Growing up so far from the wordfields, I’ve learned to appreciate the few words I have, so as the fitting for Baron Kensington’s festival garments drag on, I cringe at each wasted remark.
I drop my own “yes”s and “no”s gently from my lips whenever he requires a response, and I catch as many as I can in the folds of my apron without drawing attention to the indecorous act. My words are nearly past the point of recognition anyway – warped and worn from overuse, from years spent hoarded in mama’s glass jars as my inheritance, from being cobbled together from sounds and syllables traded to the wordsmith until they resembled something useful. For what good are things like “cupidity” or “accoutrements” to a poor orphaned seamstress when the “tea” and “rent” are worn so thin?
But the baron has no such qualms about his words, no regard for the damage he does as he flings them from his mouth. He spits tirades regarding “dilettantish haberdashers” and “dunderheaded laundresses” as I circle his stool, my fingers working frantically with measuring ribbon and pins, wishing I could work faster just so he’ll leave.
The baron shifts suddenly and, in my hand’s shaking, the pin slides too deeply. The baron cries out, and I expel a “sorry!” with such force that I’m unable to catch it, unable to stop it from splintering into bits on the stone floor.
“You worthless child!” The baron’s words barrage me, slapping wet and sharp against my burning face. “You’ve pricked me, clumsy fool! You think I come all the way into the city, into this hovel of yours, to be accosted with pins?”
I have no “sorry” left. I’ve used mine, and now it’s ruined. I bite my tongue to keep other words from sputtering out – ones like “vain” and “vulgar” and “crook,” which often find their way to the back of my tongue during his fittings, but which I’ve never allowed to slip. Hot, angry tears gather in the corners of my eyes, and I imagine a world where the tables are turned, where I have a plethora of words and he has none. Where he must listen to me.
“What are you standing there for, you dim-wit?” he rages. “Get back to work. I haven’t time for such pitiful nonsense.”
I swallow my words along with my tears, clear them from my throat, and finish the fitting. The only sounds are the swish of the fabric and the occasional insult dropped from the baron’s lips onto my head.
He leaves a trail of grumbles out the door, and when I close it behind him, I take a moment to rest in the silence.
Then I take my broom and dustpan and gently, carefully sweep up each discarded word, bending them back into shape and bottling them up in glass jars before they can dissolve, keeping them safe for the day when I’ve gathered enough.
The day when I will speak and be heard.
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