She’d been in business for countless years and it was easy to see why. Her dresses were the best in the south, if not the country. People travelled and paid a heavy price for dresses for every occasion, brides for their weddings, celebrities for the red carpet, everyone wanted a dress by her. She tried to accommodate as many as she could, working at a phenomenal speed that some believed to be impossible. All her dresses were made by her and her alone, sewn by hand, every piece of material cut and measured by her and she would guarantee you your dress in a week. This would not seem that impossible, if not for the sheer number of clients that she had. According to her own records, she had, in one week, made and sold over a thousand dresses. People believed that she did not really do it all herself, that it was an act, that there were multitudes of women in the back, each patiently sewing away, or that there were machines pumping out the dresses as fast as their mechanised bodies could handle.
Angela was older now, getting on in years, hands that had once been so steady shook, ever so slightly, but enough for people to notice. Her hair, once a lustrous black had become a steel grey, wrapped tightly around her head as usual, to keep it out of her eyes. Her skin, once so pale and smooth became wrinkled and grey. Yes, she was getting on in years, slowing down, but production was not.
It was well known that her dresses were expensive, but no one knew exactly how expensive. She wouldn’t reveal a price without a design, and, once the design was given you were bound to buying the dress. Those who bought dresses refused to reveal how much they paid. The attitude given by some however seemed as though the dress had been a steal, others as though it had cost them their life savings. Still, no one blabbed. It was worth it though, whatever the price, at least to the countless women she had clothed. Her dresses seemed to imbue the wearer with a special brilliance, turning the comeliest lass into a shining beacon of beauty.
Angela sat hunched over the fabric, carefully stitching the dress together, it was almost finished and soon it would be time for the final fitting. As she finished off her last stitch, she carefully turned up the collar and with a practised hand, she stabbed the needle through her finger, drawing forth blood. She let a drop fall and no more. When she began it was easy to prick her finger, but over time calluses made them thick until only brute force would pierce them no matter how sharp the needle. In the beginning it caused her pain, but as time went on the pain dulled until now it was barely even registering. She put her bleeding finger into her mouth, and, after the blood flow stopped, she picked up the dress carefully and hung it on the rack with the others. She had a busy week ahead of her, but she felt so calm when she was sewing, her mind going blank she no longer had to think, her only concern was outdoing her last creation.
When she was finally done for the night she prepared everything for the next morning so she would only have to sit and begin. She had consultancies twice a week and for the past twenty years, every slot on each day was booked but tomorrow was another sewing day. She stood gingerly, she was well aware she was getting older, her movements were slower and sometimes, they were accompanied by pain, but that was a small price to pay. She lived happily and as well as she wanted. She climbed the stairs to her small apartment in darkness, years of following the same path had worn it into her mind as well as the steps. She turned on the light as she entered the apartment, as her habit called for her to do. She put on the kettle as she changed out of her clothes and listened to it boil as she used a damp wash cloth to wipe her face. The kettle started to sing its high pitched tune just as she finished changing into her pyjamas. She went back into the kitchen and prepared a cup of tea. Sitting in the sitting room she sipped at it gently while looking over sketches. There were three large filing cabinets in the room, filled with her old designs. As they filled, she would empty them into the storage lockers she had set aside for them. Her current works were spread on the table, she looked over each one, adding a stroke of the pencil here, removing a stray line there, until she was happy with them and her tea was gone. Settling into her bed she signed in pleasure, it was still comfortable after all these years and, as usual she quickly slipped into a dreamless sleep.
She was woken during the night, by a harsh buzzing noise. It was the back door buzzer. Smiling, she rolled out of bed. Every night was the same. She opened the door to find six anxious looking women standing huddled together. “Come in, come in, don’t be shy.” She beckoned them into the studio and together they moved through the sewing room into a smaller room at the back. In it there were numerous low couches, a small table filled with magazines and a small fish tank. Small white sticks decorated the bottom, fish swimming merrily about their home. Though the room was comfortable, and the carpet was thick and plush, it was obviously a waiting room, filled with the smell of the thousands of people that had passed. “While you wait, please, help yourself to tea, coffee or water, there are also biscuits.” She gestured to a table they had not noticed, filled with coffee cups and large thermoses, a plate of biscuits were arranged tastefully and sat in the centre.
