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The Seamstress's Tale
By John Jennings
Trudy Beimley sat alone on Saturday evening at her favorite table in the courtyard of Victor's Trattoria. Sipping her cappuccino with peppermint sprinkles, she resolved not to leave until she found a way to destroy the evil that threatened her. Victor's was her magic spot, an oasis of Continental flair that belied the dull mercantilism of the small West Texas city that always threatened, from just over the vine covered brick wall, to rape her dreams with its pawn shops, drive in banks, dull brick churches, and used car lots.

Victor's is the only place in this crummy town where one was actually "clientele", she thought, except of course, my boutique. Trudy liked being clientele, and was frustrated at having only one place to be clientele. She was not the actual owner of "my" boutique, but had worked her way from the very bottom at Belinda Tarbot's Fine Fashions up to the heady position of, in actuality if not in name, store manager. By hard work Trudy had built a personal world of fragile refinement, but now that world was crumbling.

Evil had a face and a name, the face of a continental smoothie and the name of Jerome. Two months before Mrs. Tarbot had met him at an art sale in Fort Worth, and suddenly he seemed to be working at the boutique. A "consultant" Mrs. Tarbot said, doing this and that, but mainly cutting steadily into Trudy's carefully acquired turf. In the pre-Jerome era Trudy ate expense-paid lunch with Mrs. Tarbot every Friday. Now it was Jerome who disappeared with Mrs. Tarbot for two-hour lunches every day.

The other girls gossiped of course, hilariously picturing their mistress and the Latin-style lover in a variety of improbable gymnastic poses. But Trudy didn't think Jerome even, well, liked women at all. She had tried a few pathetic wiles on the dark-haired smoothie, but he seemed to look right past her with a plastic smile. If he looked at her at all, his sneering glance seemed to pass over her ankles, which Trudy had always felt were, perhaps, a bit thick. No, Mr. Jerome knew perfectly well that his only rival for control of Belinda Tarbot's Fine Fashions was Trudy Beimley, and he was cutting her down at every turn.

Trudy stared at the pad where she had written nothing. She let slip an actual sob, bringing a quick glance from Victor. She flushed, and Victor covered their mutual embarrassment by hastily bringing her a fresh cappuccino. The final humiliation had come two weeks before.

Mrs. Tarbot called Trudy to her office and told her bluntly.
"Don't worry about the fashion show, dear. I want Jerome to handle it. He has so many fresh, creative ideas. We're calling it 'Helen of Troy.' "

The spring fashion show! It was held every year to honor the birthday of Hortense Talmadge, the wealthiest woman in town. For three years is was Trudy's own special labor of love. Trudy kept her poise until she made it to the ladies restroom, then broke down.

As the weeks passed, Trudy had watched helplessly as her labor of love, her raision de etre, was twisted in the hands of another. Jerome quickly brought up two friends from Austin to run the sound and lighting. And of what there had previously been reasonable doubt there was now no doubt at all. The gentlemen from Austin positively swished. The other girls were now silent, an ominous gloom settling over the shop. The shop girls, who once jumped at Trudy's crisp, confident command, now avoided her in sullen silence. Falls from grace are contagious.

In comparison to Jerome's brilliant new concept, Belinda constantly belittled Trudy's previous efforts, often when she could hear. Needless to say, Belinda Tarbot was cast as a somewhat improbable Helen of Troy. And the cost! Jerome's Homeric vision demanded an unlimited budget. The old stage and runway were found to be deficient. Three thousand dollars in new construction! Two thousand dollars in new lighting! A thousand dollars for painting new backdrops! As part-time bookkeeper Trudy saw the invoices. She knew the shop couldn't afford these excesses.

Now all her scrimping and saving to put on past shows seemed pathetic. Like wheedling Rick Ridley, weekend disc jockey at the local country western station, to emcee for free. She had even allowed the uninspired blue-jeaned brute to briefly touch her breast. Priding herself a skilled matador, she handled his clumsy lunges with graceful veronicas. Now she just felt used, soiled. And then there was the matter of her annual performance review and pay raise. It was overdue, but Belinda had put her off with one excuse or another for over three weeks. Trudy could only think the worst about that!

As the rosy firebrands of a West Texas sunset streaked across the sky, Trudy pushed her cup away and stood up. She had no plan of action, there was nothing she could do. Jerome's extravaganza was on Monday, only one day away, and she was left standing in the wings. She went home to her apartment and, after consulting a bottle of blush wine, cried herself to sleep.

