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Nov. 13th, 2016 09:50 pm
smackenzie: (faye)
[personal profile] smackenzie
In the middle of the next week, Sadie did something she had never done, either for school or work – she called in sick. And armed with Mr Roskoff's letter and her notebook of designs (both proposed and actually executed), she took the subway to Flatbush, in Brooklyn, to meet Mr Roskoff's cousin the seamstress.

The cousin's name was Irene Speigel. She was a middle-aged woman with a salt-and-pepper middle-aged woman's bob, and she wore a smock over her dress while she worked. She had a small shop that nevertheless managed to fit three assistants and several dressmaker's dummies, and she took Sadie into her tiny cramped office to offer tea and talk.

“Izzy told me about you,” Irene said. Sadie noticed that the teacups were glass with tin holders, a cheaper version of the silver and glass teacups her grandmother had brought from the old country, which her Aunt Minnie refused to use because they were so old-fashioned. Irene dropped a sugar cube into each glass and offered one to Sadie. “He praised your dedication to your work. He said you had very even stitches.” She set her tea glass on a precarious pile of papers and flipped through Sadie's notebook. “It's too bad you didn't bring any samples.”

“I'm wearing one,” Sadie said. Irene peered at her over her glasses, then put down the notebook and waved at her.

“Take it off.”

Sadie glanced at the door to the office, which was closed.

“My girls knock first,” Irene went on. “How can I see what you can do if you won't show me?”

It occurred to Sadie that she should have brought something else with her, a party dress or the sundress with tiny flowers on it that she'd worn to work yesterday, or her winter-weight green wool skirt.

Irene snorted. “Izzy didn't tell me you were so shy.”

And that reminded Sadie of Aunt Minnie, who'd scandalized Sadie's mother before Sadie's parents' wedding by lifting Fanny's wedding dress to make sure her stockings were straight and her garters were even. So Sadie stood up and (carefully, because the office really was cramped) pulled off her dress and presented it to Irene.

Irene moved things around the desk until she had a reasonably clear work space, adjusted her glasses, and peered at every seam on the dress. She fingered the hem, pulled gently on the shoulders, felt the lining. And Sadie stood there in her slip, feeling self-conscious.

“He was right,” Irene murmured, and then, louder but without looking up, “How long did this take you to make? What would you charge someone to buy it?”

Sadie made some quick calculations and told her. “I don't want to under-charge,” she explained, “but I can't charge more than someone might pay for ready-made.”

“Hm.” Irene turned the dress inside-out, went over it again, and handed it back across the desk. Sadie pulled it back on. “God knows I hate to say this, but I think you're beyond what I need. I need girls who can sew fast and accurately and do what they're told.” She pushed her glasses down her nose and looked Sadie up and down. “I don't think that's you.”

“No, ma'am.” Sadie sat, thinking about how disappointed her parents were that she'd moved into an apartment in the Village with someone they didn't know, how disappointed they were going to be when she told them she was going to quit her good office job and take work with a tailor or a seamstress, and how disappointed they were going to continue to be when she kept not being engaged or married.

It had been a while since she'd really sat down, shut up, and did as she was told.

“You don't need to 'ma'am' me,” Irene snorted. She rummaged around in a drawer for a piece of paper and a pen, scribbled something on it, and handed it to Sadie. It was a name and address and phone number.

“Hyman Tartikoff,” Sadie read. “Who's - “

“Call him Mr Tartikoff. I'll call and let him know you're coming. He could use an assistant – his last quit to get married.” Irene snorted again and waved around her, no doubt encompassing the whole shop and her three assistants as well as the office and the tea glasses and the piles of paper and fabric remnants. “I raised four children and worked my way up to own this shop. They all helped me when they were growing up.” She leaned forward. “A man is no impediment to a woman with drive. You do not have to spend your whole life at their beck and call.” She handed Sadie back her notebook. “Now go see Hyman. Remind him I sent you, and then remind him to thank me.” She waved at the door. Sadie, feeling dismissed, collected her purse and her notebook of designs and left.

Sadie didn't know Brooklyn at all – never mind Flatbush – and had to stop twice to ask for directions and to make sure she was going the right way. She bought an apple at a grocery stand to thank the grocer for going so far as to draw a map. She thought of her father and his grocery, where she and her siblings had all helped out, and she was briefly homesick.

But that passed as she made her way through the clamor of Flatbush to Mr Tartikoff's shop. He looked older than Irene, short and straight-backed, and he spoke English with a thick accent and a sprinkling of Yiddish mixed in. Sadie wanted to ask him where he had come from, because something in his accent reminded her of her father and her Uncle Samuel, who had never lost their old world accents even after all this time in America.

Irene had indeed called, probably just after Sadie left, because Mr Tartikoff was ready for her. Rather, he said he'd be right with her after he finished with this customer, a young man having a suit altered.

“His brother's,” Mr Tartikoff explained, after the young man had left. “Needs a good suit for his job.” He pushed his glasses up and waved Sadie into the back of the shop. She wondered if he had an office, or if this was it. “Irene called me. Always in everyone's nose, that woman. Let me see.” He held out his hand and Sadie, assuming he meant her book of designs, gave it to him. He sat in a wobbly wood chair and flipped through it, making vague noises that could be approval, could be disapproval, or could be commentary on her drawing skills. She stood and held her tiny purse with both hands and waited.

Finally Mr Tartikoff looked up. “You are working now, yes? Not as a seamstress?”

“No, sir,” she said. “I work in an office.”

“Huh. Your dress, Irene says you made it. Designed it, too. No pattern books for you.”

“It is my own design, yes.”

“Go in there, take it off, let me see.” He waved at a tiny curtained area that Sadie guessed was a kind of changing room. So she closed the curtain around herself, shrugged out of her dress for the second time that day, and passed it through the gap in the curtain so Mr Tartikoff could examine it.

