The Fable of the Seamstress

The immigrant lady had risked harm, real bodily harm, to leave her home and be here. In two months she had spent the little money she had saved over a six-year period of dreaming and waiting. Since arriving in America she had worked as a cleaner — of houses and dishes. Her real skill, the one that used to feed her three children back home, was tailoring. Other immigrant women from her country told her often that there was good money to made stitching together fabric. She need only find a place that required her excellent sewing skills.

She set about looking for such a place, the Valhalla of thread that would help make her American dreams come true. Although she had been in the United States for nine weeks, her English was no better than it was when she had arrived. (Her friends, who had been here longer, weren’t much better.) Instead of scanning the want ads in the paper, she roamed the business district, clutching a small square of paper in her hand. She was looking for a sign in a window that matched what was written in block letters on her map: “S E W E R Wanted.”

She wandered the avenues of the city for seven hours, first one side of the street then the other. She learned to no waste time or hope peering in the windows of restaurants, whose smells teased her. She looked for places that had clothing hanging on great overhead racks, places where people carried laundry in and out. She saw a few, but none of them had the magic words in the window. Once, feeling bold, she walked into a dry-cleaning establishment and thrust her paper toward the baffled Korean proprietor, who read the words, shook her head, and returned the crumbled square.

As the sun was starting to set, the immigrant lady was farther from her apartment (which she shared with four other women from her country) than she had ever been before. Nothing looked familiar. There were fewer people. And the air smelled funny. She was almost ready to turn around and trudge home, where she planned on treating herself to a warm footbath. Then she looked to her left and saw a large yellow sign, with black letters: SEWER.

She ran toward it and peered over the fence behind the sign. The trench on the other side of the fence smelled rotten, like death. She stifled a cough, regarded the sign with malice, and began to walk home.

You may also like...