The Seamstress

In 1996 I worked in a freezer all summer long, wearing a hat and winter coat even when it was a hundred degrees outside. Every day I waited at the bus stop in the heat, flies making their rounds, my winter clothes tucked in a duffel bag. The bus dropped me off on the edge of the giant parking lot that never had more than three cars in it. Across the lot was a huge, white freezer building. Larry the security guard called it “The North Pole”.

Inside two hundred frozen human corpses hung from overhead tracks, eyes staring and iced over. Snow on the lashes. Hey, he likes you, Larry would say, nodding at one of the bodies. I’d never look up, instead I’d head to the side tables and go about my business. For hours I’d unbox firearms and lay them out in rows. When we thaw these guys out we’ll have one hell of an army, Larry once said.

I’d work for about twelve or fourteen hours, the fluorescents backlighting the two hundred hanging silhouettes. Then I’d head across the parking lot to the bus stop as the sun was going down.


One morning I came in and there were clear tubes hanging from all the bodies, creating a spidery network that stretched all the way to the galvanized tanks in the back. My job had shifted from unpacking weapons to unpacking and ironing uniforms. When I finished I rolled them on a cart down to an office in the back. A woman there operated a sewing machine. Her job was to sew a fox insignia patch over every right front pocket.

Where do I put these? I asked. She didn’t look up so I unloaded the cart onto some tables. I stood there as she sewed around the outer borders of the patches to attach them to the uniforms. She had on a winter hat and the hood of her jacket had a fake fur trim. She wore half-gloves. Eventually the lunch bell rang and I left her sewing, rolling my cart back across the concrete floor.

During the lunch break I sat outside with my sandwich on the loading dock, in t-shirt and jeans, body thawing in the afternoon heat. Some plastic bags blew across the parking lot.

You know what’s going to happen to us? The seamstress had come outside with a cigarette, her coat and gloves still on. What? I asked.

We’ll be hanging from those rails. I looked at her. Her skin was pasty and her eyes rimmed in red. But the shape of her mouth was interesting.


She led me to the back of the warehouse and there was Larry, frozen solid, hanging with tubes coming out of his stomach and neck. That’s what happens if you leave early, she said. I stared at the body. As I stared I sensed I was being stared at. What? I said to the seamstress.

We don’t have much time, she said, looking straight at me. I backed away. She moved closer and took one of my hands in both of hers. Don’t you want to? she asked. Before it’s too late? Just then an alarm went off and red and white lights flashed across the warehouse. The cameras can’t see back here, she said as her fingers now unbuttoned my coat.

With the alarm going off and red lights flashing she pulled me slowly down to the cement floor. I stared at her mouth, her breath visible in the cold.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow move between the hanging bodies. Over there… she whispered. We moved away from the threat, through rows and rows of frozen corpses. Suddenly the seamstress took off running. I tried to keep up but after she rounded a corner I couldn’t see which way she’d gone. I made it across the lot to to the bus stop without her.


Instead of heading home I took a different bus for the first time. I took it to the end of the line and found a motel in an unfamiliar town. As I lay alone with the curtains drawn I couldn’t help but imagine the seamstress hanging like the other bodies, eyes glazed with frost.


All night long I kept thinking I heard knocking on the motel room door. I knew I’d be hearing ghost knocking the rest of my life. I closed my eyes and the knocking turned into the beat of a song in a dream. I was at a concert watching a band of frozen corpses. The girl seamstress was the lead singer. As snowflakes fell I stared at her mouth and got lost in her constant rhythm.



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