She held her breath and waited while he turned it over in his hands, felt it, pulled at the stitches, and murmured under his breath. She couldn't understand a word he was saying to himself, but hoped it was good.

Eventually he gave the dress back and she put it on and walked out of the dressing area.

“Good,” he said. “My former assistant, may god bless her, is marrying. I need a girl with good eyes.” He gestured to his glasses. “My sight, not so good. I have women customers who prefer a girl's hands. You alter and sew, five days a week, for twenty dollars a week. Your patterns, you can sell those, but you must finish all your work for me. Start Monday, we'll see for a week how you do.”

Monday. She'd need to quit her job at the import/export firm sooner than she was expecting. Well, she could at least finish out the week there.

“It's a deal,” she said, taking Mr Tartikoff's hand and shaking it. He looked surprised. “Sorry. And thank you. I won't let you down, I promise.”

“Monday, eight sharp. Yes? We work while the light is good.”

It was summer. The light would be good until late. But five days a week, probably nine hours a day, starting at eight – Sadie added in her head – she'd be out of the shop at six if she had to take an hour for lunch, with enough time to get home and do something fun. The import/export firm opened at nine and was closer to the apartment, but she might be able to nap on the subway, and she was young, she could get by on very little sleep.

She retraced her steps to Irene Speigel's shop to thank her, but Irene was out. One of the assistants said she'd give Mrs Speigel the message.

Sadie was making twenty dollars a week right now as a secretary. She hadn't expected to make any more as a seamstress, but that wasn't the point. The point was that she was going to be sewing and altering and gaining experience making clothes, and she could sell her patterns and try to start making a name for herself.

She didn't think she'd be able to get a lot of customers from this neighborhood, although from what she could tell it wasn't a poor, hardscrabble part of Brooklyn, but how successful would she be in the Village? Not many of her new friends were always flush with cash. Victor was the only one Sadie knew with a steady income, by virtue of being the only one who had a salaried job. Painting and acting weren't steady, and it was anyone's guess when someone's next commission or next role might come along.

But she'd see. She'd work for Mr Tartikoff (and, incidentally, immerse herself in a Jewish world she was starting to miss a little), build up her skills, hopefully make clothes for her friends on the side, maybe even collaborate with Addy on fabric designs so she'd have something all ready to go when she finally opened her own shop.

She bought flowers on the way home, put them in a vase on the dining room table, and went right back out to enjoy the day and the implementation of her plans.

The next morning she gave notice at the import/export firm and called the employment agency to let them know as well. She met Rose and Ida for dinner and shared the news with them. They weren't too surprised, but neither of them thought it was a good idea.

“You had a good job,” Rose said. “A steady job!”

“They thought I was going to quit as soon as I got engaged,” Sadie said. She hadn't even known that was how her boss felt until she told him Friday would be her last day, and he said she knew she'd only work until she found a husband. Protesting that it wasn't that at all got her nowhere, so she chalked it up to chauvinism and a boss who didn't know her at all. But Rose and Ida did know her, and they knew she was here to make a name for herself in fashion. Why did they think it was such a bad idea that she was starting to do just that?

“Instead you quit as soon as you found something else.”

“You should talk. If Mr Rockland proposed to you tomorrow, you'd quit your job and spend all your time planning the wedding.”

“As I should!”

“Look, Sadie,” Ida interrupted, “you worked for a tailor back home. Why are you so eager to do the same thing here? Aren't you always saying we came to New York to be free and independent and to go our own way and do our own thing? Instead, you're doing the exact same thing you did at home.”

“Not quite,” Sadie said. “I can sell my patterns and produce my own designs, as long as I get all my work done for Mr Tartikoff. I need to be able to see how the business works here, I need to start somewhere, and I want to be making clothes. Working in an office was never my goal.”

“Not dying alone should be your goal,” Rose muttered.

“I'm not spending all my free time looking for a husband,” Sadie snapped. “I have too much else to do. I'm only nineteen, Rose. I have time to find a boy.”

Rose didn't say anything, and after dinner Sadie went home feeling frustrated and disappointed. She didn't want to lose her friends from home, but she wasn't going to alter her path just to please them. She'd find a husband eventually. Despite what seemed to be Irene Speigel's trajectory – wife, children, business – Sadie wanted to establish herself as a professional before she was plunged into the life of a wife and mother. In her experience, husbands and children demanded so much of a woman's time that she had very little left for herself. Even Sadie's mother and her Aunt Minnie worked alongside their husbands. Sadie had never thought to ask either of them if that was what they wanted for themselves, but now she wished she had.

But they were from a different generation, when a woman's expecations for herself were tied up in her expectations for her children and the success of her husband. A woman wasn't expected to want anything for herself besides a good husband and successful children.

Sadie wanted the success for herself, and she had faith in her ability to find a man to share it with her. But it would be her success, and the things she'd accomplished for herself, rather than his success and the things she'd helped him do.

She knew modern men. They wanted their women to do more than just cook and clean and make sure their clothes were pressed and their dinners hot.

At least she assumed they did. She didn't know any married men in her new life, aside from the family that lived in the basement of her and Gigi's building, the husband and wife and little girl and Oscar the tiny yappy dog. And she saw very little of them, although from time to time she did indeed hear someone yell “Oscar! Shut your mouth!”

But Alistair and Carroll and Roman? Wouldn't they want more from their girlfriends or wives than just servitude and assistance? Wouldn't they like women who had their own artistic lives and accomplishments? Even Victor, who worked for a wholesaler and had an office job, he didn't just want someone to take care of him, but neither did he want someone to take care of. He wanted a partner.

And so did Sadie. She'd find him. She knew she would. But she had time.

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