Flash Fiction 2nd Place: Make Do and Mend by Hilary Taylor
Scrap bag and sewing basket at my elbow, I work while he sleeps. His breath is shallow, uneven, as though at any moment he may lose the knack. His eyelids flutter and his limbs twitch. The sour smell of his fear seeps from the sheets. In my circle of yellow lamplight, I snip the useable leather from an old pair of gauntlets, darn the toes of two pairs of stockings, and unpick a green silk blouse. It is threadbare under the arms and a spot of grease stains the front, but the colour is as fresh as the leaves unfurling on the hawthorn tree, and when I stow the pieces in the scrap bag I am storing up treasure.
Sleep is double-edged, both friend and foe, on many nights eluding him. Or perhaps his dread holds it at bay until exhaustion topples him into its treacherous embrace. He does not recount his dreams but the screams tell me all I need to know. When a door slams, he startles like a baby, arms flung out, eyes wide, and then folds himself up and does not move for hours. He stares at nothing, a thousand miles away, silent. He rages at the sky, sinks into despair, weeps until his eyes are raw.
He stirs. Sweat sheens his forehead. His hair is damp. I lean closer and a fist of panic squeezes my heart. At his cheekbones, his skin is thinning, pulling loose at the seams. Bits of him are unravelling along his hairline. Ragged holes appear at his fingernails. Stuffing leaks out in feathery clouds. A rusty stain blooms across his chest, where his pyjamas have fallen away.
I choose a cotton thread and a length of ribbon to bind the raw edges of his pain. Chain stitch in fine merino wool darns the holes where hope has drained away. I take my tiny scissors, the silver ones with the curlicued handles, and snip the fraying seams of his spirit. I fold the new edges under, press along the crease with my fingernail, and join with invisible ladder stitch, pressing in the stuffing as I go. When I cut the thread, he sighs but does not wake.
I find a good, strong linen for the parts that have suffered the most, and now he flinches and mutters but I cannot make out the words. I pause, wait until he has settled and then return to my task.
I have yards of blackout material and a grain sack, both unrationed. I could start from scratch. The pattern would be complicated, but I have the skills. Kapok is in short supply, though, and besides, there is so much here to save.
When the last seam is finished, my eyes and fingers ache. I take a scrap of the green silk and wind it into the shape of a tiny newsprung leaf. I stitch it to the place where his chest is stained, over his heart.
This is not making do.
This is mending.