She heard it again, a scratching, rusty metal- against- metal sound.
She struggled to remember where she had heard that sound before, but she just could not quite focus her thoughts. It was all a dark, dusty... musty with time.
Wait, someone was opening the trunk! Finally! Fresh air! Light!
"Oh, hurry! Let me out! Please, hurry!"
It had been so very, very long. She had struggled so hard for such a long time to keep up with the number of days... then months... then years since she had been carefully folded and lovingly placed into the trunk with the other younger quilts, the wedding dress, the embroidered pillowcases and those uppity lace underthings
In time, the others quit trying to talk away the endless hours and days; quit trying to remember the happy times. One by one, the treasures in the trunk fell into deep sadness and then fell into the black silence. Heartbroken. Forlorn. Forgotten.
Red, as the other quilts called her, had been the strongest, keeping the others talking, remembering...for as long as she could. Then she, too, had no more energy, no more words...and fell quiet.
The lid to the trunk screeched open, and dust sprinkled down on her. As she adjusted to the light, she caught a glimpse of two young faces just before she was jerked out and tossed aside. The Girl picked her up and looked her over quickly before flinging her on a pile in the middle of the floor.
"More old junk!," The Girl said with an unattractive sneer on her upper lip and a coarse tone in her voice.
"We can get a few bucks for this old trunk," The Boy said, and with that, he dumped the rest of the quilts and the embroidered pillowcases and the wedding dress and the uppity underthings on the floor.
The Girl snatched up the wedding dress and the uppity underthings, holding them up to her body. She twirled around and taunted the boy, and he chased her nosily down the steps, their crude cackles fading into the depths of the house.
Red lay for a good while in a state of shock...crumpled in a heap, her folds in distorted, uncomfortable angles. She watched the dust particles suspended in the beams of light that penetrated the attic through one small window.
The light was fading fast. She could not see the other quilts, but she softly called out to them. In a few minutes, she heard their muffled, scared replies. Then night shrouded the attic in blackness, and the only sounds she heard were a few scratches of claws scampering over the boards and a few arthritic moans of the old house as it stretched in place.
The next morning The Boy reappeared in the attic and began carrying away items from the pile. Red saw the other quilts being carried away, but they were too scared to even cry out.
"Don't worry, girls," she said with forced cheerfulness. "We're just going to have a good airing in the sunshine."
She could hardly wait for The Lady to drape her over the clothes line and let the wind whip through her folds. Why, she was even looking forward to being thwapped with that metal thing The Lady used to shake out the dust and make her clean and fresh.
The Boy reappeared, little beads of sweat forming on his pock-marked brow. He did not look like a happy person, Red thought to herself. She did not remember that face among The Lady's children.
He picked up an old broken lamp and the radio that had been in the bedroom for ever so long. Then he yanked at one of the folds of the red and white quilt and rudely pulled Red over the radio in his arms, letting part of her drag along the dusty floor of the attic, down the steps and out the front door.
Red abruptly felt herself flying through the air, but instead of being unfurled to bask in the sunshine, she found herself falling in a heap in the back of a pickup truck with the old radio and the broken lamp and other familiar objects she had seen around the house. The other quilts were there too, some of them whimpering.
The engine of the pick-up truck strained and then growled to life. Smoke belched from the tail pipe, and they all lurched forward on a bumpy ride on a gravel road, dust churning up, fighting with the burning oil smoke of the old pick-up. The suffocating cloud of dust and smoke blocked the sunlight, leaving Red and the others to gasp for air.
"This was just too much! Where was The Lady? She would not let this happen to her things!" Red felt a helplessness and a despair greater than she had felt during any of the hard times she and The Lady had survived.
Images chased memories, faster and faster. Red recalled The Lady as a very young woman buying her in a big piece of red fabric, cutting her up in pieces and then sewing her back together with the quiet little white cloth. Hours and hours Red and The Lady had spent together, on the front porch, as The Lady dreamed out loud of the man she was to marry and the children she wanted to have and the happy times she just knew they would have.
The husband came later that summer. Red was spread out on the bed for the first time the day the wedding dress came to live with them. That first night, she covered her Lady for the giggles and the whispers and the kisses and the loving.
In time, Red and the rest of the house anxiously awaited the first baby to join the family. Not long after those first cries, many unfamiliar but happy faces came by to look at the new baby and beam at The Lady, both tucked under Red's proud blocks.
Red was never jealous of the other quilts that The Lady made for cover for her growing family. They were mostly made with scraps left over from the clothes The Lady made for her brood.
