Lucy Warrell


Lucy Warrell was born in 1989 in South East London. She has done voluntary work at the Globe Theatre and the Roundhouse sold cupcakes and currently works in a bookshop.

She graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University in 2010 and still misses the Kent countryside. She is currently working on short stories and her first novella. Her current ambition is to buy a blue Pashley bicycle.


Twitter: @LucyWhirl

View as PDF: Lucy Warrell - The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

Edmund walked to the door and flicked the sign around. The shop was deserted finally, after a steady trickle of customers throughout the day. He went into the back room, passed tall jars of pastel coloured buttons and passed layers of silk and lace, stacked up high on top of each other like filo pastry. Tea. He would sit down to tea. In his larder was a slice of fruit cake that Mrs. Beech gave him last time she was in and a solitary muffin. He cut the muffin in half and toasted one half in the fireplace, and watched as the corners turned black. After, he wrapped the remaining piece in tissue and placed it back in the larder. He spread the toasted half with butter while it was still warm so the butter sank and left behind a yellow circle. Then he took his muffin and his slice and sat by the shop’s front window, where it was dark.

      Every year on the first of December he dressed his shop window with Christmas decorations. Strips of dress fabric from last year’s pieces that he no longer sold, he would cut into squares and sew together to form streamers. He liked to hang them all across the tops of the windows. But, when he picked up the streamers he noticed this year’s weren’t finished, and made from just two yards of fabric. Peering in the decorations box he found the remains of last year’s but they were too tatty, torn in the links that joined them together and so he put them back in the box. He hung up what he had. There were toys in the box too that he had made years ago to sit on the floor of the shop. Father Christmas in green cotton. Miniature felt Christmas trees lining the floor. Stooping low, his back aching, he patted the tops of the felt trees.

      ‘There you are trees,’ he said and settled himself deep into his chair, and closed his eyes. When he awoke, the shop had grown even darker. It was cold too. The fire had gone out in the back room, and the front door was ajar. A sliver of air crept in from the cold. As he went to shut the door he noticed a heap of dark clothes in the centre of the shop, obscuring the door.

      ‘What on earth? Piles of rags –’ he reached out to touch the rags and put them away but they shivered and moved, unfurling to reveal a young woman. Startled, he jumped back but the woman looked asleep – her eyes closed, her body slumped. Her face was dirty and she had very red lips that had begun to flake at the corners. Raw, raw lips, raw from licking. She lay asleep, still and childlike. Cautiously she began to open her eyes and looked up at him sleepily, her eyes half closed, and caked in sleep that cradled in the corners. She had very dark hair that was matted and hung a few inches past her breastbone. The dress she had on was brown and faded and had a loose waist. Covering her shoulders was a large grey shawl. It had patches of cream on the underside, and a print of pale golden flowers. Edmund recognised the fabric as one that he himself had owned and sold in the summer months, and was alarmed to spot the same floral pattern on the right side of the dirty shawl. Beside her was a jar of ribbons, which she picked up and began to slowly pull from, and wind around her fingers.

      ‘Mr. Watkins, there you are. How pleased I am to see you again,’ she said, smiling up at him. Edmund said nothing, and looked at the girl. He felt around for his butter knife that he kept in his front trouser pocket, his fingers cradling the handle, tightening and shifting.

      ‘What are you doing in here? We close at four. It’s nearly, nearly -’ he looked at his pocket watch but he couldn’t work out what the numbers meant.

      ‘Do you not recognise me? I’ve been in here before. A few months ago.’

      ‘Oh have you, dear? That’s nice. Are you here to buy a dress? It’s a bit late. We’ll be closed soon.’

      ‘Not a dress today,’ she had reached the bottom of the jar already, and pushed the crumpled ribbons into her grubby hands, squashing them back into the jar. ‘You always look so rushed off your feet, let me help you. Just over Christmas.’

      ‘I don’t understand. I don’t know you. And I don’t need help. I’m fine. Fine as I am.’

      He let go of the knife, where it rattled along the inside of his pocket and scratched at his thigh. ‘My wife. She’ll be home soon. She won’t like you. Please leave.’ Taking a step towards her he nodded to the door. ‘Miss?’

