Fit For An Empress

Draft 2

1963

Sam knew where to find impeccable fit and style that could rocket a man to another galaxy. A dangerous level. Ten seconds inside Wen Fong Tailors and a flash of patterned silk caught his eye. He pointed to it.

The elderly tailor smiled. “Ah- a beautiful cloth. “But- not for you, sir.” Wen knew this customer was conservative. The gold cloth was far too dashing for such a man of the street. The choice piqued his interest.

“No.” Sam lowered his head. “A gift. I was thinking for my wife. She often sews clothes for herself or our daughter.”

The tailor nodded. He turned, shuffled to the cutting table and unrolled the bolt to expose the silken cloth. His twisted fingers slid across the surface of the buttery silk. Once stroked, the silken images seemed to come alive. First a serpent head sprung from the cloth, its neck swiveled left then right. Watchful eyes darted and blinked beneath iridescent lids. A tiger padded paw pushed air, as if chancing flight. Suddenly, it was as if writhing dragons twisted for position.

“Beautiful choice for an Empress,” Wen whispered. “Choose a bolt for your jacket, sir.” He bowed. “ I will cut this cloth for your wife.”

“I’ll pay for it,” Sam said. For goodness sake, he wasn’t a man for charity. Not yet. Sam reached for his wallet. His head banged; he needed a pill. What the hell was going on in here?

Wen raised one palm, “Stop.” He beamed, “ No cost, Mr. Sam.”

Clarity returned.  Sam lifted one hand, pressed it to his forehead, focused on his breaths. When he looked at the cloth, the dragons had settled to their one-dimensional state.

The tailor interrupted, “Tired, Mr. Sam?’

Sam nodded. He felt dead in a disgraceful life.

Two fingers tapped his temple. “Control your thoughts,” Wen remarked.

Wen measured the length of Sam’s sleeve, hummed and muttered, as he eyed his customer. The tailor recorded numerals to mark the sweet-spot where cloth meets wrist bone. His bent fingers gripped a pencil that scribbled notations into a leather bound notebook.

Several rolls of butcher’s paper covered the surface of the work table. As the tailor sketched a jacket form to paper, he spoke of the dragon’s potent power.

“Dragon has control over water, rainfall, typhoons.”

Wen paused to study his customer. He traveled Sam from head to toe as a surveyor maps land segments. Satisfied, he lifted the pencil from between his lips and placed a new marking alongside the paper sketch.

“Dragon, powerful creäture, a shape shifter like man.” He looked into Sam’s eyes and smiled.

Sam saw watery, deep pools of blue-green reflected back. It felt as if he was drowning in this man’s soul, bewitched yet unafraid. The dream like images clicked through a projector of moments. First, he dove into water, punched awake by the icy sting. Diving deeper, he came to rest upon the sandy bottom of a riverbed. His hands effortlessly lifted, dropped and rolled boulders. Some he carried.

Water flowed through Sam; he wasn’t drowning. Rather, this reverie shocked him back to life. All of these impossible feats felt possible while in the presence of this transcendent man. Troubles drifted; he was Atlas. Nothing could cut him down. Upon his shoulders he carried the weight of the world, the Sun and Moon, his wife and daughter, their puny life on Twelfth Street.

Wen coughed. Fingertips lifted the tape measure from the table. With precision, his eyes locked on Sam. Satisfied, he stepped behind his customer, measured from the base of his neck to mid bottom. “Drop must be exact, more British,” he mumbled.

Pleased, Wen draped the tape measure about his neck, stepped back and once again, his rheumy eyes peered at Sam, as if he was attempting to solve  a mathematical equation of parts to form a whole. Finally he spoke; his voice, always a whisper.

“Nine attributes, Mr. Sam. Nine heavens. Nine is your lucky number.”

The tailor looked into Sam’s eyes as if searching for more proof. “Excellent, outstanding people are dragons.” He pointed a bent finger. “You, Mr. Sam are a dragon.”

Sam felt the burn rise up his neck; a fevered flush spread across his cheeks. He wondered, Am I an outstanding man?

Doubt sneered. The push and pull of vice. The gambling house, the drink, pretty women and the sniff of cash, these images dropped before his eyes like a scattered deck of cards.

Yet, this wise man thinks I’m worthy.

Sam straightened. When he spoke, the words strolled out. “I will honour the dragon.”

The tailor flashed his knowing smile and bowed his grizzled head. “Let me share the dragon’s story.” In a voice that rose barely above a whisper he began.

