On Pins and Needles
Penelope Jameson pressed her hot cheek against the cold glass jar. It would not be long now. She thrust her stash back into the recess of her closet next to the doll hidden in the cloth bag. She glanced at the clock on her headboard. She still had a half hour to finish the “Perfect Pet” she had started last night. Madeline Pierce, her half sister, would arrive home at 5:45 from her job at the Welfare Office.
At her sewing bench, she lifted the furry puppy into her lap and rocked back and forth crooning. His shiny black eyes looked back at her wistfully. She ran her finger over his embroidered mouth and pictured the red felt tongue licking her fingers. If Mama had lived, she would have let her have a real live puppy. She threaded her needle and began attaching the floppy ears. She hummed as she remembered the little children’s faces pressed against the shop window of “Toy and Joy.” Some of her puppies and kitties sat on tiny chairs having a tea party, Peter Pup in his overalls perched on a tractor, and Cuddly Kitty angled for fish in a mirror pond.
A shrill voice penetrated her bedroom door. “Pen-ny?” The puppy jumped off her lap. Penelope’s needle slipped and punctured her finger. She put her finger in her mouth and sucked the blood away. The digital clock flipped to 5:30.
Madeline’s chunky heels clattered into the kitchen.
“Where are you?”
The rattle of china told Penelope that her sister was preparing her ritual tea. Penny picked up her little dog, hugged it for reassurance, and set it gently on her sewing machine table. She opened the door of her bedroom.
“I’m here, Madeline.” She straightened her slouch as she walked to the kitchen. “You’re home early.”
“Yes, the maintenance people are …” She turned from the counter. “Good grief, Penny, just because you are home all day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t comb your hair. You’re forty-two, not eleven.”
“For whom? I get cleaned up when I go to the grocery store or the shop.”
“Speaking of which, I don’t think that store is paying you half what those stupid stuffed toys are worth. I walked by there on my way to church and I see they are making all the profit.”
A vision of the glass jar made Penelope smile.
Madeline violently sloshed her tea bags up and down in the teapot. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Not really,” Penny wanted to say. When her sister began her evening tirades about her workload and the chores Penny had neglected, she led her mind on a detour to the pleasant part of her life.
Penny, before age ten never wondered if she was happy, she just was. That was before her father; Fletcher Jamison had straddled his Harley and run away forever after discovering that Diana Jamison had cancer. She had sat on her mother’s vanity chair while Mama twirled Penny’s curly auburn hair around the brush. “Just like your Daddy’s. Run along now,” she’d say, patting Penny’s little backside.
Madeline’s dark brown hair was straight and stubborn. A picture on Madeline’s dresser showed her father with no hair in front and a frowny forehead.
Aunt Mavis, Mama’s sister had come to tend Diana during the long wasting away days. She tried to teach the girls how to cook, sew and clean house. By then, Madeline, at twenty-one, was attending college and pleaded homework or headache. Penelope fed Mama coddled eggs in bed and sewed her big bibs to cover her flowered nightgown. Mama fed her compliments and Penelope scrubbed and washed clothes without complaint.
After Mama died, Aunt Mavis stayed. In her senior year of high school, Penelope was voted “Homemaker of the Year” and her dress won 2nd place in the fair’s 4-H exhibit. Aunt Mavis said a little prayer of thanksgiving when Madeline was at last engaged at twenty-eight to J.L. Mackintosh, an accountant for a large attorney’s firm. He left Madeline for a yoga class instructor at the gym he frequented before the wedding invitations could be sent. At the end of that year, Mavis had a heart attack and died. Mama had willed the house to her daughters.
Madeline muttered under her breath about men, slammed doors, and poked the meat Penelope had prepared to see if it was dead. Penelope retreated to her room and began sewing animals. She gave one to their neighbor’s daughter, Amanda Kline. Mrs. Kline gushed to her friends, and Penelope was in business. Eventually, she signed a contract with “Toys and Joys.” They featured her pets in their window.
Mr. Lloyd, the toy store owner, had continued to up her share as more orders came in. The glass jar opened its wide mouth and Penelope stuffed in the bonus bills. Penelope had named the jar, Gus Get Away, but until last week she had no idea where she was getting away to.
Mr. Lloyd had phoned.
“Penny, would you consider a move?”
“Yes,” she said before he had a chance to even say where or explain.
“I received a call from Play Industries in Atlanta. They want to mass market “Perfect Pets.” You would be the ideal person to oversee the production and I told them you have shared your ideas with me about expanding the line to include other pets, so they are anxious to hire you. The job would start in a month. They are offering a substantial salary. I wanted to give you to get a chance to think it over, so if you interested, I’ll give your phone number to them.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lloyd. I do not have to think about it. I’m extremely interested.”
“Well, Penelope, you have been here in our town for a long time. This will be a big change.”
“More than you know, Mr. Lloyd.”
Penelope emptied Gus on her bedspread next to her suitcase and counted. She had enough for a new start.
She grabbed the hidden sack from the shelf, pulled out the doll of Madeline, and stabbed all the pins from her pincushion into her soft body.
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Heartfelt and deep. I love this, made me cry a little bit.