      ‘Mr. Watkins. Let me help you.’ She came closer, her eyes still half closed. She smelt like dirt. He placed his hand on the small of her back and inched her towards the door.

      ‘Well, give Mrs. Watkins my love,’ she said, pulling the door wide. She smiled and curtseyed, pulling her skirts awkwardly around her.

      ‘Grace? You know Grace?’

      She stepped towards him, her heavy skirts magnifying.

      ‘Grace, that’s right. She’s a lovely woman.’

      Edmund smiled and softened. He went back to his plate and picked at the fruit cake which crumbled away.

      ‘She should be back soon,’ he said, stuffing the cake haphazardly into his mouth, ‘she always goes to her sister’s for the week before Christmas. And then she comes back. She’ll be back soon.’ Louisa pulled at the creases on her skirt, smoothing them out with her small fingers.

      ‘I expect so,’ she said, without looking up.

      ‘You okay there? Are you here to buy a dress?’ Edmund said, peering at the girl.

      There was something about her mouth that seemed familiar but he couldn’t work out why. The corners were upturned. He was certain he’d seen her mouth before.

      ‘Not today, Mr. Watkins.’

      There was a loose thread escaping from her waist which she pulled at. It began to tear and pulled a neat raw circle in the muslin. The hole was no bigger than a fingernail, from which a pale full moon winked.

      ‘Don’t do that. Look, it’s already torn,’ said Edmund. He came towards her, grappling at his neck for a needle that he kept wedged in his collar. In a glass jar behind him, he found a knob of dark thread which he promptly cut, and came towards her, the needle held aloft. ‘Hold still,’ he said.

      ‘Should you be doing that –?’

      ‘Don’t see why ever not,’ he said, as he began to ink in the hole until it had dissolved. ‘Don’t move,’ he said, neatening the edges, pulling the muslin away from hr skin.

      ‘You didn’t even nick me,’ she said, holding the material out from her body and examining it. ‘That’s a feat.’

      She laid her hand on his, which rested on the jut of his hip. There was a pause. Neither of them spoke as he drummed his fingers restlessly on his side. ‘Tomorrow then, shall I pop round at nine, before we open like we agreed?’

      ‘Nine? Did we say nine?’

      Louisa laid her hand on her forehead, and sighed.

      ‘Yes Uncle. I’m helping you with the shop over Christmas, remember?’

      ‘Uncle? Are we related?’

      ‘That’s right. I’m Grace’s niece. Remember? Miss Louisa.’ She stood still in the open doorway, her shadow snaking across the floorboards as the light from the streetlight fell on her from behind. ‘So, I’ll be round at nine.’ Her face was cast in shade, so Edmund couldn’t see her eyes. ‘Goodbye Mr. Watkins,’ she said and walked out of the front door, which she left open behind her.

      ‘Oh yes, well – if we agreed,’ said Edmund, ‘if we agreed. Goodbye.’



Edmund slept upstairs, above the shop, on the edge of Bramley Hill. They’d bought this house because it was by the seafront; Grace liked to admire the seagulls from their window as they sat like pearls on the afternoon sea. It got cold up there in the winter in the little bedroom where the windows rattled. In the mornings Edmund could taste salt on his tongue.

      He woke, reached out underneath the bed sheet and found empty space. He could still hear her, faintly, if he kept his eyes closed and listened. And, so he stayed like that a little while longer; feet tucked up as high as they would go, breathing heavily through his mouth. The base of his eyelashes stung, like he had soot in his eyes.

      ‘There you are.’

      She was here. In his room. She stood above him, a glass in her small white hands. He opened his eyes, and sighed. This woman was too young. He hadn’t known Grace when she was this young. He searched for wrinkles on her face but found none. Reaching up he touched her skin but her face was smooth, as though puffed out with soft butter. Though there was something in the mouth that was familiar.

      ‘Here. Drink this.’ She put the glass to his lips but he didn’t open them. She pressed the dirty rim of the glass into him so that a sheen of wetness clung awkwardly to his chin and dripped onto his nightshirt. ‘You know you don’t look terribly well,’ she said, and placed the glass on the floor next to the bedside table which was empty now.

