by Sue Lange
Marla Gershe leaned against the edge of her work organizer, shuffling through the sheets with the day’s show designs. Papers from previous shows lay strewn about on the floor, the two high chairs, the standing light box, her organizer hovering in the middle of the room, and the various faux-wood storage units. Pieces of her life — a gigantic puzzle, perhaps never to be assembled — covered every horizontal surface of her office. The daily designs, the threads and fabrics, the themes, the desired effects, the colors, the swirls, and (most important) the money to be made by this line of BAC’s textile enterprises, were all there in a convoluted mess. If someone put the last year’s collection of bits and pieces of fiber lying about in order, not only would Marla Gershe have a clear picture of what she had been doing for a year of her life, but she’d easily be able to find the controls to Agnes installed somewhere on her hovering organizer underneath all the flotsam.
That would not be happening any time soon. Marla stood, leaning and flipping through the current orders, searching for the zingers Saddle, her assistant, had brought to her attention to a few minutes previously.
“Knobby double knit — one bolt,” she mumbled to herself. “Reversible mohair — one bolt. Japanese hand weave…what the fuck?”
Six more pages of cotton/linen type mixes and then the zingers: a pink taffeta with some sort of metallic cross-grain shellacked in, and a new stretch knit she’d never heard of. According to the sheet, the thread to work with it hadn’t been invented yet. The sample patch wasn’t even there. “freezeheads” themselves couldn’t put it together.
She reached for the yakker and pushed “last.” The tone double beeped an interminable amount of time. Finally, it rang clear.
“I can’t do this,” she jumped in before Torpid answered. “I need…”
“Dread Torpid is not available at the moment. Please buzz…”
“God dammit!” she shrieked, throwing the crescent-shaped yakker (some people call their personal communicators “bananas”) at the wall in disgust. Its gelphan coating cushioned the blow when it hit the wall and simultaneously attached it there, just as it was designed to do.
“Fuck!” she said, sinking into her high seat and dropping her head into her hands.
“I’m sorry?” the walls to her office were confused as to what she wanted.
Marla sat at her desk littered with yesterday’s and last week’s and last month’s programs, sample sheets, and patch pieces. She shoved it all onto the floor and sat with her eyes crammed into the palms of her hands. She would’ve cried if she’d had the time for it. She would’ve quit if her short-circuiting brain could have thought about it. All she could do was run through options in her head and try to remember how to run a loom.
Finally, after about five seconds of respite, she lifted her head and answered the walls.
“I need the list of hand weavers brought up. Click message each one — local please, no email — and see who can come in today. Forward any replies from anybody to me immediately.”
“Oh Christ! Just what I need. You shouldn’t even ask about him.”
“How are you going to get a message if your yakker’s stuck to the wall?”
“Just call please. And that’s Saddle’s phone anyway.”
“I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know. Where did you leave it?”
“Oh Gad! How the hell should I know, you bleeping idiot.”
“Don’t get nasty just because I’m not ambulatory. It’s in your wastebasket at home, where you threw it last night.”
“Fine. Have them call Saddle’s phone when you send out the messages.” Marla rapidly thumbed the inviso pad installed on the upper right corner of her organizer, signing her print onto each piece of paper.
“Is Saddle’s still working?” Marla asked sheepishly.
“What is a Saddles?”
Just then, Saddle herself bounced through the door on a wave of company coffee aroma—raunchy, rich, and double caffeine. She set one of the steaming cups on Marla’s organizer.
“Mama’s pissed,” she said. “Said she doesn’t have time to clean two machines when she’s got a full show.”
“Yeah well, you can’t let machines go uncleaned. Them’s the rules. Anyway, is she doing it?” Marla asked.
“Well then, what do you care?”
“I’m just sayin’…hey! What’s my banana doing on the wall?”
“I put it there so I wouldn’t lose it.”
“Oh, good idea.” Saddle grabbed it off the wall.
“I need that,” Marla said. “Leave it, please. Agnes is going to call with names of hand weavers that can make it in today.”
“Christ! You mean we have to hand-weave today?”
“We can’t do that today. Parker took half the staff for his big whuppty do. We can hardly do a regular show, let alone this fancy crap. Tell them no.”
“‘Tell them no.’ Yeah, right.”
“You can say no.”
“Just like Mama can say no?”
“This isn’t fair. This is the third time this week we’ve had more than our share.”
“Yeah, well, you do good work, keep mopping up spills, etc. and you get more of the same. That’s the way it is. Hopefully, in the end you get paid in kind. Can you process these please?” She handed the sheets to Saddle, thumbprint signatures affixed at this point.
“Yeah, right!” Saddle stood and stared at her, deliberately ignoring the papers in Marla’s outstretched hand. “They’ve been hinting at no pay raises again because of what Campbell’s doing. [inside scoop on Campbell] It’s not right.”
“Just take the papers and keep track of what’s happening. We can grieve later. Next week.”
“Next week, next month. We don’t have time to grieve. Besides that’s a Union thing. We’re not in the Union. Tell you what though, one day Mama or somebody down there is going to knock a hole in her head and then we’ll all be grieving for real.”
“Yeah, OK at least we’ll have time to complain then. Please, get these thread orders to Barge, so he can get started, so Mama can get started, so we can get started.”
“Oh don’t worry about Mama. She’s still cleaning the second machines and trying to buck up her staff.”
