Miss Emily's Good Fortune
A Tailor's Tale
Emily bought a quilt from me yesteryear. Hillsboro motives it was, the fine old kind of thing equipped with laces and embroidery. A rather quiet transaction it was, as her family has been maintaining a cordial relationship with us for many years, no money changing hands right away, but that will be passed on soon enough when we convene for a nice cup of tea or sit at the pavilion watching a game of cricket.
At the forefront of her mind was not so much the quilt - she needed it as nights were getting cooler - but a dress she had ordered a few weeks earlier. She wanted something special made of silk to be imported from India, so I had told her to please be patient, and now she seemed to have forgotten all about it. She had that transparent look, an expression of someone who is forging well ahead of her surroundings. I, being her surrounding that day, felt demoted to a mass of inactive gravity, as she paced along through an exciting present towards a fascinating future.
Not that there is anything snobbish or arrogant about her, far from it even. She is of the local breed, well-mannered and soft-spoken. It is more that her audacity comes from some faculty deep inside of her, causing her to rush forward and act spontaneously.
It so happens that since I’ve known her since she was a baby, I do know her well enough to reliably predict that her restlessness will keep her moving on, jumping from one item to another, which in turn means that she does not tend to be very persistent.
“Ah, how delightful,” she gasps as she sees a woman wearing a fancy dress emerge from a shop across the street. “Will my dress arrive anytime soon, oh never mind, I’ve got to come across the street and take a look at some of their undergarments.”
“Suit yourself, Miss,” I say, just to see Emily smile and nod and head out the door for a number of adventures.
The contrast in texture between her happy-go-lucky attitude and the realities of my world could hardly be more distinctive. Silky fabrics from India don’t just come jumping in by themselves and sit in your lap, they have to be ordered and paid for. I have this salesman to take care of that, a very polite gentleman from Wellington, who makes his rounds to our area once every two months. He has a thick order book in which he meticulously writes down the desired patterns, qualities, and quantities. Once orders from all stores in this area have been gathered, they are processed at the agent’s company in town, and then wired out to the manufacturers here and there - Ceylon, India, Thailand. Payment is due upon delivery, but there is a bank draft to serve as a deposit just in case someone dies prematurely or decides to go bankrupt, which has been known to happen.
Then there are the adjustments to be made as people get thicker or thinner, and some of them grow taller. Repair work and adjustments have a tendency to make some people very demanding and edgy, sometimes to the degree that one might suspect them of having just one suit of clothes. To avoid confrontation and discussions with disgruntled customers, I have given up on doing any serious work during the daytime, where my two assistants and I will attend to the customers, do the repair works, and make deliveries. After nightfall, when the town finally settles and comes to rest, is when the serious tailoring begins.
Miss Emily will not be permitted to flounder around forever, some well-to-do gentleman will surely see to that, but before then she’s destined to travel far. Or so I imagine, as I stitch up a torn sleeve in a sailor’s jacket, comparing her lightness to my own gravity. She comes and goes where and when she pleases, whereas I have hardly been out of town for the past ten or fifteen years. I live in a suitable flat above the store, my wife is always home, our kids long gone. All the delivery boys known me, and the barbershop and café just around the corner are just about as far away as I ever get. Well, Judy - my wife - and I do go on picnics to Memorial Union Park one Sunday afternoon every month from May through October, and then there are the holidays with inevitable and quite unavoidable get-togethers. That just about summons it up.
A difficult year it had been. The drought was superseded by livestock diseases, which left tens of thousands of sheep to be butchered for no good reason at all. A noticeable drop in turnover caused farmers to spend even less than usual, they’d happily wear a coat or a pair of trousers awhile longer. All of which did not exactly bring me in a festive mood, but repair works picked up, and there were other signs of encouragement such as the well doers like Mrs. Emily taking a profound interest in imported fabrics. Was I imagining things, or did the upper classes relish in the hardship experienced by the farmers, whose children sometimes went to bed hungry at night? Well, I suspected the wealthy of shallowness, lightheadedness maybe, but I did not know them to be wicked. Rather, it was my conclusion that they were so accustomed to spending their way out of allsorts problems and difficulties, and now they were importing big time to forget about the sorrows incurred by general hardship within our society.
Emily had received her fine dress. Once I got the fabric, I took it upstairs to my private studio, putting it on an accelerated scheme. Such an honor is bestowed only upon customers I truly and dearly like, and Emily would not even know how lucky she was.