audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, relationships, short story

Made For You

White dresses on white hangers against a white background.
Charisse Kenion via Unsplash

It’s always been considered bad luck to make your own wedding dress. It implies a life of want if you can’t outsource such an important task, or maybe a life of never-ending work. That means a steady procession of happy brides-to-be in my bridal shop. These days I leave the actual stitching to my dedicated and skilful seamstresses. I prefer to interact with my customers and bask in their excited energy, spilled without any thought to the cost.

Being married isn’t essential in this business, but it definitely helps. My engagement ring is not just a symbol of love, it’s one and a half carats of trust. Brides love to buy their wedding dress from someone who understands their mindset after all. And the man who gave me his promise is six feet of wonderful who loves me dearly. Sometimes I pinch myself, because how did I get so lucky?

My last customer of the day is radiant. Accompanied by her mother, Rosalind wants only the best. They haven’t set a date yet but she can’t wait to start looking. I pull eight gowns and she looks truly wonderful in all of them.

While Rosalind gets dressed her mother and I chat, the usual about luck and love and soulmates. A photo of them smiling together is proudly produced. Rosalind’s mother wipes away happy tears. Look, they’re made for each other. I look, and I can’t breathe. I lock and bolt the door after they’re gone but it’s too late.

Somewhere along the line, I missed something.

The day I leave, I pack everything except my shears. I take great care of my dressmaking tools even though I don’t use them often, because keeping a sharp edge is essential to a clean cut. His jackets will look normal at first glance, until he pulls them and finds sleeves removed and linings slashed.

When I reach the last one, his favourite Italian wool suit, I can’t bring myself to vandalise its exquisite workmanship. I know how much work it takes to construct something so beautiful. Instead I leave parting gifts; my wedding ring on the counter – and raw eggs smashed in each of the suit pockets.

We shared everything. Soon he too will discover something rotten hiding in the dark.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 30 – Catch

 

boat moon_photo-graphe
Image by photo-graphe via pixabay

Listen:

Fishermen were prone to exaggeration. Long weeks at sea did strange things to a man’s mind, and he’d start seeing things. Night fishing might bring him face to face with things he couldn’t quite explain. The feeling of being watched, or the sense of something moving unseen below the surface.

Every fisherman accepted the unflinching right of the sea to bestow life or death upon those who dared venture from the safety of dry land. No wonder they drank.

Bryn thought all those stories were tall tales told over too many jugs of ale. Unusually for a fisherman he dismissed superstition. He taught himself first to swim, then to dive for crabs. In his free time he played a flute made from a piece of red coral he found on the sea bed.

One night he rose, unable to sleep, and took his small boat out. A fat white moon reflected in small ripples on the water, and he gazed at it for a while. There was no reason to cast his net, but he did anyway. A moment later something tugged at the floats.

Bryn hauled in his catch, spellbound by shining silver eyes and pearly skin, blue hair floating around her waist. He leaned closer and she wound her arms around his neck.

“Come with me,” she sang. “I answer your call.”

When his boat washed ashore days later everyone assumed he’d drowned. He should not have learned to swim, they said. He didn’t show proper respect to the sea. But afterwards some who fished on the night of the full moon swore they heard music, coming from below the waves.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 29 – Injured

adult ancient arena armor
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

listen:

Queen Eleanore regarded the two knights recommended by her Master at Arms with her usual regal disdain, but inwardly she worried. She had few choices, and none appealed. Least appealing of all was marriage to the power hungry oaf who ruled the neighbouring kingdom.

But a year of war had exacted a heavy price, and she cared deeply for her people. Her father’s sense of duty ran in her veins. She would do what she must to secure peace, and a battle of champions would end the bloodshed.

“Sir Tauthe of Denham, why should I choose you as my champion?”

Tauthe returned her gaze with a bold look of his own. Eleanore schooled her features into well-practised blankness. She liked curly hair on a man and he wore his well, complementing a strong jaw and bright, clean armour.

“As your majesty knows I am unbeaten at the joust. My sword training was undertaken with the great Dirke of Greenhill, and I have proved myself in battle. It would be the greatest honour to defend this land as your champion.” He bowed low, one hand on the pommel of his sword. “My life and my sword are yours.”

Eleanore nodded and turned to the other knight. His bowed head revealed silver scattered among dark, cropped hair. His armour, though of fine quality, was marred by a scratched crest and dented breastplate. This was how he presented himself to his monarch?

