Authors: Susan Gloss
April took the necklaces. “Sure. Do you mind if I sit down? My feet are kinda sore.”
“Oh, sure. I guess I didn’t think of . . . that you might . . .” Violet felt her cheeks burning. “I’ve never been pregnant, so it didn’t occur to me that you might be uncomfortable.”
“Normally, I’m fine on my feet, but it’s kind of hot today and they’re really swollen.” April settled into one of the orange chairs outside the dressing room.
Violet sat down in the other chair. “So I guess I should ask you what you’re expecting to get out of the internship, so I can make sure we’re on the same page.”
April furrowed her brow as she unknotted the wad of tangled jewelry. “Well, Betsy said I’m supposed to be getting some exposure to math stuff—you know, like accounting and that sort of thing. To justify getting college credit. I have to write a report about it at the end of the summer and submit it to some professor who’s supposed to be my adviser. So I was hoping to be able to help you out with getting your files organized so I can learn about your bookkeeping.”
When Violet agreed to take on an intern, she’d been picturing someone who would be willing to hang up clothes and dust shelves with a smile. She hadn’t been expecting to be told how to run her business by a teenager.
“Look,” Violet said. “You want to get some good experience. I get that. And hopefully I can provide that. But can’t we just slow down for a minute here? It’s been a while since I’ve had anyone work for me, and I can be a bit . . .
about the way I do things. So it’s gonna take me a little while to get used to this whole thing, okay?”
“Okay.” April’s eyes widened. “Sorry, I just . . . I don’t know, I guess I can be kind of pushy for my age. My mom was sick, so I had to take over for her sometimes.”
“I didn’t know your mom was sick. I mean, I know you lost her, but—” Violet paused, not sure if she and April knew each other well enough yet to have this conversation. “I’m sorry.”
April waved a hand. “It’s okay. She wasn’t, like, physically sick, like with cancer or anything. She had some mental health problems, I guess. But anyway, she died in a car accident.”
Violet must have looked shocked because April said quickly, “I know what you’re thinking, and no. She didn’t kill herself. It was during an ice storm, in early November. Her car went off an overpass. She was dead before the paramedics arrived.”
So that explains the driving phobia,
Violet thought. “Jesus.”
“Yeah.” April looked down at her cowboy boots. “So anyway, I’ve been on my own for the past few months, and even before that, sometimes, when my mom was going through one of her bad times. I’ve gotten used to doing things my own way, because I knew I couldn’t count on anyone else.”
Violet leaned back in her chair and said, “Well, then, we have something in common.”
As April untangled the necklaces, Violet resolved to sort out the girl’s story, even as she struggled, still, to sort out her own.
Five years earlier
Violet trudged through the snow to the mailbox. She went back inside the house, stomped her boots against the doormat, and opened an envelope from the registrar at Bent Creek Community College. The letter informed her that her tuition check for Course #405: Fundamentals of Fashion Retail hadn’t cleared.
When she came into the house and stomped her boots against the doormat, Miles jumped up and put his paws on her thighs. She and Jed had adopted the pit bull pup just a few months earlier from a rescue shelter, and he was still learning good house behavior.
“Down, Miles,” Violet said. She put the dog’s paws back on the floor and stormed over to Jed, who was on the couch, watching a college football game. Empty beer cans created a miniature scrap heap on the coffee table. She stood in between Jed and the TV, gripping the letter.
“It says here that my tuition check bounced, so the registrar gave my spot in the class to someone off the wait list.”
“Oh.” Jed craned his neck so he could see past her to the TV.
Violet took a step to the side, so that she was still blocking his line of sight. Her boots dripped dirty puddles on the worn carpet.
“I know there was enough money in the account when I wrote the check on Monday.” Violet put her hands on her hips. “And I haven’t done anything but put gas in the car since then. The gas sure as hell didn’t cost eight hundred dollars, which is what the balance in our account was when I sent this check out.”
Jed swiveled his body to the other side, and Violet moved again to block his view.
“The class is five hundred dollars, so the check should have cleared,” she said. “What happened to the money?”
