Read The Charm Bracelet Online

Authors: Viola Shipman

The Charm Bracelet (9 page)

BOOK: The Charm Bracelet
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“Please,” the woman asked.

The man continued to shake his head.

The woman exited and whisked by Mary, a look of disappointment etched on her pretty face.

“Madam?” Mary asked.

“I have no money for beggars,” the woman said, brushing off Mary.

“I can make that dress for you!” Mary stated proudly.

“You can?”

The woman stopped before Mary, considering her, as her carriage driver opened the carriage door. “My baby will be baptized next Sunday, and I need a dress for myself that is as sacred as the occasion. The man said his shop didn't make communion dresses, and he knew no one that could.”

“I can!” Mary said, lifting her head.

“You can?” the woman asked warily.

“Yes!” Mary said. “Except I have no tools or space. And the gentleman in this shop said he was not hiring.”

“Wait here,” the woman said. “I've been a client of his for a long time. We'll see about that.”

The woman again entered the shop and began pointing back at Mary, whose heart had risen to her throat.

Finally, the owner gestured at Mary to enter.

“You will do fine in America,” the carriage driver said to Mary, smiling.

Mary entered the man's shop.

“This is your only chance,” he said, his moustache twitching. “I am Mr. Edwards.”

The woman nodded at the man, and then handed Mary her material and a dress pattern.

“You have until dusk,” he said, pointing toward a back room. “You will pay this lady back if you ruin her material, understand?”

Tears formed in Mary's eyes. “Thank you, madam. Thank you. And thank you, Mr. Edwards.”

Mary nodded at the woman as she smiled and exited, and then pulled a curtain, revealing a back room where an army of women sat at treadle sewing machines—row after row—making men's suits, women's gowns, and little girls' dresses.

It resembled a ballet to Mary, as women moved in sewing syncopation and rapt rhythm with one another, feet flying, hands dancing, bobbins bobbing, and colorful thread spinning, which looked like fire exploding from their feverish work.

Mary scanned the room, and a woman with a tight grey bun nodded toward an ancient Singer sewing machine on a big treadle stand in the very back of the workspace. She pointed a thick hand with muscled fingers at the machine, a bracelet around her wrist jangling as if a hundred wind chimes had been rattled.

“Iz old, like me,” she said in a thick Polish accent without a hint of irony, as the room of women tittered. “No one wants it, either.”

She stuck out her old hand. “I am Rima Jablonski.”

She helped Mary set up at the old machine, and Mary positioned the white fabric just so. Mary took a deep breath and studied the dress pattern. It was from a French magazine,
La Mode Illustrée
, and was one of the most detailed yet exquisite patterns she had ever seen: A floor-length dress with flowing arms fitted at the wrist, a high collar—with an intricately stitched, repeating pattern of a family crest—with an attached bow, a cinched waist with a fabric belt featuring a dogwood bloom on one side, suspended from which was a small cinched bag with tassels. The bottom of the dress was softly ruffled, with eyelets. The face was the only skin that showed in the pattern's picture.

Mary shut her eyes for just a moment and bowed her head in prayer.

I know it is nearly impossible to complete such an intricate dress in a matter of hours, but I am asking for your hands, and my mother's hands, to help me.

When Mary opened her eyes, the entire room of women had stopped and were praying with her.

Mary gulped, took a deep breath, and said softly, “To opportunity.”

As if one chorus, the women sang, “To opportunity,” and—though they worked at separate machines—they worked in unison for the rest of the day. Finally, hours later, Mary stood, walked to the front of the room, and held up her dress.

The room exploded into applause.

“You must show him now,” a woman said to Mary, nodding past the curtain toward Mr. Edwards. “He must inspect it.”

Mary's heart was in her throat as she took the dress to Mr. Edwards.

“Took you long enough!” he barked.

He unfolded the dress and began to examine the zipper and the stitching.

Mary felt as if she might faint. He was silent, save for the exhale of air that ruffled his moustache.

“I worked very hard on the ruching,” Mary said, her voice filled with tremors.

“Ssshhhhh,” Mr. Edwards said.