“Ancient Chinese, descendants of the dragon.”

Wen shuffled back and forth between Sam and the cutting table, jotting measurements to paper. “Dates back thousands and thousands of years.” He lifted the dangling tape measure from his neck, re-measured from Sam’s shoulder to wrist. “Emperors wore robes with dragon motif, imperial symbol of nobility.”

Satisfied, the tailor stopped and faced his customer. “ I make us tea, Mr. Sam.” He disappeared into a room off the back of the shop.

 

Sam heard a faint rustle from a distant corner. He turned toward the sound. An ornate brass birdcage stood to the right of the front window. The cage was open on all sides. Light streamed through the bars, creating parallel lines across the plank floor. Inside the cage, perched a Diamond Dove. It began to coo.

Sam closed his eyes. The rhythmic sound lulled him to imagine. The dove’s white feathers, wings outspread became an angel in flight. He felt as if lifted by steady wings. Higher and higher they flew until-

“Excuse me kind sir.” The tailor spoke; the dream interrupted, vanished.

“Our tea.”

He set a tray upon the cutting table. Steam rose from the spout of a cast iron pot. Two porcelain cups sat empty, waiting. Wen poured the tea and bowed. “Enjoy.” He waited as Sam sipped the hot liquid. A drawn out sound much like a keening sob hung over the cage.

“A moment,” he said. “My dear Empress is calling me.”

It sounded as if every heart in the world had broken.

With these words, Wen shuffled toward the cage, opened the latched door and gently stroked the back of the dove. He murmured words that Sam could not interpret. Finally, he reached into the pocket of his woolen sweater and pulled out a crumpled paper bag. Carefully he dumped the contents into a tiny ceramic bowl, an offering for his Empress.

“Ground up soup noodles,” he chuckled. “Her favourite.”

The tailor shuffled back to the table and placed the rumpled paper bag on the cutting board. He lifted his cup, closed his eyes and took a sip of tea. Satisfied, he reached for his cutting shears.

“Now I cut the cloth for your wife.” He bowed and leaned over the cutting table.

“You have a son, Mr. Sam?”

“A daughter,” Sam said. “My wife is expecting our second child within the month.”

The burn returned to his cheeks. He hoped for a boy. Didn’t every man want a son to carry on his legacy? Annie is a girl.

Wen sighed; his scissors sliced cloth. “Hoping one’s son will become a dragon?” He stepped back and looked at Sam, waited for a reply.

Sam straightened under the tailor’s steely gaze.”Yes,” he said.

“Very well.”

Wen’s fingers appeared to dance across the silk, nimble tucks and turns folded the cloth into a tidy rectangular form.  He pointed to one silk screened dragon, now still as a statue. “Four claws. Worn by princes and nobles. Perfect symbol for your Empress’s child.”

The tailor pointed to the bolts of cloth that lined the walls of his shop.

“Now determine your choice of cloth. I will work my magic, transform you.”

 

 

 

 

Alice Reflects

This is a “flashback” written in “Alice’s” POV. She is in the kitchen, recalls her son. Hope you enjoy reading this passage.

Alice stood in the kitchen and gazed through the window. It was oddly quiet for five o’clock, suppertime. The children from the neighbouring yard were silent. Thank God, she mused. Most afternoons, the neighbour’s offspring tussled and tumbled about the fence line. Their play stretched on for hours. Out of control crossed her mind. This thought from a woman who believed children should be seen and not heard. Alice lit the stove’s burner, felt the heat leap forth to warm her cold hand. She dropped the matchstick. All day she’d felt chilled, out of sorts.

She thought about when she’d gazed into the mirror earlier that morning, when she’d seen the face of an unrecognizable woman reflected back. Lines formed around the corners of her once bright eyes. Were the lines deeper? Silver threads edged along her hairline. Who was this time-worn woman who reflected back?

Focus on the task at hand, she reminded herself as she reached beneath the oven door and pulled out the warming drawer. Fingers searched through metal baking sheets until they felt the familiar handle of the blackened frying pan. This action caused her to smile. She recalled a memory from two years ago. Had it been two years? It was the day Roy unexpectedly returned home, catching the two sisters by surprise. The now faded mental image of her sister, Molly, as she held the heavy cast iron pan like a shield for protection, was comical.

