His wife came to her with a request.
That was different.
Usually, she would go to their place of residence. That was their way, after all. Always had been since she’d sailed Elsewhere…
They’d “request” that those they wished to Hire come to them, in their stately splendor, with a singularly carefully worded note (signature by She who wished Your services, of course. The body was, of course, typewritten) so that You could see the magnificence of their benefice to You, the lowly, you, who without them would be nothing more than those who lived in The Five Points. Toiling away dreary day after dreary night, stuck in the slums and light-less rooms and causeways sewing for their bread, butter, and nothing else. It didn’t matter what your nationality, creed, nor color. You were from there? You were the dregs.
She knew it was a lie.
Oh, yes, she’d received the notes with a gracious nod of her head, a bright smile that showed crooked teeth, a “Thank you” still heavily accented, and an assurance that she would, indeed, appear on the day and at the hour called for, down to the second.. Thus, she went, wearing her best coat. The one she’d chosen the cloth for after she’d found a place, a neighborhood, that she could work and live in, with those whose spoke her language. Light grey, heavy wool, but with an added dash of a thread of red. Not something that called attention to herself, but she knew it was there in the weft and warp of the fabric, woven as it was so unpretentiously that she could put her best black hat on, the one with the pale green flower, and feel like she had Survived so far.
Did that make her “elite?”
But she wore it well.
So, yes, she was surprised by the person who knocked on her door that day. Because They never came to her.
She opened it hesitantly, because there was a mess of many fabrics half-stitched half-finished and/or embroidered all over the place, and, truthfully, because she was bloody tired.
“Hello. May I help you?” She winced at the way the words rolled off….the accent was still too strong…at least to greet someone she didn’t know at her own door. But she faked it off with her smile.
The woman standing on her threshold smiled shyly. “You are Barbara, yes?” she said in perfect Hungarian.
She never let her surprise show. Or, at least, she tried not to.
“Yes, That’s my name.”
The woman with the pale green eyes held out her hand, smiling like she’d just found a long lost friend. “My name is Anna. I know I may be intruding, but…” her smile faded slightly.
“No. No no no. Not at all. Please, Anna, come in!” she said, her natural graciousness returning to her as she opened the door fully, waving her guest in. She glanced around and her shoulders hitched high, realizing that her little flat was not fit for company. Especially of the sort who wore a beautifully dyed forest green silk dress under a very heavy wool coat.
“Ah…ergh…sorry!” she said, snatching up a pink dress with florid bits of blue and purple here, part of a maroon coat dashed with elements of magenta and fuchsia there (peacocks, remember) , trying to make the place presentable.
Anna watched this for a moment, in shock at the change from the calm, charming, beautiful if slightly sad-eyed woman she’d met at the door suddenly turning whirlwind rendering her speechless. But only for a moment.
“Wait! Wait Stop! Barbara! Barbara! Stop!” Her hands were held out and her stance was such as she was trying to stop of a herd of crazed cats running past her.
Barbara stopped mid-twirl between snagging a shifty piece of red chiffon for a dress for Mrs. Abernathy on 75th and length of lace (procured from a friend at extra expense that she wouldn’t pass on) for Mrs.Parker (who lived on Park Ave, of course), balancing on her right foot unsteadily, the whirl and twirl of fabric flying, floating everywhere, until it finally slowly settled around her.
Her left leg, was, of course, still kicked up high from the dervishing she’d been interrupted from.
Gravity was, of course, kicking in.
Anna’s eyes widened as the woman she’d heard was perfect in her craft, the woman who could make the dress that she’d wanted all her life from the time she was a little girl, the woman who could make her the Belle of the Ball and the Love of her Life look up from his music, started tipping over.
“Shit.” Barbara said, as physics took hold.
She was used to hitting the ground immediately upon stumbling. From the time she could first remember falling, her body was like a rock thrown into the ground when it happened. A slight sense of weightlessness then *BAM*, it was just that sudden.
Pain would thenceforth announce itself, like the guest you’d never invited to the party you didn’t want to throw in the first place, and she’d lay there for a bit, looking up as the sparks and crackles from the parts that she’d abused let loose the dogs of war on her. She didn’t expect to be in a bright *floompf* of fabric as arms from nowhere caught her, nor did she expect the landing to be as gentle as it was.
She lay there a moment, as a corner of the chiffon the color of blood (Mrs. Abernathy was…”interesting”…) landed across her nose and mouth. She cricked an eyebrow in annoyance and deep deep embarrassment at the whole bloody situation.
A deep breath.
A great “Awhooooffff” gusted out of her..
The fabric floated from where it lay, masking her, gently onto her shoulder. She was rather hoping it would drag her down the three floors from her flat into the basement where she could retire from this life in peace, and not have to face…
“Where are you from?” Anna asked, upside down, her chin resting lightly on her hand, and her frown…no…smile….?
The frown…no…smile…think woman!….grew wider.
“Pest. Nice to meet you.”
Author’s note on two pronunciations:
1. “Tokaj” is pronounced “Toe – Coy”, with a slight lilt on both the “toe” and the “coy” that’s…actually hard to describe. So, think the wiggly-bits at the end of your foot plus either a way of acting towards someone, or a really goddamn big Japanese Goldfish (spelled Coi).
2. “Pest” is not actually pronounced “pest”, with thehard “P”, hissing “S” and hard “T”, like you’re talking about a rodent or a particularly annoying colleague. It’s pronounced “Pesht”, all of the consonants soft. Like a whisper. And it’s the flatland part over the river from Buda.