      ‘What are you doing here?’ he said, rubbing the damp from his face with his sleeve.

      ‘It’s past nine.’

      ‘Nine? What’s happening at nine?’

      ‘I’m helping you with the shop. Remember?’

      Edmund sat up. He twisted his bed sheet around himself. The sheet wasn’t all that big so his feet protruded from the edge. They looked narrow and crooked, his feet, the arches dipped all the way down. He hadn’t noticed that before. He traced the contours with his knuckles, so that it tickled, and felt a sudden burst of laughter rising in his throat. Louisa opened the curtains which were thin, and leant her elbows on the splintery wood of the window sill.

      ‘Can it really be past nine?’ he said, ‘it doesn’t look it.’

      ‘It is.’ 

      ‘But, it’s still dark.’

      Edmund reached for his pocket watch. It had been Grace’s wedding present, almost sixty years ago, and was made from real silver – though it was tarnished now.

      ‘My pocket watch,’ said Edmund.

      ‘What’s that?’ she said, walking the length of the room, ‘come on now, you really should be getting up. I’ll leave you to get ready on your own. I’ll be downstairs.’

      ‘Have you seen it? I left it right here.’

      ‘Can’t say I have. I expect it’ll be in your clothes, amongst your pockets. I’ll be downstairs if you need me.’

      She seems nice, thought Edmund. Miss Laura? Laura. No.

      ‘Laura,’ he said softly, feeling the name in his mouth. ‘Laura,’ he said again and pushed his wet hair from his forehead. ‘No – no.’

      Miss Lucy? Maybe.

      Outside the sun was peeking from behind the ocean. He looked through the window and marvelled at its smallness.

      ‘Very bright,’ he said. ‘Orange.’

      He looked until his eyes hurt. Patches of blue filled him. Down below, the pavement was beginning to stir. He counted the people he saw. ‘One. Old Mrs. Hodges. Two. Miss Amy, who used to live next door.’ Amy was young, still. Holding his hands out in front of him Mr. Watkins pushed his fingers over the back of his hands, smoothing the creases out until excess skin hung by his palms in clumps. Edmund pulled at the wooden latch at the window but it was already loose and swung away from him. He lurched forward, catching his belly.

      ‘Miss Amy –’ he called. She walked on. There was a new roundness about her. Edmund must write to her mother; she was obviously spoiling her. He called down to her again and this time she spotted him, dangling half out of the window.

      ‘Mr. Watkins, are you quite alright?’ she asked.

      ‘Oh yes, I’m quite well. Thank you, Miss Amy. Could you possibly tell me the time? I seem to have mislaid my watch.’

      ‘Of course, Mr. Watkins,’ she pulled something from her pocket – something that glittered green and gold. ‘Almost quarter past seven,’ she said, ‘a little early for me I must admit but I couldn’t sleep. What with the baby, you see –’ she looped her fingers around her stomach and nodded to the bulge that hid beneath her dress, and smiled up at Edmund. ‘Would you like me to tell mother that you’re asking after her?’

      ‘Your mother?’

      ‘Yes, I know she was quite fond of you and Mrs. Watkins.’

      ‘Your mother?’ he asked again.

      ‘Yes, my mother. Amy. Would you like to see her?’

      ‘Oh,’ said Edmund, straightening up and hitting the back of his head lightly against the windowpane. ‘Oh. No, I don’t think I would.’ He stepped forward slowly, curiously; his hands stretched out like a cartoon bear when he hit something with his foot, something very cold and sharp. What had Amy said? Seven. Seven something. Was it seven that Lucy was coming round? Yes, that’s right. Seven.

       There was an aching in his body. He sat down on the bed and felt the warmth of where he had been sleeping still present on the bed sheets. Dragging his feet beneath him he noticed that one of his feet wouldn’t stand right, too high, higher than the other foot – there was something in the way. He reached down and felt. Something hard. Imbedded in his foot was a shock of glass, curved into the fleshy part of his foot. He sat for a while on the bed, and looked at the glass. The cut was deep and hurt when he wiggled the shard up and down.

