Marie deliberately took her time putting her bus pass away and going to sit down, hoping that the choice of where to sit would be made for her. She hated to sit sideways on the bench over the wheel, lurching without support every time the bus stopped and started again, but the only other seat she could see was next to Helen. Not that she had anything against Helen, but she would feel obliged to make polite conversation, and right now she couldn’t think of anything to say. Not when Helen’s family had been the talk of the village for the past three weeks.
The time for commiserations had gone. Marie had said as much as she could at the time and two days before a wedding was definitely not the time for extra sympathy. Asking if everything was ready would also not be a good idea judging by Helen’s strained face, returning from town with no shopping bags. As for the usual British fallback, the weather was warm and sunny and set to get hotter, which would normally be a cause for celebration, but was that good or bad for Saturday? Marie didn’t know.
“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind, as a young lad eased himself around her and into the space on the sideways bench.
Marie looked up just as the bus started moving, then half ran down the aisle to avoid falling.
Grabbing hold of a pole and almost pulling her arm out of its socket in the process, she tried to steady herself. Other hands reached for her, helped guide her into the empty seat she had been trying to avoid.
“Are you okay dear?” Helen asked. “Thoughtless of him, pulling away like that before you had a chance to sit down. Could have broken your leg, or your wrist!”
“My fault for being too slow,” Marie admitted with a wry look.
“Nonsense! They should take more care, else they won’t have any passengers!”
Strangely everyone around Helen seemed to agree, and a conversation was started without Marie’s help at all. She let them talk on, feeling guilty for almost being at the centre of a needless accident.
The main talk was, of course, about Saturday. Helen’s daughter Anna was finally getting married, despite the horrible incident last month when a lorry driver had reversed into a shop front and sent glass and bricks flying everywhere. Everyone was somehow okay, but Anna still had scars on her arm, chest and neck where she had been badly hurt.
“So you found some lace okay then?” Pat asked.
Marie’s ears pricked up. Was that what Helen’s great errand in town was?
“No, nothing. Or at least, nothing that would match at all. Hopeless. I don’t know what to do.”
“I’ve still got Claire’s dress, in the attic you know, with the high neck because it was winter when she got married. I’m sure it would fit if Anna wants to borrow it. They weren’t that different in size when they were at school.”
“Or she could wear Karen’s,” Harriet piped up behind them. “Lovely long sleeves, it has. Would fit Anna a treat.”
“Thanks. But she has her heart set on wearing her grandmother’s. It’s almost the only reason she’s going through with the wedding right now, rather than putting it off, because she feels that Nana will be there in spirit, looking after her. I just wish I could have bought some lace to cover up that … that…” Helen’s hand went to cover up the relevant areas. “Everyone will be looking there instead of seeing her pretty face. I found a shawl for her, but she can’t wear a shawl in this weather.”
The discussion then centred on the weather for the next few minutes. Marie debated internally, then when there was another pause, finally plucked up the courage to speak. “What sort of lace do you need?” she asked.
Helen sighed. “White, but old-fashioned. Everything is either just trimmings, or won’t tie in with the old dress at all.” She pulled out her phone and scrolled through some photographs. “That’s the dress, and that,” more finger waving over the screen, “is the lace it needs to match.”
Marie swallowed a couple of times. It was a really beautiful dress, and the lace that went around the bustline looked handmade. Probably someone’s pride and joy and saved specially for this special dress. But the pattern looked familiar to her, like something she had made years ago and put by. “It’s possible I might have something that would do,” she said finally. “If you wanted to have a look.”
“Really? That would be ever so kind of you!”
Everyone else on the bus seemed to chime in with their gratitude and relief. Harriet remembered that Marie did lacework and praised her to Helen, Rose joined in, and before she knew it, Marie was the centre of attention as a star who would save the show.
“Come with Anna, after you’ve had your lunch,” Marie said, surprised at her own firmness. “And bring the dress. I’ll dig some things out for you to see.” She folded her hands in her lap and looked down, deferring attention away from herself as she mentally went through her cupboards.
Discovering on reaching home that her appetite had left her, Marie took the time to lay her lace out carefully on the table and move furniture.
The arrival of Helen and Anna brought a bustle to her house that hadn’t been seen in a long time, but the dress definitely did not cover up what it needed to! Her pretty face, Marie reminded herself. She looked up and saw Anna biting her lip, mirroring her own feelings.
As she concentrated on the lace and fabric the lines of the dress became more important than what was underneath. Marie had imagined the piece she picked up, a long oval originally made as a centrepiece, going around the back of the neck, over the shoulders, and tucking underneath the lace at the front, but it wasn’t long enough for that. Placed across the front however it filled the space nicely between the bodice and the base of Anna’s neck, just reaching wide enough to tuck under the dress by the shoulders. A piece of trim around the neck finished the front off nicely, covering everything that Anna would prefer wasn’t on show. Marie pinned it in place, then walked around Anna to join the ends together behind her neck. Too short. How frustrating, when it was otherwise perfect. Never mind, she would have a look for something else in a minute.
She looked critically at the back. There was nothing that needed covering there except that the corners of the oval that didn’t quite lie flat, and the ends of the neck trim needed to join onto something. Could she use some plain silk fabric? It would have to have buttons all the way up, in line with the dress, and the neck should probably do the same, but at least the silk would solve the problem of the trim not meeting if it was joined to solid fabric with a buttonhole. Fiddly, and she would have to produce covered silk buttons that matched those on the dress, but she could do it.
