A Peculiar Fashion Business

by Jon Armstrong


Story Copyright (C) 2010, Jon Armstrong.
Images Copyright (C) 2010, Rudy Rucker.
2,000 Words.



When I am asked about my talents in the yarn arts, I like to say that there is no such thing as talent. When they ask how I came to be one of the world’s top designers, I shrug and mutter some cliché like hard work, luck, or perspiration. In an interview a year ago at FiberKon, someone asked when I knew I was a fashion genius. I told him I was not a genius. I believe that. But I do have a few special talents that no one else seems to possess. Maybe I always knew I was different, but it was during my first year in Seattlehama that I saw real evidence.

I showed up for work one morning to find my boss, Withor, standing over my little desk. The drawer was open and on the top sat my secret yarn collection that I had gathered over several weeks. It was significant to me, but wasn’t even enough to knit the toe of a sock. “Did you steal this from me?”

“No!” Withor was a cloth jobber who had an office filled with samples. “I found them.”

He grabbed a magnitron loop from his desk, held it between his eyebrow and nose like a monocle, and peered at the stuff. “These are all torn bits of junk!” Frowning, he asked, “Where’d you find them?”

“Just around,” I lied.

“You’re a thief! You stole them from somewhere. I should send you right back to the dirt!”

He meant the slubs, the vast corn-filled world that surrounded the city for thousands of miles in all directions. It was where I was born and had lived until I was nineteen. It was a world dominated by corn and sadness. I never wanted to return.

“I did,” I confessed. “I’m sorry.”

“From where?”

“T’ups.” I hadn’t meant to use the slubber word for city men, but he didn’t seem to notice. Shrugging, I added, “I just grab them.”

“You grab yarn from cloth?” He snorted. “Impossible!”

“It’s true. I can show you.”

In the hallway outside of his office, he pointed one of his long fingers. “The woman in the orange crinoline halo dress. That’s a half-denier yarn. I defy you to pluck one of those from her fat behind.”

I approached the t’up who stood before a showcase window of pewter, blackroot, and satellite ivory buttons and notions. The fabric’s yarn was incredibly thin, but I could see that the grid of the weave was at a forty-five-degree angle, and noticed a small twisted loop near the center seam that stuck out just a thirty-second of an inch. That was enough for me to grasp between my fingernails. With a snap of the wrist, I yanked out a bit, turned, and headed back to Withor and handed him the thing before she knew what had happened.

He studied it with his magnitron. “Unthinkable for the denier…” He tossed the thing to the floor. “Impossible! I demand you repeat it with someone else.” He scouted the crowd. “There! The gentleman in the green plaid, strolling suit.” He made me take a dozen more yarns before he believed that I wasn’t tricking him.

“Fine,” he said, and tossed the samples at me. “I’ve seen enough. You stole the yarn. All this capacity of yours amounts to debris only useful to a sparrow building a nest. It’s a disgusting frayed mess. They’re torn little bits of thing. Don’t do it again or I’ll toss you out!”

Withor’s dismissal stung, but over the next several days, as I looked at my collection, I decided he had a point. The ragged ends were ugly. Using several odd bits of metal, broken scissors, and wire that I had found in his office trash, I made two tiny sharp hooks. At first I tried to hold the tiny knives, but found it was better if I glued them just under my fingernails. Once I had practiced with them, I showed Withor, thinking he would be impressed.

He popped his magnitron on his eye and inspected my hand. “What’s the purpose of this? I told you to stop that disgusting yarn snatching!”

“They aren’t frayed anymore!”

He glared at me. “I really should have you sent back down to the slubs and get a slave who isn’t a criminal nuisance.” Then he eyed my fingers again. “You mean you actually cut a single yarn with those?”


In the hallway, he pointed to a t’up in a butterfly hat, vermillion clack shoes, and a long white crepe floor jacket.

I ripped a high-twist yarn and handed it over.

“Ha!” he said, as he examined it with his magnitron. “I should have guessed. Cheap irradiated cellulose!” He let the magnitron drop from his eye socket and caught it in his right palm. “And indeed… it is perfectly cut.” Narrowing his eyes, he fiddled with the pin and bolt near his tie knot. “This is nothing! I could do it easily myself.” He stared forward for a beat. “Quite easily. Cutting a single yarn from cloth and extracting it. It’s nothing at all…”



Three days later, Withor directed me to sit in the guest chair across from his desk for the first time. “I mentioned that odd talent of yours to an associate,” he began in that languid rhythm of his as he fiddled with the bondage of his necktie. “Well, talent is not the right word. What you have is a perversion of sensibilities.”

From his desk he picked up a square of black cloth and kissed it to his lips. “I would have ignored him, but he is offering a substantial reward.” He set the cloth down and glared at me. “I fully expect that you will fail. You might even be maimed or killed.” He laughed dryly. “Such a tragedy that would be!” He leaned far back on his chair and spoke toward the ceiling. “Oh, I had such hopes for my life… for artistry and grandeur, but it has become overgrown with deals. And now another contemptible scheme has found me.” Sitting up again, he finished, “But I would be a fool not to investigate the possible lucrative side of your repugnant little ability. In any case, this associate happens to have a wet spot for the repulsive and saccharine Tinyko 200. Namely he wants a bit of yarn from her little puff skirt.”