She didn’t miss Tauthe’s sideways glance.

“Sir Gerann of Bree.” She looked him up and down, cool and distant. “Why should I choose you as my champion?”

Gerann raised his head. His left cheek bore a long thin scar, and another ran vertically on his scalp to a damaged right ear. Eleanore blinked at the fire in his eyes and he dropped his gaze immediately.

“If it please your majesty, I would give my heart and soul willingly for our land.” He drew his sword bright and unmarked from its battered scabbard, then knelt and offered it to her with both hands.

Eleanore weighed the confident ease of a man unbeaten in battle against the scarcely older but shabby, combat-scarred veteran. She had to choose the right one if she hoped to keep control of her throne and her life.

The queen took a breath. A silent prayer, and she nodded at Gerann. Master at Arms wore the ghost of a smile as he brought her pennant forward.

Eleanore needed a man prepared to get close enough to risk injury, and tough enough to fight on despite it. She trusted Gerann would fight to his last breath. And if he lost, they would each accept their fate with honour.


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audio, blog, poetry, short story

Inktober 27 – Coat

dead-trees_Free-Photos
Image by Free-Photos via pixabay

Listen: 

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by

It’s quiet, always. I miss birdsong more than almost anything else. Can’t be completely certain but I’m surely getting close now. There’s a salt tang in the air unlike the sour stench of the towns and the damp, gloomy forests – what’s left of them, anyway.

I hack and spit rusty bubbles beside tattered boots. Humans were made to move, but this slow trek is nothing like running and going nowhere for fun. Now I walk, escaping nowhere and carrying it within.

Rest is death.

Behind me, blasted trees stretch gaunt black limbs skyward, twisted and shrieking in the endless wind. My coat barely yields to the breeze, its fabric thick with secrets and stained with unbearable memories. There’s too much knowledge for one man to contain.

I should go on.

I settle on a fallen trunk and cough. Pain spikes hot in my chest.

Maybe we could never have proved ourselves worthy stewards of the universe when every call for caution was ignored, drowned by the triumphant roar of all the other wishes granted to man in his pursuit of mastery. The genie will never return to the bottle, because he exults in his freedom and terrible power to remake the world.

We were our own nemesis, and we refused to believe it. I look up, try to believe the sun still shines, high above the sullen clouds. If it has not forsaken us, why can I not feel it?

I hack and spit red. Red used to mean love. I could curl up here – find solace hidden between roots ripped from grieving earth – dream of all I have lost, and all that has been snatched away. I could rest.

Just a little further.

This desolate greying hill is the last, I’m certain. I will come to the sea, to the end and the beginning. My pack lies empty at my feet. The tighter I clutch my past, the faster it disintegrates in my hands.

What’s a man without a past? What’s a man without a future?

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
and quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


Poetry excerpted from Sea Fever by John Masefield
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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 24 – Dizzy

spiral_ArtZone
Image by ArtZone (edited) via pixabay 

He was a big man, my father, larger than life it seemed to me. He crawled into my blanket forts, built me a tree house and let me sleep in it, and always smiled at my silly jokes.

I think of him chasing me around the house, roaring like a bear or maybe a tiger. I’d scream in fake fear and run until he caught me. Then he’d throw me in the air and swing me around until I was dizzy, the world spinning past in a bright, breathless whirl of colours. I laughed until I could hardly breathe.

They were good days. But in the end nobody is larger than life.

I slide off the bar stool still wearing my black suit and my head spins. I can hardly breathe and I’m dizzy. But it’s not the same.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 19 – Sling

island heart_Jonny Lindner
Image by Jonny Lindner via pixabay

Aimée hung her head and sighed. Where had it all gone wrong? She’d tried to be a cosmopolitan woman, and when that didn’t work she took refuge in sex on the beach next to a blue lagoon. That was possibly unwise and in any case ultimately unfulfilling. Manhattan was hardly any better.

Damn all men, and damn one man in particular with his easy smile and warm, gentle hands. She couldn’t forget and she refused to cry.

Though a couple of painkillers helped a little, there was one more thing she could try that might cradle her broken body and ease her suffering. She raised a shaky hand.

“Bartender!” Aimée spoke slowly, carefully. “One Singapore Sling, please.”


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 16 – Wild

 

boy-attic-blue_Myriam Zilles
Image by Myriam Zilles via pixabay

listen:

I suppose you’d call me soft-hearted. I can’t bear to see any creature suffer. Though I normally keep pretty much to myself, preferring to observe from a distance, something about this one called out to me. He was wary of me at first, and cried but that was to be expected. Distress makes anyone skittish, so I held him tighter to make him feel more secure.

