Their Hems Were Frayed, But Then Again, So Was I

Again, in the morning, I watched them file in like ducklings. The shop-supes – big, brown-and-white jumpsuited men – would arrange them outside the warehouse in height order, then scan the chips in their shoulders. Everyone was just where they were supposed to be. Then, let into the cages just inside, the supes would run a scan for contraband to be checked against later. They’d do it again on the way out, just to make sure a girl hadn’t lifted a some fabric, or some small bit of machinery.

I, naturally, would be waiting for them to come out. An old formality, it was simply ceremony now. The girls would arrange themselves into a circle, then say their morning prayer – today, it was Jerusalem. A quiet, hopeful murmur that I couldn’t quite hear would glow from the girls as I bowed my head in deference to God. It wouldn’t have been right or proper for me to join in their prayers. Often I’d find myself scanning the same old sections of floor looking for those landmarks I knew so well. There’s that nail that got trapped when they did the pour, Or, Oh, that part of the floor is a little bit discoloured. Things like that. I tried not to let my mind wander too far from the shop.

There was a new girl today. A demure thing, probably just from school. The smock she sported was new, though not as new as her. The tell was in the hem. Of consistently shoddy quality, the newer the hem, the newer the girl. No one had let me know about that, as it was usually.

I admit my remiss, but I took slight issue to the girl as I watched her chanting. Her eyes were opened wide, searching plainly around her new space as the rest of the girls prayed. And there – look! She only moved her lips with the others. Clearly, she did not know the words. She examined the workshop as if she’d been sent to Mars.

All of this was, of course, excusable. There were no shortage of girls to take her place, but training new ones was too tiresome. I could not care less that she did not have a familiarity with the workings of the shop. Most did not, upon their arrival. What would make, or break, her residency with the company would be the quality of her work. As I’m sure she knew, I would take a direct and vested interest in her production until she could be trusted to work independently. I could not have imperfections traced back to my supervisions, or I, too, would be leaving the company.

I had to query my shop hand. “William,” I said, “That new girl. What is her name?”

“The blonde one?”

“Yes, the blonde one.”

He performed a few taps and strokes on his company tablet, then held it over to me. I took it.

Her name was Elizabeth, and she was 17. A tad young for entry to the shops, but easily overlooked. Born Derbyshire, transferred to and from good schools more than a few times until her graduation… yet her aptitudes are stellar. She needn’t work in a place like this. I kept reading.

“Odd, William. Quite odd.”

“The girl?”

“No, her distinct lack of a good hat.” I let my tone inform him of what I truly said. “She should not -”

I stopped as my eyes came across her name again. Of course. There was the answer: Feversham. Elizabeth Feversham.

“Ms. Barnard?”

“Her name, William. Take a look.” I returned the tablet.

His eyes went wide. “One of the Fevershams?”

“I’d think it the only reason for her arrival here.”

William fell silent, inspecting her – I did the same. The morning prayers did drag on. As we watched, she caught my eye and held it for the turn of a second’s gear, only looking bashfully away when I let my head cock inquisitively.

Truly, I thought it fantastic irony that she should be here. However tragic some thought her family’s fall from grace, it was fitting that she should end up in a place that had provoked the insurrections of her father.

For the day, I watched her cut herself on the machines more than once, begin to tear up, then return to work. The girls alongside her ignored her, knowing that a friendship with a Feversham, of all people, could risk the ire and inspection of the Ministry.

At the end of the day, when the winter sun had set behind the shadow of the factories, she shuffled out from the building. I could see the exhaustion in the stoop of her back – in the way she cradled her hands together. She shook, ever so lightly in the falling snow. The supes finished their inspection, and they failed away. For a moment, she stood in the winter dust, eyes taking in the scene as she shook. Then, she traipsed off towards East town.

I watched her leave, the tails of her red scarf darting like the tongue of a snake with each step, shooting from end of her peacoat. She passed the corner, and I pulled on my gloves. Knowing the streets would only get darker, I stepped off towards home.

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