Beyone the Line
  Seven Stories by Jane Turner Goldsmith
  1  North of Goyder’s
2  RU OK?
3  Silk Reams
4  Boy, Falling
5  Graduating
6  Dear John
7  The Skies Will Be Clear
  About the Author  |  |  September 2016 Fiction Issue

Silk Reams

Beverley hauls the roll of white shimmying silk onto the counter and unfurls it, loving the slip of the fine fabric against her fingers and the sound of thunder it makes.

The girl on the other side of the counter, hardly more than a teenager, looks far too young to be a seamstress, how would she have a clue, Bev thinks, the young girls don’t do much sewing these days, but then again, isn’t that nice? A young girl buying white silk to sew.

“For a party, love?” Beverley peeks over the top of her glasses to enquire. There’s a thin, middle-aged woman waiting in line, her mouth set, with a roll of psychedelic polyester jersey. Well there’s my usual type, Beverley thinks, taking extra long to whoop out the silk and watch it slither up and down the counter in gorgeous curlicues. “Like waves on the shore, she comments, trying to entice a smile out of the girl, who is looking a little unengaged in the whole luxurious experience of buying silk. Oh, God and there she is stopping to receive a text message, that’ll hold everyone up, the thin woman is looking decidedly put out, now she’s twitching and starting to sigh. Maybe she should shut up, mind her own business.

The text message has scotched any chat of whether she is going to a party or even buying a wedding gown. She’s far too young — surely? — but it’s just the kind of fabric — 100% silk satin, slinky and sexy and perfect for a wedding gown. But then, quite suddenly and obviously in response to the text message, the young girl jettisons her phone into her bag and flings her hands over her face. Beverley is surprised to see tears squirting through her fingers.

“Oh, love!” she exclaims. “I’m sorry, did I upset you, being so nosey and all about the party. Never mind me. There, there.”

“No, no,” says the girl, and she is really starting to sob now. “It’s just that — the text — my boyfriend” — fancy — thinks Beverly, you just never know these days, but anyway, “Oh God — No,” she cries, prodding her fingers into her eye sockets, as if it will staunch the flow. “Oh shit! What the...”

Beverley shoots a glance at the thin woman, perhaps she’d better placate her, serve her first and allow the young girl to step aside and regain her composure. The girl retrieves her phone again from the bag, flips it open and glares at it as if it must be faulty.

“Well, go on, what does it say?” the thin woman interjects. “What kind of a fucking bastard sends a text to call it all off — is that it?”

Beverly sweeps an anxious glance past the rolls of fabric, past the do-it-yourself curtains, in case her manager is hovering around close to the bad language. She could do without a reprimand for creating a ruckus amongst the customers, already she’s under surveillance for too much chatting, fewer customers, less profit. But no, phew, the manager is nowhere near.

The girl doesn’t seem to hear, in any case. “Oh,” she is sobbing. “Oh no!”

Bev has this sudden, unbidden flash across her mind’s eye. Of Neil, bloody Neil. So long ago, and she hasn’t had cause to summon up the whole sorry business, that devastating deception of all those years ago. She’d held a candle for him, stupid idiot that she was, for years, for decades before she ever found out why he’d dumped her. Fucking bastard, exactly what the thin lady said, and she feels a sisterly solidarity. In those days there was no such thing as a text message, they just dumped you without a word, or if you were extra lucky you got the dear jane letter — she should have had the guts to write him a dear john letter, the fucking bastard, just as the thin lady said, they’re all the same, all of them, what kind of bastard dumps a beautiful young thing like this one, a young woman who even knows how to sew, doesn’t just go grab a shoozy metallic plastic dress off the rack, all made in China, thousands of copies of them all around the world, those poor little women in China sewing until their eyes fall out, crammed in those dark little factory rooms, sewing and sewing until Chinese New Year when they all get fired and no-one’s contract ever gets renewed and so they have to find another little dark hell-hole to sew and sew, she’s seen all the documentaries… well anyway, this young lass cares about all of that, she’s a cut above the rest, and why doesn’t that young man of hers, why doesn’t he see that? This girl — this girl is taking the time to be thoughtful, on behalf of the couple, she’s probably going to buy some fabric for him too — she’s not just grabbing something off the rack, she’s buying some beautiful silk, she appreciates quality. Why doesn’t he have the courage to tell her properly, not on the afternoon of the party, that is truly a cowardly, beastly thing to do.

“Bad news, dear?” Beverley tries, “I’m sorry.” She really has to make some sort of decision about who to serve next.

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry, too.” the girl mumbles, she’s polite, too. Her nose is streaming and Beverly wishes she had a tissue box handy. She pats her pockets where she probably has a grubby one.

“Here,” Beverley says, handing her the (yes, grubby) tissue. The girl holds out a limp hand, a hand that could be strong but as if it’s just had the pop-out air valve unplugged from it. The girl looks up at Bev with her beautiful, soulful, tragic eyes. Beverly has never seen eyes so tragic, the tears like syrup gathering in the underlids, a few spilling onto the counter, and almost onto the gorgeous silk. She whisks the swathe away, just in time.

