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Yardsticks: Chapter 20

“He got all excited when I told him about you. He had this wild brainstorm, to chronicle your journey, as a kallah getting her gown sewn at our boutique”

 

 

Yelena

 

“Stand straight,” I ordered Mina’s daughter for the third time.

“Whoops, sorry.” Shevy grinned contritely.

She flipped her phone shut and straightened to her full height. I stretched my tape measure down her back.

Mina stood up. “I’ll leave now, I need to take Tzvi to the dentist. Call me if you have any questions, or ask Yocheved.” She turned to me. “She’s in skilled hands, Yelena, isn’t she?”

As soon as she left, Yocheved breezed into the sewing room. “How’s it going?”

I scribbled numbers on my notepad. “Good.”

“Good isn’t good enough. It has to be great. Mina’s daughter’s gown is not just another gown. Right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I grunted.

“Right, Shevy?” she pressed.

Shevy chuckled.

Yocheved sat down. She had something up her sleeve. I sensed it from the way she crossed her legs and started drawing a pattern with pins on a pincushion.

I was right. Amused, I watched the scene play out.

“I’m serious, Shevy,” Yocheved intoned. “Besides being prejudiced, because I’m your aunt and I want you to look beautiful at your wedding, this gown means so much to me.”

She removed another pin and pierced it along her curlicue pattern. “This is the first time I get to experience the gown process on a personal level. I mean, we get familiar faces around here all the time, but I’ve never done a gown for immediate family.”

I rubbed the tape measure between my fingers. Where was she heading with this pretty little speech?

Shevy’s phone buzzed. She looked at the screen. “Tee-hee, Gavriel’s sister says Gavriel is going for a hat fitting.”

Yocheved stared down at her pin art. “I mentioned this to Brachfeld. He’s our marketing guy, you know, from AB Marketing?” She glanced up from her pins carefully.

Shevy made a vague sound, eyes on her phone screen as she typed.

“Anyway,” Yocheved continued. “He got all excited when I told him about you. He had this wild brainstorm, to chronicle your journey, as a kallah getting her gown sewn at our boutique.”

“What?” Shevy asked blankly. She put her phone down on the table.

“He’d ghostwrite it, obviously, but it would be your thoughts, your story.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your gown. Your story.”

“My story?”

“Yes! Your experience at our boutique. How you felt the first time you came in. What it was like seeing your gown taking shape, first on paper, then in actuality. Your relationship with the staff. The ambiance of this place. Your excitement. An insider’s glimpse at kallah-hood. Everything.”

Shevy’s phone buzzed again.

“Go ahead, take it,” I told her, gesturing with my thumb.

Shevy read, smiled, and started typing quickly.

“Ha,” she said to Yocheved. “Gavriel’s sister wants my opinion on her gown, because my mother is in gowns. She’s cute.”

“Yeah, sounds cute,” Yocheved said. “So what do you think about my idea? I mean, Mr. Brachfeld’s.”

Shevy frowned. “Not sure I get it. What exactly would I need to do? And you won’t write my name, right?”

“If you’re not comfortable with it, I guess not. It would be like an advertorial style thing. You know, those columns that say communicated?”

“Anyone ever reads those?”

“If Brachfeld does them, you bet. It’ll go alongside our ads. He’s building a whole series for our campaign.”

“Ah.”

“So?”

Another round of buzzing. Shevy started typing again.

“Your sister-in-law’s gown is more important than yours, huh?” I teased.

“Okay, okay, I’m turning it off.”

I lifted her arms and wove my tape measure between them.

“Hmm, Shevy?” Yocheved prodded.

“Uh, yeah,” Shevy said. “So look, I’m not a writer, let’s be clear about that. I’m not sure I have much to offer. Like, why is this a story? It’s a gown.”

“He’ll create a story, you’ll see. He can even prepare questions for you, to give you direction. Would that help?”

“I guess.”

“So you’ll do it?”

Shevy shrugged. “Maybe. Does my mother know about this?”

