The Emperor’s New Tailor

by Chad Carpenter

Stevedori fussed over a bare mannequin, picking imaginary lint from its midriff and brushing its shoulders with the backs of his hands. For the thousandth time, he circled the canvas torso, admiring his work. “Just magnificent,” he muttered again and again. He licked a thumb and dabbed at a leftover dot of chalk only he could see.

“Father?” A young girl stood to the side, eyes wide with concern, but Stevedori paid her no attention. Whoever she was, she could wait until this business with the Emperor was over.

The pair had been ushered, along with the Emperor’s spectacular new outfit, into a room within the royal apartments. Though the room was larger than Stevedori’s entire home and tailor shop, it was clear that this was only the Emperor’s closet. And if Steveordi was correct, it was only one of the Emperor’s closets. The room was lined with dark paneling and deep blue curtains and upholstery that absorbed sound and light both, but a row of large windows brightened it enough to adequately show off Stevedori’s handiwork.

Upon entering, he’d set the mannequin up by the windows and gotten to work. From a large bag he pulled long rolls of crinkly paper. Each of these was unfurled and spread out upon the room’s carpets to reveal nonexistent articles of a rich, decorous robe and gown, one of several from which the Emperor would select for this afternoon’s affairs of state. The long-running war with their neighbor to the north was on the brink of petering out, and today’s ambassadorial visit would seal the final details. Hence the need for a new outfit.

Stevedori lifted each imagined piece, mime-like, from its paper wrappings. He inspected them and fit them in place on the mannequin. It was like piecing together a puzzle, and he went at it with an intensity that caused the girl to wring her hands. She had with her a bag of her own and repeatedly fished from it rolls of fine fabric that she offered to Stevedori as if he was in need of additional materials. He waved the nuisance away and wished the stewards would come retrieve her. Perhaps she was a test, put in the room as a final challenge to his focus and fortitude.

Stevedori continued assembling the Emperor’s new outfit on the mannequin which grew no less nude as he worked. He appeared to carry on a conversation as he went, though when the girl tried to answer – for nobody else was doing so – she was hushed and told to stop interrupting. Stevedori then apologized, perhaps to the mannequin, and continued a debate about how best to present the clothing.

“Don’t be silly, humility is for peasants. We must show you off as the grandest ever to exist.” Stevedori held a needle between his lips and rolled it around with his tongue as he listened to a response only he could hear.

“That’s it,” he answered finally. “Utter confidence. That’s our angle. Anyone who can’t see the magnificence of this outfit is an idiot.”

“No,” he continued after a pause. “I won’t be calling the Emperor an idiot because he will see the magnificence. Just you wait. Oh, he’ll see it alright.”

Finally, when there was nothing more Stevedori could do – when the outfit was pure perfection and any additional attention could only detract from its integrity – he shooed the girl into a corner of the room, returned to stand by his masterpiece, and waited, back straight, for the doors to open. The Emperor was on his way, and Stevedori would dress the man in new clothing that the world would not soon forget.