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'OK, show us what you got then.'
Trisha drops her carrier bags one by one, an avalanche of plastic falling at Mandy's feet.   Mandy bends down for a closer look and starts going through them like a whirlwind.   

'What's in this one?'   She holds up a large paper carrier, but Trisha is already rummaging through the rest, peering in each one to check the contents.   

'Hang on Mand, I want to show you something first.'  

The supervisor strikes the walls of the old, squat building.   The battering clack of his stick sets off a scrabble of feet and whispers from inside, like chickens scattering when a fox is near.  As he turns the key in the door lock, a hundred machines dragon roar into action.   In minutes they are spewing out fumes that mix with the stale, dusty air and choke their way into noses, mouths and lungs.    
 
'That's February's rent money gone then.   You've been on a right spree you have, I thought you said you were hard up?'

'Overtime isn't it.   They wanted me sunday - double time.   So I thought, well ...  I could get that bag I wanted from Beales and a new pair of boots, plus a few things here and there that take my fancy and still cover my rent no problem.'   Trisha beams, basks in her post-shopping glory as Mandy stands goggle-eyed.

'Then they had this sale on at Pollards in the high street, I couldn't not go in, I mean a sale.'    Mandy thinks that if it's still on at the weekend, she wouldn't mind popping into Pollards herself.
 
As he patrols up and down the rows of laboring women, the supervisor spits and swears, thrashes his stick on the machine of one who is slower than the rest.   Yes – she will go faster.  No – she does not want to lose her job.  Yes – she knows there are plenty more like her.  The supervisor tells her he could get a dozen of them just like that and clicks his fingers a hair's breadth from her face.   He does not know that everyday, before she starts to sew, she sees two needles instead of one.   They dance across her work like demons, multiply in a juddering blur as her hands scrabble at them over the fabric.  She narrows her eyes in concentration, wills the needles to fuse back into one.   She knows she has been doing this for too long, but her eyes are less to her than the lives of her children.  

The supervisor struts up and down, cracks his stick on the floor in time with each step.  He raps it on the tables as he passes: backs twitch in shock, spines curve further over the machines.   

A woman in a flame red sari is singled out for special attention.   He goes to her, utters vulgarities, sends his stinking breath between her parted lips; slips his hand under her choli.    She gasps, pushes her fingers too close to the needle and presses down on the pedal.   Her screams split the air as the needle splinters bone: everyone hears the crack as the suck of the needle goes up and down, stitching her left hand to the fabric.  Red spatters the table, stains the shirt of the supervisor; deepens the flame of her sari. 
 
'C'mon then Trish, open up those bags and let's see.   Don't keep me waiting any longer, the suspense is killing me.'

'Hold your horses just a mo,' Trisha rummages on, at last finds what she's looking for and takes it out of the bag in a flourish, 'what do you think of that then?'  
 
Bloody little tributaries fan out over the fabric, globules bead the machine while the woman's hand quivers like a spiked fish.
 
Mandy is speechless.

'Gorgeous isn't it?   You won't believe what it cost...' 




The first three pages of Jacky Taylor's novel won second prize at the Winchester Writers' Conference; she has now written the other two hundred and  ninety five pages of it. She has just started submitting seriously and her work has appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears and How Publishing Really Works.  She is an Arts Education professional and lives in Portsmouth, England.
 
 




I originally wrote the piece as an entry to The Commonwealth Short Story Competition not expecting it to get anywhere and it didn't.  But because the subject matter is something I feel passionately about, I wanted to get it out somewhere, so I worked on it after getting feedback from colleagues I work with online.  Getting the dual threads to work together was a challenge, but I wanted them to create real tension in the piece.
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Copyright 2009