The push and pull, a glint of silver as the needle flashed its way along a neat hem, this was the rhythm that Nora Barker’s soul danced to each and every day. It was her vocation, though that wasn’t a word that she would have used. To her, sewing was just in her blood. Not any old sewing mind you; Nora was an artist. Her days were spent creating as well as mending, remaking new costumes out of the old when the money wasn’t there for new fabric.
Sam McCarthy called her a genius, a darling, the best of them all. His tongue was the colour of the needle that acted as her magic wand. She accepted his compliments graciously but never once took him seriously. She was just grateful to have been given one of the best rooms in the theatre for her wardrobe. It had a fire which came in handy for pressing the costumes (though she avoided such tasks on sweltering summer days like this one) and even a window which let in the daylight that was needed to sew the intricate details that she loved to add to each piece. She didn’t care that most of the audience could not see or would not care; she knew when she had done her best work and liked to think that the actors performed better knowing that they wore a well-crafted costume,
‘Are them trousers done yet Nore?’ Ned Bennett poked his head around the door.
‘Five more minutes, Ned. And my name is not Nore,’ she rebuked him. She still wasn’t sure what to make of Ned. He’d arrived at the Olympia at the start of the summer, cap in hand and looking worse for wear. Sam McCarthy had been reluctant to give him an audition but, by all accounts, the man could act. He was no Daniel Johnson, but now he was gone, eloped off to Scotland with his girl apparently. Ned was wearing his shoes now and they fit him a little too snugly if you asked around.
‘Sorry, Mizz Barker.’ Ned laughed, the sound dying deep in his throat as he saw Nora’s face. ‘I’m sorry. Nora.’
‘That’s better.’ She did not want to be cruel. No one knew much about the newcomer, only that he lived locally. She knew his friend better. Sean sold coffee from a stall out on the corner and Nora often bought from him if he was still around by the time she got to the theatre in the late mornings. For a few weeks she had thought that he might have been interested in her, always with a smile and a few minutes of chat. She had not thought of such trivial matters for years now but she knew that it was his attentions that had put a smile on her face most mornings of late.
‘I’ll come back later. No rush.’ He vanished from sight and she gave her attention back to the garment in question.
It was a simple hemming job. Ned had taken Daniel’s lead role at short notice and so his costumes had to be refitted for Ned who was two inches shorter. It would be a dull task in most hands but Nora didn’t mind. It gave her time for her own thoughts. When people left her alone at least. People like Ned who had returned to loiter.
‘Nora, I almost forgot. It’s Sean’s birthday today. He doesn’t want to do nothing special for it but I thought it might be nice to bring a few friends along for a few drinks if you’re able to come once we finish up here tonight.’
‘What, spend my evening in the company of drunken men on Union Street.’ Nora mocked, but the thought of seeing Sean made her sit up a little.
‘We’re not so bad,’ Ned grinned. ‘And I’ve invited all the ballet girls so you won’t be the only female.’
Nora made a decision. ‘Why not then?’ What was the worst that could happen, she thought.