Jenny ran her hands around the smooth leather of the steering wheel as she turned into Pollston Avenue. She switched the radio to DeepKiss FM and listened to Stevie Nicks for a bit, then began to flick between radio dramas and weather reports. She checked out her lipstick in the front mirror, and fixed it up a bit at the creases of her mouth, scooping the red paste with the underside of her nail. She drove her Buick up onto the corner of Grensham Street and pulled out a smoke, taking a minute before immersing herself in the acrid, vinegary smell of new denim. She had been working at Blackwood Denim for only just shy of two months, and yet she still struggled to get that coppery whiff of industry out of her clothes. Hell, even out of her underwear. She often wondered quite how she managed to get it down there.
Browneston was a pip-squeak of a town, that sat comfortably just a stone’s throw away from the coastline. On her evening shifts, Jenny could make out the flicker of bonfires on the beach, and by the time she clocked out the howling midnight winds hurled themselves all over Browneston, shaving the coastline and throwing a blanket of night over the beach huts. A star-studded blanket, glistening gems in the sky.
The warehouse was the tallest building in town, fusty and dilapidated. What remained of the company name in golden letters had fallen, and had been leaned precariously against the side of the building, glinting as the late sun kissed the brass goodnight. Jenny remembered learning about the old slaughterhouse that one stood in Blackwood Denim’s place, from an old town project back at school. Jenny read of grating, serrated blades and raw flesh slapping onto cold metal. She was sure the heady stench of blood had soaked deep into the warehouse. The walls stood precariously in the same spot, but were now jam-packed with hues of blue, an ocean of denim.
Jenny put out her cigarette and stared up at the building, silhouetted like a house of terror against the blood orange sky. Heaving open the door, the odour of gritty textile and hot machinery scratched at her throat. She marched her way to an old jukebox which leant against the back wall, one that some patron had dumped out the boot of his car a couple of months back, and stuck in a dime. Some old crooner from the 40s moaned and serenaded her as she threw down a roll of denim from the top shelf. Jenny clasped the roll under her bony fingers and shoved it across the worktop, the material spreading itself across the counter – waves of deep, midnight blue denim lapping over each other, folds upon folds of grainy fabric creasing up into grooves as they hit the wall at the edge, sartorial reverberations which softened as Jenny smoothed her hand over the denim. Rifling through a pile of papers on an old night stand next to the counter, Jennifer found the order for the new, vintage-styled pop-up on Jackson Avenue. Forty pairs she muttered, and groped around for the scissors.
‘Jenny.’ A gruff voice sliced the air in two and Jennifer whisked around, her scarlet lips parted and dry.
5ft 5, with gummy eyes and a mess of unruly chest hair poking out from the top of his shirt, the man plodded over to Jenny. She turned back to her work and stared intently out of the open window, where premature streaks of night had splashed against the glass.
‘Stop being coy, Jennifer.’ Orville’s voice boomed across the warehouse, his voice resounding of the fragile walls. Jennifer’s mouth ran cotton dry and a lump began to billow and swell inside of her chest. She started on a new section of denim, whether it would be a jean leg or the waistband she didn’t know- didn’t care – and ran her scissors through the fabric as she felt Orville’s ghostly shadow slither up her back.
‘Jennifer. What do you call that?’ Orville had his fleshy finger pointed at the cut of denim. Her trembling hands had only managed a zig-zagged, frayed slit, tearing the material in two. Jennifer felt his block-like head appear beside her left ear, and she hastily grabbed another wad of blue and scuttled over to the sewing machine. Out of the corner of her eye, Jennifer could see the figure of her manager standing in front of the night stand, shuffling the papers and flicking through them with a wetted thumb. Orville’s eyes however were pinned on Jennifer, gazing dumbfound at her slip of a body as though his head had been put on wonky in God’s factory room. Jittery Jenny wondered that, if he stared long enough, the strength of his powerful male gaze would shatter her bones and she would come crumbling to the slated floor like dried cement or an overcooked pastry. Her fingers were quivering as she attempted to operate the sewing machine, the thread all wobbly and the hem too big again, but it was alright because she’d just throw it in the scrap bin once he’d gone and start the pair over (she always had to redo a couple of pairs when he came in anyway). Jen shoved the material under the needle and shit caught the bud of her finger under the point. She snatched her hand back and whacked the machine off, a shiny red bead swelling on her fingertip. The warehouse was silent, save for the whirring of the machine still ploughing along. As she kept her gaze fixed firmly on her hands, her palms began to glisten with cold sweat. Orville flew over.
‘Let me take care of that.’ He said, grabbing Jenny’s wrist and bringing her finger inches from his face. He poked out a hot, pink tongue and licked the blood clean off Jenny’s finger. Her face fell a pasty white and boiling broth of frustration gulped in the pit of her stomach. Yet, she walked back to the night stand, her toes like lead as she cautiously placed one foot in front of the other. Orville chuckled a throaty, hoarse laugh as he whacked the sewing machine off. Jenny’s eyes began to glaze over with salty tears as she pointlessly put orders into piles and then all side by side, then began to sort them into alphabetical order, her fingers still trembling and spotting the paper with blood.
It wasn’t long before he followed her back to the nightstand. This time with an open hand, he tested the denim. ‘Testing the denim’, as he so often called it, was where he stroked and caressed a pair of jeans, you know, just to see if they were up to scratch. Usually while Jenny was wearing a pair of them. He cupped his grubby hand right around Jenny’s butt cheek, giving it a pinch. When she squealed and jumped out of his grasp, Orville puffed his chest up like a cockerel, his face all languid and writhing with blue veins.
‘Cold-blooded bitch.’ He spat.
Jennifer mustered up the courage to say, through a cracked and bearing voice:
‘I’m not frigid, or cold-blooded. Just a little…hard boiled.’
Chloë Moloney is a student and writer from Surrey, UK. She has had a short story collection published with Channillo, and fiction published with Darkrun Review, Cold Creek Review, Sick Lit Magazine and more. Chloë’s work has also featured on Burst FM at the University of Bristol, where she is undertaking an English BA and frequently writes for the newspaper Epigram. Chloë is also a reviewer for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017, with Ed Fringe Review. She will also be the president of the University of Bristol Creative Writing Society for 2017/18.