Yocheved stiffened. “Uh, I don’t think I mentioned it to her.”

“So I’ll discuss it with her and let you know.”

I marked down Shevy’s arm measurements in my notepad. Without looking up, I sensed Yocheved grimace.

 

After Shevy left, Yocheved went to her office to meet with her bookkeeper. There were no appointments scheduled for the rest of the day, and I was glad about that. Fittings often took longer than anticipated, and then the work got backlogged.

I went to the fabric room to get some materials. On my way back, I paused. Anuradha was sitting in the showroom, alone, on her bench in the corner. She was holding a piece of lace and seemed to be working for a change.

On impulse, I strode over to her.

“What’s this?” I asked.

She flung her braid back, sneered, and ignored my question.

I tried again. “Whose lace is this?”

Another facial pantomime. The woman was nuts.

My eyes landed on a sheet of grid paper, covered with an embroidery pattern. I picked it up, flipped it over and found the name.

Fulop.

Ah. So Yocheved had finally found work for this Indian. Fulop. Rich, but not rich-rich. Instead of spending 10k, they’d spend 15k, why not? Didn’t everyone in this community spend above their means? Those who could afford to spend a thousand on a gown spent three. And those who could afford to spend three spent ten. Idiotic society. Psikh.

Well, it was none of my business. I returned to the sewing room and settled down to work.

The hours rolled along to the thrum of sewing machines and chatter. Five o’clock, the sewing room started emptying out. I cleared my table, as though I, too, was getting ready to leave. Then, when I was finally alone, I went to clock out before returning to my machine to tackle my private work.

Only I wasn’t alone.

“Leaving now?”

Yocheved’s voice startled me. She was sitting at the reception desk, leaning back in her chair.

My limbs went cold. “Y-yes.”

She folded her arms and spun her seat. “You stay overtime a lot, Yelena, no?”

I blanched. “What? I didn’t — I mean, it’s five o’clock, I’m heading home.”

Yocheved’s face was alarmingly calm. “I know you stay overtime. Why don’t you ask to be compensated? Am I giving you more work than you can fit into your hours?”

My breath caught in my throat and my mind raced. How did she know? Mina? Did Mina tattle? It couldn’t be. Mina was a kind person. But then, this was her sister’s business, maybe she’d felt pressured. Or…

My stomach contracted. Olga. That rat. She’d promised she wouldn’t say anything, and I’d trusted her.

Yocheved’s eyes were fixed on my face. I straightened my back. “No, I don’t work overtime.”

“Aha.”

What did aha mean? Did she believe me? Of course not. I had to leave. But my stuff, I had incriminating bags under my table.

I could go back, pretend I’d left something behind. But then she’d see me walk out with those bags and ask more questions.

There was no choice, I had to leave the building. Yocheved was watching me, she suspected me. Swallowing, I muttered goodbye and turned to the door.

Tears pricked my eyes as I trudged through the reception area. It was over, the game was up. I couldn’t use Yocheved’s sewing room anymore. I’d have to call up all my clients, cancel all my jobs.

I’d tried — I’d bent over backwards — and I’d failed.

A scene popped into my vision. A beach; white sand, blue sky, blazing sun. Vacation, an escape. Get away from everything. Gowns, sewing machines, bills.

I blinked back more tears as I pushed open the front door and stepped outside. I’d get my bike, go home. Hide from the world.

I was reaching for the chain to unlock my bike when a hand grasped my shoulder.

I jolted.

It was Olga.

“What are you doing here?!”

“Just waiting for a taxi. What’s the matter?”

I blinked. “Nothing. Nothing.”

“By the way, Yelena…”

Was she going to confess? Apologize? I don’t need your apologies.

But what she said next took me by complete surprise. “I was thinking about our conversation. You know, that morning in the sewing room? You told me you don’t have a sewing machine?”

I nodded suspiciously.

“So I was thinking,” she continued, “I have a fully equipped sewing room at home. If it makes things easier for you, you’re welcome to use it.”

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 664)

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