Short Story: Sticking It to the Man

To say this wasn’t her dream job was to put it lightly.

Abigail was supposed to be a fashion designer in Paris, hanging out in cafes with all of her gorgeous models and smiling demurely at young men in scarves, making them wonder what made her so special. She belonged in the city of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the best fashion houses in the world.

Ending up in the backroom of a sewing repair and equipment shop was not the plan. Returning to her home town of Boring Ass, California, after four brutal years of fashion design classes was not the plan.

Reality, however, wasn’t playing along with her dreams. In fact, it seemed determined to crush them.

There were no elegant men to flirt with, only the jocks and geeks that she hadn’t wanted anything to do with even in high school. The only café was the local Starbucks, packed with noisy students who naively championed collaboration as an excuse for a social hour. There were no fashion houses, only George’s Sewing Notions and Repair, Family Owned Since 1972.

And instead of designing avant guarde gowns for Parisian runways, Abigail was stuck cleaning neglected sewing machines, explaining the difference between ballpoint and jersey needles, and trying to convince novices that bridesmaid dresses and Halloween costumes were not one-day projects, even for the best. The only interesting task she got to do—the only task that in any way validated her college degree—was building the shop’s specialty: custom dress forms.

At least the shop didn’t service vacuum cleaners. Abigail probably would have gauged her eyes out if she had to stoop that low.

Building dress forms was the calmest part of the day. It got Abigail out of the main room, away from the clutter and clatter that was the retail business. The sewing required was not the type she had imagined herself dedicating hours to, but it used a needle and thread, and at the end of it, she’d created something. Most of the time, that was enough to keep her self-destructive thoughts at bay.

Then came the day when Susan Baker ran into her in the street and sneered at the high-minded girl with the nerve to think she was better than the rest of them, and laughed at her inevitable return to the gutters.

Abigail was back in high school, clutching brochures for fashion colleges on the other side of the country, trying to get her guidance counselor to help her with her applications, trying to keep Susan and her clique from seeing the logos. The insecurity and bitterness that Abigail had shoved away for so long came rushing back, but four years of college had changed her—even if Susan couldn’t see it.

She didn’t cower or hide from Susan’s abuse.

She just brushed past the lip-glossed bully, cutting a piece of her cheaply dyed hair with the tiny sewing scissors she always carried in her pocket.

Susan never noticed. Abigail, deciding she could go without another cup of coffee, headed back to George’s, straight for the back room.

Abigail’s roommate, Cassy, had been from New Orleans, an eclectic girl from an entrenched family that had thrown at fit when their youngest daughter left the city in favor of the Big Apple. But Cassy hadn’t left her heritage entirely behind, or it hadn’t let her escape. After two semesters of prickling sensations on the back of her neck and shadows flickering in the corner of her eyes—and after a night of drinking that shut up common sense—Abigail worked up the courage to ask her friend just what exactly her family business was supposed to be.

Abigail had promised to keep Cassy’s gifts a secret—but she didn’t have to tell anyone about slipping Susan’s hair into the stuffing of her latest project and muttering a few ancient chants under her breath. No one would know—no oath was broken—except for Susan, the first time someone stuck a pin in the dress form, and Abigail, who would smile whenever she imagined it.

Tossing and turning in bed that night, Abigail didn’t relish in her victory. She couldn’t shake a memory of Susan crying in the junior high girl’s bathroom when her dog died. Red-eyed and regretful, she hurried into work that morning only to discover the dress form had already been boxed and shipped.

She puked in the bathroom and swore to never do it again.

She kept her promise for six whole months, until Chad Walker got one two many beers in him and ruined Abigail’s night off. He left the bar woozy and rejected. She left the bar feeling violated, with a clump of his beard in her pocket.

George’s rarely received orders for male dress forms, so she held onto the tangle of hair until one showed up. It took two weeks, and by the time she tucked the sample between her stiches, Abigail had made up her mind. It was premeditated. It was just, she told herself, ignoring her clenching stomach.

A month later Ella Kwong yelled at her child in the supermarket. Her daughter was sobbing so loudly that Ella never noticed the faint snip of Abigail’s scissors. Two weeks passed before Abigail gave in to the temptation of her scissors, punishing Father Washington for his hypocritical sermon against adultery, when it was common knowledge that he was not faithful to his wife.

More and more dress forms were sent across the country with custom measurements and secret punishments. Abigail swayed between the heady sensation of power and the sickening fear of her own immoral character. She was the Hand of Justice, the righter of wrongs, she assured herself.

She was the devil on earth, prideful enough to think herself separate from the complexities of human ethics, her conscience whispered back.

A year and a half after that doomed encounter with Susan Baker, Abigail read the story in the newspaper: Local Woman Commits Suicide After Bouts of Inexplicable Pain. She read half of the article before she stopped, the words blurring in front of her eyes. Rushing to the bathroom, she threw up the breakfast she had managed to eat, and called in sick to work.

The town was gray with mourning. Abigail could not go outside without making eye contact with a former classmate of hers and Susan’s. She would flinch and dash away, back to her house, away from the penetrating gazes that surely, surely could see the evil corrupting her soul.

Did she even have a soul left to corrupt?

Yes, she realized, shoving away another plate of food and closing her blinds tighter. If she lacked a soul, surely this would not hurt the way it did.

When she showed up to work a week later, her manager was shocked at how pale and gaunt her face was. Abigail avoided crowds and started at loud noises; she wouldn’t look anyone in the face. Her manager pitied the young woman for the obvious toll her grief had taken on her spirit and offered to give Abigail another week off to recover. With a look of horror, Abigail refused, rushing to the back room and grabbing the stack of orders from which to choose her next project.

Even in the backroom, the chitchat of the shop reached Abigail’s tortured ears. All anyone was talking about was Susan’s death. Some raged at incompetent doctors; others reduced her to an attention-whore with mild aches. One of the town’s grandmothers was certain that Susan had arthritis, while a young grad student swore that the pain was the psychosomatic result of some trauma received earlier in life.

Was it possible?

Could Susan have died from something other than Abigail’s vengefulness? Could Cassy’s magic be nothing more than the grimmest of fairy tales?

There was one way to find out, only one way to give Abigail what she deserved if she had actually caused the death of her former classmate.

Before she could think about her actions, Abigail reached behind her head and clipped a snippet of her hair. The dress form she build around the cutting was her fastest project to date. It shipped that night, and Abigail lay in bed, unable to sleep under the threat of self-inflicted pain.

She must have fallen asleep at some point in the early morning, her guilt-ravaged body taking refuge in sleep long into the afternoon. Possibly, Abigail would have slept forever had she not been awakened by a sudden stabbing pain.

Jolting awake with a scream, Abigail got her answer.


Whew! I haven’t written a short story in a while, but I’ve been playing around with this idea for a few weeks now and I decided to go for it. Hope you enjoyed! (It isn’t my favorite thing that I’ve ever written, but I like the mood I created.)

A special thanks to my sister for teaching me about this sewing lingo (or forcing me to learn it by being in the same house as her sewing exploits) and for letting me take the dramatic picture of her dress form featured in this post. You can check out her sewing blog here.

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