It would have been impossible to escape Tinyko 200. As the Celebrity Executive Officer of Bias-Anderson- Commonwealth-Burlington-D her image, sounds, and brands saturated the city in the form of engineered alloy, fan engines, pumps, diagnostics, extruders, fabricators, and a popular line of dresses, gloves, eyeglasses, and radio underwear. Tinyko herself was a tiny, young woman with wide blue eyes and a pert mouth. She was famous among the young Cute Bubble Active style girls, but since her recent birthday, had started venturing into the mature market, or as it was called, Wetting the Show.

So that I would blend in as an IMG collector, Withor bought me my first suit and tie. I remember staring into an audience of mirrors and marveling at how I looked. I was no longer a boy, a slubber, an indent worker, but a city man. To finish my costume, Withor also bought me a knit mask. “IMGs wear these silly cloaks, so you have to too.”

The thing was like a super-fine stocking made to fit over the head and obscure and soften the features. With it on, I looked like a mannequin. With the necessary pass in hand, I headed to the banquet hall at the top of the city, and slowly worked my way toward the stage.

The others all held their photo-cams, sight-cannons, airtricity gauges, infra- and ultra-meters, waiting for a glimpse, a peek, for the chance to cut an image of Tinyko’s tongue momentarily caught between the raspberry of her lips and her milk-glass teeth, her soft fuzzed cleavage as she leaned forward to laugh, her delicate and slender fingers frozen in an inappropriate pose seemingly about to caress the tiny spike of her left nipple through a silken skullcup of a bra.

Beside me in the crowd, another masked man said, “Last show, I got a shot of her crotch so tight you can smell the salt scrod of her cut.” He smacked the black, dimpled barrel of his cam and laughed. I nodded as if in appreciation but soon slipped away. His passion seemed desperate and alien.

Moments later, atom lights flashed. Torrents of blue smoke shot from around the crystal stage and the thundering beat of Tinyko’s newest song began to vibrate my gut. A phalanx of dancers and strippers ran out and genuflected as from the center came a roar of a fan-jet and there, in an elongated bubble of orange light, was Tinyko. She waved at the crowd, flashed her fluorides, and then opened her mouth wide and screeched her first note with an ultrasonic intensity. One of her slender fingers riffled through the chiffon at the front of her skirt and for a split second revealed the glistening ultra-white of her radio panties. Like piranha, the crowd pressed forward and spattered her face, chest, and crotch with ricocheting white, green, and pink flashes.

Going sideways, right shoulder first, I jockeyed through the men, pushing an elbow here, nudging against a moist twill there, and made my way toward the right side of the stage where the stairs were guarded by a dozen men who wielded smoking-hot scimitars. Between the men sat black guard dogs with long hypodermic teeth. According to the program, after her flash song, she would come down the stairs, let several fans feel her breasts, and auction off a thimble of her virgin love-juice. It was then that I had my best chance to get close enough to rip a yarn from the puff around her nineteen-inch waist.

As I got closer, it actually became easier to swim through the bodies because most of the others were pushing themselves under the lip of the clear stage and pointing their lenses up. And just as I reached the edge of the long glass stairwell, close enough to smell the rubber and asbestos of the guard’s safety jackets and the red-hot of their curved blades, she started down.

Her steps were shaky and clumsy. And up close, I could see the depth and opaqueness of her theatrical make-up, her horsehair-thick lashes, and the way her lipstick was drawn beyond her natural lips. In person, she seemed small, artificial, and awkward.

As she came to the bottom of the steps, I squatted, and when she neared, reached between the legs of one of the guards toward her skirt. The infinity chiffon was the softest thing I had ever felt. It was like fresh corn silk and distant whispers and I touched it a split second longer than I might have just to experience its excruciatingly tender hand. I couldn’t see my fingers in the haze of the fabric, but found one of the micro-denier yarns, cut it and yanked it. Next, I dropped to the floor and twisted away just as the thick arms of one of the guards twitched. He smashed his scimitar blade a foot deep into the carbon-cement floor right next to my ear.

Standing, I turned and pushed my way through the worshipping throng, my heart pounding.


About the Author

Jon Armstrong grew up outside Seattle, State College, PA., and Columbia, Maryland. His parents both have fine art and art education degrees and life was often like an extended art class. At an early age, Jon read and admired Buckminster Fuller and spent countless afternoons listening to his parents Jack Benny albums.

In 1986, after finishing a Liberal Arts degree at the University of Pittsburgh, he moved to New York and worked at a Japanese travel agency for several years and later had a short stint with Pan Am before the airline went bankrupt. Subsequently, he became a temp and gradually taught himself graphic design. As a graphic designer, he worked for such companies as United Media, Young & Rubicam, Archie Comics, HBO, and many others.

Armstrong's fiberpunk novel Grey came out in 2007, and his new novel, Yarn, will be appearing in the fall of 2010 from Night Shade books. The story here, "A Peculiar Kind of Fashion Business," is drawn from the first chapter of Yarn.

Armstrong can't stop playing golf despite his own scores and intensive therapy, and he currently lives in New York with his wife and child.

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