he note came for Anatole Vauquelin at his residence, addressed to him in a neat, curling hand on a tradesman’s stationary – nice enough to be carried into a galdor’s home, but not too thick, not too expensive. It was not signed, not exactly, but Woven Delights was written in calligraphy across the top of the paper inside the small creamy envelope, with the address tucked beneath in smaller letter. Across the middle of the page, in delicate, clear, rounded script, the note read:
Your order is ready.
A signature at the bottom of the page, hardly legible but the short first word began with a large sprawling A, and a W for the longer second one.
There was nothing else: no details, no instructions, just those four words, the name Woven Delights, and the signature.
Cutting silk was a wonderful pleasure and a dreadful chore. Silk pooled, it ran, it slid away from the most experienced fingers. Left to its own devices, it puddled on the counter, slipped this way and that, shifted just at the worst possible moment as the shears approached. Taming it, cutting it into its desired shape, required a strong will, surprisingly deft fingers, and – most of all – careful preparation. At the first Ava excelled, and she was good enough at the third to make up for any deficiencies in the second.
Ava had small weights, little things she’d bought for the silk specifically – not so heavy that they would crush the delicate fabric or leave any sign of their presence once removed, but heavy enough to keep it from shifting as it was so wont to do. For the dark blue-green silk with its wonderful watery feel, Ava carefully placed the weights on the far end of the strip of fabric, then back where it rested against her cutting edge, with a few more at the top and bottom to keep it from slipping. She had special shears as well – she had invested in them, carefully, deliberately, as soon as she had decided she would sell silk (and she had never not wanted to sell silk). With the weights and the sheers and two years of practice and slow, careful deliberate movements, Ava Weaver cut Tom Cooke’s blue-green silk into the right amount and shape for a scarf.
That the task was challenging, however, wasn’t the reason it had taken Ava well over a month to finish the order. Perhaps she would have done it earlier, if not for the dramatic events of early Hamis and all that had followed. Perhaps she wouldn’t have done it at all, if not for all those things. Ava didn’t think there was much to be gained from thinking too deeply about it; instead, one night she found herself finished with orders before she was too terribly tired, and – so – she had gone to the shelf, taken down the blue-green silk, like waters swollen with the rainy season’s storms, placed the weights, and cut it.
The delicately folded fabric had sat in one of her drawers a few days after that, and, then, first thing in the morning, before Will came to pick up her packages and letters, Ava had penned a simple note and addressed it to Anatole Vauquelin. She had handed it to Will unafraid, but by the time he had left the shop her heart was pounding in her chest; she could feel it, steadily, beating hard beneath her breastbone, beneath the smooth soft fabric of her dress, the chemise beneath, all those layers that did so little to protect her.
Yet, somehow, with the cutting of the silk and the sending of the note, Ava’s life didn’t end. After she’d cut the silk, days and nights passed as normally as usual. Days were full of customers, of smiles and laughter. Nights were kept busy with the preparation of the next day’s orders, the balancing of her books, the careful navigation of the stairs up to the bedroom and the awkward maneuvering required to keep her little gray cat from escaping down into the rest of the shop. He was free to come and go as he pleased, a little delicate rigging of her window allowed him that without opening up the entire house, but he always seemed to be there when she came up for the night; sometimes, if Ava lingered overlong, she would hear his soft demanding mews coming from the little studio apartment.
And so it was too with the sending of the note. The bell rang – Ava’s first customer of the morning entered – and she was every inch the smiling shopkeeper, ready and, honestly, happy to help. There was no faltering or hesitation, no awkwardness in her face or voice; it was very nearly as if the note had never been sent. At least, that was what Ava told herself, though the knowledge of it weighed on her, a little heavier than she might have liked, pressing down on something deep inside her and leaving her, occasionally, a little breathless.
And then – he sent a note back.
Will come tomorow night
The gorgeous, thick, expensive paper with its sloppy, chickenscratch writing was a visceral shock. Ava should have known – of course she should have known – and the very moment she saw it, with the single r where the two should have been in the midst of the word tomorrow, Ava had understood, had realized that, of course, inhabiting someone else’s body didn’t give you their handwriting, didn’t give you their knowledge of spelling. She’d had to stifle a strange, strangled giggle that had risen up from her chest to her throat and threatened to bubble out of her mouth, smoothing it into a polite smile and a tip for the delivery boy.
Ava hadn’t worked that night; she hadn’t thought she would sleep, but somehow she’d at least lay down, because the cat was on the bed and she’d just meant to pet him a few moments, and she’d woken up to the dawn light streaming in through the window, already late to start her day. She’d washed her face in cold water, choked down half a slice of dry toast and a cup of tea, arranged her hair, painted on her eyeliner and lip color, and dressed herself, with all those necessary awkward contortions to get oneself into a dress meant for someone with a maid, the new, summery, silky pale green a cheerful reflection of the less rainy days here at the end of Hamis, of the warmer months to come. The dress had wide sleeves, flaring at the bottom with little curls of white lace peeking out over Ava’s wrists, a rounded detailing of the same style of white in trim across the front, with two little rows of white fabric buttons down either side. It tucked in neatly at the waist, and from there the dress fell narrowly to the ground, a little straighter and more confining than much of what Ava wore, but still with that gently sloping human hem at the bottom, pointed softly at the front and the back.
Ava wriggled awkwardly through the hatch, narrowly managing to keep the cat out of the shop below, and descended. The day felt as if it passed in an awkward haze, and more than once Ava felt herself lightheaded. She knew that Tom would come either at the end of the day or during the evening after the shop had closed, but every time the bell rang, starting from the shop’s very opening and stretching all through the day, she looked up expecting to see Anatole Vauquelin striding into the shop. Striding? Tiptoeing, maybe, edging his way back inside; she thought of Tom as she’d seen him last, sloppy with drink and more than a little shame-faced and, she thought with a pulse of gratitude, blissfully as alive as he’d been before she sent an assassin after him.
In the end, all she could do was wait, an odd, painfully familiar sensation. And so Ava waited; she smiled, she laughed, she greeted, she sold, she soothed, she wrapped, she cut, she showed, and she waited.