Then the phrase, a dress that looks good from the back, popped into her head.
Once, she had dreamed of getting married herself. But life hadn’t worked out that way for her. She never had walked down any aisle, was never going to need any of this lace, and it was only for sentimental reasons she had kept it for so long. Years of nursing her elderly parents meant that her young love had long since married someone else, had a family, grown old and moved away, and there had never been anyone else for her. Even if by some miracle she met someone in the future, she couldn’t see herself wanting to wear a white lacey dress at her age.
Two precious panels came out of her stash, originally made for standing cakes on. They would need to be cut to fit, but maybe it was time. Forty years old and never used, like most of the lace she had made. All she had ever wanted was for it to be enjoyed, shown off, given its’ moment of glory, and yet it had spent forty years in a drawer. The trims had never been made into dresses or caps, for she had had no children, nor, being an only child, any nieces or nephews.
She held the two panels in place to see how they might look. They were square so the straight inside edges would overlap nicely down the centre for a row of buttons, while the remaining sides could be trimmed after sewing in place. The oval at the front would be better for a bit of trimming too; if she was cutting one, it wasn’t much different to cut them all.
She turned her attention back to the neck. Unfortunately she didn’t have anything longer without being too different in design; it had to be that piece. She fingered the lace. It should be possible, she thought. Did she have any other options?
“One last piece to pin, then you can go and look in the mirror if you like. There’s a small one by the door, or a longer one is upstairs if you need it.”
“The small one will be fine,” Anna answered quickly.
Helen looked up from her seat on the sofa, then her eyes brimmed. “Oh, Anna! Marie, that is stunning. Even better than what we had imagined.”
“There’s just one slight problem,” Marie said as Anna turned towards the mirror, lifting up her hair with her hands as she did so.
Helen’s face froze as she took in the back view. Marie could see her fighting over whether to say anything and ruin Anna’s moment of happiness.
“Don’t worry, I can sort it,” Marie said quickly before Helen could speak.
Helen just stared. “How?” Her voice was hoarse. “I didn’t see any more to match.”
“No, there isn’t any more. I’ll just have to make some.”
“Make some? By Saturday?”
“It’s a bit tight, but if we pin the dress on the dummy exactly like it is on Anna, I should be able to sew it all together and measure exactly what we need to make the extra piece. But it means you won’t be able to take the dress back with you today. Is that okay?”
Helen worked her mouth silently for a moment as Marie anxiously waited for her answer. “Yes, yes that’s fine if you’re sure you can do it? I could come and help sew it on tomorrow?”
Marie shook her head. “I might do it in bits, not all at once. It will be ready in time, don’t you worry.”
As soon as Marie had closed the door on her anxious visitors, she set to work unpinning the lace she needed to extend and marking it with coloured threads she could remove again later. Then she found the original pattern and set about pinning it to her cushion. She had never done this in reverse before, but only the end she needed to make longer was critical. Then she began the job of feeding various threads into the existing lace and then winding the two ends of each new thread onto bobbins.
She loved all her bobbins, but this lace needed the most special Spindle ones made by her grandfather for her grandmother from their tree, as well as the various fruit and nut wood ones that her father had made. Pear, Cherry, Plum, Hazel, bringing abundance upon Anna, weaving it into the fabric. Marie wondered what she had used before for this lace, and hoped it wasn’t the Beech bobbins; they wouldn’t be at all appropriate, standing alone as beeches do with scarcely anything growing in their shade except for other Beech trees, or prickly Holly. Even Yew with its powers of regeneration would be better.
Eventually she had it all set up and was ready to work, twisting and crossing each pair to build the lace, stopping to pin every few moments. The design was a complicated one and quite slow.
She worked until her stomach reminded her it was hungry and hadn’t even had lunch. It was getting dark outside.
The next day she woke early and carried on. If she could get everything done by the afternoon, Anna could try it on again and check it fitted without wrinkles.
The buttons. She had to find some fabric and cover enough button blanks to match the others. Probably need padding to make them exactly right.
The wedding was as beautiful a day as promised, and Anna looked stunning. To see her walk up the aisle on her father’s arm, showing off the back of the dress to everyone present, gave Marie a warm glow inside. She had helped the day happen. Her handkerchief hardly returned to her sleeve the whole way through the ceremony.
However as soon as it was over, Marie was amazed to find herself the centre of attention almost as much as Anna was. Somehow her work on the dress had become known, and having failed to see any signs of injury on Anna, the village felt it must be Marie’s wizardry that had worked magic. Everyone, it seemed, wished to comment on the dress or congratulate her, or get her a drink or something to eat. It was like being royalty for the day. Somehow she managed to lose her shyness and focus on the lace, answering questions as if she taught lacemaking for a living. She could have sold her entire collection several times over if she had wanted to.
More interesting were the questions about other heirloom dresses, for weddings or baby namings. Maybe it was a way she could get involved with babies and young people. Or set up lacemaking or sewing classes, boost her pension slightly.
Having complete strangers still coming up to her and congratulating her several days later, however, started to become a little wearing. Was this how famous people felt? That even a simple thing like going shopping could be interrupted by being recognised?
Probably a seven day wonder she told herself, then she could fade back into the background again. She sat for a few minutes by her own Spindle tree. It was much the same; no one paid it much attention for eleven months of the year, but just for a brief period the bright pink berries in their orange cases made everyone stop and stare.