      From downstairs came distant voices, disturbed and dreamlike. They felt strange in his head. One sounded like Mrs. Beech but the voice was high. The voices merged on the landing outside, got caught together like flies. He touched the wet red part with his fingers and decided to pull the glass out, and his blood reminded him of treacle.



‘Look at you with all your finery,’ Louisa said, looking him up and down as he stood in the doorway. He rubbed his hands against the door. ‘Don’t do that, you’ll make them rough,’ she said, ‘you’ll get splinters and then where will we be.’

      ‘Finery,’ he said, tutting, ‘I’m still in my nightshirt.’

      Years earlier, he had made the nightshirt using fine cream satin, but it was frayed now and dirty. A faint sour smell rose from the sleeves. ‘I must get the mangle down. For this shirt.’

      ‘I said I’d do it. Leave it.’

      ‘Yes, of course,’ he said, leaning heavily on the table, his foot an inch above the ground and wound in his best tea towel. After a moment, he retreated into the back room, his hands working their way into the walls. On top of the fireplace was a neat row of cards. He picked one up, and read inside.

      My dearest Edmund, it read, Love Louisa. It had a picture of a goose on the front, painted silver.

      ‘What are you doing looking at that?’

      ‘Is it still Christmas?’ he asked.

      ‘That’s right.’

      Outside in the garden he spotted a line of yellow flowers, the colour of butter – daffodils.

      ‘They’re my favourite flower,’ he said, pointing. Their heads were like miniature trumpets and rose to greet him as they were lifted by the wind. Louisa looked but remained silent, her eyes dull. ‘They remind me of Grace. She used to plant a few seeds every year on our wedding anniversary. When is our anniversary again?’

      ‘December, like I said.’

      ‘Oh,’ he said, frowning, ‘yes, you’re right. December. Of course.’

      Louisa murmured a response as she went into the small kitchen and bent over the stove. She took a large pan from the stack and put it over heat where it began to simmer, and handed him a cup of hot water. There was a crescent of lemon floating on top. He sipped it. After a minute, while the water was still hot in his hands she took it from him and poured it down the sink.

      ‘Are you quite sure it was December?’ he asked. ‘September perhaps? Or July. She used to plant the yellow flowers. Every year, more flowers. Always yellow.’ He could hear her tutting over running water. A light cluck of her tongue.

      ‘Don’t ever say I don’t look after you,’ she said as she threw the lemon out of the open window, ‘hot lemon in the mornings. What could be lovelier?’

      ‘I like lemons.’ A pause. ‘You look well, dear,’ he said, admiring her skin which was no longer dirty – her body lost amongst new curves. She smiled at him, her hand brushing her hair off her face which seemed even darker now, and glossy like oil.

      ‘Thank you.’

      ‘Did I make you that?’ he said, nodding towards her dress. It was made out of very pale blue silk and drew in snugly at her waist before fanning out over wide hips. He went to touch her. ‘I used to stock that material, I think.’

      ‘This? A gift from my father.’

      It used to hang in his wardrobe, with Grace’s old things. He had always liked the feel of silk, and its gentle slip. And, the blue was his favourite. He had made a matching headdress –pale blue velvet pansies – that sat now on top of her elaborate head.

      ‘Let me see your wrists,’ he said. The words slipped from him, but he didn’t know what they meant. He caught the flash of E Watkins on the wrists of his dresses, sewn prettily in contrasting thread.

      ‘Whatever for,’ she said, ‘really Edmund, I have to open the shop. How will we afford to eat otherwise? Must I do everything around here?’ As she left her skirts ruffled theatrically behind her.

      Once he could hear her tinkling laugh in full swing Edmund took out his stash of materials that he kept in an old wooden box that he kept behind the pantry. Inside was yards and yards of light fabric. The collar was already done but he was having trouble with the sleeves. He was trying to get them to puff out but his fingers weren’t doing what he asked of them. He used to do it so well. Now his body was all bunched together. Hours slid by as he worked on his fabric, until he heard Louisa closing up. Pricking his finger on the needle, he stuffed his materials back into their box and hid them again behind the pantry, a dribble of blood staining the fabric. Edmund pretended to be asleep when she came back in, his head leant slackly against the wall, but she didn’t notice and carried on talking to him as normal until he felt silly for having his eyes shut.

