| Yardsticks |

Yardsticks: Chapter 41

“When you left on Monday, I was so angry, I didn’t give you a chance to explain”

 

Yelena

 

The laundry, my hair — bozhe moy — the fridge.

Before my brain could register that my boss was standing at my door and what in the world is she doing here, I whipped around to the kitchen, which was in full view from the apartment’s entrance, and cast a frantic glance at the fridge.

My stomach sank. It was open.

I’d been begging Benish to organize his food magazines and get rid of some so the fridge could actually close, but no, he kept stuffing more and more inside, revealing that our fridge was not a fridge but a mini library, and announcing to Yocheved that there was no food in the house.

“I called on my way over,” Yocheved began awkwardly. “There was no answer. I just wanted to drop this off, you left it in the boutique…?”

She held out my bag. 

Three days, and I hadn’t even realized my bag was missing. 

“And this,” she said. “Your paycheck for this week.”

“Th-thank you,” I managed to reply.

“Who’s there at the door?” Mama called.

I flushed. “For me, Mama,” I muttered. “I’ll be right back.”

Yocheved squinted. “Is that your mother?”

“My husband’s mother.”

“She lives here?”

“N-no. Yes. I mean, for now.”

She nodded.

For a moment, we stood in silence, avoiding each other’s eyes. Yocheved adjusted her bag over her shoulder, that crossbody bag all her customers carried these days, doing a whole dance to get it on and off.

She swallowed, shifting her weight. “Do you have a moment to talk?”

What did she want, to yell some more? She’d fired me already, was my punishment not over?

A horrible thought occurred to me. Was Yocheved going to ask me to pay for the work I’d done? Did she consider the Dratler gown hers, because she’d drawn it?

I trembled. She couldn’t — I couldn’t — the money was long gone, and besides, I’d done all the work, it was only her idea.

“We could talk another time, if you prefer,” Yocheved said.

“It’s… okay.” I propped the bag of laundry against the wall. “Come inside.”

I directed her to the dining room. She paused as we passed the kitchen, her eyes swiftly sweeping the place. Her brows furrowed, and she may as well have stated what she was obviously thinking. What kind of dysfunctional woman did I have working in my boutique?

Yocheved took a seat and cleared her throat. “When you left on Monday, I was so angry, I didn’t give you a chance to explain.” She toyed with the strap of her bag. “Mina says you only did alterations on the gown?”

Chto—

Ahh… Mina said…

A click in my brain; Mina. Mina had only said what she knew, and that meant Yocheved didn’t know, she was confused.

For a dazzling moment, I saw my salvation dangling before my eyes. Mina had no idea that I’d sewn this gown for Dratler, and Yocheved had no way of knowing it either, she probably didn’t even know that this gown was worn by Dratler. Unless Mina had told her? It didn’t seem so, from her words.

“Y-yes,” I mumbled.

“Yes what? You only did alterations? But the design — it was exactly the same as the gown I’d drawn for the Dratler kallah. Do you remember that sketch? Mina wasn’t involved, but didn’t you sit with me when I did it?”

No, I wanted to scream. No, none of this ever happened, it’s all a bad dream, I didn’t do anything, I don’t remember that sketch, I see so many sketches at work, give me back my job and I’ll be a good girl, I’ll never cause any trouble again.

But I couldn’t lie. I’d had enough of all these pretenses; I was sick of all this discreet business. My job was over, there was nothing left but to say the truth, admit what I’d done. And anyhow, even if I denied it now, Yocheved would eventually find out that I’d lied, and then things would be way worse. My name would be tarnished, nobody would ever trust me again.

“Mina’s right,” I said quietly. “I only did alterations. For her.” I paused for a moment. “But she doesn’t know, I never told her… I sewed this gown for Dratler.”

 

***

Mina

I loved sheva brachos.

Unlike the wedding, which evoked a hodge-podge of emotions, plus the pressure of everything falling into place, sheva brachos were pure joy. Everyone was relaxed, enjoying the treat of being wined and dined.

