This is a story written by the finest goose quills, stripped of their barbs…
People packed the lower floor of the abandoned chapel by the time the Lord-by-the-Sea came. One chair remained empty for him.
He sat down and cleared his throat.
‘Good – we can start now,’ the Pilgrim Woman said before had a chance to speak. Then she turned to a boy with unruly hair sitting cross-legged at the bottom of the steps to the garret. ‘My thanks for the idea, Ken.’ He gave her a goofy-toothed smile.
The rich man pulled a face. The storyteller sat half-way up the steps and began:
A comedy writer died. After the formalities, she was sent along a corridor lit by constellations. Second star on the left, she repeated the instructions to herself, and straight on till morning. At length she came to a door hanging in the light-freckled sky. Open slowly, a sign ordered.
She turned the handle steadily, and gave it the gentlest of pushes. Then she stood on the threshold, dazzled by colour.
‘Come in, come in.’
A woman looked up from a sewing machine. Her foot came off the treadle and the machine came to a halt. The comedy writer closed the door behind her, still wondering at the ranks and ranks of glass-fronted drawers that swept around the room. Each showed a different colour, pure and intense like distilled light.
‘I suppose you expected just white and gold,’ the woman with sewing machine said. Amusement crinkled the skin around her eyes. The comedy writer tilted her head. Her lips slid into a dazed grin.
The seamstress gestured to one of the end drawers, stuffed full of small feathers, bright as snow. ‘Well, we do have some white – lovely soft down for the little ones. They find joy in everything. ‘
Her hand moved along the row of subtly changing hues. ‘Mind you, the tips do tend to pick up a creamy yellow if they get near a playground, and the rosy tinges are from all the Lovers Lanes the putti will insist on visiting.’
‘I’m sorry – I don’t understand. They get dirty?’
‘No.’ The touch of a giggle tugged the seamstress’s voice out of shape. ‘They just pick up tints from other sorts of humour.’
‘Oh – so yellow , what kind’s that?
‘Visual – pratfalls, that sort of thing. Popular with cherubs. Often with a touch of soppy pink. Peach primaries – now they’re a favourite.’
She finished her current line of sewing and picked up a tangerine-coloured feather. Its leading edge was singed. ‘You see that – gaudy and damaged. I shall have to have a word with the wearer. He’s gone too close to ridicule. Orange and red are for warmth – laughing at our shared frailties.’
The comedy writer went closer to a net of feathers bobbing gently in mid-air. ‘So I’d guess these rose-red plumes would be for love and romance?’
‘Yes – and sex. That’s really funny. Still – it’s one to approach with caution. Feelings get hurt.’ The seamstress spoke half to herself and half to the nodding sewing machine needle.
Some of the little drawers had handwritten labels. Below a row of green-and-turquoise shaded feathers, the comedy writer read unexpected sighting of a woodpecker, sudden fall into a warm sea and first lungful of air in a pine wood. ‘Lovely.’
The treadle stopped and the seamstress came over to the left hand side of the room.
‘Here’s my favourite,’ she said and tapped a pane. Behind it, bundles of dark brown pinions shimmered with bronze lights. Remembered silly moments with friends before you go to sleep. Very healing.’
The comedy writer went towards the end box. Behind the glass, glossy black quills lay in long lines, shot with purple and venomous green.
‘And these?’ She took hold of the knob to slide it open. The seamstress grasped her wrist. Her fingers were firm and unyielding. ‘Don’t touch.’
‘But they’re so beautiful!’
‘Barbed,’ she said.’ So sharp – they’ll cut you to the heart. Satire, you see.’
‘You work with those?’
‘They have their place.’ A look of pride spread over her face. ‘I work for however needs my services. Wingmaker to the Worlds – as it says above the door.’
She swept her arm around the vast room with all its nets and baskets, drawers and bundles. Then she turned to the comedy writer and pulled out a tape measure from an apron pocket.
‘Now what can I get for you, love?’