| Yardsticks |

Yardsticks: Chapter 21

Why was she doing this? It felt strange, accepting help from Olga. She was also… different, no sign of her usual scowl

 

 

Yelena

It felt strange, having Olga hovering over me while I sat at her sewing machine.

“Can I make you a coffee?” she asked.

“Yes, I’ll take that. Thank you.”

I’d been craving a coffee all evening. But the milk Anzel had bought in the morning had gone warm hours earlier. I kept begging him to stop buying milk. “The fridge is broken, we toss most of the bottle every day. It’s a waste of money.” But he bought it anyway, along with cheese and other perishables that went to the garbage uneaten.

Olga put down a steaming cup of coffee. I accepted it gratefully, took a few sips, and continued working.

It was quiet in the room, just the sound of a ceiling fan whirring overhead. Olga’s eyes were glued to me, making me fidget. What did she want? It was almost as though she was waiting for something. What?

She inched closer and peered at the sheet of paper next to my machine. “Nice gown.”

I flinched. She didn’t recognize it, did she? She couldn’t have seen it in the boutique. Nobody had been involved in the Dratler gown, only Yocheved and me. Not even Mina.

She started inspecting the fabrics on the table. I wished she’d leave me alone. I couldn’t focus with her breathing down my neck.

I positioned fabric under the machine’s footer and pressed down on the pedal. The needle galloped along until I reached the end of the seam and snipped the threads. Then I held up the fabric to inspect it.

Ach, what had I done? I’d attached the left panel on the right side of the bodice. What was wrong with me? If Yocheved had seen this mistake, I would’ve died of shame.

I groped for a seam ripper.

Olga held out her hand. “Here, let me take that.”

Before I could protest, she nudged the fabric out of my hand, picked up a seam ripper and started plucking at the stitches.

“Oh, I can do that,” I said quickly.

She waved the seam ripper through the air. “Go on, start working on the sleeves.”

“But…”

“But what? You’re collapsing from this pressure, and I don’t blame you. You’ll never make it on time without help.”

She pulled up a chair and settled down to work. She undid the seam, pinned the front panels together correctly and handed it back to me. Then she reached for the gown drawing. “Okay, what’s next?”

Shto? Why was she doing this? It felt strange, accepting help from Olga. She was also… different, no sign of her usual scowl.

“How’s your daughter doing?”

She sighed. “Not better, but also not worse, so I guess that’s a good thing?”

I nodded.

Is she doing this for money?

I watched her spread a sheet of interfacing over silk satin on the table. She was smiling. Her shoulders were relaxed, her rigidity gone. And it struck me. She was definitely not doing this for money. I’d pay her, of course, she didn’t owe me anything. But as the hours passed and we continued working together, I understood why Olga was being so kind, why she’d invited me to her sewing room.

Olga didn’t need the money. She needed a friend.

 

Mina

Yocheved, pert in a flared tan skirt and black ribbed crew neck, was breaking up a mannequin to replace its gown with a new sample when I breezed into the boutique.

Tell it like it is, explain yourself. She’ll understand.

I strode across the showroom, slapped my bag down on a love seat and coughed.

“Hi,” she said absently.

“Shevy tells me you want to get her involved in your marketing plans.”

“What?”

Anuradha was crouching next to her, parting layers of petticoat so Yocheved could reach into the gown. I propped my knee on the love seat. “The advertorials. Her gown story.”

“Okay. And?”

“And the answer is no.”

Yocheved let go of the mannequin, leaving Anuradha with an armful of petticoats, and came around to face me. “Why not?”

“Because I’m not comfortable with the idea.”

“And if I tell you it’s important to my business?”

I shook my head.

I could hear her breathing, slow and deep. “So let me get this straight. I asked Shevy for a little favor, and you won’t let her do it because you’re not comfortable with the idea? Would it be that hard to go out of your comfort zone to help my business?”

I sighed. “Look, Yocheved, I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from, alright? It’s more than a comfort zone. You know my circumstances, with Shlomo and everything, and you know my opinion on Brachfeld’s marketing. To use my daughter as a prop to glorify a Lewin go— I mean, this lifestyle…”

Yocheved gaped. “A prop? Hello, I told her we’d do it anon! Nobody will know it’s her!”

“That’s not the point.”

“What is the point?”

I sighed. Why was she making this so difficult? “The point is the responsibility. We can’t make people think spending this much on a gown is normal.”

She sniffed. “Here we go again.”

“I want your business to flourish, but I need you to leave Shevy out of it.”

“So this is your hakaras hatov,” she said icily. “I’m giving you a gown at cost price. I let you take off as many hours as you wish. And you need me to leave Shevy out of it? Beautiful. Just beautiful.”

So this was the bottom line. Her generous gift, a ploy. “I can’t believe it.”

“Believe what?”

“You… how could you? You know my opinion of your marketing approach, all this ‘creating a need’ for high standards. It repulses me. Fine, so you went ahead and did it anyway, I kept quiet, it’s your business and your decision. But now you come and use my daughter to promote your agenda? Commercialize her gown? And you call it a gift? That hurts, Yocheved.”

Yocheved gaped. “What are you saying? That’s— excuse me, that’s disgusting. I’m not using your daughter. Businesses do this all the time. It’s called a commissioned review.”

“I don’t care what it’s called. Find someone else to commission.”

She crossed her arms across her chest. “All right, Mina, let me spell this out for you. I told you I’m giving you the gown at cost price, but seriously, you think it’s cost price? We’re using the most expensive materials, I’m paying Anuradha — do the math. So if I want to defray some of the cost, put it down as a marketing expense, is that asking for too much?”

What? “Yocheved, if this gift is too big — and I totally understand that — then why did you give it?”

“I gave it because this is what sisters do for each other.”

My head spun. This, this convoluted kind gesture from my sister, was the root of everything wrong with society. It was like blowing up a balloon, everyone trying to be more and do more and give more than he could really afford. Not only with money, but with everything that lent itself to a desired image. An elusive image, which you forever chase but never attain.

I sank into the love seat and lowered my head in my hands.

“I don’t want your gift,” I said quietly.

“Mina.”

I didn’t look up. The silence stretched. Finally, Yocheved marched back to the mannequin, snatched one of its arms and ripped it off with exaggerated force. Anuradha smirked.

For the rest of the day, Yocheved shuffled around quietly, until finally, at four thirty, she left.

I collapsed into the chair at the reception desk. Next to the keyboard sat my wedding planner, Yocheved’s gift. I shoved it away in disgust.

Absently, I flicked on the computer screen and clicked on random tabs. My fingers tapped on the mouse nervously, and after a moment’s hesitation, clicked into an Excel doc on the corner of the desktop.

Contact list.

My head reeled. The craziness of society. Everyone lived for everyone else. Overextending ourselves to impress others, who overextended themselves to impress other others. To think that Yocheved had overextended herself to impress me. Because it looked pretty, and I’d view her as kind and bighearted.

There was only one way to stop the craziness, and that was to reverse the cycle, make it stop.

It took ten seconds. Open. Control P. Enter.

The printer spit out a neat spreadsheet. I folded it in quarters and tucked it into my bag.

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 665)

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