'Ethel and The Velvet Dress' by Kate Baker - Part 1
Once upon a time Ethel had been a seamstress who worked by candlelight from before the sun came up until the owl announced the onset of night. The owl she called her pet and to whom she threw an apple core every day without fail.
In the attic, Ethel would chat to her twin about their plans for a future they’d heard was possible from the rich mice who came in for fittings. On those days, the owner would allow the twins on the shop floor, to administer pins and tucks, to smile and nod at the clients who kept the business afloat and Ethel’s dreams alive.
One day, a particularly well-to-do mouse paid a visit. Miss Nonwitch wanted a wedding dress in velvet ‘the colour of port.’
The shop owner bowed and fussed, rang for the twins who brought down their finest bolt of velvet. ‘The colour of port!’ She declared.
‘It’s not dark enough,’ Miss Nonwitch twitched her whiskers and batted away the offering.
A solution bubbled in Ethel’s voice box and she battled the words as they fought to escape. Their livelihoods depended on their handiwork, not their opinions.
The owner brought out basket upon basket of scraps, determined to find something to please the mouse of mature years and high expectations.
Ethel was tired and could bear it no longer. ‘If we make your dress from this, it would indeed be the colour of port when it’s held up to the sky and the sun shines through the glass.’
The owner went pale. Ethel’s twin reversed into the shadows.
Miss Nonwitch turned to face Ethel who had stepped forward to offer up the velvet.
‘Do you dare to question me?’ The words were spoken lightly but carried the weight of someone used to getting their own way.
‘I believe I’m trying to help you.’
‘Forgive the audacity of my staff,’ the owner stepped between them.
Miss Nonwitch remained silent for a moment and then smiled. She preened her whiskers before taking the velvet from Ethel, ‘You know what?’
‘I have an idea,’ she continued, ‘Come over here to the light, and bring your twin. I see her hiding there.’
Ethel’s heart hammered in her chest. Perhaps this mouse of high-standing was about to change their lives for the better. She held back her paw for his sister to take.
They soon both stood before Miss Nonwitch who positioned them in the bay window through which the winter sun cast a glow that offered no warmth. She glanced round and shouted, ‘Help me!’
The owner moved quickly to appease. Before long, both twins were wrapped in velvet, white lace collars at their necks.
‘Turn to face the sun and you,’ she pointed at Ethel’s twin, ‘you like the dark, so go back to the shadows.’
‘What are you doing?’ Asked the shop owner nervously.
‘If she thinks the colour is so perfect, they can wear it,’ Miss Nonwitch pulled a wand from a sleeve, ‘forever!’
She muttered something none of the others could understand. Ethel tried to move but found herself rooted to the spot. Her ears heard only the sound of her own heartbeat faltering, then slowing. Her eyes, no longer moving, stared at the final golden rays of light. There were no tears. Just the long slow final breath of nothing as the sun slipped below the horizon.
‘What have you done?’
‘Don’t look so worried,’ said Miss Nonwitch as she made her way to the door. ‘They won’t stay like this forever.’
‘But why?’ Whispered the owner.
‘They can decorate your home at Christmas.’ Miss Nonwitch ignored the question and opened the door, letting in a rush of cool night air. She turned to face the owner. ‘If you want to bring them back to life, it’s within your power.’
‘The one you call Ethel needs to be in the sun and the other in the shade. At all times. Otherwise they will remain felt mice forever more.’
The owner stared at the door long after it had been pulled closed. Then she turned to the mice which had helped her business flourish and made them a promise, ‘I will see to it that your sister is in the shade and that you shall bath in sunshine, dear Ethel. I shall make it my mission to see you breath the air of this city once more and then earn enough to leave this place and explore to your heart’s content.'