From a 1916 Vanity Fair cover.
“How are you?” asked a smiling acquaintance on the street.
“Well, I’m pretty down about Prince—but aren’t we all?” I said reprovingly.
“Oh yes,” she murmured. “Of course.” I saw her blinking quickly in an effort to summon tears. “It’s the end of an era, isn’t it?”
I’d never gone into the store, which sold jewelry and scarves and things, but for some reason I stepped inside. “I don’t want it too tight,” a customer was saying nervously, regarding a gaily patterned cotton tunic. “I want the extra large.”
“This is your size!” the owner declared imperiously.
“Can I try it on?”
“Can you measure it?” she pleaded.
“No. I don’t need to measure it. I made it. This is your size. If it doesn’t fit bring it back.”
“I live in the Bronx,” the customer muttered—but, cowed, she paid and slunk out.
I examined the scarves. I didn’t need one—I was wearing my scarf, in fact, draped around my neck—but I was impressed by the colors and textures, and storing the information away for future gift purposes. Maybe this violet—
“Nice cashmere, isn’t it?” said the owner, who had silently appeared besides me. “The finest in the world. You won’t be able to get that in five years. But you know that.”
“Oh, I didn’t,” I murmured. “It’s lovely.”
“It’s a good price for cashmere,” she continued. “But you know that.”
“It seems very reasonable,” I agreed cautiously.
“I buy it myself, in India. You can’t get that here. As you know.”
“Well, I’m just looking,” I said, hoping the conspiratorial spiel—or whatever it was—would end.
“It’s okay, I know,” said the woman, smiling at me conspiratorially.
“Know what?” I said, with understandable blankness.
“You’re in scarves.”
“Oh, you mean this?” I fingered the cotton scarf around my neck.
“You make them. I see the way you touch the material. It’s okay—I’m a designer, too. We all have to get ideas.”
“No!” I said. “I’m not a designer! I got this at the flea market!”
“It’s okay, I can tell,” she said. “Don’t lie.”
“I’m not lying! I’ve never made a scarf in my life! I mean, I knitted a couple, but—”
“I know,” she said. “I understand. It’s okay. I can tell by the way you dress.”
Let it be known that I was wearing Converse sneakers, jeans, and a green army jacket, so I guess that’s the uniform of sneaky scarf designers.
“I really don’t know how to convince you, but I’m honestly just looking,” I said desperately.
“Oh, I know that,” she said. “I take it as a compliment. I knew when you put your face in the blue scarf.”
It was true; I had done this.
“You went to the softest one. You have the eye. Do you work in cashmeres?”
“Just cottons,” I heard myself saying. “I’m getting into block-printing.”
Now, while this was basically an enormous lie, it is true that that morning I’d said to my husband, “I bet I could do that,” when we were looking at a really expensive lampshade. And I’d even gone so far as to see if I had a potato in the kitchen. (I didn’t.)
“For you,” she said, “I give a special price—a designer discount.” She named an accessibly low sum. “You know,” she said, “a good scarf is better than diamonds. And this price won’t come around again. Life is short; we need beautiful things.”
“Thank you, but I don’t need it right now,” I said.
“We always need nice things,” she said positively.
“I don’t deserve it, right now,” I said. “Maybe on my birthday. Can I have a card?”
“No,” she said. “I don’t need one and you know where we are.”
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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