12,607/50,000. I really want to get further along in the story, but this project seems to want to be written scene by scene, not chapter by chapter.
With acknowledgments and many thanks to Aunt Mary, that unparalleled seamstress.
Every day Melly tried to walk a little further outside, but that exercise was was still a daily source of frustration and unpredictability. At odd times her leg muscles seemed to give out, or she would feel suddenly faint. It against these eventualities that she had to haul her walker everywhere, to prevent her from being collapsed and stranded in some remote room. Other times, she merely felt weak. It was wearing even to drag herself down the hall to the dining room. For her first few days at Stillwater she had remained mostly in her room, laying in bed or sitting by the south-facing window gazing out over the fields of sugarcane, but she was restless to be doing something, and the time weighed heavily on her. Malcolm, seeing that she needed occupation, had recommended several books to her, and she quickly began searching the house for the ideal nook for reading.
At first she thought she might want to read on one of the balconies. There were two of them opening out separately from the library alone. The first, which spanned the two deep-sashed windows and was shaded by the balcony of the room above, was only just deep enough for a chair to be nestled against the iron tracery of its balustrades. The second opened from a door to the right of the fireplace and curved around past the french doors in the rounded stairwell wall to meet another door into Esther Davis’ office. Despite their beauty, Melly found it difficult to settle down outside. She had always been unduly susceptible to mosquito bites, and in the afternoon the westward balconies were unbearably hot. The main wing of the house was kept cool for the sake of the grand rooms, and though she feared that Esther would scold her, she began creeping into the front part of the house after the tour groups had left, to sit in the semi-circular alcove of the drawing room.
This secluded spot, isolated with pillars and curtains, flooded with mellow eastern light from three tall windows, was the ideal spot for Melly. Although unseen, she had the vantage of the two big eastern rooms, and, when the doors were opened, the hall and the western rooms as well. There was a comfortable chair in which she could, and did, curl up for hours. The evenings of early summer were long and clear, and it was here that Melly would sit after dinner with Malcolm’s books.
She was in the alcove one evening when, to her surprise, she heard Sophia calling out for her. It was unusual enough for Sophia to pay attention to Melly that her first instinct was to sit quietly and hope she’d go away. But no, that would be rude. Sophia had never actually been unkind to Melly, intentionally. Closing the book, Melly pushed aside the curtains and responded to the summons.
“There you are!” Sophia poked her head into the alcove. “Can I get you to help me for a bit? I can’t find anyone around here. Olivia is out somewhere, and Mom is busy, and Esther is…” Apparently Esther defied description, as Sophia made an expressive grimace. “Anyway, I need you to come upstairs and help me get in a dress.”
As they slowly crossed through the parlor and dining room on their way to the elevator in the kitchen wing, Sophia bestowed her explanation on Melly. As it turned out, she was preparing to be a bridesmaid in a sorority sister’s wedding next month, and she had just picked up the altered dress that afternoon. It seemed that the bride had very architectural tastes in dresses, and Sophia was frustrated because she suspected that the alterations weren’t as flattering to her as she might have hoped. In addition, the dress proved to be one of those trying items of couture which are so difficult to fasten and unfasten that they demand of the wearer either a full-time maid or a patient lover.
“I can’t get the damn thing zipped up,” she complained, ushering Melly into her room. “It keeps snagging, and I just know I’m going to rip the whole zipper out if I keep pulling at it.”
Sophia’s room has nothing in common with Melly’s obscure bedroom behind the library. The wallpaper and carpets and furniture all suggested the level of comfort and elegance befitting the oldest daughter of the house, and Sophia, as was befitting the oldest daughter of the house, was indifferent to her surroundings as long as they were elegant and comfortable. The dress was tossed in a heap on the floor, and Sophia kicked it as she passed.
“There it is,” she said, scooping it up with her foot. She threw it on the bed and started undressing in complete indifference to Melly’s presence. Embarrassed and a bit irritated, Melly moved to the bed and sat down. Gathering up the dress to keep her hands busy, she inspected the zipper, sliding it up and down, checking the lining, and noting the seams.
“I think I see the problem,” she said, to cover the awkwardness of trying to ignore Sophia shrugging out of her bra and wrestling into the long strapless needed for the dress. “The zipper wasn’t set in very well.”
“How can you tell?” Sophia was trying to fasten all the hooks on the back of the undergarment. “Here, can you get this?”
Melly stood up and began carefully to close each hook and eye. “ It’s an invisible zipper, so it’s wider underneath the teeth than on top, and it’s catching the lining.” Finishing her task, she sat back down and turned the dress partially inside out to show Sophia what she had described, and Sophia deigned to look. “Also, the zipper crosses the waist seam, and although the seamstress did a good job of keeping her zipper seam even all the way up — that’s just good form, usually — in the case of an invisible zipper she really needed to sew a bit farther away from the teeth across the waist seam to give the zipper enough room to pull up smoothly.”
“You know a lot about it, “said Sophia in a tone that indicated mild respect. “Did you learn about zippers from your mom?”
Melly blushed at the unaccustomed praise. “Yes. She used to bring dresses home with her, and show me what she was doing with each one. She even let me sew on some of them, because that way she could get more work done.”
“So, what, am I going to have to take it back to the shop and wait a couple weeks for them to fix it?”
“Well…” Melly offered, with a boldness that made her heart thump, “I could take out the zipper for you and set it by hand. Mama showed me how, and I did it once or twice for her.”
“You can do that?” Sophia considered and then, to Melly’s great astonishment, acquiesced easily. “Okay, that’s awesome. Do you need some stuff for sewing? Esther’s going to town and knows where all those kind of places are— you can just give her a list.”
“I’ll make one right now,” said Melly. “May I take the dress down with me?”
“Sure. Here, put it back in the bag so you can carry it.”
Melly carefully packed up the dress and hung the bag on her walker.
“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver,” said Sophia, opening the door for her. “The last thing I need is for the stupid zipper to jam up just when some cute groomsman is trying to get the dress off.”
Melly looked up at Sophia with serious, disapproving eyes. Sophia burst out laughing.
“God, Melly, don’t be so uptight! I was just joking.”
But Melly did not smile, and her silence was eloquent enough to rob Sophia’s laugher of its resonance.
Melly made her way down the long hallway and stood for a moment contemplating the stairs. It was frustrating that she should be almost directly over her bedroom, yet she must go all the way down another hall to the elevator and then back across the house when the staircase would save her so many steps. The last of the evening light shone through the red and blue panes, illuminating a tempting spiral path downward. If she didn’t have the dress to carry…
But she did, and anyway, she couldn’t leave her walker in the upstairs hall. As she turned her back to the stairs and headed through the corridor past the attic stairs, she promised herself that one day, she would run up and down every step in the house.