iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 20 (content warning: adult themes)

Monsieur Bourdelle has offered me some shares in the production of “Cinderella” in exchange for the costumes I am making.  I asked him if I could see the accounts first, which I thought would make him angry, but he let me see them straight away.  Everything seemed to be in order, and I accepted his offer.  Jessica Springer has been telling everybody that she owns the biggest shareholding, but she doesn’t: she just owns more shares than any other member of the cast.  Even that is because Kelvin has foregone some of the holding he was offered, partly out of generosity, but mostly because he knows he is going to sell lots of drink to the audiences.  He is working on a Christmas seasonal beer which he says should be ready for the opening night.  The production is scheduled to open on 24 December.  The two biggest shareholders are Monsieur Bourdelle himself, and Kerr McLean.  I have recently discovered that if you are on this ship and you don’t know who owns a particular asset which is not part of the vessel, it probably belongs to Kerr McLean. 

The next three members of the cast who are due to get measured are the Ugly Sisters and the Wicked Stepmother.  Monsieur Bourdelle asked Cerise Vallance if she wanted to be the Wicked Stepmother, which I am told put her nose out of joint.  They have given the part to a man, in keeping with tradition.

These theatrical costumes provide plenty of very easy places in which to conceal microphones, cams, and data acquisition modules.  Some of the fights among the company are quite funny. 

The measuring of the Ugly Sisters and Wicked Stepmother is over.  Ugly Sister One was a member of HM Forces who said, predictably, that he auditioned for the part for a bet.  Ugly Sister Two was a young man of ambiguous tastes and orientation.  He was the most difficult one to measure, because he did not seem to know what to expect.  The Wicked Stepmother was an experienced transvestite of mature years and queenly figure: perfect type-casting.  I am making falsies, corsets, a dress, a ball-gown and shoes for all three of them. 

This set of business transactions was followed by an unexpected incident which has upset me so much that I have had to take a day off work.  Monsieur Bourdelle sent one of his assistants to my cabin to find out how long I would be incapacitated.  I told her I would be back to work tomorrow without fail, and she left me alone.  I don’t know if I will be.

The unexpected incident began when I was on the set, doing a costume-fitting and re-checking the ambiguous guy’s measurements.  People, including me, were packing up for the day and the set was clearing rapidly.  A man came up to me and asked me a few discreet questions, which culminated in a request to visit my cabin.  There were reasons why I did not want him to visit my cabin, and so I suggested his cabin, to which he agreed.  I took my tape measure, chalk and sewing-box with me. 

The man became a bit more forthcoming once inside his quarters, though I thought I had a good idea of what he wanted.  To give him his due, he was plain, honest, and fairly unabashed about it all, as well as fairly knowledgeable about dress-making terminology.  He did ask for complete secrecy, which was understandable.  I told him that on Earth I used to work for the Samaritans, which seemed to convince him that I knew about confidentiality.  These negotiations having been concluded, he stripped down to his boxer shorts and I measured him.  For his peace of mind, I wrote down the measurements but not his name, his cabin number, or the details of the garments he wanted.   Of course, I did not even need to write down the measurements, because I had committed them to my electronic memory.  He offered to pay me a deposit, which I refused.

While I was making up his order, I took out another similar garment which I had brought from Earth, and which I habitually kept in my cabin, not in my goods containers or my workshop area.  It was useful to compare the old one and the new one as I was doing the sewing to fix the bones in place and draw the bodice into shape.  I had put this work to the top of my schedule, in spite of a backlog of costume-making for the pantomime.  I then had to set to work on the pantomime clothes in some haste, which is probably why I made the mistake.

The following day, I completed the order after a visit to my workshop.  This was to make his shoes, some parts of which I made with the 3D-printer, and his wig, which used a similar technology to the one I use to make my own hair.  It was an auburn bob.  I also have a sophisticated, programmable loom which I used to make his stockings and gloves. 

I dashed back to my cabin.  I picked up the pieces I had already prepared, and folded them into a neat package which I wrapped in paper. 

I knocked gently on the door of the client’s cabin, and found he was at home.  I went in and he closed the door, saying that he would like one final fitting.  I could have done without this, but I went along with it. 

He indicated the money-bag lying on his desk which contained the payment for the work.  He then stripped down to his skin.  I was not surprised to notice that he had shaved his legs.  This prompted me to believe that he was not in a relationship, which I had already suspected.  I fitted him with the corset I had made him, and then he sat down in front of the mirror while I fitted his wig.  At our previous meeting, I had asked him if he would want false breasts, which he had declined.  I watched him put on his stockings.  I helped him with the six clasps of the suspender-straps, and straightened the seams.  He put on his lace briefs.  I asked him if he wanted help with make-up.  He said he was all right, but thanked me. 

We were both admiring my handiwork, when I realised that I had made a mistake.  The corset he was wearing was not the one I had just made: it was the old one.  He twirled round in front of the mirror.

‘I am very pleased indeed.  This is uncannily like a garment I used to own on Earth.  It is exactly what I was looking for.’ 

I looked at him.  I did not know what to say.  The words stayed inside my head.

‘That is the very garment you used to own on Earth, Kelvin.  By mistake, I picked up the old one I had taken as a memento when I left you.  I remember the night I measured you for it.’

As soon as I could, I got away, shut the door of my cabin behind me, and began to cry.  I cried for some time.  I don’t know how long.  I must pull myself together.  I have to be back at work tomorrow. 

 

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