“I don’t know,” Jed mumbled.
“Really? I guess I’ll just have to call the bank to find out.”
“Hang on a minute, lemme think.” Jed scrunched up his booze-slackened face as if trying to concentrate on a physics equation instead of a simple question. “Monday was Smithy’s birthday, so we went to the bar after work.”
“And you spent eight hundred dollars? How is that even possible? Beers are two dollars there. What else did you spend it on?”
Jed scratched his stubbly cheek. “I can’t remember. I had a lot to drink and I kinda blacked out. We mighta gone somewhere after the bar, but it’s fuzzy.”
“If you ‘kinda’ blacked out, then I’m sure the bank can help me fill in the gaps. They should be able to tell me where you withdrew money.” Violet took a few steps in the direction of the phone.
“Wait, it’s coming back.”
Violet turned toward Jed. “How convenient.”
“We went to Chubby’s Bunnies.” He looked at the floor.
“You spent my tuition money at the strip club?” Violet dug her fingers into her palms to keep from throwing something.
“Don’t be mad, Vi. Smithy’s my best friend.”
“Oh, I see,” Violet said in a dry tone. “A special occasion.”
Jed nodded, not catching her sarcasm.
you what a special occasion is.” Violet threw the envelope with such force it skidded across the coffee table and knocked over an empty can. “A special occasion is when the only institute of higher learning in this goddamn town offers a class I’m interested in for once. That actually applies to what I want to do, which, in case you forgot, is open a vintage store.”
“Yeah, I know you’ve said that’s your dream and everything, but I kinda thought that’s all it was—a dream.”
“You know, some people actually take steps to achieve their goals,” Violet said. “And that’s what I was trying to do, by taking the class. You think I’ve been accumulating all those old clothes and things in the garage just for some dream I never plan to act on?”
“Can’t you take the class next semester?”
“Sure, maybe if we lived in, say, Madison, where they need a phone-book-sized course catalog just to list all the classes in one department of the university. But the class is only being offered this one time at the community college, by a visiting professor.”
Jed let out a snorting sound. “You think you’re better than everybody else, don’t you? That Bent Creek is okay for some people, but not for you because you’re
or something. You want to open a store? You want to go live somewhere else? Then do it. I’m not stopping you.”
Violet knew she should be irate, but the prickly sensation running through her body wasn’t anger. It was numbness. She and Jed hadn’t even exchanged Christmas presents that winter. When Violet learned that there would be an executive from a well-known retail chain teaching the fashion course at the community college, she’d started stashing away a portion of her tips to save up for it. Fearing that something like this would happen, she had kept the cash hidden in her underwear drawer. She hadn’t deposited the money into their joint account until Monday morning, the same day she wrote the check. It had taken Jed less than twenty-four hours to piss away her dreams.
Violet went into the bedroom. She ignored Jed’s distracted apologies, which were muddled by the football announcers debating a penalty. She opened a suitcase—a yellow, 1950s Samsonite that her grandmother had given her the last time Violet was at her house, “just in case”—and started packing.
: fair; a few rhinestones missing
: Gold-plated necklace with oval pendant set with rhinestones.
: Amithi Singh
ON A SUNNY FRIDAY
in May, a month before she first set foot inside Hourglass Vintage, Amithi had accompanied her husband to Chicago for an engineering conference. Naveen had booked them a hotel in Oak Park, a western suburb. In addition to being a work-related trip, the weekend was supposed to be a getaway for the two of them. Amithi and Naveen had lived in Oak Park in the early days of their marriage, and they both had fond memories of the place—the historic neighborhoods where they’d walk when they needed to get out of their tiny apartment without spending any money, the corner diners that weren’t great but were cheap and gave Amithi a break from cooking every now and then.
Yet as they exited the interstate that Friday, all Amithi could see out her car window were strip malls and gas stations. The streets looked different now from when they had lived there all those years ago. Gone were many of the family-owned restaurants and shops, replaced by fast-food franchises and retail chains.