How will I ever pay the woman back? How could I have believed I could do this? How could I have ruined her material?
Mary worried.

The owner studied the collar and waist, the bow and bag, his face slowly filling with admiration, his moustache twitching in excitement.

“Would you like to work here?” he asked.

Mary jumped at the sound of shouting, and turned to see a crowd at the curtain. “We have only the one machine you used today available.”

Mary began to cry.

For the next few months, Mary worked in the dress shop and saved money, sending as much as she could spare to her parents while saving enough to earn fare west to Grand Rapids. Near the end of summer, Mary approached the owner and asked, “How much for the old sewing machine I have been using?”

“You want to leave?” Mr. Edwards asked. “You can't!”

“My aunt and uncle are in Michigan, and I must reach them before winter. I have finally saved enough money, and I would like to buy your sewing machine. It is a part of me now, and I will need it to earn money.”

Mary used the last of her savings to purchase the treadle sewing machine, and on her last day at the shop, as Mary was saying her goodbyes to the women, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Rima Jablonski, who had introduced her to the machine, was pointing a bulbous finger toward the back door that led into the alley.

“I have something for you,” she said. “A gift.”

“No!” Mary protested. “I can't.”

“You must,” Rima said. “Is tradition of my country.”

She began to tell Mary the tale of Jadwiga, who was a female monarch of Poland before queens were recognized. As a result, Jadwiga became king, renowned for her kindness.

“Jadwiga once took a piece of her own jewelry and gave it to a poor stonemason who had begged for her help,” Rima told Mary. “When ze king left, he noticed her footprint in plaster floor of his workplace, even though ze plaster had already hardened before her visit. That footprint can still be seen in one of Krakow's churches.”

The woman stopped and sighed, a rattle coming from deep within her chest. “My mother always told me, ‘Give a piece of yourself. You will never realize how deep of a footprint you might make on a stranger.' So, to you, I give a piece of my life. I am old. I have little time left. But you … you have whole life ahead of you.”

The old woman unlatched the bracelet from around her wrist. It sparkled in the alley's summer sunlight. The bracelet was filled with stones and pieces of amber, and charms of unusual design.

“Yes,” the woman said, finally locating the right item on her bracelet. “Here it is!”

She handed Mary a small, worn silver charm with her aged fingers. Mary held it up in the air, until the sunlight illuminated it: It was a charm of a sewing machine.

“Just like the one you use here,” she said, nodding. “Yes? Just like the one you will take with you.”

“I can't,” Mary said again. “It's too important to you.”

“Which is why I must pass it on,” she said. “You are like me: You come here from another place. You have left your family.”

Tears began to form in Mary's blue eyes, and she lowered her head and cried.

“This simple charm has much meaning, my child,” Rima said. She took Mary's young hands in her old ones, and held them tightly. “This is to a life bound by family … no matter how far away they may be. As long as you wear this, they will always be near.”

The woman undid the naked slim bracelet around Mary's wrist, one her parents had given her when she was younger, and added the charm. Mary held up her wrist; the charm looked as if it had always been there.

As Mary traveled by covered wagon with others seeking family in the north and west, her bracelet danced, and Mary's fingers felt for the charm to calm herself. The charm made Mary feel safe, protected, surrounded by family. On her trek to Michigan, Mary stopped to do seamstress work in towns along the way, where she earned enough money from her sewing machine and her skills to get her to the next town.

When Mary made it to her aunt and uncle's tiny home in Grand Rapids, Michigan—exhausted from her many months of travel to join her family—it had just begun to snow.

“It's only November,” Mary said.

“Welcome to Michigan,” her aunt Sarah laughed, inviting her inside, where a tiny bedroom in the back of the house had been readied, keepsakes from Ireland placed around the room, and helped her unpack.

Mary thought of the day she found her ticket to America nestled under an egg, and of how the snow had stuck to her father's dark hair, making him look angelic. The memories, coupled with excitement and exhaustion, caused tears to flow.

“Are you feeling ill, Mary?” Sarah asked.

“No,” she said, trying to explain her feelings. “I'm feeling …
blessed
by family.”

