The Clothier

My coat is shabby, the man said, standing in the old shop with its dusty, dark wooden counters, broken and naked mannequins, and windows of cracked green and blue glass. In the back sat the old looms, spinning and sewing machines, rolls of fabric and piles of papers covered in sketches or printed with various patterns. The woman of the shop, though beautiful, had crow’s feet and the subdued movements of someone starting to feel the pains of age. After taking off his coat, she had him stand where the lamplight was strong. Rolling out a ream of red tape, she measured his waist, chest, shoulders, arms and neck. It was one of the most intimate moments he had ever experienced. She made some notations in chalk on one of the wooden counters, counted out something on an abacus, and rolled out a long ream of her red tape to cut it, handing the detached strip to the man. I believe there used to be three of you, he said, holding the tape carefully. One sister to spin, one to take measurements, and one to cut the fabric or thread with scissors. I’m the only one left, she said quietly. What happened? he asked. Downsizing, I guess, she sighed with a shrug. Joyfully looking at his length of tape, he asked if this indicated durability or longevity. Oh, no, she laughed. That’s just how long you will have to wait until the coat is ready. It may not even be ready for your burial, but that’s your affair, not mine.