Naveen steered their car through the downtown district, and Amithi cheered up at the sight of the Lake Theatre, with its art deco columns and neon blue sign. This, at least, remained unchanged. On weekend nights when Naveen wasn’t in the lab, they used to go to films here:
the latest James Bond. Though she always pretended to be outraged by the violence and nudity in American movies, Amithi relished those hours in the dark when she could immerse herself in risk and adventure without suffering any of the consequences.
After checking into their hotel, Naveen took a shower while Amithi changed into a purple sari decorated with tiny silver mirrors. Over the years, as she’d grown more accustomed to American life, she’d found fewer and fewer opportunities to wear saris. A pair of chinos with a blouse or the loose lines of a two-piece
were so much more accommodating for housework, cooking, running errands. But for special events, nothing felt quite as right as a sari’s feminine folds and six feet of silk.
Amithi finished securing the sweep of purple fabric around her frame, then took a necklace out of her suitcase. It wasn’t expensive, just a gold-plated chain with a large pendant made of rhinestones, but Naveen had purchased it for her at a trinket shop on Devon Avenue back when they were newlyweds. She wore it tonight to remind herself of how far they’d come. When they’d left Chicago years earlier, they’d had very little. While Naveen was in graduate school, earning the salary of a teaching assistant, they’d lived from one measly paycheck to the next. Since then, they’d managed to obtain something that both of them valued: security, both in their finances and in the familiar cadences of their relationship.
Naveen came out of the bathroom, toweling himself off. Amithi noticed how his chest no longer looked smooth and tight like it once did. Instead, his skin sagged around the ribs, and the chest hair that was once dark and thick was now gray and sparse. Still, she felt tenderness at the sight of him.
“There’s a reception tonight for the conference attendees. Did you remember to bring the schedule they sent us?” he asked as he buttoned his shirt.
“It’s somewhere downtown, I think.” Amithi pulled a card out of her purse. If it weren’t for her, she was certain, Naveen would never find his way anywhere. “It says here it’s at the Signature Room on Michigan Avenue. Starts at seven o’clock.”
They caught a taxi downtown to the towering, trapezoidal Hancock Building and rode the elevator to the ninety-fifth floor. The host led them into a private banquet room where men in suits and women in black cocktail dresses milled around a bar and a long table stacked with hors d’oeuvres. Floor-to-ceiling windows revealed a sweeping view of the city and the periwinkle evening sky. Amithi went over to the window to get a better look. Fog billowed around the twinkling lights of neighboring skyscrapers, and the cars on the streets below looked like children’s toys.
Amithi turned away from the window and followed Naveen as he made his way around the room and shook hands with people. Each time they approached someone, Naveen would say, “You remember my wife, Amithi.” The acquaintance’s eyes would light up with recognition. She realized people probably remembered her because she stood out from the crowd, with her dark complexion and the bright clothing she usually wore. She looked down at her purple and gold sari and wondered if she should have made a different choice, gone with something more western to blend in with the dark jackets and dresses of the other guests.
Although Naveen’s colleagues seemed to remember Amithi, she did not remember them. Several of the conference attendees had been classmates of Naveen’s, but their names all blurred together in her mind: Kevin, Carl, Kent. Even harder to tell apart were their spouses. Many of them had the same shade of grayish-blond hair. Every conversation seemed the same to Amithi—an endless discussion of who was living where, working on what, divorcing whom.
For the seated dinner, Amithi settled in with Naveen at a table near the window. Two other men joined them, and Amithi vaguely recalled that they’d been some of Naveen’s closer friends when he was in school. One of them—a loud, round-faced man the others called “Mel”—was now a famous researcher for a pharmaceutical company. They’d only been seated five minutes when he launched into describing how many patents he held (nine) and how many vacation homes he had (three).
After the salad course, Amithi excused herself to use the ladies’ room, grateful to have a break from all the boasting. When she returned, Mel was still talking. He had his back to Amithi and was leaning toward Naveen, saying, “You know, I ran into Paula Sorensen at the Miami conference this spring. Boy, is she looking good. But you probably already know that even better than I do, don’t you, Naveen?”