Suphala Nibhanupudi | Art by Michelle Jiang
The needle, balanced on frosted, weathered fingers, knew its path.
The seamstress knotted her brow and exhaled sharply. In her hands, stretched taught, was midnight silk that slipped through her fingers like sheets of ice. Ivory thread, spun from opal shards and moonlit lakes, sliced through the fabric. Lanterns scattered around the room, buzzing with their warm yellow light.
The silk blanketed the apartment, and the seamstress drowned in it. Fabric bundled against the edges of the walls, straining against man-made restraints for escape. The seamstress, tucked in the corner, was a mere droplet in its ocean.
“Tired”. She whispered to nobody. “I’m so tired.”
She paused a moment to give space for an answer. She resumed her work.
The shuttered windows hid the sky from her. She’d only seen the sky through her father’s words. He passed both the descriptions and the profession down to her, both treasured relics of eras long erased from memory.
“It is a destiny, but you require discipline and concentration,” her father said, clutching the seamstress’s hand, as he pulled her, then but six years old, away from her friends. “You should do well to honor it.”
The seamstress didn’t remember that time. She didn’t remember her father passing her the cold iron key to the tower, or how she soiled the fabric from her first assignment with her sobs. She didn’t remember a mother.
The lantern at her feet dwindled to grey trails of smoke. Her hair was quickly falling from her hair tie and her glasses slid down her face. The dark room suspended her in time. Did days pass by since she last went outside? She wouldn’t know.
She had made her peace with loneliness and the never ending assignments. Let her vision fail and her fingers grow brittle. Her destiny needed her inside this dark, cramped apartment for the ones free outside.
She paused one more time, staring at the window.
One more stitch. Knot. The thread snapped away. And the star had been finished.
The silk was bundled up. Her coat was donned. The seamstress unbolted the door.
The seamstress, with inky fabric folded in her arms, glided over trodden sidewalks. The sun was being pulled out of its perch, crawling slowly over the blushing sky. There was no sound — the children were still in their beds, the birds were still in their nests, and the earth was still swaddled in space. The world had gone completely silent. The only sound, if the seamstress stayed aware, was the quiet, bated breath, the soft inhales and exhales of every atom on earth, waiting as the sun rose.
The seamstress approached the mailbox, now more rust than blue metal. She’d seen it since she was a child. Her only memory of before. Since she too, would run around, crying with laughter while her father stayed holed up, high above, on the thirteenth floor of that rickety tower. Far, far away from the ground. But who else would take care of the night, if not him? If not her?
The world exhaled. The creak of the metal door unhinging echoed through the air. The seamstress slipped her work into the receptacle.
Today, the world deserved rest.
The ink fabric became liquid, dripping into the mailbox. The stars and the comets and the moon and the black space between them bled together as they all poured inside.
She waited six beats, an inhale and an exhale. Her fingers, where the needle had worn a familiar groove, rubbed together in the chill as she waited.
Droplets off the night sky splattered on the sunrise. The pools of the night grew larger until they wrapped up the sun in a peaceful embrace. The moon smiled upon the slumbering world. The stars gleamed. The seamstress’s frosted hands found her pockets, and she turned back home along the silent sidewalks.