Monday, April 23, 2018

The Shadow Tailor by Francesca Quarto

Her sister Janice, would be forever getting her five inch nails done. Originally, their plans included a full massage, for both of them, or a body thumping as Bernie called it, to annoy her older sister.
"Bernice," Janice responded with her usual eye-roll. "You have never appreciated the benefits of being pampered."
Bernie, as she always referred to herself, laughed.  "You do enough self-indulging for the both of us."
At eighteen and nineteen, the girls enjoyed their parent's wealth in very different ways. But they still managed to enjoy one another's company on small outings, like this day of shopping in Chicago.  
She left Janice to the cooing women, hovering around her in the salon and wandered across the street.
At first, the busy sidewalks were cluttered, door to door, with chi-chi stores and boutiques. After several long, city-blocks, these eventually thinned out and Bernie began noticing signs for consignment shops and ethnic restaurants and grocers with strange names. 
She turned down a side street, almost an alley really,hoping to find a used book store, with something more interesting than piles of torn jeans to look through. 
 Standing at the end of the block, she looked up, taking her bearings in the strange neighborhood she'd wandered into. 
Swinging in the mild gusts of summer wind Chicago is known for, was an ancient looking wooden sign reading, "The Shadow Tailor".
Bernie looked at it again, mouthing the words as she silently read it again. She walked over to a large front window, peering through the gritty glass. It was dark as night inside.  She figured the shop was closed, but it was only past two and there was no "closed" sign on the door. 
She moved  closer to the window, noticing the sweep of curtains, bunched up to one side.
Just as she was turning away, she caught movement from the corner of her eye.  A candle burst into flame on the other side of the glass, inches from her hovering face  
Not squeamish by nature and having a deep curiosity of the what she called the oddities of life, Bernice, never-the-less, felt an odd tingle of warning flood her body.
"Oh for Pete's sake!" she chided herself, "It's just a candle. People do light them!"
She left the window and stepped over to the door.  Its wood was scarred, pealing red paint was still vivid in places. but faded to a dead rose color, from years of Chicago weather.  
Bernie turned an old fashioned, but elegant brass handle, and was musically accompanied inside, by the soft chimes of bells.
It took several long and uncomfortable seconds for her eyes to adjust to the sudden change in light.  The candle that flared into existence earlier, was sitting atop a fireplace in a corner of a large room.  The candlelight's creamy glow showed off an ornately carved mantle and its surrounding rich wood frame. 
Nearby, Bernie spotted several pieces of over-stuffed furnishings.  Sofas, chairs, settees, all placed in a comfortable semi circle, as if for expected company. Several side tables were scattered around the seating, each holding a delicate looking tea cups and saucers, small spoons placed beside each of them. In the center of the grouping, a low coffee table was set with a lovely sterling tea service and a tiered silver pastry dish, with fresh smelling scones arranged temptingly.
In spite herself, Bernie felt her mouth water.  Then she realized she'd missed lunch a few hours ago.
"Hello.  Anyone about?"
Bernie tried to keep her voice cheery and friendly, not wanting to startle the shop owner, or staff, when they came into the dimly lit room to find her standing there.
Bernie's greeting was lost in such a complete a stillness, that it seemed to weigh down even the sound of her voice. Not wanting to stand like a fool, yelling out to an apparently empty store, Bernie turned to leave.  She grabbed the brass handle, immediately feeling a searing cold, bite her fingers.
She jumped back, a stinging sensation traveling through her hand and up her arm.  She was too stunned by the sudden pain to think about its source.  With her hand tucked under her arm pit for warmth, she studied the handle.  About to try it again, she froze when a deep male voice sliced through the silence like a sharp knife through Kobe Steak.
"I wouldn't do that again, unless you enjoy pain, but then I don't know you enough yet to answer that."
Stepping out of the shadows in a corner of the shop and into the candle's waving light, stood the most handsome man Bernie had ever seen.  
His hair was a glossy, black mass of curls, long enough to brush his collar.  His features looked carved from unblemished marble, patrician in elegance and undoubtedly self-assured.
Bernie was so enthralled with his perfection,she didn't focus on his warning.  She stood entranced as he moved closer to her, stopping next to a sofa.  
She recalled herself enough to see his clothes were all vintage late eighteen hundred's.  They were pristine in every perfect stitch and the cut of his suite was perfection.  His broad shoulders were enhanced by the careful attention of the tailor, capturing the easy flow of his body's movements.
"I'm so sorry to have disturbed you," Bernie said softly. "I thought you were a shop when I read your sign outside.  "Shadow Tailor" is quite an unusual name."
"Please, forgive my rudeness, Miss.  Would you care to sit for a few minutes and I'll be happy to tell you about my ...special shop."
Bernie didn't know how, but suddenly she found herself seated on the sofa next to the gorgeous man.  She gave her head a small shake, trying to clear the feeling that this guy had somehow influenced her usual clear-headed pragmatism. That levelheadedness would have told her to leave and fast! 
Her mind was racing while her heart was pounding like a kettle drum at the stranger's nearness.  She swore she could feel his body heat.
Wait, that's not heat I feel.  It's cold, like from the door handle. She shivered.
Bernie heard the delicate clinking of a spoon on a cup and saw that the man had carefully poured a single cup of tea.
"I think you'll find this to your liking and most relaxing dear lady,"
Without hesitating, Bernie reached for the steaming cup and with their eyes locked in a probing stare, she began to sip. 
She had taken a small drink, but the steam rose thick and fragrantly around her face and head. 
"I've never tasted anything as wonderful in my life," she declared in a voice that sounded dreamy and far away.
"What is.. this tea.. called?" she said as the china cup slipped from her hand. It silently fell to an ancient Persian rug that was stained by countless other visitors.
"Why, I must admit to a small vanity, my dear.  I call it Immortal."
Bernie was blinking furiously, trying to keep her eyes open and focused.  She used all her will power to stand on wobbly legs, moving slightly away from the sofa and the handsome man.  He stood, watching her struggle.  A leering look transformed his face as his tongue darted out to lick his full lips.
"I thought you were..a sign...said...Tailor."
"Indeed, I am quite adapt at taking the raw material that wanders into my shop and altering them into the many shadows I feed from over many long, painful nights.  Yes, they do become mere shadows of their former selves, but after awhile,they do stop screaming."


Diane Burton said...

Francesca, I'm always in awe of your stories, with a unique twist at the end.
What an imagination you have!

Nancy Gideon said...

Ha! A warning not to enter a store without first checking to see if they accept VISA. Spooktacular story, Fran!

Francesca Quarto said...

Thanks for the good vibes sent my way, ladies! I think this is why I have an aversion to "window shopping"!!

Happy Trails,
Francesca Q.

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

Hm, I love shadows! LOL! Great twist.