The heavy lifting of our staff meeting over, I had just enough time to grab a chunk of Safeway pudding cake before our first customers arrived. Lucky for me, dearies, old Mrs. Strauss couldn't care less about the crumbs across my front. Actually, if she could see the crumbs, she might care. Very Old World, that Mrs. Strauss, mes amis. Ah, we sinners do rely upon the blindness of others.
Mrs. Strauss is an avid seamstress, and I've known her for almost a decade. I remember when her great-granddaughter Olivia was born, and Mrs. Strauss came in and bought an entire bolt of petal-pink dotted swiss. I wondered if she had used it all yet, after eight years. That's a lot of dots for a small girl, darlings!
Mrs. Strauss headed straight for the novelty fabrics this morning. I'll say this for the grande dame, she doesn't dilly-dally. In four minutes flat, she was at the cutting table with a bolt of rainbow-striped terry cloth and some smiling starfish buttons.
I smiled at Mrs. Strauss. "Mrs. Strauss, is this for Olivia?"
Mrs. Strauss gave me a watery grin, her small eyes behind their lenses like guppies in their fishbowls. "Yes. Her birthday is in August, and I like to make her a little something."
Darlings, part of me just melted. Oui, of course, a great-grandmother's love will shine through every stitch! Rainbows and starfish are tres, tres sweet! Great-grandmothers and little girls are tres, tres sweet! But, of course, I am occasionally in contact with real eight year-old girls in this universe, and the other part of me quailed. Olivia was probably wearing leather britches by now and writhing to the songs of the newest pop chippie.
"Mrs. Strauss, you always make such lovely things for your great-granddaughter, but can I tell you a secret? I'm not so sure this terry is the most color-fast."
"It runs?" Mrs. Strauss' eyebrows curled like seaweed entwining her twin guppies.
"You know, the denim-colored terry is much better, and we have these darling patterns for older girls. Just take a look at this one! I'm thinking of making this one for my niece Midori."
Mrs. Strauss grabbed the pattern, but the fish leaped out of their fishbowls. "You have a Japanese niece? You don't look Japanese."
"Oh, no, hon. Her brothers are Jack Daniel and Bailey, if that
gives you a clue. As long as Liz doesn't name her next one Jagermeister,
I'll be happy."
"Kids sure do grow up fast, don't they?" I couldn't help adding, but Mrs. Strauss was busy rooting through her wallet.
As I was ringing Mrs. Strauss up, though, she looked up at me and whispered, "Does that Suzette have a man yet?"
I couldn't help but gulp with surprise. "I haven't heard anything about that, Mrs. Strauss." I could only leave it at that.
"She's such a pretty girl. Nice smile, rosy cheeks. I think my great-nephew Frederick might be just right for her."
I gave Mrs. Strauss her change and could only say, "Hon, I'm sure she'd be thrilled that you were thinking of her." I left it at that. I had no idea if Frederick was the tuba player in an oom-pa-pah band, or an authoritarian martinet with a riding crop. Or both. Sacre bleu!
Suzette was helping another customer in the patterns section, oblivious to our playing with her fate
The thing was, Mrs. Strauss and I weren't the only ones curious about Suzette's chance for romantic happiness. Most of our regulars asked for news, as if they were personally invested in Suzette's dating record. Of course, our regulars also cried while they read dog-eared Silhouette bodice-rippers. Vicarious romance is the perennial fixation of the fabric consumer.