Sunday, 30 August 2009
Iris leaves home
I remember my mother, Mary Brandon putting me to bed as a girl and placing over me a most unique quilt that she said had been made by the faeries. I believed that when I was a little girl, but as I grew older I was less inclined to believe in such things. I loved our small cosy, comfortable cottage when I was little, but as I grew older it seemed to become cramped, old and dull. I would go for walks in the woods and dream of cities and gleaming towers. One morning when I was still young an airship flew over head quite quietly sailing past. That seemed magical to me then. My mother seemed to me to be symbolic of all that was old and worn out and outdated. I wanted new fresh things and at the age of 17, I ran away through the woods. It was early in the morning even before my mother was awake or so I thought. I did not see her standing at the door of the cottage with tears in her eyes, half reaching out with one hand, the other hand over her mouth to keep her from calling out my name. For as much as she longed for me to return, she knew I had to go.
All I took with me were a few clothes and as an afterthought, though I knew not why, I took the quilt also. I fled through the trees to where I could hear the church bells ringing like a beacon. They called the faithful to church, but they called me away to the world beyond the woods, to the cities I had imagined.
I made my way slowly for I had little money, we had never needed it at home. I got a job in a shop selling shoes and at night I slept upstairs in a tiny bedsit with the quilt over me to keep me warm. With the money I saved I bought fabrics and made myself new clothes. Clothes I imagined were modern and new. I dared not go out to other shops for I longed to take the almost magical goods for my own. For the first three months I was dull and dowdy in my clothes, but my personality was bright and sparkling and I sold a great many shoes. The other shop assistants began to take a dislike to me, but I made them dresses leaving them where I knew they would find them.
"You're like a little faery, Iris," Mrs Partridge the shop manager told me.
I had grown up with auburn hair, dark but touched with tints of fiery red. My green eyes were like emeralds and I loved the little garden at the back of the shop. Mrs Partridge let me use it and I tidied it up on weekends until it became as neat and pretty a little garden as could be. I would bind my hair up with pins in a smart bun and ignore the occasionally catty remark of the other assistants. They softened when they found the dresses I had made for them. These dresses were made so that the wearer looked better and felt better than she might be. I am sure my fellow assistants could have been made considerably better and the dresses did make them feel better. I turned to making trouser suits also and spent my savings on fabrics when I could get it. Before long I was being asked by customers where I had got my clothes. On hearing that I had made them myself, I was soon commissioned to make clothing for them.
Each night when I slept and dreamed, the new designs would come to me and I would awake refreshed and well able to start the day. The quilt quietly worked upon me and Mrs Partridge, being a smart businesswoman advised me to stop selling shoes and turn the upstairs room overlooking the garden into a fashion studio. I began to make clothes for a living then and my salary went up. Mrs Partridge and I would go and buy fabrics and I found her advice most helpful.
One of the girls however became jealous of my success. She stopped wearing the dresses I'd made for her and one afternoon when I entered my little bedsit, I found my quilt gone. Despite it being something from my past, a past I had done much to escape from, I found I felt utterly desperate. I could not sleep, but wept and wished I had not left home where that dear quilt could be stolen. The next morning I looked a fright I daresay, but I noticed that one girl looked positively terrified. She would not speak to me at all during the day and just after lunch when a woman entered the shop, the girl shrieked in terror and fled into the back room.
The customer was a tall slim woman with blazing red hair and emerald eyes that seemed to flash fire. She wore a subtle green dress trimmed with red silk and shoes of green-black that looked almost as if they were made of very closely fitting feathers. Her dress was embroidered with plants that seemed to wind about her body almost lasciviously. There was something very clearly powerful about her. She smiled at me and murmured,
"What's yours shall be returned to you."
I nodded though I did not know what she meant. Was she referring to the quilt? If so, how could she possibly know it was gone. So far, the only person I had told was Mrs Partridge who had given a stern talking to all of us about stealing. The girl who had seemed so frightened, could not look up at any of us and especially me. I was sure then that she had the quilt, but without proof I could not demand it's return of her. The woman sat in the shop and I brought her shoes to try on. When I knelt at her feet to remove her shoes, she took my hands in her cool scented fingers and murmured a word I did not quite hear. Almost immediately time seemed to slow and stop. The flowers on her dress seemed to unwind themselves and stretch and grow until they filled the shop. I was vaguely aware of the high street through the window, but nobody tried to come in. There was a scream in the back of the shop followed by a sob. I struggled then, pitying the girl and the woman looked down at me into my eyes - deeper and deeper into my eyes as if she were reaching down into my very being. Then very slowly she blinked and I found myself sitting at her feet with the light coming in through the windows. With a whimper, the girl dashed past and into the street.
"What is the matter with Adele Outhwaite?" asked Mrs Partridge crossly.
"I'm sure she will return, Mrs Partridge, I suspect she just wanted some fresh air. She did look peaky this morning," I said quickly.
The woman leaned over me and kissed my forehead quite deliberately. When she smiled it was the smile of a queen, of one who can afford to smile because she knows no fear at all. She placed a hand on the side of my face and whispered softly,
"Have a little kindness for your mother too my dear."
I nodded dumbly, shaken and the woman stood and pointed to three of the boxes of shoes. She would have those. I told her 'yes madam' and got up taking them to the till. Somehow I felt as if something momentous had happened but I was not sure what. Then the girl rushed back into the shop and stopped suddenly. In her arms was the quilt. She flung it at me, turned and fled, her last words ringing after me.
"Take your blessed quilt and tell the faery woman to leave me alone!"
I caught the quilt and stroking it gently I turned to the woman who smiled at me and winked. She took her shoes and left the shop then. The rest of the day was a daze. The three of us shop girls spoke little as if we had just awoken and were not yet sure of where we were or what to say. It was as if the past few hours had been a dream somehow. That evening, when I went up to bed, I paused at the fashion studio and went in. The quilt was back on my bed and Mrs Partridge had got a locksmith to come in and fit a lock to the door.
In the fashion studio I sat and wondered for a while. I had taken up the quilt and placed it on the bed running my hand over the familiar surfaces and reading aloud the texts that somehow seemed to have no real meaning to me.
"Ravello, Colours of France, Home time, Garden Romance, Nell's Flower Shop, Redwork Romance, Redwork/Bluework, Charleston V 1850-1863, ..." and the rest.
Now, sitting in the fashion studio I seemed to move automatically, drafting a pattern for a dress and a coat. Picking out the fabrics and cutting the pieces out. In what felt like two hours I had made both dress and coat. In fact when I looked at my watch it was almost one in the morning. I put down the work and went to bed. A little later at seven, I woke up as usual and got up feeling refreshed and bright. I went down to the fashion studio and looked over my work. I had made a dress of emerald green silk with red trim and an embroidered border of flowers. The coat was long and of red wool, lined with cotton as my mother preferred.
I prepared for the day and made some breakfast. I was not a little girl any more but an independent woman. I had my own job and would go on to become a businesswoman myself. I had my own home and a good friend in Mrs Partridge as well as regular customers whom I had become quite fond of. But I now did believe in faeries and not those charming little creatures drawn by Mabel Lucie Attwell, but powerful faeries with dark and dangerous powers for those who offended them and those they loved. As old as she was, as much a part of the past I had longed to escape from, today I would go home and see my mother. I would tell her that I loved her and missed her, and ask her to forgive me. I would tell her that I should come and see her more often and I would do it. For if I had no father to raise me, I had my mother and the memory of a woman in a green dress with blazing red hair and emerald green eyes smiling by my bed as a little girl.