself a gourmet coffee drink afterwards to revive her state of mind.
The next day, Wendy stopped by the store after work and put her plan into action. After 3 trips to the dressing room she had 2 new bras. She was pleasantly surprised to find that wearing something that fit made her feel a little better. Her posture felt straighter. The shirt she had thought was getting too small actually looked quite nice. Who knew that wearing something that was the right size could make a person feel so different. Happily, she cruised the clearance section looking for toys and tools for the men in her life and was a little startled to find that there were items she wanted to buy for herself. Not household items like storage bins or new linens, things that were just for her. A little arm band to hold a digital music player while she ran. A mini tape recorder. A journal. Wendy couldn’t remember the last time she had bought something that she wanted that was just for her. Her priorities just weren’t set that way. Her family always came first in her mind and in her shopping cart. But these items seemed to be offering up a different life. She could see them in use even though they were still on the shelf. Although she hadn’t run competitively since high school, Wendy could remember just how free she felt jogging on the track and listening to her Walkman. And the mini tape recorder, like the one she used to use when she was writing poetry. The journal shouldn’t have stood out the way that it did, after all it was just bound paper, or was it? This journal wasn’t created to write shopping lists and errands, it was bound and beautiful and practically begging for creative thoughts to be written on it’s pages.
The total at the checkout was a little more than she had planned to spend, but she knew it would be worth it. After all, how much should someone pay for the materials to create a whole new person? A week ago Wendy would have probably walked right past those three items without even thinking about them. It seemed that once she set her mind on doing something for herself, she became open to doing other things that were just for her. Now, as she drove home with them in the back seat, she began to devise a plan on how she could sew these three new possibilities into her life.
First, the arm band. If she could find one of those strollers designed for running parents, she could push her son while she jogged. Then, on those days when he was playing with his grandma, she could put that arm band on and run by herself. She had always been good at cleaning out the stray thoughts in her mind when she was running and listening to some good music. Why hadn’t the thought of running with her son ever entered her mind before? It was such a simple idea. Maybe it just took buying new bras to pry open the possibility of doing something for herself. It seemed like a solution had been just sitting in that clearance aisle waiting for her to wander by and pick it up.
Second on the list was the tape recorder. This would be the ideal way to make good use of those long hours with the mending basket. She could record her ideas for stories and poems without even putting down the needle and thread. Since Wendy had become a mother, she had started thinking up children’s stories. Of course, since Wendy had become a mother, she never had time to sit and write these stories down. With this new tape recorder, another piece of the new person she was creating could be sewn into place.
The third item would fit nicely into her purse. A nice, little journal to write down thoughts and stories and poems while standing in line waiting for whatever. 10 minutes for her mother’s prescription, 5 minutes at the bank and all of those other random minutes that seemed to completely evaporate into nothing. Now they could be stitched together into her journal.
Smiling to herself as she steered the car into her driveway, Wendy suddenly had a thought, “If this works out, then I won’t need to take my inner child to the zoo.” Instead she decided to take her real child out to the park. She brought along her new journal and tape recorder, just in case.
Written by Barbie Dockstader Angell.