The Sewist, Mary Laura McNicol Mills
By: Brian Michael Barbeito
Inside the world that lost its way, Mary Laura McNicol Mills did not. she had no choice. not having what others had, she didn’t have the luxury of time, or the upbringing, to know the things like fine clothing or travel, languages and literature and a hundred other things besides. she had to work. yet, she was special because of her ordinariness. higher than special in her grounded-ness. we will learn about her and see that she is mostly invisible to the world. a salt of the earth soul, that by being herself, maintained integrity and goodness, a smarts better than the educated. a heart, though not untouched by sorrow, by sadness, a heart whose rhythm’s value outweighs most others. nobody would notice or laud such a character, yet the universe is creating a mystic and seer in the midst of melancholic metropolitan streets and their secular vacuity. Mary is not in tune with her times nor is she successful by societal standards. the world can’t see her. yet she is like an avatar or path lighter, whose dreams are more valid than even the harshest realities. Mary will prove to be the penultimate survivor.
the factory is cold. the streets are colder. I wore two sweaters today under my coat. my coat is old and part of it is ripped. but the zipper still works and there is nothing wrong with it overall. sometimes Janice drives me to the bus stop. the industrial road is long. and it’s already almost completely dark by the time we punch our cards. there are horrible looking old buildings to the right on the way to the bus stop. and long empty fields to the left. I don’t know which is worse. the fields even have a path. but nobody walks it. nobody in their right mind anyhow. not at that time anyways. I am always cold lately. sometimes I shiver. I wonder if I am sick again. I don’t know. will see. for now I need to get home. Janice is a good soul. she asks me if I want a drive further along the bus line, but i don’t want to put her out. I go in the other direction. it’s raining. it nearly always rains in this town or so it seems to me. the air bus brakes and the flickering lights aggravate my headache. I take a pill and swallow it with no water because I forgot my water bottle in my locker. there aren’t a lot of people on the bus. nobody here talks to anyone. I look out the window at the darkness and the lights. I begin early and end late. I realize then I haven’t seen the sun in days.
there is a howling wind. it pulls up debris and throws it against the tenement buildings. the contrast between inside and outside is too much. yellow lights flicker here. somewhere out there the rains find their way down industrial grates. I have to mail a gift to my nephew. warm Pajamas. the design I don’t know if he will like. and a book. it is a book about the sea. stores about the sea. treasure. islands. ships. divers. I will send it tomorrow and hopefully it will all get there in time for the holidays. I drink tea. it warms me. the wind rattles the old windows. they are not much better than the single pane factory windows. I stare at them both, both sets of windows. one day, there will be something better on the other side. for now, there is physical and spiritual darkness. but there are people like Janice. I have to think of her. I have to buy her something, if even a card. or a book. but I can’t afford that. I cannot buy her a used book. I know where to get them though. I must read more. besides Bible passages. I must teach myself. i reuse the tea. there is nothing wrong with this. I wash the few dishes. i will change out of these clothes. and pray and go to bed. why can’t I warm up? I put on two pairs of socks. maybe i am sick and don’t realize it. tomorrow will come too early. I hope I dream of something nice. last time I had the recurring dream again. i am on a ship. alone. the crew and passengers had left. it was sinking. it was nighttime and the sea was lit by the moon. there was nothing I could do in the dream. I couldn’t find a life raft. hmm. I must pray. i wonder sometimes how that storm wind doesn’t break those windows right in. maybe one day it will.
Janice wants to pick me up for coffee. I’ll go. It’s the weekend. the problem is that her friend Cassandra sometimes tags along. they call her Cass actually. if she is not a demon or does not have one or some crawling around inside her then she is a good candidate anyhow and displays similar characteristics. she is manipulative, lying, self centered, spiteful, worldly, materialistic, untrustworthy. how I try and avoid looking her in the eyes, not because i am afraid of her or shy around her, but because I would rather not. i sense so much darkness about her. but I’ll go, for I need get out and maybe she won’t. it’s the weekend. the factory is closed Saturdays and Sundays. I’ll walk back home after coffee. the branches are barren since it is winter, and some of the trees have strange dark marks from pollution or disease. but I don’t mind the outline the branches make against the grey sky. they are sad and lonesome trees on the way yes, but in spring green blooms and other colours appear on them. spring. far away. but it always comes, one way or the other, doesn’t it? and I’ll stop and try and find a book to keep me company. something. plus find wrapping for my presents. I can hear the traffic outside. tires slushing through dirty street water fallen and melted. the exhaust fumes will make the little snowbanks even dirtier. a distant horn, sometimes sounded lightly, but sometimes laid upon, a horn signifying anger and even hatred.
