Saturday, March 26, 2011

FICTION: Spun Aluminum by Rebecca Anne Renner

The village tailor’s half-timber hovel brimmed with bolts of the brightest cloth. Even from the outside, where straw and stone stretched just short of meeting, passersby caught glimpses of the gloss. So when Ansel, the tailor, slammed the door, golden threads trailed from his shoulders down the street and caught up cart wheels and wayward chickens in their sweep, and to the castle steps he marched, up to the hearth of the king, invoice in hard to joust his final complaint.

“I know,” the king said, raising his hands in defeat, “That’s a lot of work for any average man. But you? The best tailor in the land? I thought better.”

Ansel picked gold threads from his vest. “I’m raising the price. There’s more work than before.”

“Can you complete it in time for the wedding?”

Ansel wasn’t sure. The thread, no machine would take it, and sewing by hand left his fingers so red. But that’s why he had an apprentice. So he said, “I’ll make it,” and returned to the shop, chewing his nails in dread, only to find the chimney split at the mortar.


Ansel’s apprentice, Bernard, snoozed on a voluptuous heap of golden cloth within a breeze from the open window. It blew a few threads around his head, and as he tossed, the strings bound his cheek to snuggle closer. So when a sharp caw startled him, he had nowhere to go but deeper into the heap, until finding himself in a whirl of claws and feathers.

The massive magpies from over the mountain over the years garnered a reputation for garnering. They plucked silver from set tables and pearls from drooped ear lobes, but ever the clever magpies, they much preferred gossip and gold. The night before, they overheard talk of the miller’s daughter: She spins straw to gold, don’t you know?—Too bad she isn’t hotter.

These massive miscreants followed the buzz into the valley, plucking baubles from bosoms all the way. They found the tailor’s hovel with the miserly tailor away, and they swooped in to scoop great mouthfuls of cloth until only threads remained. Then the massive magpies fled to Bernard’s muffled screaming—out the chimney and through the sky and reached mountains by the light of day.


Ansel darted into his hovel and was caught up in sharp webs of the spun gold with several man-sized feathers. Massive magpies, he thought, they’d be the death of the valley commodities trade.

A caw and tussle sounded in the maples, followed by a regurgitated glop. Ansel struggled from his snare and rose to the window. Bernard, covered in goo and gold threads, clung to the leg of an earthbound magpie.

“Where is the cloth?” Ansel shouted. “How could you let them steal it?”

“I wasn’t sleeping!” Bernard unwound a thread from his arm, and the magpie lifted only to flop back again into the goo. “They got it all the way to Mount Grem. Made a big old nest!”

Ansel hurdled the windowsill. “Hold that thing for me,” and when he jumped he drew his pinking shears and let Bernard go. He then latched onto a spindly claw and flew up into the trees.


On every beat of its deep blue wings, the massive magpie dipped. Ansel’s weight cumbered the bird from being able to fly straight. So when he landed the two rolled over the steppe until hit on the great round rocks that kept the nests up from the grit.

A nest so plush and gold rose over Ansel’s head. No way he’d roll it down the mountain. It didn’t budge when he pushed. Unraveling? Forget it. He’d end up snared in his own thread. He pulled the sheers from his vest pocket. He’d cut it up instead.

Ansel measured and sliced and sewed, and of the many bolts of itchy cloth the brightest gold, he constructed twenty sweaters and pulled them over his head. One by one—he grew warmer by the minute—layers swelled his bulk.

Of the rest, he made a couple socks, a scarf, hat, and some mittens. Then he waddled to the ledge and rolled down from the nests. A waking bird cooed at his back, but he kept walking all the way to the forest where he found his thread-strewn hovel devoid of help.


The next few days, preparing for the union of the king and miller’s daughter, found Ansel’s hovel in a growing state of disrepair. The floors went upswept and thatch went unmended. Bernard had quit to become a baker, since, so he said, bakeries tend to be badgered by marginally smaller blackbirds that can thereafter be baked into pies. So he left Ansel to stitch the bride’s bright gold dress by himself.

By Wednesday, Ansel gave up in despair. By Thursday, the chimney fell off completely. By Friday, with fingertips so red he could hardly touch a ladle to feed himself, Ansel managed to complete the last hem. Saturday became a frenzy of basting embellishments onto the dress. Finally, on Sunday, the dress gleamed on the dummy, ready to wear.

Ansel walked the dress to the castle in an escort of special anti-avian guards. The court welcomed him with fanfare and flourish, and into the soon-queen’s chamber, he went along with plates of sampled wedding cake.

In those few days, to put it lightly, the miller’s daughter grew quite “puffed.” So when the dress came down to fitting, there wasn’t quite enough.

“The dress won’t draw closed,” the chambermaid said. She tightened the bodice as much as she could, but her lady’s cherubic excess spilled out for all to see.

The miller’s daughter, flush-faced and out of breath, demanded that he make another.

Which Ansel protested: “There is no more gold thread.”

“That won’t do,” said the queen-to-be. “You’ll make it from spun aluminum instead.”

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