It began with the slightest touch at the ankle and slowly but confidently slid up past my knee.
I bristled as the touch caressed my inner thigh and came to a swift stop just below the groin.
My breath remained held in my chest. A head bobbed below my waist and I could hear his small exasperations. The hands were pale, without paunch but warm and hummed with a certain magnetism. I looked straight ahead, fingers burrowing into palms.
‘Ah, splendid! There we go, there we go.’ he whispered, returning to his feet as his tongue peeked the corner of his mouth. His eyes were golden and unblinking.
‘I think I have everything I need.’ he said as he expertly wound the measuring tape into a neat coil and placing it into a grey waistcoat pocket opposite a swinging silver chain.
‘You know, I tell all my customers the same thing.’ he said slowly, between audible breaths.
His eyes aglow as his words, laced with integrity and imbued with a lifetime of experience, tumbled from his throat in a honeyed whisper. A second measuring tape hung around his neck like an unwound scarf and a perfectly pinched pocket square peeked from his chest.
‘Clothes make a statement.’ he said theatrically, eyes narrowing ever so slightly as one slender finger raised in support.
‘But costumes, ah, costumes, tell a story.’ A similarly slender finger raised in counterpoint.
‘Wouldn’t you agree?’ He pressed,
‘That it is not the clothes themselves that maketh the man, but the very skin that they reside on?’
I looked at him incredulously, unsure of the moment I was in. He didn’t give me a second to hesitate.
‘Nevermind. I have your measurements, and I can tell you’re after something specific, but I wonder if something more exciting would be appropriate.’
I hesitated and tripped over my words into a sound that was vaguely affirmative but betrayed the bundle of nerves in my core.
‘Splendid.’ he said with a short clap.
‘The real outfits are in the back, if would you care to follow me.’ he gestured to the curtain behind him. A pale arm outstretched with neatly rolled sleeves at the elbow.
‘Just through here.’ he said, holding aside a thick curtain to the back room.
Rows of costumes hung like gallow corpses, empty shells in cellophane shrouds. Packed tight in the small space with little room to move amongst the rows. I crossed the threshold under his outstretched arm close enough to catch the smell of leather. I looked back at the tailor, arm across the curtain and his eyes ushered me onwards with a pleasing smile.
I moved through the clouds of costumes, the werewolves and vampires, the nurses and the nuns. But those weren’t what I had in mind. He was right, I was after something specific. Looking back I could no longer make out the curtain or the tailor and the rails upon rails made the room feel exceptional large and suffocating all at the same time. Only the whispering musak from some far off speaker could be heard and a single light lit the way. I passed through another thick curtain into a circular clearing where cellophane bags surrounded me. These bags were much older, depreciated plastic and faded cardboard inserts, clearly well used but still serviceable nonetheless. Giving each a passing check it was clear the selection in this room was more sedate, fireman, lawyer, president. All were in decoration of some by-gone era.
I plucked a pack from the rail. Lumberjack. The cardboard front bore the traditional barrel chested square jawed bearded behemoth, red checked shirt, hat and axe. I chuckled in disbelief at the stereotype which soon faded as I peeked inside. No checked shirt or fake beard but instead a single garment folded end over end. I ran a hand inside to find a sensation like a sandwich left to sweat too long. I tugged on the thing and pulled it free. The folds unrolled and the sleeves unravelled to the floor. I held it up in the low light, larger than I thought it should be, hanging like a full length overall complete with long sleeves and trousers. Only, it wasn’t quite right, there were gloves at the sleeves and shoes that hung from the cuffs. An intricate zip ran down from the neck to the base and as I spun the hanger I realised why it had been warm and wet. It was a skin.
A wrinkled deflated face with empty eye holes stared back at me and as my own eyes grew accustomed I could make out the leathery skin and the hair that sprouted from it.
I winced, the face was all wrong, too wrinkled around the eyes. The hair, already streaked with grey. I rolled it end over end and stuffed it back in the bag with a wet slap. It wasn’t what I wanted at all.
The Doctor was just as disappointing, the label describing the pastel green scrubs with face mask and stethoscope. Inside, however, a well-worn husk of a figure much shorter than myself. Another rolled up and placed back on the rail.
The Lawyer was acceptable, her bag remained in a pile. As was the Pilot, and that one did come with the hat and badge. I was on my knees rifling through the bags under the rail when I found an empty bag. At first I thought I’d misplaced one of the rejects but as I turned it over the label read only; The Tailor.
I pulled it out to study closer, looking at the figure on the label. The slender figure under shirt and waistcoat, the pocket watch and the measuring tapes.
‘Find what you’re looking for?’ His honeyed voice whispered from the curtain.
I looked at him from behind the label of his own skin. Golden eyes glowing in the gloom.
‘You know, I think I just might’ve found something after all.’ I said.
‘Excellent,’ he exclaimed, hands steepling in front of him. Pocket watch chain swinging idly.
‘What can I interest you in?’ he continued.
‘I think what interests me most,’ I replied, without removing my gaze,
‘Is what’s under the skin.’