I have wrapped the gifts and sent them. I feel good about it. my sister lives far away. I won’t see her this holiday. she has a family. I don’t. but we write letters and she calls sometime. I might take a bus there in the summer. the factory gives me two weeks holidays so that’s good. and i am allowed to take them at once or separately. and I found a book. it’s about St.Theresa the Christian Catholic mystic. it says she used to levitate but was embarrassed about it and didn’t want people to know. the reason I am interested is because my other life path would have had me out of the grim city and living as a nun at a convent somewhere in a countryside. that was my idea of life anyhow. but for now St.Theresa will have to do. I like soft cover books not hardcover. they are lighter and easier to carry. I went out with Janice this morning and her horrible friend couldn’t make it. what a nice time we had. Janice I won’t see until Monday at the factory now. she lives with her boyfriend. I don’t have anyone. it has stopped raining. the sun even came out to shine on the dirty city. but it’s cold. I long for the spring and suppose most people do. for now, work in the weeks and keep to my books on the weekends. I am okay with that mostly, but when not, that’s the way it has to be anyhow.
there is a missing girl. a teenager. I try and not watch the news, but there was posters up at the bus shelters. it’s a horrible world. I hope they find her safely but my gut tells me otherwise. I said a prayer in my head for her while I rode the bus. though this is an industrial zone, there are ravines everywhere. polluted, graffiti stained, murky air and low vibrational ravines. and as anyone knows, a city houses too many people, and makes it hard to find the bad person or persons. I am a sewist, and work at a table with other women sewing whatever they give us. sometimes emblems, patches on industrial work clothing, and sometimes putting together clothing itself. it all depends on the contracts the company gets that year. I have worked there going on nine years now. my grandmother taught me since I was a little girl. but her main thing was crochet and her hands were always busy making something by hand for someone. i am good at my work and proud of my work. I just wish they paid us more wages. in my locker which is in the lunch room, I have a prayer book, a needle work book, some mints in small metal containers, and a picture of my sister and I with my nephew from when we went to Niagara Falls a few summers ago. in the photo it is bright, sunny, and we are all genuinely smiling. sometimes I don’t notice the picture but on difficult days, especially in the middle of winter, I sometimes look at it and touch it with a finger as if to connect with that day, a time of happiness, again.
the walking foot of my sewing machine is broken. I was let off an hour early and walked halfway home before catching the bus. my boots are old, but I have begun wearing two pairs of socks. all my socks are in great shape because I can sew them, reinforce them, stitch them, anything. I can mend or even make socks that last a lifetime. I had a plan taking the foot route. I stopped past the old graveyard. it’s not far enough from the road to be very peaceful, but it is calmer than the city streets and I brought a flower to the grave of my grandmother. both grandmothers were good ones. the one there is the one that taught me to sew. she made homemade popsicles in the summer, and great stews in the winter. I am sure she made many other things but these things i remember mostly and with the greatest fondness. we used to go to the fairgrounds in the city. I recall the lights. it was cheap. this is one of the first words I learned. therefore, money was a large concern. if something was ‘cheap,’ to her, it meant good whereas it sounds like it has a bad meaning to many people. if she was angry she was ‘vex,’ and if a doctor could not fix someone, though a Catholic, she would whisper sometimes that so and so ‘…needs to go see the Obeah Man,’ which was a type of mysterious healer she new about. so a few worlds converged in her. the main thing was crochet and sewing though. well, I left the flower and said a few words, told her I missed her and said I hoped she was doing well wherever she was. a strange wind did arrive then, and I wondered. I made my way home. a regular night. reading about St.Theresa. mending some socks. drinking tea. I just had a bowl of soup for dinner and one piece of bread. I don’t eat a lot anyhow and wasn’t very hungry. they said come back tomorrow and if the sewing machine is not fixed they will find other tasks for me to do. fine. fine with me I thought.
the sun only showed up here and there for a short periods. it’s mostly grey and dark. lately the days have been extra monotonous. some of the workers went out to eat and invited me but i didn’t go. I didn’t tell them, but I couldn’t afford it. I don’t know how they can. maybe they save better, or borrow from family members back and forth. I don’t have anyone family-wise, to borrow from. Janice would lend me, but I don’t want to. I think I dreamed of the missing girl. I feel she is deceased. there was water and she stood beside it and asked me, ‘What do I do now,’ and I didn’t have an answer. then the dream changed or ceased. soon I woke up in a sweat. I don’t know if it was real, a vision or psychic sense, or just a dream. sometimes I dream real things. I prayed the rosary for guidance. that was Wednesday night. today is Friday. I don’t feel well. I have a cough. the rains are getting to me. my sister sent me the warmest quilt ever. it has a high thread count and is green and blue, my two favourite colours. the earth and sky living together. how I love it and shall cherish it. I will wrap myself in it. there is sometimes hope, a hopeful thing from the universe. if I do dream of the missing girl again I hope I can help her cross safely to the other side if she is deceased and lost. I hope I can do that. I don’t talk about it much, but I have helped people before, lost souls transitioning. May God help us all.
