Vittoria’s office is small and warm. The wallpaper peels from the walls and the window frame rattles in even the mildest wind; if you look too long at the details of the room, they seem brittle, dry, like the wings of an old moth under glass at the edge of an entomologist’s vast proud display. But there is a fireplace in the office; improbably, there is a fireplace on the second floor of a seven floor office building, and code violations must surely be involved, because whenever a client visits a fire burns there, but no client remembers seeing smoke rising from the building as they enter or leave. It is the sort of thing they would remember, surely. If they look long enough into the fire, the shape of the room grows rounder and the walls seem to fill out, less moth and more leather, more mushroom.
Vittoria peeled away spots of the wallpaper herself, on a slow day. It is artful work, performed with care and savagery. The window frame sounds the way she wants it to sound. Several clients have (sympathetically, they believed) tsked about the state of the place, asked what the landlord plans to do about it all, asked whether it is safe. She reassures them that all is well and they look away, uncomfortable, or stare hard and firm at her, which only makes her work easier. She is always tempted to tell them this.
Vittoria owns the entire building.
You must visit her seven times if you are to receive the full benefit of her services. This is not because she strictly requires seven sessions, but because she knows that if you cannot return for all seven, her services are not suitable for you. She will make something useful, something interesting, from the things you left with her at your fifth appointment, or even your second. It is your loss, not hers, if you grow fearful at the end of the sixth session, if you begin to worry about the fireplace and where the smoke goes, if you begin to worry about the final product. It is perfectly understandable. This is not a service for everyone. If you like, you can visit just once, reveal little (she will let you believe this) and purchase something ready to wear, something made from composites or created whole cloth, from scratch.
You need not discuss anything significant, not once, during the seven sessions, so long as you attend all seven. There are rules, things you ought not to say during your appointments, but it is better for the work if you determine them yourself through guesswork, or if you stumble upon them accidentally. She will ask you questions if she needs to. She will help you. This does not have to be difficult.
Vittoria’s hair is snow white but her face is young, probably. You are not sure. Her mouth and her brows speak at equal volume. Sometimes she wears a long skirt that brushes the floor, covered with pockets stuffed with skeins of wool and silk and cotton. The skirt is the purple of passionfruit skin or bruises. It has eighteen pockets. A client once counted them and proudly announced the number, causing Vittoria to pause and unpick several rows of her design. She always keeps the work in her lap, obscured by the edge of her little desk.
When you arrive for your seventh visit, she walks into an adjoining room and you cannot see what is inside. You hear paper rustling. You suspect that she enjoys your suspense. She bustles out and, smiling, presents you with a wrapped package. You pay the fee. You intended to make polite small talk, but you are tired and full of energy. You remember to thank her, at least. You assumed at first that she would show you the work as it progressed, but you realise now that would be foolish. You assumed that she would hand it to you unwrapped the moment it was complete, but you realise now that would be cruel. You are grateful and resentful at once. You hate her in a way that you can usually only hate a relative. You thank her, and you leave.
At home, you secure an empty room for yourself, which can be difficult in some homes. If possible, you lock the door. Otherwise, perhaps you lean against it. You unwrap the package and lay your hands upon the thing inside.
The scarf is beautiful, which is confusing. It is more beautiful than you expected it to be. You are not sure if you can ever wear it. You are in awe of her in a way that you can usually only be in awe of a stranger.
It is an odd thing, to own a garment filled with the worst, the darkest parts of you. It is a strange thing to want, isn’t it?
It would make more sense, to want this, if what Vittoria did was remove these parts, remove these thoughts and impulses and ways of working from you as she knitted or weaved, if they wound away from you, unravelled. She doesn’t. She makes them coherent, comprehensible. In her hands they take on a definite shape. In her hands they are a story, and it is often not the same one you have been telling yourself. There are shapes you do not recognise. There are things you thought you would see that you cannot find. You are not sure if they were always never there. Sometimes it takes a long time to be brave enough to attend all seven sessions. Sometimes it takes years.
You can do anything you want with your scarf. You can look at it once and then tuck it away forever. You can burn it, still in its package, and turn away as it disintegrates and never see a thread. You can wrap yourself in it every day; it is too heavy for summers in some places, but the world is very modern now and many homes are air conditioned. You can look and look and look at it and never wear it. Clients rarely tell Vittoria what they did with their scarves, though it is not difficult for her to guess. Often, she knows what they ought to have done.
You can wear it or look at it until, one day, you look at it and it does not look like you anymore. It is a story about someone else. It is an old friend. It is very beautiful. It is always very beautiful.
Originally published in CQ3: Horror.
Hannah Aroni | she/her
Hannah is a writer, illustrator, theatremaker, advocate, one fifth of the managing arts core of @, and several other things that may or may not be professions depending on the weather. She writes about human messes.