Content Warning: This is a short fiction post based on DrawKill’s Goretober Prompt List. It may contain violence, gore, creepy shit, sexy shit, or all of the above.
Mama kept thirteen pins in a little gilded box on her nightstand. She said they were Gram’s pins before her, and Great-Gram NanNan’s before that. They were shiny silver, almost slim as thread, and each one was topped with a little iridescent pearl no bigger than the tiny diamond in Mama’s wedding ring.
Those pins didn’t come out for just any occasion. Mama used them when she sewed up a suit for cousin Marie’s husband-to-be, but she used her regular old red pins for Marie’s dress. 6 months later, Marie’s husband was dead and Mama said, “All for the best. He was a no-good, rotten, cheatin’ bastard of a boy. Knew it from the start.”
After that, Mama had 12 pins in that little gilded box. Some days I’d sneak up into her room, when the damp stifling heat of summer was at its worst, and run my finger over their pearly heads. I’d stare at the little hole in their black cloth pillow where pin 13 used to sit, and wonder what happened to it.
“Don’t stare at ’em too long,” Mama said, when she caught me at it one day. “Don’t get ’em used to the attention.”
Papa lost his job in late winter, when hurricanes flooded out the town and his shop wound up half-way under water. Our house was on high ground, but we kids could sit on the porch and watch the water flood through the washway only about 20 yards down. We saw a body float by once – just once, and it kept me guessing for days if that big bloated gray meat had been a man or a woman once. Mama told me not to dwell on it.
Without money coming in, there was no money going out. A man in a grey suit and black hat started coming around in spring time. He carried a briefcase and he always had papers to hand to Papa. It made Papa mad when that man came. He’d drink at the kitchen table until he passed out. I remember I stood there one day while Mama watched him snore, shaking her head.
“We can’t be goin’ on like this,” she said. “We’ve gotta put a stop to it.”
Mama could do a lot of things really well: she could cook a mean pork-chop with gravy, she could dance a foxtrot all by herself in the sitting room while the gramophone played, and she could sew just about anything under the sun. Well the next time the Grey Suit Man came around, Mama offered him a deal: she’d sew up a nice new suit for him, and a dress for his wife, and a little jumper for his daughter too. The man obliged, though Mama almost had to beg him to.
“It’ll only hold him off for a bit, darlin’,” Papa said, while he watched Mama sew. All night long she sewed on the couch in the sitting room. Her shiny pearly pins glistened and pierced each new piece of fabric as it all came together. The gramophone played until the record began to scratch, and even then Mama didn’t turn it. The needle scratched and scratched until dawn when Papa made it stop. I didn’t sleep a wink listening to it.
The next time the Gray Suit Man came, Mama presented him with three beautiful garments made with the best fabric she’d had in the house. She couldn’t afford anything new, so the dresses had different colored bodices than skirts, but Mama had made them look real pretty. The Gray Suit Man left…
And he never came back.
Mama had nine pins in her little gilded box the summer I turned 15. I thought I was all grown up and I’d go down to the river with the older boys from my high school. We’d drink Pabst and swim in our underwear and one day I let Colton Wes put his hand under my bra. Except Colton didn’t stop with the bra. Colton put his hands other places too, even when I told him to stop. I didn’t tell Mama for three days, and when I did, it was only because she noticed the bruises on my thighs when I was pulling weeds in the yard.
Mama seemed a lot calmer than I was, but I knew how Mama’s wrath worked. Sometimes you never knew the river was flooding until it was too late. Mama didn’t tell Papa, and she didn’t go to the police. Instead, she told me I was to go see Colton again even though I was scared.
“It’ll only be one time, darlin’,” she said. “I just want you to give him a little present.”
Mama stayed up late again, and she sewed and sewed. This time, I snuck out of bed and watched her, because that old broken needle scratching on the record wouldn’t let me sleep. I peeked in through the cracked sitting room door while I crouched in the dark hall, and watched Mama’s fingers fly with her sewing needle. I watched those little pearl pins gleam in the dim light of the one old lamp we had beside the couch. The electricity got turned off now and then, but I hadn’t ever seen that lamp go out.
When morning came, Mama presented me with a jacket all patchwork colors, with the last scraps of fabric she’d had lying around. It was one of the ugliest things she’d ever sewed, and I told her Colton would never wear it.
“He only has to wear it once, honey,” she said, and kissed my forehead. “Only once, and he’ll never bother you again.”
She left one pearl pin in the lapel of that jacket. This time, I didn’t dare touch it.
Next time I saw Colton, he took me for a ride in his Mustang, out to the quarry. I knew he was horny as hell and I didn’t have much time. So as soon as he’d parked the car and lit up his cigarette, I reached into my bag and tugged out the jacket. I lied, and told him I’d sewed it, but he still laughed.
“Damn girl, it’s ugly as blue mud,” he said, but he slipped it on all the same. He got out of the car and admired himself in the windows, slicking back his greased up blonde hair and dragging on that cigarette. “Yeah, nah, you can take this shit back. Guess you’re not much for that wife-y sewing shit, huh?”
He tried to take the jacket off, but it wasn’t budging. It looked tighter somehow, as if it had stuck to his shirt underneath. But the more he tugged at it, the more he struggled, the more I began to realize that it wasn’t just his shirt it had become a part of.
It had adhered to his skin.
“What the hell is this?” His voice shot up an octave, warbling like a bird. He tugged and scratched at the jacket, his face going red and sweat breaking out on his forehead. When he pulled at the very edges of the cloth, he managed to peel it about an inch up from his skin.
Except it wasn’t his skin separating from the jacket; it was his skin separating from muscle and sinew beneath. It was his jacket pinned to him in a thousand places, so tight that when he yanked it everything else came with it. He started screaming, but it wasn’t the type of screams I was used to hearing of being a little scared. These were gut-wrenching, the most horrible sound I’d ever heard, the kind of screams that tunneled into my stomach and settled there like roaches. He just kept pulling at that jacket, and it kept getting tighter, until there was a sound like a bunch of twigs all snapping at once and his screaming became wheezing. His chest just wasn’t right anymore, the ribcage was all at odd angles and still that jacket wasn’t coming off. Blood was seeping down his pant legs and now it was bubbling up past his lips.
Mama was right. He only had to wear that ugly jacket once.
When he had bled out, and his lungs were punctured by his own ribs and he’d finally stopped squirming, I left the quarry on foot in the dark. I didn’t say a word when I got home; Mama didn’t either. She just sat there, record scratching away, her little box of eight pearly pins by her side, sewing the night away.
Mama didn’t get on so well as the years went by. Her mind went before her body did, especially after Papa passed from a heart attack at 56. Now Mama sits in the Home, with nurses looking after her, and she doesn’t really recognize us kids when we come to visit. The few possessions she’d had left were split up among the kids, and I made a point to get all the clothes she’d sewn over the years. They were probably harmless…but I couldn’t know for certain. I burned them all and told my siblings they’d been donated.
Mama’s little box of pins…that went to me too. There are only five pins left now. I don’t know who else got the gift of one over the years. I was going to burn them too, but something just wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t very good at sewing; despite it being something Mama loved so much, she’d never taught me how. But I suppose it didn’t really matter if I had the skills or not.
Some things folks only have to wear once.