Wednesday night’s sheva brachos was hosted by Tiferes Yitzchok, Shlomo’s yeshivah, and was held in the yeshivah’s lunchroom.

As I was hanging up my coat, I met Chesky. My brother planted his hands on my son Menashe’s shoulders and whistled. “He’s 21, Mina, just ask.”

I gawked. “He turned 21 last week, Chesky, and please, I made a wedding three days ago, can you give me a chance to breathe?”

I threaded my scarf through my coat sleeve and reached for a hanger. Menashe walked off. Chesky stared after my son’s back, his eyes gleaming.

“I’m serious, Mina, I have a fantastic idea. It’s like, perfect. Actually… you know the girl.”

That got me. “I know her?”

He grinned. “You definitely know her mother.”

I scrunched my forehead. “I’m not listening.”

“But you want to know the name.”

“I do not.”

“Fine, I’m not saying.”

“Tell me.”

He winked. “Malkie Gordon.”

What? Raizy’s daughter?”

“Uh-huh.”

Malkie Gordon. She was a sweetheart of a girl, I’d always loved her. Charming personality, sterling middos, fun and witty and tochendik. For a bizarre moment, I pictured Menashe together with Raizy’s daughter, then shook my head. Lovely girl, amazing mother, but we knew each other too well to become mechutanim.

“Nice try, brother.”

“Because they won’t follow the takanos plan,” he grumbled. “Right?”

Stop that.”

He chuckled. “Just teasing.”

I glared and walked away.

The sheva brachos was beautiful. The food was simple, heimishe fare, but I had a great time schmoozing with the other maggidei shiurim’s wives. The rosh yeshivah spoke, and two bochurim sang hilarious grammen.

So what if Yocheved was absent? I’d invited my sisters with a no-obligation disclaimer. I understood that they couldn’t leave their houses every night. And Gila also didn’t come, so it really didn’t have to mean anything.

Still. Yocheved had only come into the boutique once since her meeting with Mrs. Davidowitz, and had avoided me the entire time. It was frustrating, knowing I’d hurt her but not really understanding why. We’d have to talk, clear the air. After sheva brachos

I was waiting for Shlomo outside the building when Feivel Rubinstein, who also worked for the yeshivah, approached me.

“Mrs. Genuth,” he started. “First, mazel tov, such a beautiful simchah, you should have lots of nachas.”

“Amen, thanks.”

I glanced at my watch. The air was misty, my sheitel was going to frizz. What was taking Shlomo so long?

Mr. Rubinstein coughed. “I wanted to tell you… I’ve been thinking about your suggestion, to offer alternative takanos packages, and I decided you’re right. First for the reason you said, to offer relief to people who really need it but their mechutanim won’t cooperate, but also, to prevent people who can afford to marry off in style to sign up for the plan because of pressure from their mechutanim. I’m afraid they’ll end up cheating the system.”

I nodded, not sure if I appreciated his reasoning, but glad of his decision regardless.

Rubinstein adjusted his hat. “If someone takes our loan and secretly spends above the budget, it’s mamash geneivah and defeats the whole purpose of the takanos plan. If people are doing this, I need to know about it. They’re not entitled to the fund money.”

I shivered. Davidowitz — he was talking about Davidowitz.

And I completely agreed, they were wrong. They were spending a quarter of the loan amount on the kallah’s gown. They were going to make a wedding on a grand scale. Because they wouldn’t stop at the gown. They didn’t have the courage.

Rubinstein was waiting for me to respond. I had to tell him.

But then I thought about Yocheved. If I reported Davidowitz, Yocheved would lose a customer.

And then I realized something. It wasn’t my responsibility.

You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t tell her what gown to wear.

It was an intoxicating feeling, liberation. I couldn’t fix the world — and I didn’t have to.

“You understand my point?” Rubinstein asked.

I nodded. “Yes, I understand,” I said. “But honestly, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 685)

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