Inheritance

By Gandolfo, Enza | Hecate, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Inheritance


Gandolfo, Enza, Hecate


Inheritance

Twenty women sit behind twenty sewing machines. Two rows of ten, ten rows of two, a plantation of sweating brows. The engines roar, stopping and starting, an orchestra of pulleys, shafts and spinning wheels. There are young women, their hair bobbed, their breasts pushing tight against pastel shirts, their lips painted pink. There are middle aged women, greying hair, silver threads streaked through black. There are thin women with gaunt expressions and tired eyes; and big women with double chins and smelly armpits.

A man in his forties paces between the machines dropping cloth into baskets. An open shirt exposing black hairs, the occasional one catching on a gold chain, his body swaying as if to some rock beat. There is no talking here. Here the voices are drowned out by engines, swallowed whole, words are lost before they reach your mouth.

I'm sitting on the bench listening to the clatter of scissors dropping, of engines whining, of shuffling of feet. An industrial composition beats, grates and grinds, I want to scream.

No one would hear me scream.

My body weighs on my hands, curveless, a boy's body, the school yard retorts play back in my head -- flat chested, you're flat chested, you're not a girl -- I have a sense of being watched, always watched, this never leaves me. My movements are on display: mannerisms trained, enacted for an audience. Shoulders pulled back, breasts pushed out, legs together, belly held tight.

My eyes settle on the second hand of the clock, each second stretches. I imagine I can hear it ticking, I hear the ticking in my head.

Light pushes through the chicken-wire-coated glass; there's a hint of daylight on the other side, but I can't see out. The walls crawl with damp, paint dried and peeling, acne marks on constructed flesh. Everything has a grey tinge, a film of dirt and dust, and yet colour splashes and dances, reams of fabric are thrown, caught, twisted and turned -- solid blocks of red, blue, orange and green, flags of colour twirl against black and white.

I sit on the bench, hands caught under thighs, stencil marked with straight lines of corduroy. I wait. I wait for 2.30, wait for my mother, wait for the beginning of the holidays.

The minute hand and the second hand of the clock on the wall hit the half hour, a whistle blows, a shrieking whistle piercing through the hum. The weight lifts from my hands, my heartbeat quickens for a moment and then settles back. The machines are turned off, the buzz of engines replaced by the sizzle of voices, the scraping of chairs pulled back. Fine haired brushes are used to sweep away the balls of fluff, machines are oiled and covered, rows of hooded robots. Large particles of dust rise, flying seagulls in the grey sky. Breathing in, scratching throat, coughing.

The women take out mirrors, round and square handbag mirrors -- they comb their hair, repaint painted lips, spray on cheap cologne.

Food is spread on the wooden cutting table, the smooth sword-like cutting blade covered and pulled to the side. Home-made cakes are cut into triangle pieces that remind me of arithmetic problems set by nuns in brown habits, biscuits are stacked in pyramids on plates; pastries, rissoles, bread -- a cultural mix of food -- spanakita, cannolli, party pies, pilea and chicken wings in soy. The padrone doesn't bring food, his contribution is the spumante, pleasure taken in popping cork, a bubble of liquid poured into plastic cups. Talk rises to fill the room, gossip and dirty jokes at his expense.

`E piccolo, troppo piccolo,' one woman says and holds up the metal thimble on her finger -- nipple size. The women laugh.

`It would take hours to make it grow,' says another, `it'd be a waste of time.'

Giggles not contained by hands escape across the room.

`What's the joke?' he asks.

`Niente, niente,' the first woman says. `Come and have some cake. …

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