Saddle snatched the papers and stomped out of the room, her yellow plasto-mood pants swishing angrily.
Marla sat down with the two zingers and started flipping through formula buttons on the centered pad of her organizer. The computer was just about to give one of her programmed joke lines, like “Oooooh, that tickles,” when Marla hit the “No Discourse” button just in time.
She shook her head searching for the formula for the new fabrics. She envisioned Barge and his basement boys digging through the piles of dusty spools dragged out once every decade whenever a genius designer came up with a brilliant something or other. They were always convinced the new stuff would be the start of something grand. “Something grand” usually wound up embarrassingly outdated within a few weeks. Like their famous “fishweave” — nylon fishing line woven across graphite fibers complete with baby three-way hooks tacked on at intervals. Everyone from the weavers to the mannequin dressers went home with bloody body parts that day. With any luck, last night’s designers were in a conservative frame of mind and they hadn’t mixed any alcohol with their Dolly pills. All she needed right now was to have to work with some sort of exploding-sequin coated zinc/poly alloy. That would top the whole day.
Just as she found the last thread number for the bizarre taffeta piece, Saddle burst back into the room.
“There’s a reversible mohair here, that takes twice as long.”
“Yeah, I saw that. Put that one last. I’ll do it myself if I have to.”
“You’re kidding! The Union’ll bust you.”
“Oh, I’m so scared. The Union. The Union that allows its workers to quicktime four days out of five? That Union?”
“Fuck!” Saddle spun on her heels and stomped through the door, plasto-pants positively livid.
Marla whipped through the electronic pages frantically looking for substitute thread for the one on her list that hadn’t been invented yet. Nothing compatible came up. The stretch capacity of the new knit was so high, everything on hand would be tensioned to break if used with it.
“What the fuck is it made out of?” Marla asked herself. “Mucilage?”
“Rubber bands,” Agnes answered aloud and then it started spewing out formulas as fast as Marla flipped through the pages.
“What?” Marla yelled, glancing at the toggle switches on her organizer where her arm had bumped the “No Discourse” button to off. “Shut up!” She hollered, slamming the offending button.
She grabbed the cup of coffee, gulping the contents without noticing the scald. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and continued scrolling through pages of formulas.
“Rubber bands, rubber bands, rubber bands,” she incanted.
Knocking the “No Discourse” button off, she asked, “How many hand weavers have you come up with?”
Just as she asked the question, Saddle’s banana, still hanging on the wall, rang.
“There’s one now,” Agnes answered. “But to answer your question, I sent out fifteen calls.”
Marla wheeled herself back to the wall where the mellophone was buzzing and grabbed it.
“Marla Gershe here.”
“Hello? You called?”
“You do hand jobs?” Marla asked. “Who are you? I’m not clocking an ID.”
“Yes, of course. My line is disrupted so my ID doesn’t disseminate at the moment, but I’ve worked for you before. It’s Tarlo Doran.”
“Uh…” said Marla, unsure of what to say to the one person on the call list of handweavers who was not to be tapped.
“Listen. Not sure if we’re going to need you after all. I’m trying to change the program. Oh, wait a second. You ever worked with Latex?”
“You bet, Marlie girl. Latex, teflo-tape, pine tar, sweet gum, anything sticky or stretchy. That’s my specialty.”
“Why is that not a surprise?” Marla said. “Listen, get in here in half an hour. See Sivia on 200, she’ll have directions.”
“Thank you, Marlie.” Doran rang off.
“Agnes, get me Sivia and the basement.”
And so it went on throughout the morning. The activity intensified and the stakes gradually, almost imperceptibly, rose. By 8am Marla was on her fifth cup of scavenged coffee, one of which had been left over from the previous night’s show. It was cold and had a cigarette butt in it. Marla didn’t notice. Around nine the mannequins arrived for their fittings. [mannequin exchange]
Throughout the morning she was reminded by various people and other entities that Grant Parker’s show at O’Halloran was infinitely more important than hers. Nothing punctuated that more than when Al Shurm, president of BAC, and two of his lackeys, one of which was Lamont (her boss’ boss, a real bootlick) showed up on the looming floor for a publicity inspection. Marla was setting up a loom for herself at the time. Union rules were adamant: no management was allowed to weave, but Marla was desperate. Half her staff had been sent to Parker. At the same time, her show had not been trimmed to compensate. Somebody had to weave the stuff. The Pres and his boys listened to her complaints about the situation as well as the assertion that she’d work on a loom herself despite the fact that she’d get grieved for stepping on Union workers’ toes. They responded by admiring her creativity under adversity. They continued on in their photo-op inspection, pestering Mama with questions and viewing out-of-date equipment stored in the room that had nothing to do with the facility’s operations. [The Inspection]
The comedy graduated to tragedy when Agnes died. It just quit working. Saddle had only then started preparing the night’s printed program. One final whine and crank of the mighty CIA signaled the end of activity. One of the two tech’s working on Saddle’s machine had been called away to reprogram a slowish mannequin in Parker’s facility. The one tech left was trying desperately to get Saddle back on a line that was no longer on line itself.
By 11am Marla should have been pretty much off her head, but besides the fact that she had lost half her staff, this morning had been true to type. Boring almost. Things were about to warm up, though.
by Sue Lange
$2.99 (Novel) ISBN 978-1-61138-019-4