| Yardsticks |

Yardsticks: Chapter 40

Today she was Chaya Davidowitz, a conflicted being, tortured by her own insecurities

Mina

S

he didn’t have an appointment. And she wasn’t wearing her fur jacket. Possibly because it wasn’t so cold that day, but…

She’d come alone. Without her kallah daughter, without her sister.

“Do you have an appointment?” I asked.

Chaya Davidowitz shook her head. “I just wanted to discuss my Dassi’s gown. If that’s okay with you? I could wait, if you’re busy.”

I turned to Yocheved. Her face was stony, her skin pale beneath her makeup. “Should I handle the Fulops?” I asked quietly.

She jerked her head, a stiff nod. Then she addressed Mrs. Davidowitz. “Yes, what would you like to discuss?”

I walked away, gesturing to Olga to join me. “I’m so sorry for keeping you waiting,” I told Mrs. Fulop. “Let’s start.”

Olga went to help the kallah get into her gown. Meanwhile I offered Mrs. Fulop a coffee, and she accepted.

I stood with my back to Yocheved as I waited for the Keurig to brew, straining my ears.

“Tell me the truth,” I heard Mrs. Davidowitz say. “This price, everyone’s okay with it? Is this really how much everyone pays?”

Yocheved wasn’t making an effort to keep the conversation quiet. “Not everyone,” she replied. “Boutique shoppers are okay with it. My customers are people who are comfortable with my price range. A Lewin gown isn’t the typical gown you’d find at a rental. Every gown is customized from scratch, my sewing staff is top tier, and we use top-quality materials. We cater to a very specific clientele, people who appreciate our work.”

In other words, your sister and not you.

“Yes, yes, of course, I get that,” Mrs. Davidowitz said quickly. “But, like, I know quite a few kallahs who got gowns here. Regular people.” Her voice bent, and I pictured her blushing. “I mean, you know, not necessarily wealthy or anything.”

Ugh, she was pressing Yocheved’s buttons. And although I was really mad at my sister just then, I felt bad for her.

Yocheved didn’t answer. Mrs. Davidowitz continued. “I’m just wondering, if I do wish to cut down on the gown’s cost, are there any options? Less complicated work, maybe? Cheaper fabric? How about if I shop for the fabric on my own?”

Was this Mrs. Kohlman’s sister talking?

But no, she wasn’t Mrs. Kohlman’s sister today. Today she was Chaya Davidowitz, a conflicted being, tortured by her own insecurities.

And in the wrong hands.

The Keurig burbled. I squirted a dollop of cream over the coffee and returned to my customer who was comfortable with the Lewin price range — plus butterflies.

The fitting took forever. I didn’t know whose fault it was, but there was something pathetically wrong with this Fulop gown. It was missing a certain chic, there was something that was making the dress look like a Queen Esther costume instead of an exclusive Lewin gown.

Anuradha plucked a pinned butterfly off the shoulder and frowned. I took the butterfly from her and turned to Mrs. Fulop. “I think we should leave it for now. Olga will make all adjustments, and we’ll finalize the design at our next appointment.”

After the kallah and her mother had stepped out to change, Anuradha yanked the butterfly out of my hand.

“Yelena always thinks she knows best.”

“Excuse me, Anuradha,” I said sharply, “but Yelena sewed a perfect gown. We need to reposition some butterflies, that’s all.”

“Sewed a perfect gown….” She chortled. “Maybe for her private customers. Yelena’s head is not here since she started her own business.”

Olga spun around. “You,” she hissed, “stay out of Yelena’s life.”

Anuradha’s eyes widened. “Why? Are you her business partner or something?”

Olga blanched.

I cleared my throat. “We’re discussing these butterflies,” I said pointedly. “I think we should get Yocheved’s opinion.”

Anuradha sneered.

But when I returned to where Yocheved had been sitting with Mrs. Davidowitz, the chairs were empty.

***

Yelena

Three days, no alarm clock, and still my eyes flew open in the morning at 7:30.

I squeezed them shut, pulled my blanket over my head, and turned to the wall. There was no rush, I could sleep. Sleep late, until midday, until night fell again, until forever.

But it was no use. My pulse raced — you did something terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible — like waking up to a fire, alarm bells screeching — terrible.

There was no point staying in bed, there was no point getting out of bed. Coffee, maybe?

The kitchen was quiet when I entered. Mama was still sleeping, Anzel and Benish had left the house. I set the kettle to boil — and cringed.

Another day without milk. Another awful black coffee.

I knew I should go out, pick up some groceries, get fresh air. I hadn’t stepped out of the house since I’d come home from the boutique on Monday, I hadn’t done anything the past three days, nothing at all. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house, I couldn’t face the world. I couldn’t… My boss had fired me. The shame.

“You have a sewing machine now,” Anzel had tried reasoning when I’d told him what happened. “Forget the boutique, forget Yocheved. Start your own business. I’ll help you, you’ll be great. You have so much experience.”

Right, I had a sewing machine, and experience. But I didn’t have customers. I’d stopped accepting private sewing and alterations work after Yocheved had confronted me about staying late in the boutique. I’d burned all my bridges, I had nothing now, no job, no opportunities, only…

Only shame. Ugly, awful, sickening shame, which sat in my throat, thick and sour, choking me.

I took my coffee to the table, black and bitter, and rested my head in my hands. The steam rose on my face, the stench hitting me like the vapor from Olga’s steamer, back in her scowling days.

What had I done? I was an idiot. How stupid and reckless to get involved in Mina’s daughter’s gown.  What did I think, that Yocheved wouldn’t recognize a gown she’d drawn? I should never have agreed to Mina’s request. I should never have sewn the Dratler gown.

I inhaled the aroma of my coffee. It wasn’t only shame. It was regret. And also… deep down, a niggle of… guilt?

No, no. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Yocheved was angry, but she didn’t understand. I never took away any of her business. The Dratlers had canceled on her before, it wasn’t my fault, Yocheved had no right to blame me.

A squeak of wheels made me jolt. I turned as Mama shuffled into the kitchen, gripping her walker.

“Good morning,” I said.

“You’re staying home again today?”

I nodded, grimacing.

“That’s good,” she said. “It’s good to take a break. You work too hard.”

A break. Right, sure.

I stood to prepare her breakfast. There were a few slices of bread in a bag on the counter, two days old. And that was all. No eggs, no cheese. I toasted a slice, rubbed some garlic into it. I hunted around for something else to add to the menu, anything, and found a soft, mealy tomato on the counter. It would have to do, better than nothing.

But when I put the plate in front of Mama, she took one look at the pink mush and turned her nose up, pushing the plate away.

I winced.

“You’re not eating?” she asked.

“Soon,” I replied. “I’ll just go downstairs to the basement first, put in a load of laundry.”

Which was an excuse, but also true. I hadn’t washed laundry all week. I was avoiding the building’s laundry room, where the neighbors met and gossiped. Especially during the day, when everyone would ask why I was home.

Why was I home?

Mama peered at me oddly. I left the kitchen quickly to gather the laundry. Passing my sewing room, I paused, curling my toes. The door was closed, I hadn’t stepped inside since… since.

For a moment, I held my hand on the doorknob, fantasizing. Reams of white satin and tulle, fine lace, beading… The familiar thrum of the sewing machine, poring over patterns, cutting and basting, turning out masterpieces, my masterpieces.

I swallowed, then stomped to the hamper and dumped all the clothing into a laundry bag. Scowling, I dragged the bag on the floor across the house, then hoisted it over my shoulder when I reached the foyer. Balancing the weight of the bag, I pulled open the door.

And stared straight into Yocheved’s face.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 684)

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