Excerpt from The Shop Keepers





                                              


                                                                                             Late July 1919
                                                                                             New York City

  “All this black. I want to see color again!”
  Annie Culver had meant to say the words to herself—she thought she had only thought the thought—until her six-year-old
daughter responded.
  “Me too, Mama. I like pink best.” Victoria pulled a pink ribbon from a box of trim Annie kept under the counter of their dress shop,
Unruffled. She wrapped it around her finger.
  Victoria’s younger sister shook her head.
  “What color is your favorite, Alice?” Annie asked.
  She scanned the box, then chose her favorite. “Red!” She waved the short length in the air, then stood, skipped around the dress
racks, and began to sing, “’Pack up your troubles in an old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile. While you’ve a lucifer to light the flag,
smile boys, that’s your style.’”
  Victoria joined her sister and Annie grabbed a green ribbon and joined the parade as they sang together. “’What’s the use of
worrying? It never was worthwhile. So pack up your troubles in an old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile!’”
  They ended with flourish and very off key. Yet the laughter was a much-needed balm, a ray of emotional light among the racks of
mourning clothes they’d been forced to sew. For not only were there countless widows of the World War, but there were many who
had lost loved ones during the influenza epidemic. The latter hit close to home. Annie had friends who’d lost loved ones. Mr.
Sampson, the dear husband of Annie’s friend and benefactor, Eleanor, had succumbed early on. Even one of their seamstresses,
Gert, had lost her husband. Nearly every family on the block had lost someone. Death was greedy and hit rich and poor alike.
  The bell on the door announced a customer. Annie put on a smile. “How may I help you today?”
  A middle-aged woman scanned the store. “I’m looking for a new best-dress—not black.”
  Exactly.

                                                                                                     ***

  Edna Holmquist took the short walk from her apartment building on Leroy Street to the tenement across the street. Unruffled now
had two sewing workshops there.
  The newer one-bedroom space used to be Annie and Sean’s apartment until the birth of Victoria and Alice forced them to find a
two-bedroom in the same building. Instead of letting their old flat go, they’d adapted it to a second workshop. In the throes of their
1913 success, Unruffled had needed four seamstresses working at the two workshops and a half-dozen working in a small factory
space. But then the war came. A wave of melancholy and fear descended over the country. The United States had been late to the
fight, joining the cause when the suffering of Europe was too much to bear. War brought devastating repercussions that surged and
broke like a wave as millions died.
  As had their business. Not completely, but enough to close the factory and let most of the seamstresses go. Now there were only
three. Edna called them her Three Gs: Ginny, Gert, and Gela.
  Edna stopped at Annie’s old apartment first and found two of them at work.
  Gert looked up from her machine. “Morning, Edna.”
  “Where is Gela?”
  “I’m sure she’ll be here—be here late.” Gert glanced at Ginny, who nodded.
  Gela Ricci’s tardiness was a continuing problem. But Edna set that aside to commend the two workers who were here. “We
appreciate your hard work, ladies.” She nodded toward the stacked tables, chairs, and sewing machines that filled the front room,
waiting to be used again. “I know this is awkward having all these stored here.”
  “I’m just happy to still have a job,” Ginny said.
  “Me too.” Gert checked a hem on a sleeve, and finding it satisfactory, continued to sew.
  Edna was moved by their loyalty, for they were two of the original seamstresses.
  Ginny sat at a machine and pinned a seam for sewing. “Surely with the war over, women will be buying dresses again.”
  “That’s our hope.”
  “If I see one more button that says, ‘I am making my old clothes do’, I’m going to scream.”
  Edna agreed, though didn’t say so. “It’s admirable that people stood together and made sacrifices for the war effort.”
  “And we won,” Gert said.
  “And we won.” It was telling that none of them smiled at this fact. Yes, the war was over. Yes, the Allies had been victorious. But at
what cost?
  As if reading her thoughts, Gert asked, “How is Steven?”
  Edna’s son Steven had returned from the war, whole in body, but not in spirit. “He’s glad to be home safe with Henrietta and the
boys.”
  “We should pray for all the soldiers who’ve come home,” Gert said.
  Edna thought about Sean. “And those still missing.”
  “So no word on Mr. Culver?” Ginny asked.
  Edna shook her head. “It’s hard on Annie and the girls not to know, but they still hope.”
  “Hope is a good thing,” Gert said.
  Sometimes, it was the only thing.(continued)

                                                             @ 2019 Nancy Moser, Mustard Seed Press