Writing exercise #19 – Paper patterns

Nicola could hear it as soon as she got through the front door. The snip snip snip of her mother’s steel scissors.

Fuck. Not another one of those awful bloody creations. It had been bad enough when she was a kid. Although – and Nicola couldn’t prevent a small moan of shame escaping from between her lips – she’d actually like some of the fecking things at the time. But then when you were six you liked all sorts of shite, she reminded herself. Now she was older. Now, in fact, since her birthday last week, she was an adult.

She went into the kitchen quietly, hoping her mother would be too preoccupied with cutting out whatever horror she was making to leave the living room. She was right.

“Is that you, Nicola?” Nicola rolled her eyes. Who else would it be, for fuck’s sake? Her dad had died when she was three, and neither of them had many friends. Or at least not friends she’d bring back here.

“Yeah, got loads of homework to do, Mum. I’m going to make a start before tea”, she shouted, grabbing a handful of biscuits out of the tin.

“But I just need you to help me with…”

“Sorry, busy!” And she stamped upstairs, slamming the door behind her and reached for her headphones. Anything to block out the snip snip snip and that horrible metallic scrabbling noise the pins made.

***

She thought she’d escaped when her mum didn’t mention the garment, whatever it was, over tea. Maybe it was being made for some other poor unfortunate sod. But before she could flee back upstairs, her mother insisted she came into the living room to see it.

“It’s a very special dress for my very special girl”, said her mum, holding up a paper envelope of the type Nicola had become only too familiar with over the years. Sailor suits, dungarees, pinafores… she’d had them all, each in more garish fabrics than the last.

She peered at the image in her mother’s hand. Actually, this didn’t look like the others.

“I know you’ll be having that prom thing soon”, said her mother, passing the envelope to Nicola, who studied it intently. “Though why it has to be a prom I don’t know. In my day it was just the sixth form disco, and that was it. That was the first time I kissed your dad, you know.” She smiled in reminiscence, looking away into the distance, seeing something other than the tidy living room and the paper pattern spread out on the table. Nicola raised her head and cleared her throat, eyes suddenly moist. “It’s… it’s beautiful, Mum”, she said, looking back at the illustration on the cover of the pattern. The dress was dark red and long, with a draped bodice running up into a single strap, and a skirt that was neither too full nor too narrow, and with an over skirt of dark red gauze.

“With your hair up in that Audrey Hepburn style you do, you’ll be the belle of the ball”, said her mother.

“Oh mum, it’s perfect!” said Nicola, surprising herself by throwing her arms around her mother’s neck and kissing her on the cheek. Her mother hugged her tight, then let her go and stepped back, her own eyes suspiciously bright.

“Well, you’re a young lady now. It’s time I made a really pretty dress instead of all those awful things I used to make you wear. What I was thinking, I don’t know.”

“Oh don’t say that, Mum. They were cute, some of them…”

“They were awful and I’m sorry. But now I’m going to make it up to you.”

Stroking the gorgeous red satin fabric, Nicola could only agree. And to think that earlier that evening she’d happily have stabbed her mother with those bloody scissors.

Then again, a few days back she’d seen a programme about a woman’s prison; the kind of place where female murderers were sent. And to earn money they’d worked in a big factory-type space. Making clothes using paper patterns.

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