“Now, I will see you one at a time, in the order that you came previously if you don’t mind. Now, don’t be alarmed when the previous person does not return, there is an exit inside my theatre and you will leave that way. When you are gone you will find that not much time at all has passed and you will be home before the morning. Don’t worry if you do not remember the order that you were seen in the last time, each of you will have received a small card which you were told to bring. On that card is a number, the numbers correspond to how you should enter. I will call the first when I am ready, and after that, I will call each in turn” Leaving the women in the sitting room, she left them to sit and talk to each other nervously. Finally, she called out for the first woman to enter.
The woman entered carefully, unsure what to expect. “Now then love, take a seat there on that table and we will begin.” The woman looked young, twenty five at the oldest, her skin rich and creamy, her hair a deep, fiery red. “Now, Cynthia was it? Yes, very good, I just want you to lie back and relax, it will all be over soon.” Slowly, Cynthia lay back on the steel table. The entire room seemed to be made of steel, the cabinets, the trays, all surfaces gleamed in the light of the halogen bulbs. Angela carefully went to a smaller filing cabinet and pulled out an index card. While she looked at it, Cynthia looked around the room, trying to see everything all the while avoiding looking at the woman who had designed the perfect wedding dress for her. People had talked about it for years afterward. Cynthia noticed that the floor was sloped, sitting up slightly, she saw where it led, a large plug hole in the centre of the room.
“Now. Let’s see. Ah yes. You were quite poor” Cynthia looked at her sharply “now, now, nothing to be ashamed of. Now, you agreed to pay one hundred and fifty pounds and pay the rest later, correct?” “Cynthia nodded slowly. “Now, unfortunately because of how long you left it to come here, there has been some interest added. Now don’t worry, not to fuss, it’s not that bad. Just lie back and it will be over soon.” She took a pen, and after a moment adjusting it, she ordered Cynthia to strip completely naked. “I’m sorry, I really should have asked you first, but old age, makes you forget things eh?” Cynthia stripped and lay back down on the table, goose bumps rippling her flesh. “Sorry it’s so cold, but you’ll get used to it in a moment.” She looked at Cynthia critically for a moment, then began to draw lines on her, muttering to herself. “Hmm, yes, this is good, ok. Here, there. Maybe another here? Is this too much? No, let’s see, there perfect.” Cynthia’s body was a patchwork of lines, finally she scribbled a few onto Cynthia’s face. “There we are dear, if you’ll just put your clothes back on you can leave. “What about the marks?” they had already begun to fade. “No worries, the car crash will take care of that.” “I’m sorry?” “See those lines. That one there, that means you’ll lose the limb, so that’s one arm, and half of your leg, that one there means you’ll lose an organ, don’t worry, nothing important. Those ones there, they’re cuts and scars. You’re very pretty now, but I hope you’re not too vain.” “What do you mean.” “Well dear, it’s like they say, everything has a price and this is the one you agreed too.” “But-” “Now now, don’t fret my love, soon as you leave you’ll forget all of this. Everyone always does.” Cynthia left through the door, shaken, frightened but not seriously believing the crazy woman. Her dresses were to die for, but obviously she was starting to get addled.
Once Cynthia was gone, Angela opened the cabinet; it was filled with a number of unusually shaped bottles filled with arcane ingredients that only she knew. After a moment, she closed the door and called in the next woman. Her price was not as high, she would only lose a toe and her baby finger. Those kind of removals Angela did then and there.
They all paid a price in the end. She gifted them brilliance with her blood, they would do the same for her.