The Invention of the Pincushion


There was a loud thud as the (hopefully) last piece of what was now probably considered as debris hit the fragile wall of the wooden shack. The vicious curse words were finally becoming coherent as they rested on an exasperated sigh of defeat.

Bridget raised her head and with a not unkind grin said: “I take it she’s heard the news; whose turn is it to go in?”

Beth sighed unhappily: “Mine I suppose. Give me some words of encouragement before I go in.”

Bridget chuckled: “Fear not, Elizabeth the brave! Mighty witch of the North! Vanquisher of tyrants! Appeaser of witches who can’t get their spells right! Go now! Ride to battle!”

Beth chuckled and stood up. She straightened her shoulders and strode off in the direction of the shack.

“Both Lords help me; I’m going in!”

She gingerly opened the door an inch, just enough to peak inside to make sure Winifred truly had stopped her rampage. She had.

Stepping inside, she was surprised to see hardly any damage this time. She spotted the wooden rolling pin on the floor which had been launched at the wall, but other than that everything was in order. The usual pins and effigies lay strewn across the table and the floor and everywhere else they landed.

“Hey Winifred, how are you doing?” It didn’t matter how innocently you phrased the initial question, because Winifred never heard it. She just used it as a cue to curse and shout some more and today it was Beth’s turn to hear it. She braced herself and sincerely envied Bridget who was sat in the sanctuary of the herb garden.

“Surprisingly well, dear Elizabeth!” Beth had absolutely no idea how to respond. She waited, narrowing her eyes, suspecting a trap.

Winifred chuckled with good humour: “I have decided, dear Elizabeth, I shall no longer waste my time and energy on… in fact, go and get Bridget, she should hear it too. I’ll start clearing my pins and him away, I’m going to put it all behind me!” She shooed Beth out of the door and busied herself clearing away all the remnants of her latest unsuccessful attempts at removing her secret enemy from the realm of the living.

She took the scrap of material she’d been embroidering her latest incantation on, folded it up and stitched it in the fashion of a little envelope intending to throw it on the midden. She stuffed the little woollen effigy of her enemy inside, filled it up with other scraps of wool and sewed the top shut. Subconsciously putting the whole sorry business to rest once and for all.

She’d come to the realisation the other two were right, the spell was never going to work. No matter how many effigies she made and no matter the variety of ways she tried, time and again the spell had failed. This realisation coming cruelly via a delivery boy that morning, gossiping about the upcoming birthday party of the man she wanted gone. So it had failed again.

She was brought back to reality as she heard loud voices approaching; a sign that they had a visitor. The door opened and in walked Bridget and Beth accompanied by Sarah the aleman’s wife, a pretty lace bonnet covering most of her face.

Winifred stabbed the little fellow inside one last time ‘for good luck’, sticking all the pins randomly into the soft wool and left the biggest needle sitting right in the middle. She put it down on the table as innocently as possibly and greeted her neighbour.

“Good day Sarah?” inquired Winifred, already making towards the herb shelf, instinct letting her know which ones to fetch.

“Something to take the swelling down dear?” There was kindness in her voice, despite the fact it was Winifred one went to should one want to rid oneself of one’s enemies.

“Aye, if you please Winnie. I’ve brought some ribbons for you in exchange and an extra bit for the tree, a lovely bright red again this year.” Sarah went to the table and placed the little package down. Her eyes were drawn to the woollen envelope with strange swirls and golden thread and the needles sticking in it.

“What’s that Winnie, it’s lovely! It’s like a tiny pillow for pixies.” Her eyes drawn to the golden swirls of the stitches, spirals here and circles there. Mesmerising.

Winifred, always quick to think on her feet said: “Oh that? It’s a new thing I’ve been working on, it’s an erm, a pin cushion! You know how it’s so easy to lose your needles when sewing, well this little thing lets you keep them safely in one place. Here, take it as a gift. She hastily took all the pins out apart from the big one in the middle. She passed the cushion to Sarah and let her try it out.

Sarah stabbed the little envelope several times, after a moment she brought it up to her face and sniffed: “Mmmm, it smells lovely!”

“Oh that! It’s just a few dried herbs I had left over. I popped them inside so that every time you use it, a lovely aroma is released into the air. You can keep the needle as well” Winifred said, as she passed Sarah the ointment for her swollen cheek. She squeezed Sarah’s shoulder with compassion as she guided her out of the door. She watched Sarah walk down the path stabbing her little cushion and bringing it to her nose. ‘Well, if nothing else the rosemary will help clear that chill she’s got coming in a few days’, she thought to herself.

Winifred turned to the other two and said: “I’ve decided to stop wasting my skills and energy on a battle lost. I know you’ve already heard he’s having another birthday party, I was hoping for a funeral this year!” She looked at them both, a resigned look on her face. “And with that, another year wasted to failure. Three hundred and sixty three days, every one for nothing! At least I get the last three days of the year to myself, I am grateful it is a leap year! I have decided my ribbon on the tree this year will be white for new beginnings and the past behind. I’ll leave the red one to Sarah this year.”

Four days later


“Aye, dead on the spot he dropped! Think it was ‘is ‘eart, what with ‘is size ‘an all. Right as he was cutting ‘is birthday cake!” The delivery boy was thoroughly enjoying the full attention of Bridget, Beth and Winifred.

“You don’t say.” Bridget passed another boiled sweet to the lad, “But you said he was clutching his middle, that’s not where the heart is?”

“Aye, doctor said it was a disease of the belly, been brewing a while he said, probably for a good year he said, nothing could be done he said. Everyone saw it.”

Winifred spoke up: “Interesting. What of his widow? What of her?”

The boy looked up slowly and said: “First time they reckon they’d seen poor Sarah smile in many a year.”

©CMA 2020


From Tall-ish Tales (Short-ish Stories)