At eight forty-five on Sunday morning, the telephone rang. Groggily, Trudy fumbled for the phone. "Hello?" she mumbled.
It was Dolores from the boutique. "Uh, Miss Trudy? I am very sorry to call you. . . but I was worried all night. . .you see, uh, Mr. Jerome took the collection."

"What do you mean, Mr. Jerome took the collection?" Trudy yawned.

"Well, last night, just as we closed, after you and Mrs. Tarbot were gone, uh, Mr. Jerome took all the fashion show outfits home with him. He said there were some, uh, final adjustments."

"WHAT? THERE ARE NO FINAL ADJUSTMENTS!" Trudy screamed. Every outfit had been laboriously fitted to one of seven bouncing and breathless high school cheerleaders, then safely sealed and labeled in protective plastic, awaiting revelation on Monday morning. There were no final adjustments! Trudy stopped and breathed deeply.

"Okay, Dolores, "she said more calmly. "You were right to call me." She thought rapidly. Her first impulse was to call Belinda Tarbot herself, but that seemed too forward for how she had been treated, too visible an attempt to curry favor. Besides, she might just get another slap in the face. She forced a non-committal tone into her voice.

"Well, Delores, you know that Mrs. Tarbot put Jerome in charge of the show, so it's his business. But I don't think it would hurt for you to call her and let her know."

After she hung up, Trudy thought furiously. Had she flubbed it, or made a stroke of genius? She had played it cool, but she had also dealt herself out of the action. Hastily, Trudy began to dress. She had to know for herself.

Five minutes later she was wheeling down the street in her five-year old pink Ford Mustang. Having typed out way too many checks paid to Mr. Jerome, his address at the El Rancho Apartments, Number17, was branded in her brain. She zoomed onto the loop highway out to the interstate, applying a light pancake base and lip-gloss at eighty miles per hour.

Heart pounding, she reached out and knocked on the door. It swung open at her touch. "Jerome? Hello, Jerome?" she called.

The door swung wide, revealing the carnage. The floor was strewn with wine and liquor bottles. A shapeless rag hung from the cheap chandelier pulled from its socket, glistening strangely. Suddenly, she realized what it was and screamed. It was the torn remains of the silver lame cocktail dress! She vaulted into the room in righteous anger. "Jerome!" she yelled, but her voice came back in an empty echo that told her the apartment was empty. She almost tripped over a blue bundle at her feet. The jaunty yachting frock! It had been used to wipe up some spill on the cheap carpet! She kicked it free and backed against the wall.

Oh no, she told herself, breathing heavily. How? Why? The questions assaulted her brain, as did a faint odor of vomit. Her eyes swept the room, seeking order out of chaos. Her foot hit a broken cassette tape, which skittered across the floor trailing a thin ribbon. She took in desolate tableau of empty pizza boxes, hardening nacho bean dip, and popcorn scattered everywhere.

She regained her composure and forced herself to walk from room to room, counting the casualties. The yellow bridesmaid dress, the summer culottes, the ski-apres ensemble,

In the bedroom, Trudy stepped to the half-opened closet. In every calamity, such as hurricane or tornado, there is always some object that is, inexplicably, spared destruction. The dove-gray business suit hung alone, pristine and unmolested, in its protective plastic.

Though she felt herself a woman wise in the ways of the world; Trudy saw much that she did not understand. Forensic science can reconstruct the details of a crime, but cannot always probe the motive. It is not fair to think that Jerome and his friends had intended to destroy the spring collection, but who can say at what point a revelry slips out of control, what unspeakable demon might cause an art lover to grasp a blade and slash a canvas?

Moving through the kitchen, Trudy pushed back the sliding glass door and stepped out into the back patio and driveway. A sad pile of silver caught her eye. It was the nightclub outfit, now deployed to staunch a spreading flow from five empty cans of Pennzoil thirty weight and a used oil filter. She lifted it up, then dropped it in horror. The fine fabric was drenched with smelly engine lubricant, her fingers wet and sticky. She stood frozen; a soft breeze wafting the fetid stench of used kitty litter from an open garbage can next door. The chain link gate to the driveway creaked open in the breeze. The transgressors were gone.

Numb with shock, Trudy quietly left the apartment and returned to her car. Pulling on to access ramp of the freeway she saw Belinda Tarbot's dark blue BMW sports sedan turning on the far side of the road. Belinda Tarbot was headed for the apartment and its horrible truth. For a moment, Trudy even felt a twinge of pity for her treacherous employer. During her weeks of torment, Trudy had whispered silent prayers for divine justice, voicing the meek and tender plea of the oppressed. But it is one thing to invoke divine wrath, quite another to see it strike in awful finality. It was Sunday morning. At ten o'clock on Monday every prominent woman in town would arrive at Belinda Tarbot's Fine Fashions, clutching her elegantly engraved invitation to "Helen of Troy", eager to view those exquisite selections that were now reduced to rags in the belly of the beast.

