Previously published in Yukhika-latuhse (She tells us stories), 2012
Lillian sat poised above the cotton pillowcase, her hands trembling. The newest of the girls at St. Anthony's, she was responsible for long straight seams on these sewing days, while the other girls had the more difficult aprons, skirts, and capes. But she'd been warned. Along with pillowcases also went the job of pacing the other girls. The sewing machines were mismatched and each had a different sound, but when the girls sewed quickly, their machines sang out to each other. On scrubbing days or laundry days, the nuns hovered, pointing out real or imagined flaws in the girls' work. On sewing days, they lingered in the hallway, soothed by the hum of machines stitching clothes into creation.
If Lillian sewed too quickly, the other girls were punished for not keeping up. If she sewed too slowly, the girls were happy, but the nuns would replace her with one of the other girls who would sew faster, and then Lillian would have to scrub floors. Her knees still ached from yesterday's long day of scrubbing floors.
The girls were waiting for her to start. Lillian studied the nuns gathered in the hallway awaiting their sewing machine choir. Lillian pressed on the foot pedal and the other girls joined in as her feed dogs barked out cadence. It was the cadence only an old dog would keep.
It could be what happened on my last vacation, a national news event, a single line from one of the many books in my bookshelves, or a personal remembrance.