Friday 21 April 2023

Taking Pains by David Rudd, Macchiato

‘And how’s business—dressmaking, isn’t it?’ asks Amy, scissors flashing, circling Kirsty’s scalp like a weather satellite.

   ‘It’s okay,’ replies Kirsty, ‘if it weren’t for these back pains.’

   ‘Funny,’ says Amy, ‘you’re not the first.’

   ‘Is something going round?’ asks Kirsty. ‘They came on after my last trim.’

   ‘Dunno. But Tracy’s opening a Pain Clinic shortly. In that empty shop next door.’

   ‘You mean, where Flora’s Flowers used to be?’ Kirsty gestures to her right.

   ‘Before my time,’ says Amy. ‘Tracy’s employing one of those ostrapaths.’

   Kirsty is about to correct Amy when she sees the comb clamped between her teeth. ‘Think it’ll catch on?’ she asks her instead.

   ‘Well, the Gail Gar’s a success,’ replies Amy, continuing her impression of a ventriloquist. Amy gestures through the arch, the opposite side to where Flora’s Flowers once stood.

   ‘Don’t I know it!’ says Kirsty, whose own dressmaking business — A Right Sew-and-Sew! — had its premises right there. When her lease expired, Tracy somehow acquired the property, for reasons still unclear to Kirsty, although Tracy swore it was nothing to do with her. ‘Bankers!’ was all Tracy would say, as though that explained everything and exonerated her.

   The fact that Flora’s shop has now also fallen into Tracy’s hands rekindles Kirsty’s resentment, though Tracy herself has remained as nice as pie, continuing to send alterations Kirsty’s way. In fact, Kirsty still has a cocktail dress of Tracy’s that needs sorting. 

   ‘And what with these pains people are getting,’ continues Amy, her mouth now free of comb, ‘it might take off.’

   ‘She done?’ interrupts someone out of Kirsty’s vision, making her jump.

   ‘Really, Bridget!’ says Amy. “Client courtesy!’

   Kirsty can now see a teenager in the mirror, punk-like in appearance. She holds a broom in one hand and a Ziploc in the other. ‘Tracy told us,’ says Bridget, ‘to clean up straightaway.’

   ‘Well, it’s very hygienified, of course,’ says Amy, bright with laughter, ‘but we mustn’t sweep away our clients with their hair!’

   Bridget shrugs and moves off to the Nail Bar. Amy sighs her eyes and holds up a mirror for Kirsty.

   ‘Perfect,’ says Kirsty. She pays, tips, and leaves via the Nail Bar, where she spots more Ziplocs, each carefully sealed and labelled. Bodily waste? wonders Kirsty. A new Health and Safety issue?




Later that month, Kirsty’s pains get worse. She suspects it’s all the standing and kneeling she has to do, especially now she’s working out of her flat. She pours herself another therapeutic glass of wine and idly picks up the flyer for Tracy’s ‘Pains Taking’ Clinic — does that name even work? The hairdresser’s bubbly image beams out at her, reminding Kirsty that Tracy’s cocktail dress still needs altering.   

   Although she’d finished work for the evening, Kirsty pulls her mannequin from behind the TV and pins up Tracy’s garment, bewailing the cramped conditions in which she now has to work. Tracy, she is convinced, can’t be as innocent as she professes. The thought rankles and, preoccupied with this, Kirsty manages to stab herself in the thumb, the blood welling over Tracy’s dress.

   Quickly, she swabs the material with water and, as she sponges it, notices some of Tracy’s stray hairs still clinging to the material. It’s at this point that her back twinges again and several disparate threads of thought come together in Tracy’s head: hair and nail clippings stored in Ziplocs … pins in mannequins … pain. 

   Tracy ponders her insight awhile before, with a toss of her head, she dismisses it. ‘Voodoo-hoodoo nonsense!’ she says, reaching for more wine.

   Even so, as she bends over her work, her back still painful, she imagines each thrust of her needle following not simply the contours of Tracy’s dress, but its owner’s nerve endings, too.

   ‘All in the mind, of course,’ mutters Kirsty as she completes the alterations.

   Uncharacteristically, though, she doesn’t check to see whether she’s left any pins lurking within the folds of the garment. She hasn’t removed Tracy’s straggly blond hairs, either. Kirsty simply casts the dress aside and swigs down the rest of her wine.

   But she does attempt a demonic cackle, which makes her laugh for real, despite the sharp pain that accompanies it. 

About the author 

 Dr David Rudd is an emeritus professor who, after 40 years, turned from academic prose to creative writing and found fulfilment. Recent stories have appeared in 'Aphelion', 'Bandit Fiction', 'The Blotter', 'Corner Bar Magazine', 'Dribble Drabble Review', 'Jerry Jazz Musician', and 'Literally Stories'. 


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