      ‘I think you’ll have to make some more dresses,’ she said, ‘our stock is depleting rather rapidly –’

      ‘I’d like to make my dresses again. I’m a dressmaker.’

      ‘– and really you can’t expect to do nothing for your keep.’

      ‘I know that.’

      ‘I don’t like how you just sit here all day while I’m out there, doing all the work.’

      ‘I’d like to be selling my dresses. I can come and help you on the shop floor.’

      Louisa came over and put her hand on his. She looked at him but her eyes were made from glass. Edmund waited for her to speak. She patted the top of his hand with her own gloved one.

      ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, standing up and going into the kitchen. She began to slice up a loaf of bread that she’d had delivered from the bakers. It had been out all day and was stale. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’re better out of the way, you know that.’

      Edmund scratched his face, where he felt his beard protruding in tufts. He glanced in the window reflection opposite. A wild man – he was turning into an old wolf in front of his very eyes.

      ‘How much money did we take today?’ he asked as she handed him a slice of warm bread and butter.

      ‘Not much,’ she said, ‘hardly anything in fact.’

      ‘That’s a shame,’ said Edmund.

      They ate in silence. Every few minutes Louisa went into the pantry to retrieve cheese or currants, which she ate greedily, stood by the pantry door. She brought out the wine from the cellar and poured herself a glass.

      ‘Better not,’ she said, as Edmund picked it up, ‘don’t want you falling asleep at the dinner table.’

      ‘Quite right, Miss Louisa.’

      He ate until the bread became heavy in his mouth. They spoke of small things; the weather, how cold it was outside and how dangerous, and of the sea which Edmund liked to look at from his window. He liked the foam best, and told Louisa this.

      ‘You must not go in,’ she said, ‘not even to paddle. It’s too dangerous, too cold. You must stay inside. In here, where it’s comfortable and safe.’

      As she spoke Edmund’s eyes lingered on the dark fireplace. It used to be warm there, he was sure of it. He remembered it used to glow with heat. Slowly, he walked towards it, and peered inside. How did it work? Inside the fireplace was a whole heap of logs, piled high. He touched one but it was rough and left splinters in his fingers.

      ‘Goodness Edmund, what on earth are you doing? Get off the floor,’ Louisa said, taking his arm in her own and helping him up. She took his wooden stool and pressed it into the backs of his knees, forcing him to sink into it with a heavy thump. ‘Goodness, you looked just like a beggar.’

      ‘A beggar?’

      ‘That’s right.’

      On top of the kitchen table was a familiar sign. It was a large sign and painted indigo with white writing that swooped to the side. Mr. Watkins’ Dressmakers and Tailors.

      ‘What’s my sign doing down here?’ he asked. ‘It needs to be on the front of the shop, outside where people can see it. How will they know where to go?’

      ‘A very good point, Edmund,’ smiled Louisa, ‘but don’t worry I’ve had a new sign made. I think you’re really going to like it. It’s very attractive. It’s much nicer than the old sign which was getting a little faded.’

      Edmund pulled his niece close to him, his hands lacing round her neck.

      ‘Thank you, my dear,’ he said, ‘thank you. That is so kind, helping your old uncle out like that.’

      She patted his hand with her own and knelt down beside him.

      ‘Really, it was my pleasure,’ she said, wrapping a woollen blanket around his shoulders. ‘Would you like to see it?’

      ‘Very much, Miss Louisa.’

      It was resting on the wall behind her, the logo hidden in the half-light. It was a much bigger sign than the old one, and narrower. A beautiful deep green, the colour of moss. The lettering was fancier, and more feminine and painted in what looked like gold. All around the rim was a pattern of leaves and pansies that looked just like the ones on Louisa’s headdress.

      ‘I love the flowers,’ said Edmund, as he took it all in, drank it all down and began to read the letters on the new sign that read: Miss Louisas Dressmakers.

      ‘Isn’t it perfect?’ said Louisa, in a hushed voice.

      Edmund looked at the sign. He read it. And then read it again.

      ‘Quite, my dear. Quite.’