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The Broken Zipper
Exactly eighteen years ago Gisela came into the world a happy, adorable child. Upon her birth she already had a wisp of golden hair and angelic blue eyes with little golden flecks. And though the tight-knit community she became part of had never drawn attention for its religion, no one disagreed that Gisela had the look of an angel.
Gisela had a rough childhood. By the age of two, both of her parents had died and she had no other family to speak of. Her family had never had much money, but her mother had been a seamstress, one of the best in the whole town. The only thing left to Gisela, after the payment of any debt that her parents owed, was a black zipper and a bolt of white cloth. These things Gisela’s new caretakers packed away in the attic of the house, having decided that they would be more useful to her some years later.
On Gisela’s tenth birthday her caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. North, presented her with her mother’s old objects.
“What are these?” Gisela asked with mild interest. She could not hide her excitement, though, since she had never gotten a gift before that day. More than that, though, something about the zipper caught her attention.
Mrs. North, handing the objects to Gisela, smiled and said quietly, “These were your mother’s. She used to make the most beautiful dresses, she would embroider them—I still have one of her dresses upstairs. She made my wedding dress.”
Gisela nodded slowly, but she hardly heard a word. She took the zipper in her hands and slowly unzipped it all the way to the bottom until it fell apart into two separate pieces.
Later that night, when Gisela returned to her tiny room in the corner of the house, she folded the zipper into the white cloth and tucked it away in her closet. She wouldn’t look at again for eight years.
However, Gisela had an interesting life between the time that she received her mother’s things and she saw them again. She graduated high school two years earlier than her class at the age of sixteen because she wanted to leave the small community where every other person she saw either commented on her appearance, saying she looked exactly as an angels are depicted, or apologized for her family’s untimely death. Upon her graduation Gisela found herself with no money and no real job skills and she could not leave. As an honor to her mother, Gisela took up sewing in her spare time and got hired as a seamstress in the only embroidery shop in the town. The shop was run by a twenty year old man named Todd Young.
Todd had attended a two year business school after high school and returned to the town to run the embroidery shop since his older brother ran for mayor and won the election. Since the opening of the embroidery shop, by Todd’s great-great-grandfather, none but the Young family had owned it. Wanting to keep the legacy alive, Todd agreed to come home to take over the ownership.
Something about his life, however, upset Todd. He rarely smiled and he had a short temper when it came to his employees. During Gisela’s interview for the job, in fact, Todd required her to embroider a flower on a square cloth in half an hour. When he returned to see her progress, less than ten minutes later, he complained she took too long and threw her out while she cried. A week later, Gisela got a letter saying she had the job.
Gisela’s first day at the embroidery shop felt like a dream. She sat at a little desk in the back of the shop with a tiny square of white silk and white thread carefully sewing the letters of the alphabet with precision that no one in the town ever matched save for her mother whose work still hung on the walls of the embroidery shop. When the shop closed at the end of the day, she left the square with all twenty-six ornamentally embroidered letters on the desk. She left in a hurry and made it home before dark.
Todd walked slowly from his office to the front door of the shop, and just as he started opening the door to leave he saw something in the reflection of the door that made him stop and smile.
He turned to Gisela’s desk and picked up her square of letters. Along the side she had started the outline of a heart with two tiny letters inside: JY. She had also embroidered a picture that, Todd thought, looked like a zipper through the heart. Todd had heard from people around the town that Gisela had something of a fixation with zippers but made a point not to wear them, sticking strictly to buttons or clothes that did not require either.
Todd picked up Gisela’s square and pocketed it, still smiling as he walked out the door and locked it.
The next morning, Gisela arrived at the shop earlier than she needed to, and went back to sit at her desk. Todd was already sitting at her desk with a bunch of blue silk and a matching blue zipper.
“Mrs. Hayes has requested a blue silk dress with a low v-neck, and an a-line skirt,” he handed the silk to Gisela with a smile that made her melt and sweat a little on the back of her neck. Todd held up the zipper and said with a wider smile, “With a zipper in the back.”
Gisela frown but took the zipper from Todd in two fingers and turned towards the mannequin that had a small sign on it that read “Juliet Hayes”. Gisela expected Todd to leave, but he never moved. He continued to sit in her chair, watching her, and eventually he started to talk to her. He had a funny way of talking in an expressive voice and using large sweeping hand movements. Every couple of minutes, he would stop and look over at Gisela’s progress, seeing that even though she’d already finished pining together most of the dress’s construction, the zipper was still lying on the stool next to her, entirely untouched.
Or, well, Todd had not thought she had touched it, but he looked more carefully, and saw that the zipper was unzipped all the way and in two pieces.
“You don’t like zippers, do you?” Todd asked as Gisela picked up something from the stool, yet again, and avoided touching the zipper.
“Oh,” Gisela said, carefully biting her lip while pushing a pin through a fold of silk. “No, I don’t have a—”
“My mom used to talk about your mom a lot, and she said your mother didn’t like zippers. I always used to think it was weird, but then she said something else: Zippers, to your mom, were like hearts—easily broken, easily fixed. Your mom wore her first, and only, zipper on her wedding dress when she married your dad.”
Gisela sat down on the stool holding the two pieces of zipper, each in a different hand.
“You know,” Todd said sitting down on his knees in front of Gisela, “it doesn’t have to be a broken heart—here.” Todd pinned the zipper onto the mannequin and put Gisela’s hands on the bottom of the zipper and then put his hands over hers, slowly dragging them up along with the zipper pull until it was fully zipped. “What is broken if whole doesn’t exist?”
Gisela pulled her hands away from Todd and stuck a few pins straight through the zipper and into the mannequin.
“Can I please finish my work?”
Todd’s smile fell into a frown. “Yes, go ahead.” He stood up and walked away, locking himself away in his office for the rest of the day. The one time he tried to open up to someone, he was shot down, faster than ever before. Every time someone knocked on his door he yelled something different, sending them away. He didn’t emerge until an hour after closing time, and much to his surprise, he was not alone.
In the same spot that she had sat in earlier, Gisela was perched with a black zipper and some white cloth. The zipper, of course, was in two pieces, one in each of Gisela’s hands. The dress she had started working on even had a zipper on the back.
“You’re going to have to show me that zipping thing again,” Gisela said in a serious voice, “because I’m not sure I can do it on my own.”
“Well, it’s simple,” Todd said with a steady voice, “you just put them together and pull up…”
His voice faded as he met Gisela’s eyes which smoldered with a passion in her eyes that hadn’t been seen since much before her parent’s death.
Gisela’s hands reached shakily up to Todd’s face and they kissed like no one had kissed before. It was sweet and gentle, passionate and strong, and full of the angst of years of emptiness and despair.
“Promise me you’ll always help me fix the zippers?” Gisela asked as they broke apart.
“As long as you always let me,” Todd promised, and they left the shop together.
That day was Gisela’s eighteenth birthday, and in less than a year, Gisela and Todd got engaged and married. It was the black zipper and white cloth left to her by her mother that she used for her wedding dress, and every time she zipped that dress up, Todd helped her. Gisela always wore zippers in her clothing after that, but none the less she always felt a pang of guilt when she unzipped them, but it never mattered because Todd was always there for her—even when she had broken zippers.