I walked to the small lake in the early morning that is a few stops past the work stop. then back. I headed out early because I couldn’t sleep. the air was crisp and the area plain. I liked it. I have drank two teas to help keep my warm and I have tea in a mug. there are houses at certain points along the shoreline and ones seen in the distance. some are old from generations ago, white clapboard, hardly any brick, more like cottages than homes, with screen doors in front. but sometimes a stream of smoke comes from a chimney. then, there are monster homes, overdone, too opposite, vulgar if you ask me. I can hardly afford rent. but I wonder. what is wrong with just a structurally sound brick home? one that would be neat and comfortable and has a few rooms and a fenced yard perhaps. I don’t know. my socks are warm and guard against any problems with my boots. there are winter seagulls that saw me and flew off somewhere. two crows interested in something in the road, their black so different than the light and snow and ice. I like nature, but don’t get to see much of it. and any green space they seem to build upon. I wonder in half seriousness if someone will one day propose to fill in the lake and built a housing development upon it. ~~~
Janice was crying in the lunchroom. I put my hand on her shoulder and asked her what was wrong. ‘They found the missing girl. Didn’t you hear? In the forest.’ and by Janice’s tears and slouch I knew they hadn’t found her alive. I sat her down and wiped her tears. ‘She is in heaven at least,’ I said, and Janice nodded. we went to the sewing tables and began our day. it was a solemn day and they talked about it once on the radio. we are allowed to listen to the radio but can’t hear much of it. in a gap or at lunch or break though one can. they caught the criminal. he will not be getting out of jail. and we are safe. from him anyways. after work I took the bus again and sat in the back, with only two or three other passengers. before I got off i had a strange feeling about the girl, like she was around. I hurt my finger at that point while mending a button to a sweater. so I put my things away and just waited for my stop like most other people. I like to keep my hands busy. like my grandmother. she was never idle. never lazy. always doing something too add to the world. I guess she is my only mentor if I had to name one. and I like St.Teresa, the mystic nun.
I had put down my book and stood by the window looking out. then the phone rang. it was my sister and the Pajamas and book had arrived for my nephew. he thanked me on the phone and it was the first time I’d heard his voice in a while. I hope he wasn’t being dutiful and really liked them. but overall it’s okay either way. it’s the thought that counts, right? I told her the blanket is great and that I would write her again soon. I put the phone down and closed my eyes. I suddenly saw the girl, the girl they had found. she stood in front of me it was windy around her. some of the wind lifted her long messy hair. she didn’t say anything. I told her to go upwards, to the next world, and that there was angels and light and God there. she didn’t move. I lifted her upon my back, and stood up, and her hands held my shoulders. I stood as straight as possible and told her to climb upwards into light. suddenly she was gone. but I feel she was assisted by the light. I felt a mix of puzzlement and fright and goodness- many emotions at once. I have soul rescued before and put people on my shoulders to get them to light. no angel or message arrives before or after to say whether it worked or not, though I feel it did. I received no good mark or review, and no bad mark or review. I was tired. I fell asleep right there on the couch for a few hours before waking up and moving to the bedroom. I told myself I had tried my best by her and that everything would be okay, somehow. I held my rosary in my hand tightly. I fell again into a deep dreamless sleep.
Mary continued at the factory, and though Janice moved away, she remained in the city. it was her home after all. her sister took her away the next year to the sand and salt sea for a week. and for Mary, who had never seen the sea, this had been like having been taken to heaven on a tour. the memories and photos would sustain her for a long time. the factory remained the same, and she went on to read about other saints, though none resonated quite as much as her St.Teresa, the one she adopted as her own guide and spiritual mentor. and the souls. the lost souls still came for help sometimes. mostly she didn’t know who they were, but tried to assist them to the heavens or at least higher places in the astral worlds. who would think, if they saw Mary, not too tall, not too interesting looking, adorned in her torn coat and old boots, entering up the bus steps after the factory shift in the rainy city, anything much about her? who would notice her at all? and who would know that she was perhaps the best sewist in the city, and the hardest working? what’s more, who would guess she was a helper of lost souls?