Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story


Stephen Wilson


You tell me how you will purchase the material – Harris Tweed from hand-spun yarn – you will make a journey to Savile Row and buy only the best. Although it isn’t your job, it’s more than a hobby, and you’re proud to obtain the discount for tailors. You tell me how the Countess of Dunmore, owner of the Isle of Harris, first recognised the unique characteristics of the tweed. How the blackface sheep acclimatised itself to the hostile conditions of the Hebrides, producing a wool for the weather, a wool you could live inside like a house, like a comfortable carapace you could carry on your back, a soft-sculptured snail smelling of moss and smoke when damp. How carefully the woven strands combine to form a textile fit for princes and poets, for kings.

You will bespeak it for yourself. Day after day I receive progress reports: the cutting of the chest canvas fashioned from 100 per cent horse hair and strategically stitched with silk thread, not glued or fused. The conjunction of the interlinings and the outer fabric that will never perish. The high gorge with its single-breasted notch, the absence of puckering along the lapels, the garment’s lips are to remain chaste, since the stitches will be forged at optimal tension. The thirty measurements of figuration and posture determining a correct fit. The scye, the arm’s eye, and how it holds the shoulder and collar in place, so that the back doesn’t rise. The pitch of the sleeve to the sleeve-head to match the natural hang of your arm.

Yes, I get the hang of it. And what runs through my mind is Nagg’s joke in Endgame. The tailor who takes so long to make a pair of trousers and his frustrated client –


‘God damn you to hell, Sir… In six days, do you hear me, six days, God made the world. Yes, Sir, no less Sir, the WORLD! And you are not bloody well capable of making a pair of trousers in three months!’ The tailor calmly replies, ‘But my dear Sir, my dear Sir look – at the world – and look – at my TROUSERS!’


Last week you mentioned the lining, the silk lining smooth as a sarong, as a woman’s slip, as the skin on her inside thigh; and the trimmings, the shiny leather buttons and shanks that look like miniature terrapins. And I have to confess I noticed, for the first time, a transient outline of those famous lineaments… of unfulfilled desire. I have no need of a jacket, I told myself, sufficient unto the day, dismissing the unwanted intrusion as if Beckett were slyly trying to recruit me to the cast of his play.

Yesterday you remarked on the pity of the project. To sew a jacket and give it to yourself was like some lonely kind of masturbation, you said. There was no one else, so it seemed, who would appreciate such a gift. Neither your father, son nor brothers would thank you for it. Your skill was wasted. Then you told me about its first outing. Worn on a crisp April morning to walk the dog. The spontaneous compliment that combusted from a dried-up spinster you passed every day, usually without passing the time of day. And I felt that little ache go through me again – clearly a gift was out of the question, but suppose I were to remit my fee? Would payment in kind be professionally acceptable? Would that kind of payment be professionally acceptable?

Last night I dreamt that I was Prince Charles and you were my tailor. I offered to swap one of my watercolours for a tweed kilt jacket and you refused indignantly. Getting up on your high horse, you asked if I really understood the time and the craft involved, the long hours of apprenticeship necessary for your trade. Then, unexpectedly, you offered to give me the garment. And I felt as if a deep longing for love had finally been satisfied. I woke up in a sweat.

This morning you arrived slightly early for your session. Your footstep on the stair was inflected with an unusual jauntiness, as if overnight some great weight had mysteriously been lifted. And you grinned as you came through the door, slightly shamefaced, like a husband coming out of the changing rooms in Marks & Spencer. And you sat back in your chair with the air of a man who believes his wife is beautiful, saying, ‘Well, I just thought you might like to see it.’