Back at her apartment, Trudy made coffee and found herself idly making notes on a pad. Suddenly she realized that it just might be possible to do it, to put some kind of show together within twenty-four hours. Was it really not over yet? Excitedly, she began to note every detail that came to mind. It was barely possible! It would take perfect timing, relentless work, and a lot of luck. But she hesitated. Why should she care, after all of Belinda's abuse? Why should this female Achilles be drawn from the righteous anger of her tent? She put down her pencil and finished her coffee, staring at the phone, waiting for the call. The call from Belinda Tarbot. The call when Belinda Tarbot would beg.
* * * * *

When the call came; Trudy was ready. After getting a hysterical Belinda off the phone; Trudy began to execute her plan with military precision. First a lucky call to a priceless contact in Dallas to open her store for fabrics, then dispatching Belinda on a speed run to get the sacred cloths at a truck-stop rendezvous that was half way, then calling to bring in the Mexican seamstresses at emergency triple-wages.

Trudy's hastily concocted cover story of the disaster didn't really hold water, but no one got the full version. She alternated between a fictitious fire and sudden family emergencies for the absent gentlemen from Austin.

By three o'clock Trudy had moved her command post to the shop. Having exploded the placid Sunday routines of a dozen minions into frenzied alarums and excursions, she could only wait for the arrival of the essential fabrics. At six p.m. Belinda's BMW sedan screeched into the parking lot behind the store, the rear seat heaped with shiny fabrics from the East, two speeding tickets fluttering on the dashboard. Inside all was ready, seven women hovering over sewing machines and dress forms.

Eyeing the merciless clock, Trudy rapidly assigned the work, then slid behind a machine herself.

And the women sat at their machines and sewed. United in labor, there was neither Mexican nor Anglo, hireling or management, bond nor free. Only virtuosity at sewing mattered. It was Belinda who went to pick up pizza as the experts sewed on. Sewing at midnight, sewing on black coffee and cold pizza, sewing at three in the morning, sewing in the rosy fingers of the Texas sunrise, sewing to cover female nakedness with taste and enticement. Still sewing as the rented Rolls Royce glided up the driveway to an expectant Hortense Talmadge. Since the dawn of fashion when Mother Eve sewed primordial vines in the Garden, there was never a greater sewing.
* * * * * *

At six o'clock on Saturday evening Trudy sat alone at her favorite table near the small gurgling fountain in the tiny courtyard of Victor's Trattoria, sipping in deep contentment as she reviewed the amazing events of the week. "Helen of Troy" had been a grand success (though not without a split hemline or two). Victory was sweet and so were the rewards.

Trudy idly fingered the plastic nameplate on her breast that read "Boutique Manager". On the table before her lay her pay envelope with a stunning twenty per cent raise. At around noon, there had been a further triumph at the boutique. Trudy was in Belinda's office when Delores came in.

"It's Jerome!" she said breathlessly. "He's on the telephone!" Belinda looked at Trudy and said in a careless tone, "Why don't you handle that?"

Trudy went to the phone in the sewing shop and picked up the receiver.

"Trudy Beimley, Boutique Manager speaking. May I help you?"

There was a long silence. Then Jerome said haltingly,

"Trudy, this is, uh, Jerome. I, uh, just wondered about my final check. And, I, uh, think I left my Gucci jacket there, too. I wondered if you might send them to me."

Trudy glanced over and saw the jacket on a hanger. It struck her that it might look very handsome on Rick Ridley, weekend disc jockey.

Trudy said sweetly, "Well, you might have some final pay coming. I'll have to check the books. Why don't you pick up both items when you drop by to return our spring collection?" As she hung up the phone, a loud cheer went up from Delores and the girls.

Yes, it had been a wonderful week. Yet Trudy was still dissatisfied. Justice delayed is justice denied; it was no longer enough. Somehow, during the long dark night of sewing, she had cast off the tattered rags of her previous sense of self to weave anew, not only mere garments of cloth, but also a seamless and shimmering fabric of newfound worth and confidence. She laid a yellow pad on the coffee table and began to compose the first draft of her resume. Sipping her de-caf cappuccino with peppermint speckles, her thoughts soared above Victor's, her stonewalled Eden, above Belinda Tarbot's Fine Fashions, above the dusty city, to ride the rosy fingers of a fading Texas sunset to catch the eternal sun that would also rise in Dallas, in New York, and in Paris.

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