“Oh, he’s — we — we were...” the girl stumbles, frustratingly, as Beverley would actually like to know how much preferential attention to pay the poor lass, if that’s what she is, over the growing line of customers, all now standing stiffly like sentries, with their rolls of fabric. “Oh, it was — a stupid fancy dress party. We were going to go as Princess Leia and…”

“And,” butts in the thin woman. “The bastard is standing you up?”

Beverley is very sorry for the drama unfolding before her; more customers join the line, making the queue about six, and this is not looking like it’s going to be a quick therapy session.

“Listen love, how about you stand to the side there, while I serve the lady here,” — she casts a quick affirming glance at her partner in therapy, the thin lady, who has unstiffened considerably. It occurs to Bev now that the thin lady might have possibly been a victim of rejection and abandonment herself, with her small body standing so tensely there, her downturned mouth at the corners and the hard lines that make up her face. There are no smile lines, none at all. They’re all in her forehead and she’s got a scrawny neck that’s tells Bev she’s had a bit of tough life. Even though she is probably a whole lot younger than Bev herself, there have to be some advantages of sporting a few bulges and curves, Bev herself doesn’t have a scrawny neck (she gloats just a little), you can’t even see her neck! But hell, even if you haven’t had a man for years, not since Neil, bloody Neil, fucking unfaithful scumbag Neil, abandoned her for her best friend, you wouldn’t read about it — well actually you do read about it, happens all the time, it’s a goddamn shame, all those good solid women, seamstresses, who go to waste, get passed over, but anyway, the thin lady deserves to be served and Bev will serve her, standing there with her roll of cheapish looking fabric, has to be polyester with a garish pattern on it, what’s that for, surely she’s not going to turn that into a dress for herself? It will look atrocious, but you have to admire her guts.

“Can I help you, Madam,” Bev addresses the thin woman, at the same time indicating with a nod of her head and what she hopes is a sympathetic wink to the tearful one to stand to one side, even to sit down over there on the platform beneath the dressmakers' dummies, there’s a little spot there where she can have a bit of privacy to digest whatever the terrible news is, so that we can get on with the business of serving the rest of the customers.

Bev places the roll of white silk aside “I’ll just put it here for the moment, love, you take a breather and I’ll be with you in just a sec.”

“Now what can I do for you?”

The thin lady still looks miffed, as if she too would really rather hear the response from the girl than be served. They both glance over; the girl is now texting furiously, ignoring the kindness of strangers. The next two ladies in line are also now starting to look impatient; Beverley better get moving.

Whizz, whoomph, she rumbles the rolls, spinning out the fabric, expertly catching it at just the right length, ripping it down the weft if it is one that rips, or shearing her scissors through if it isn’t — all executed with speed and efficiency; folded, pinned, measured, calculated and on their way, first the thin lady, then the next few, on their way, so that she can get back to the girl, who appears to be now snapping shut her phone. Except that the customers keep coming, it’s nearly closing time and they’ve all made their final selections before the bell starts to ring.

“Excuse me,” Beverley has to say to one of the ladies in line. Out of the corner of her eye she has noticed the girl picking herself up from the platform, straightening herself up, and starting to walk away. “I just have to serve this young lass, she’s just had a little interruption, a bit of bad news, excuse me, but I’ll get her done quickly and be back to you.”

“Did you want the silk there, dear? Bev calls out to the girl, who is at least a few metres away, and still walking.

There is no reply. The girl has a slinky, sexy back, and it’s walking away from Bev and the silk satin.

Someone is lurking behind the reams of curtain fabric. It’s that woman, the thin one, Beverley thinks. She’s pretending to be looking at curtains! But she’s really eavesdropping. The nosey parker! She can’t help herself, Beverley leaves her counter and the glares of half a dozen customers and waddles over on the heels of the young lass.

“There, dear, you sure you’re not still going to go to that party?” It’s impertinent and Bev might get a slap in the face, these young ones, for all their apparent sophistication, a seamstress and all, and saving the world being overrun by the Chinese mass clothing trade, they can be a bit tetchy too, if you push it too far.

The girl turns, surprised, her tears seemingly reabsorbed, and Beverley pulls up short.

“You could go as Boadicea and show him!”

The thin lady appears from behind the curtain rods. “Or Germaine Greer!”

The girl is staring, stupefied at two demented middle-aged women, one thin, one stout. She has no idea who the fuck is Germaine Greer, much less Boadicea. Abruptly, she bursts out laughing.

“You just want to know, don’t you?”

She has a right to be offended. But then again, Bev did give her the tissue, she managed to save the silk from the snot, or the sticky tears. The thin lady did, reassuringly, endorse the view of the fucking, cowardly bastard as — well, just exactly that.

 “Yes, go on, just tell us.” It is the thin lady who answers.

“Thank you for your concern,” the girl says coolly. “Do you actually care — or are you just being nosey?”

Bev looks at the thin lady, at her lines, at the silky, slippery sadness of her thin life that she will try to cover up with her psychedelic polyester. The thin lady looks back at Bev; sees, no doubt, the legacy of philandering Neil in her rolls of blubber, rolls that bloomed in protest, or at love unrequited.

Of course they care.

“Don’t go to the party,” the thin lady says.

“You take care, love,” says Bev. “Save the silk for later. There’ll be a time for silk.”

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  © Jane Turner Goldsmith, 2016

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