Red was always special. She only covered The Lady's bed, lovingly stroked each morning as the bed was made. She could always make her Lady feel safe and loved. Many an hour, she spent wrapped around The Lady as she privately cried over the never-ending hard times and the disappointments and the shattered dreams and feeling so alone, even in the midst of such a large family.
The pickup stopped bouncing, and the engine coughed and choked to a stop. The boy got out and started tossing items into a very large metal green box, sort of like the trunk back at the house, but much, much larger.
Red and the other quilts were flung into the big metal trunk, pinned between some crushed cardboard boxes and some crinkly bags. First, Red smelled stale beer and whiskey. "Ugh," she thought, "The Lady will not like this at all!"
Then rotten food smells reached her, and she felt something dripping on one of her corners. The lid to this very large trunk slammed shut with a deep thud. Then the pickup strained and growled back to life. and bounced and clanked away into the distance.
Red did not even have time to try and collect her thoughts before she felt the box being lifted, up and up, and then it turned over, and the other crinkly bags fell over on her and pressed against her, and the beer cans and whiskey bottles and rotten vegetables tumbled across her red and white blocks.
She tried to call out to the other quilts, but she could not hear them above the noise. Then suddenly, the tumbling stopped, and Red heard two strange human voices shouting over machinery noise.
One voice was a woman's voice! Oh, it must be The Lady!
The huge box trunk slowly lowered to the ground, and there was the woman reaching for her, her eyes wide with intensity. There were laugh lines firmly etched around the edges of her soft brown eyes, and creases at the edges of her mouth, etched by years of smiles.
Once again, Red was flying through the air, the beer cans and whiskey bottles and rotten garbage being flung from her.
Then she saw the other quilts being dug out of the big metal trunk, the garbage shaken off of them also. The woman scooped them all up and quickly put them in the back seat of her car while the deafening machinery noise resumed.
"Where was The Lady?" Red had never seen this woman who rescued them, but instinctively Red sensed that she and the rest of the quilts would be safe and appreciated again. This New Lady had a kind face, and she had seemed angry that someone had thrown away quilts like them.
Exhausted, Red and the other quilts melted into the upholstery of the back seat of the New Lady's car as unfamiliar music softly played on the radio and the New Lady hummed along. Warm, clean sunlight flooded the car, and it felt so delicious to all the quilts who had not felt sunshine for...well, they had no idea how long.
The car purred over the miles, and Red drifted into an exhausted sleep, her dreams a mix of her first Lady and this New Lady smiling and laughing and sewing together on the front porch in the rocking chairs.
Penny Sanford Fikes
All Rights Reserved
Please do not reprint or excerpt without asking first.
This little fictional short story I wrote about the life of this quilt was inspired by A Dress A Day, a blog about vintage dresses. (My next blog post will tell the true story, as far as we know it, about the discovery of six vintage quilts dumped at a county dump in North Mississippi!)
But back to my inspiration: Erin's short stories about The Secret Lives of Dresses are listed and linked on the right side of the home page of her blog, below some ads. Those short stories absolutely mesmerized me when I first discovered them a bit over a year ago. I've re-read them all in the wee hours this morning, again mesmerized!
Here are two of my favorite descriptions written by Erin:
The Secret Lives of Dresses, Volume 6:
"She was typing--she did a lot of typing--but it was much slower than her usual rat-a-tat pace. There would be the crash of a single key hitting the platen, then a drop, then a pause, then the crash again. For a minute, I wasn't sure what the drops were--had she spilled coffee, and, more importantly, was it staining me? It was only when she started rummaging in the desk for a handkerchief that I realized she was crying. Crying! That's one of the worst things you can do in a dress, you know. Every time you cry in a dress you grind sadness right into it, deep down into the fabric, and it never comes out. Laughing in a dress -- now that's good. The laughter lodges between the warp and weft in little bubbles, like champagne. And kissing, kissing in a dress sets up a kind of vibration in the fabric that keeps wobbling there forever. But crying, even the drip-drip silent kind, that just grimes a dress up. I hate it. She'd never cried in me before."
The Secret Lives of Dresses, Volume 8:
"I think it got a bit too much for me then, and I don't remember much else until I felt the nice warm massage of the iron over me. I felt just-washed -- I must have been just washed -- and I was being ironed, which, truly, is just the best feeling. You can be all jangly and cross-grained and overwhelmed but the iron just makes it all go away, and there you are fresh and smooth again. It's better than anything."