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Vision in Velvet


Vision in Velvet

Well, what are we waiting for? Open it up!"

I lifted the lid and the strong odors of mothballs and cedar wafted out.

"Whoof!" said Bronwyn, waving a hand in front of her nose.

My miniature Vietnamese potbellied pig—and ersatz witch's familiar—retreated to his bed and hid his sensitive snout in the monogrammed purple satin pillow Bronwyn had given him. Oscar was one spoiled pig.

"Considering how bad they smell, the mothballs should have done a better job, don't you think?" asked Maya, grimacing.

"The mothballs are probably a recent addition. Before that...well, the cedar keeps insects at bay, but it's not one hundred percent effective. And these clothes have been in here a very long time. But I'm not worried about moth damage as much as rot. Look at this."

I reached in, and, using two fingers of each hand as gently as possible lifted the shift that Sebastian had unfolded in his store. It cracked further along the creases, sending more tiny puffs of dust into the air.

Bronwyn and Maya gasped, and I couldn't help but smile at their reactions. Neither had been particularly interested in textiles, or any aspect of fashion for that matter, when I met them. But there was something about vintage clothing...the blending of tangible history, supreme craftsmanship, and fine lace could be addictive.

"What a shame," said Bronwyn with feeling.

"Are they all that way?" said Maya.

I shrugged. "One way to find out."

I lay the first item on the counter and removed another, a man's shirt that was in even worse shape than the shift. Next was a linen shirtwaist in slightly better condition, though not by much.

"Look at those beautiful buttons!" Bronwyn exclaimed. "Dollars to doughnuts they're bone."

"I'll bet my mom could find a use for them," said Maya.

"Let's set them aside," I agreed. Maya's mother, Lucille, was an expert seamstress- a crucial asset for a vintage clothing store. Lucille had recently established a cottage industry mimicking vintage dress patterns. She sized up the beautiful old designs to fit today's women, who were larger and much healthier than their grandmothers. From these designs she created charming old-fashioned dresses that were also machine-washable—a huge advantage over most vintage, for which only the most expensive dry cleaning would do.

I removed more items from the trunk, but these, too, were beyond repair. Still, we examined each one carefully. Joined by several customers, we oohed and aahed over the tiny hand-made stitches, the bits of exquisite lace and fine embroidery, the surprisingly petite dimensions of adult men and women back in the day. As usual when I dealt with historical items, I kept imagining what life must have been like; in this case, the courage—or foolishness—it took to leave a city such as Boston and set out for the unknown. What had the trunk's original owners died from, I wondered. Disease? An accident?

At last I reached the velvet I had felt calling to me in Sebastian's shop. As I held it up there were several audible intakes of breath.

It was a deep gold velvet cape with a purple silk lining. Gold brocade ribbons ran down the interior seams and along the hem, and purple and gold fringe decorated the neckline. A silk-lined hood hung down the back, a large tassel at its crown. An ornate brass frog toggle fastened the cape at the throat. Where the rest of the trunk's contents had been typical of the merchant class in the nineteenth century—quality construction with modest decorative touches—this cape was something else. It was also much older, and appeared to have been fashioned for royalty.

It was not in great shape: the silk lining was shattered and hung in strips, there were numerous moth holes, the velvet had faded unevenly, and there was a large tear at the seam along the left shoulder. Yet even with all that...it was an amazing garment.

Unable to resist, I whirled it around my shoulders and only vaguely noticed as Oscar careened toward me, alarm in his pink piggy eyes. I fastened the brass clasp at the neck.

And then... I was no longer in the shop.

I felt a shock of freezing cold wash over me, followed by a river of heat. As though in a dream, I saw fuzzy shapes and heard sounds, unintelligible yet very real. As the images coalesced, I realized a mob was surrounding me; pointing fingers, faces distorted in anger and fear. They were jeering, yelling, calling out...curses? I couldn't quite make it out; the sounds were like a recording being played at the wrong speed. It reminded me of being underwater...the lights bobbed and flickered, and sounds were muffled and distorted.

It was nightmarish. What were they saying? I concentrated, straining to hear, trying to make out their words...

"Lily? Lily!"

© Juliet Blackwell

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