Patterns

This must be what it was like inside a beehive, she thought. The dozens of sewing machines all pounding at once created a buzz that got inside her head, in her bones. The dust that was shucked from the threads zipping through the needles could have been pollen brought in on the underbellies of her brothers. The inside of the warehouse was rows of square lights under which sat rows of people—a sort of gloomy perfection. But wasn’t there a kind of dedication in a beehive? A solidarity, a vision of the greater good? Well, the devotion of every single person in this warehouse was to nothing more than the end of the day.

She was sewing shirts. They were popsicle-pink with three buttons that did nothing and a pocket that was sealed closed. They had given them all patterns the first day, but no one used them past the third day. It was expected. And it was sensible, when all she had done for three days was sew the same shirt. One day she had sewn in white. Now she was back to pink. She was a very good seamstress. She had been since she was a little girl and she had made her own dresses. The funny thing was, now she spent so much time sewing other people’s shirts she had holes in her own. There was a big hole in the armpit of her blue cotton shirt that she noticed every morning when she put it on and every evening when she took it off. 

Sometimes when she sewed on the third button, she worried if she had only sewn two on the previous shirt, or some shirt several shirts ago. But mostly she worried if she was going to remember anything other than the shirt pattern when she got off work that night. What if she confused the gas peddle in her car for a sewing machine peddle? It hadn’t happened yet. But shouldn’t it?

When she wasn’t worrying about all that, she was thinking about what she would do when she got home. She liked to collage. She collected magazines out of grocery stores and trash bins. She put them on her coffee table and the floor under the coffee table and on the kitchen counter. She had a dream that she would cover every wall in her apartment with collages. And tonight she would start the collage that would go over the TV, so she could look at it while she relaxed. 

She thought about what she wanted the collage to be about: plants and animals, maybe a mountain with a road on it. Nothing square. And nothing of bees. She thought about it all afternoon and it got her to the end of the day. She stood up promptly, brushed the lint off her lap and torso, and went out to her car. She didn’t forget how to drive, but she did struggle to stay awake. She climbed up to her apartment on the second story of a shabby yellowed building and turned on the single-bulb light fixture in the middle of the ceiling. It spat yellow light onto an old grey couch, a warped kitchen counter, a dark doorway to the bedroom, and bare walls. 

Winded from the stairs, she shuffled over to the couch and sat down. The stacks of magazines were nearly infringing on the view of the TV. She thought about her collage blueprint and a heaviness settled in her lap. Well, so, it didn’t have to happen tonight. Creativity could only happen when the moment was right. Right? The evening stretched out in front of her like a long black swimming pool she would have to struggle across before bedtime. She already felt the heaviness in her eyelids, pushing them down. Well, what, then? She could make herself dinner and watch TV. But that didn’t feel right either. She couldn’t face the chatter of voices or the squeal of music. Even wielding a paring knife seemed like a practiced art form she hadn’t the skill for. She sat on the couch for a long time, cycling through activities, feeling out whether or not the heaviness would leave off and let her get up to do them. Finally she pushed herself up to her feet and moved some magazines out of the way of a little cabinet on the floor. She dug around in it until she had what she needed, then returned to the couch, and pulled off her shirt. Squinting in the dim light, with the TV off and the refrigerator humming, she fixed a blue thread through a needle and spent the evening sewing.

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