Short Fiction ~ Sudha Subramanian
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 17
It was during their third year of marriage that the tailoring tool arrived home. The machine whose spindle could be worked by a square pedal below was black with gold letters on its body. It came hoisted on a rectangular wooden table that stood on small iron wheels. This sewing machine with a spool pin, needle, bobbin and a lever called out to one person with long jet black hair and a sparkling nose stud - Mami.
Over the years, Mami has regaled us with the story of - how she came about with the contraption - at least a dozen times. Her eyes sparkled whenever she narrated that tiny moment from her life. Sometimes she added elements to the story, “they held their fingers to their mouth in awe when they saw the shirt I created with the machine”, she would raise her craggy hands to her face gesticulating their reaction. I pictured her working on that stitching device in a dimly lit room with a red floor and a lone window. She looked beautiful in a flowing green saree and clinking glass bangles in my imagination.
It is this sewing machine’s trudging wheel that is filling the quiet space with a whirring noise. Mami is pushing the pedal furiously while her wrinkled rough hands guiding the piece of cloth under the needle. It is her second bag in three days and there is no stopping her. I walk up to her from behind, willing for her to stop. No. Nobody needs those bags. But, my brain asks me to let her be. She snips another small piece of fabric and gives it a fine fold and locks it under the clip that keeps the fold in place. The thread mends the loose ends of the cloth giving it shape and size. “Is she mending her heart?”, I can’t dare to face her. I sniff away my grief and walk away to another room.
The Sewing Machine was the first gift Mami’s husband had surprised her with. She carried it against her heart and gave it a tidy spot in her home. She dusted it, greased it, and threw long glances at it on busy days. On days when she used her hand to spin the tiny wheel to her right, she smiled with her eyes.
“Do you want the loops long or short?”, she asks bending over the table, without lifting her head. The evening sun finds its way through the window. Her hair is loose and wrinkles of her skin hang along the cheeks in soft bags. “What happened to the rest of the cheeks?”, I ask myself. “You don’t like it long do you?”, she looks over her glasses catching my stare.
“Erm”, I fumble. My mind draws a blank.
“Hand me that green bag that you carry around”, she throws a glance around the room, “I will make it exactly like that”, her eyes latch towards the end of the couch from where my shoulder friend is peeking out.
“Sounds good”, I offer without thinking and march up to fetch the tote.
She straightens her glasses and gets busy with a tape in hand. She spreads the large piece of fabric and picks up the scissors to cut a strip. I look away to swallow the ball of lump down my throat. I hasten my steps to get out. I want to clear my head. I look at some greens and draw long deep breaths. I practice forcing a smile and quietening my nerves. Only after that do I dare to walk back towards the table. “You could add a stitch or two along the length of the loop”, I add running my hand over her back. She is small and I can feel her bones poking out. She nods without lifting her head and walks to the sewing machine.
I bite my lips and shut my eyes tight. The sewing machine is the only present she savors to this day. Unfortunately, Mami’s love affair with the sewing machine has outlived her husband. There are no words, no balms to ease heartbreak. I am unable to find enough love to fill that large void in her heart.
“Do you want a zipper for this?”, She calls out.
“Yes. I would like that”, the words struggle to find their way out.
My eyes trace her frail body slumped in the chair. She bites her lips as she draws the thread through the eye of the needle. Her fingers fumble along the frayed edges of the fabric and press along the zipper to it and work her feet.
“Look”, she holds the large tote in her finger and swings it in the air. “It is perfect”, my words are soft and tremble on my lips. I don’t meet her eyes. Her eyes can break me and that can break her. She is trying to keep herself together. Her eyes search the clock, “It is time for my medicine”, she declares. Her eyes have shrunk. I can see more lines than I can count. She adjusts her saree that barely sits on her waist. I put my arm around her and lead her to the table where her medicine kit sits. I rub her shoulders because she is braving a new life on a new path alone. “Would you like a sleeve in the bag?”, she cocks her head. “Why not?”, I chuckle and I stop the tear just in time. Mami staggers towards her spot - her universe in front of the sewing machine. She gives the wheel a push and she pedals away on a new path, towards a stretch alone without the love of her life.
Sudha Subramanian is an independent writer of Indian origin living in Dubai. She writes fiction and enjoys a good chai. Her words have found space in Kitaab, Bending Genres, West Trestle Review among others. Connect with her on X @sudhasubraman or on Instagram @sudha_subraman