Sarah held her close as they sat on her new bed, and Mary told her of her travels to America, her trip here, and her charm.

“It's ready,” her uncle Sean said, interrupting the two.

“We have something to show you now, too,” her aunt said, taking Mary's hand and leading her to the living room.

Mary inhaled sharply. Two chairs in front of a large picture window had been cleared, and Mary's Singer now sat there, framed by a hillside of snow-kissed pines. A fireplace burned nearby.

“This is where you will work,” Sarah said. “You need a spot as inspiring as your work.”

“Until you meet a husband and have a family of your own, that is,” Mary's uncle laughed.

Mary sewed in that spot—through the dark days of winter that only the lake-effect snow could brighten, the spring bloom of daffodils so thick they made the hillside look as if it had been spun in gold, and the stunning summer when it remained light until nearly midnight—creating wedding dresses and business suits, quilts and coats. She sold them in shops around town, and before long many of the town's wealthy families hired her to do work just for them. Mary enjoyed the quiet of Michigan, and she saved money, sending it back to her parents, until one summer night she noticed that the dinner table was set for four.

Before Mary could ask why, a man resembling a wolf—an animal which Mary often observed through the window as she sewed—rumbled into the house. Mary screamed, and the man retreated.

“That's no way to greet our guest, Mary,” her uncle laughed. “This is Web Falloran.”

Wilbur “Web” Falloran owned a broad, burly body, and a face covered with an unkempt beard. When Mary screamed, the man curled his arms into his big chest as if he were going to have to engage in battle.

“I'm so sorry,” Mary apologized. “You startled me.”

“Web gets that a lot.” Sean laughed. “He's a lumberman, Mary, from Scoops, Michigan, near the Upper Peninsula. He brings wood down to Grand Rapids for the furniture makers. And he's a fellow Irishman!”

Over a dinner of shepherd's pie and colcannon, Mary discovered the man she'd thought was a wolf was gentler than a pup. He spoke with a quiet rumble, almost like distant thunder, and he complimented Mary on her sewing and her bravery in coming to America. When dinner was over, he asked Mary's aunt and uncle if he could take Mary for a walk amongst the pines.

“Tell me about the charm on your bracelet,” he asked as they walked.

Mary smiled, stopped suddenly under the boughs of an ancient pine, and ducked her head, her hair falling toward the green grass of the hillside.

It was a perfect Michigan summer night, warm and filled with the sound of peepers. Mary shut her eyes and inhaled deeply. The smell of nearby Lake Michigan filled the air. For a moment, Mary thought she was back in Ireland.

“You want to know about this charm?” she asked.

It seemed an odd question for a man to ask, much less a woodsman.

But Web only nodded his head and looked deeply into her eyes. “Yes,” he said. “It must mean a lot to you.”

So Mary told him, and he smiled a big smile underneath that bushy beard, his dark eyes twinkling in the last hints of day. “There is nothing more sacred than sewing,” he said. “It is like the art of a lumberman. Both provide shelter for a family. Both require hard labor and long hours. Both, in the end, are works of art.”

Two weeks later, Web returned for dinner, and they again went for a walk. Under the same pine boughs, Web stopped and pulled a small box out of his pocket.

“Open it!” he said.

Mary lifted the lid, and sitting atop a little velvet throne, was a charm of a four-leaf clover. “Luck of the Irish,” he smiled. “It was my mom's. She sent it to me years ago, after I came to America. She said this charm is for luck in love and life.”

He hesitated. “I think I have finally found luck in love and life.”

Web softly pulled Mary's wrist into the summer air and added the charm next to the sewing machine.

And then with only the pines and the peepers as witnesses, Web leaned in and kissed Mary's lips. For a big man, the kiss was as tender and gentle as a soft rain. Mary collapsed into his arms. When Mary turned to walk home, she saw the curtain in the picture window move. Her aunt and uncle had been secretly watching.

Three months later, Mary was married. They moved into a little log cabin Web had built for his bride on a little lake—Lost Land Lake—in the woods outside of Scoops, Michigan.

BOOK: The Charm Bracelet
12.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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