He looked like a Matthew, so that’s what I called him.

I had to quiet him down. It was for his own good and people were staring, judging me. The nice checkout girl understood why I had to rush through buying his things, but once I got him home he was even worse. He kicked and screamed like a wild thing. Those were the difficult days but I knew it would be worth persevering, for both of us.

I’m pleased to say he settled into his new home after a while. Now he sits where I put him and stares at the wall. I’m not sure of his actual birthday, so we’ll celebrate the anniversary of the day he came home with me.

He’s such an obedient, quiet little boy. She didn’t deserve him, but I’m going to give him everything a mother should.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 10 – Pattern

Woman's face with floral pattern around the eyes
Image by Ronny K via pixabay (edited)

listen:

Of course I know tattoos are permanent.

I grew so tired of those comments by everyone from my mother to well meaning strangers at the supermarket, that I decided to go further. I practically lived in that tattoo shop, getting unique designs from the enigmatic artist. We’d agree on a design and he’d get to work. He never spoke, so I put on headphones and drifted away.

When it came to the last bare patch on my arm, he finally said something.

“I will do this one free. Since you are my best customer.”
“Sweet! I think I’d like—”
“No. I choose. I know what is best for you.”

I shrugged and let him decide, after all ink isn’t cheap and I had a lot of it.
He wrapped it without letting me see. “A surprise for you.”

At home I gasped when I saw it. A woman’s face, so perfect and beautiful in miniature, it was incredible. Everyone commented on it, and I didn’t mind.

Life got hard. I made a wrong turn here and there. Had to change, just to get by. One day I thought the face looked different, but it was just a trick of the light. That night I tossed and turned, a voice stuck in my head reminding me of stuff I’d done. So what, we all have to survive, right?

Gradually the face changed, until it scowled in permanent, terrifying disapproval.

I went back to Spilled Ink but it was gone. Every night the face taunted me with my sins, daring me to do better. When I didn’t listen, she woke the other tattoos up. Flowers turned decayed and nasty smelling. The tiger clawed my back and attacked my lucky rabbit, the stars burned my skin, and the skeleton rattled its bones until sleep was a distant memory. I’d had enough.

I stole enough money to visit another shop. The new artist wouldn’t shut up about the quality and artistry of my ink, especially the face that was somehow beautiful again. I had to pay double for what I wanted, but finally it was done.

I thought covering up would be the answer.

She shouted even louder from behind the crosshatched pattern that obliterated her face. “I can’t see! I can’t see!”

Now I hold a knife to my arm, crying. I want it off me.

She says I’m weak, that I’ll never do it, she’ll never let me forget I blinded her.
“Tattoos are permanent,” she reminds me.

So… how deep must I cut to be sure?


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audio, blog, short story

Inktober 9 – Swing

woman holding brown and black baseball bat
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

They say schooldays are the best days of your life. I really hope they aren’t, because if you peak then, what do you have to look forward to? Real life isn’t like high school. Nobody cares that you were the team captain or homecoming queen.

All that stuff they fill your head with is next to useless. When did you last use calculus or algebra in real life? No, if I have kids I’ll make sure they learn practical skills. Oh and they’ll play sports of course, to foster a competitive spirit and the ability to keep swinging until the game is won.

I broke the record for home runs in my last baseball season. I kept the lucky bat I used, which actually is quite useful now. Turns out school was good for something after all. I take a loose, easy stance and hold the grip firmly but not too tight.

This intruder won’t know what hit him.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 8 – Frail

spartan_mohamed_hassan
Image by mohamed_hassan via pixabay

listen:

When they rounded up the young and strong they left us behind to rot, we who had only grey hair and slack bodies to offer. They had no idea who we were. That was their first mistake.

When you’ve been through the mill, walked through the fire, gone under three times and still refused to break, it changes a person. Struggle burns away all that is inessential and leaves only steel.

We appreciate life the most, standing here at its last season. We’ve fought, lost and won our battles, and we know love is the only prize worth the effort.

They think us unworthy of their consideration, too frail to resist, a waste of good bullets. That’s their second mistake.

Now as we gear up for the mother of all fights, we will show them what we are made of. We have everything to fight for and no mercy to spare, and love will guide us true.

They underestimate us. That’s their final mistake.

It will be their epitaph.


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