Always, Roy haunted her thoughts. That was the reason Alice so often felt out of sorts and irritable. When he snuck into her head, she got busy. Placing the frying pan onto the stove element, she carefully poured out the correct amount of oil, just enough to brown the waiting onions. Soon the heady scent of caramelized onions filled the tiny room. Alice trimmed a small cut of beef and added it to the pan. As she stirred the mixture, the meat sizzled and browned. Cooking comforted her, gave purpose and routine to each day. It was just the two of them now. Did she mean anything, anymore to her husband?

She recalled Roy’s last visit home, checked the tallies on the new calendar that hung beside the telephone. When last year’s addition ran out, she added the number 365 to the present copy. It was exactly two years and fifteen days ago. The calendar protected the evidence, an ink mark scrawled through each day that passed, signs of her son’s absence. Proof that he was remembered.

Alice didn’t know how to fix her broken family, didn’t realize that it was simple. Shame and pride beat her down. Was she a good enough mother? Pride demanded she hold her head high and whispered back, you were.

Unconvinced, Alice thought about the last time she sat with Roy, remembered the bottled up anger that simmered in silence as they sipped tea. When Roy had left, he slammed the back door. She had noticed, even winced as the door hit the frame. After such a loud exit, Molly startled, hurried to the front door to wave goodbye to her nephew. As he roared off on his flashy motorcycle, Molly had quietly shut the door and marched back into the kitchen. She saw her sister, the cup poised mid-air.

“Alice.”

Stone faced, Alice set her cup onto the saucer and turned toward her older sister.

“Did you have to be so aloof?”

Alice tightened. Molly noticed her sister’s purposeful silence. At last, Alice commented,

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course you do, Alice. You didn’t say a meaningful word to the lad.”

Molly moved closer to the table, positioned herself directly in front of her younger sister.

“Roy comes home, after two years gone and all you can do is sit silent, sipping tea?”

Alice set her jaw, looked away.

“It was Roy’s choice to leave in the first place, “Alice said.

Enraged, Molly grabbed her sister’s wrist, a bit too hard. It hurt. Her words bit Alice.

“For the love of Mike, Alice. Everyone makes mistakes. Including you.”

Alice felt her cheeks warm at Molly’s comment, a reminder of a past she would rather forget. A secret they shared. She shook free of Molly’s grip.

Molly continued, “No one sent you away.”

Alice bristled, “I didn’t send Roy away.”

Molly’s words flew back, “You never gave him a reason to stay.”

The Treasured Book of Words

This morning, I discovered a scrapbook containing snippets of poetry, phrases, and words.  My Grandmother, Alice’s little bespoke Book of Words. Wise words, words to ponder, words to inspire. Words that caught her eye.  I’m assuming that these words spoke to her.  From the poems depicting gardens of pansies, injured birds, rolling kittens, little boys, struggles and hardships, lowly rats, and the evidence of whimsy that I recall, I have been allowed a deeper, sliver glimpse into the reflective soul of the woman I called, Grandma.

Judging by the many clips, Parenting, was a topic that caused our Alice to pause and reflect.  I often wonder about the relationship that she had with her son, my father.  Judging from the poems scrapped carefully into the, Book of Words, Alice, as so many mothers before and after her, was filled with a spirit of hope and promise, at times disappointment, sadness, worry, and longing. Evidence of a dear and precious love was locked in her heart.

I’d like to share this poem from my grandmother’s Book of Words, with you and I wonder if Alice was feeling some regret over family words spoken that once set free, can not be taken back.  It reminds us to celebrate our children’s individuality and their successes, reminding us that success is personal and goals will and should differ. Unconditional love and meaningful praise feeds the soul and the heart.

Which Parent Are You?
I got two A’s, the small boy cried.
His voice was filled with glee.
His father very bluntly asked,
Why didn’t you get three?
Mom, I’ve got the dishes done,
The girl called from the door.
Her mother very calmly said,
Did you sweep the floor?
I’ve mowed the grass, the tall boy said,
And put the mower away.
His father asked him with a shrug,
Did you clean off the clay?
The children in the house next door
Seem happy and content.
The same things happen over there,
But this is how it went:
I got two A’s, the small boy cried.
His voice was filled with glee.
His father very proudly said, That’s great;
I’m glad you belong to me.
Mom, I’ve got the dishes done,
The girl called from the door.
Her mother smiled and softly said,
Each day I love you more.
I’ve mowed the grass, the tall boy said,
And put the mower away.
His father answered with much joy,
You’ve made my happy day.
Children deserve a little praise
For tasks they’re asked to do,
If they’re to lead a happy life,
So much depends on you.

~ Badger Legionne

(approximate date~1930)