| Yardsticks |

Yardsticks: Chapter 15

A waste of time. I’d warned Chesky. What did he think? I’d convince the Gordons to follow the takanos? Why should they?

 

G

ordon and Hersko?

I hitched my phone onto a headset and shook my head. Gordon and Hersko — Chesky was seriously losing his touch.

“It’s never going to happen,” I told him bluntly.

“Stranger shidduchim have happened,” he argued. “She’s your friend, can’t you at least try to help?”

“I could talk to Raizy,” I grumbled, “but I’m telling you, you’re wasting everyone’s time.”

I met Raizy the next day, when she came into the boutique for a meeting before Yocheved’s trip to Belgium. We sat in Yocheved’s office to review the schedule for the week Yocheved would be out, although all I could think of was whether Mrs. Levinson would be interested in my offer to consign her daughter’s dress.

I observed my friend while she listened to Yocheved. She was wearing a black dress — she always wore black — with a thin gold belt. A sleek blonde sheitel framed her face, and classy diamond studs rested on her ears.

I liked Raizy. Struck it rich but never let wealth define her. Yes, she spent a lot of money on clothing, and yes, her jewelry was probably worth more than my house, but she didn’t flash her wealth and it never stood between us. Her daughter was just like her. Earnest, refined, focused on internal beauty. I could see why Chesky had thought of this shidduch.

After the meeting, Raizy and I headed over to the Coffee Mug for lunch. We chatted over eggplant rollatinis, about wedding prep and gown styles and what do you get a chassan for his birthday? I broke my head how to bring up the shidduch topic, but in the end, Raizy beat me to it.

“Hey,” she said suddenly. “You might know this boy your brother is redting us. Nosson Hersko?”

I nodded eagerly. “Of course. Shlomo is good friends with his father and he taught Nosson in Tiferes Yitzchak. Top, top boy. Really top.” Which was 100 percent true.

“Right,” Raizy said. “So that’s what we’re hearing from everyone.” She took a sip of water. “But I’ll tell you the truth, I’m worried about the family.”

“It’s a beautiful family,” I said quickly. “Excellent home.”

“I know. But look, the families also have to match to some degree. I feel like there’s a big gap between us. I mean, you know me. I like simplicity. But let’s be honest, I’m not ready to follow the takanos plan, right? And considering Mr. Hersko is on the board… it’s just, I can’t see this working.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she added quickly. “I think this takanos plan is a beautiful thing.”

Beautiful thing, yes, until it became a determining factor in shidduchim. Gordon and Hersko — it could’ve worked. Raizy’s daughter was an excellent girl, and Hersko’s son truly was a gem. Even the families’ values weren’t that different. It was just—

A waste of time. I’d warned Chesky. What did he think? I’d convince the Gordons to follow the takanos? Why should they?

Raizy leaned back. “Can I ask you a weird question?”

“Yeah…”

“But you have to be completely frank.”

My tongue went dry. Raizy knew Tova Engel well. And she’d been to Shevy’s vort, seen the flowers and the photographer and—

I broke into a sweat. Don’t ask me if we’re following the takanos. Don’t. “O-okay,” I stammered.

She interlocked her fingers. “So my question is this. Why should I make a shabby wedding just because someone else can’t afford a nice one?”

Phew. My muscles relaxed. Then I pondered her question. Why? Because it was wrong to create peer pressure. Wrong to normalize excessive spending.

Wrong to spend thousands of dollars on flowers for one night… which was what was going to happen at Shevy’s wedding.

“I don’t know,” I said quietly. “I really don’t know.”

But as I hurried back to the boutique, I couldn’t help thinking: Marriage was a lifetime decision. Did it make sense to say no to a fantastic shidduch because the wedding would be different from what you’d imagined?

Yelena

The streets were cool and quiet. Arriving at the boutique, I inhaled the yeasty fragrance from the bakery next door as I chained my bike to the pole. I’d have breakfast, eventually.

I walked around the building to the back door and took a quick look at my watch. Seven o’clock. I had two hours. If I focused on my work, I could finish all the alterations for Hoffstein and get a head start on Friedman’s skirt.

In the stillness of the sewing room, I kept my foot on the sewing machine pedal, blocking all thoughts from my mind. I pinched darts, serged seams, and fixed armholes, keeping an eye on the time. I hummed while I worked, and with a sense of satisfaction, folded one completed garment after the other back into my bag.

An hour and a half later, Hoffstein’s pile was done. I was spreading out the fabric for Friedman’s skirt when I heard the door open.

I froze, clutching fabric pieces. Who was that?

My heart pounded wildly as I waited. Whoever had come in couldn’t see me, because my desk was hidden in an alcove. I gripped the table, holding my breath.

Someone was walking around, picking up and putting down things. In the silence, I heard the water in the steamer hiss.

Not Yocheved, not Mina. It was one of the seamstresses. Who?

I stood up.

A voice yelped. “Eto kto!”

“Olga?”

I walked around the bend. Olga was gripping the steamer, poised to attack.

“What are you doing here?” she shrieked.

“I’m asking you the same question.”

She lowered the steamer. “I came early because I need to leave early. You?”

I hesitated. “I have a lot of work.”

Her eyes traveled to the fabric in my hand. “You’re sewing a blue bridal gown?”

My stomach contracted. “N-nyet.”

She eyed me suspiciously.

“I’m just…” I swallowed, taking a few steps closer to her. “Look, Olga, you can’t breathe a word to Yocheved, you can’t. I have to do this, I… I’m not doing anything wrong, it’s… I don’t have a sewing machine at home, and it’s not during work hours, so…”

Olga nodded, lips pressed in a tight line.

“You won’t tell her, right?”

“Khorosho.”

“Not okay! Promise me!”

“I won’t tell.”

I waited for her to say something else, but she turned back to her steamer, ignoring me.

I watched her back. Her shoulders were stiff as she ran the steamer over the fabric, swift and angry, vapor rising over her head. The air filled with heat as she released more steam, until it was so hot, my clothes clung to my back. I tossed Friedman’s fabric onto my table and strode across the room.

“It’s so hot in here, you can suffocate.”

She shrugged.

“It doesn’t bother you?”

Another shrug. She twitched her mouth bitterly. I yanked a window open and leaned on the windowsill. Cool air filtered in, blowing my hair. I stood quietly, watching Olga work, until she turned around sharply. “Why are you staring at me? Go back to your work. I told you I won’t tell Yocheved.”

“I trust you. Now tell me why you’re upset at me.”

“I’m not upset at you.”

I shot up to my full height. “So why do you scowl all the time? It’s like you built a steel fence around yourself and dare me if I enter. What did I do?”

She put down the steamer. “I—” She sank into a chair, lowered her head in her hands and started sobbing quietly. Her small frame seemed enveloped in fatigued sadness.

I unfolded a chair next to the window and sat down. Olga kept her head in her hands, her shoulders heaving. The air was still, punctuated by the hiss of the steamer, Olga’s broken sniffles, the ticking of my watch.

When she looked up, her eyes were red. “My daughter — she’s sick.”

“I… I’m so sorry, Olga. I didn’t know.”

“I need to leave early, to go to the hospital.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, of course. And… and G-d will help, Olga. Doctors don’t know everything.”

She nodded.

It was 8:49 when I returned to my table. I folded Friedman’s fabric quickly and returned it to my bag. I stowed the bags under my table, grabbed a large piece of white lining and draped it over the bags to conceal them. Then I slipped out through the back door and rounded the building to the entrance to clock in for the day.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 659)

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