If It Fits
by Adam Lefton
Ascending the escalator to the 34th street exit of Penn Station, Mrs. Tolliver began to hear the midtown chill whispering; she felt it on her gloveless hands, and stuffed them in her pockets. Rising to street level, she found the wind too strong and the air too cold. A gust nearly knocked her over, and had no sympathy for her fingers, barely protected by her too-thin pockets. She held her hat and braced herself against the torrent.
Many of her friends had long ago given up heading to the city alone. They were too old was the excuse of choice. But Mrs. Tolliver proudly insisted on making the half hour trip into New York herself, even if she was meeting friends who lived close by on Long Island, which she happened to be doing, at the theatre, this afternoon. She knew they would have made ideal traveling companions had she ever decided to join their carpool - just as they made good bridge partners and stimulating members of book club - but Mrs. Tolliver enjoyed the independent feeling of driving to the Manhasset train station, finding a legal parking spot - which was not easy - and buying a ticket on the Long Island Railroad. She also liked knowing she would not arrive at the theatre at the same time as her friends, that she might have to wait for them, or better, that they might have to wait for her. She preferred being the element of surprise.
Mrs. Tolliver's hands froze and, removing her watch hand from her pocket and checking the time, she decided to hop into Macy's to buy a pair of gloves.
Even though Mrs. Tolliver did not live in the city, and had never lived in the city - save a Queens upbringing to the age of four - she considered herself a city girl. She read the Times' Arts and Leisure and Dining sections. She kept abreast of whatever shows, restaurants and stores were the talk of the town, and she did so partly to satisfy herself, and partly to make conversation with her granddaughter, Elise, who was twenty-three and lived downtown. Though they spoke sparingly, and saw each other even less often, Mrs. Tolliver was always prepared with a hot tip, a place her granddaughter might want to check out, for the occasions when they did speak. She clipped newspaper articles, and knew where to get the best burgers in town, even if she'd never tried one herself. And if, after telling her granddaughter about a new salon, or a new boutique or restaurant, Elise responded by saying that, yes, she had heard something about it, Mrs. Tolliver felt all the more special for already being in the know.
Being a Sunday, a dense crowd bustled about in Macy's, but Mrs. Tolliver found her way to the ladies glove department like an old pro; she knew her way around. Examining a circular display of assorted neutral colored gloves, Mrs. Tolliver began to feel wonderful. She would buy herself a pair, walk comfortably - her hands warm - a few blocks north to the theatre, and join her friends. It would be a good day.
"Excuse me," a female voice said. "Can I help you?"
Mrs. Tolliver turned to see a salesgirl. She must've been around her granddaughter's age. She was dressed demurely in a light pink sweater set and suit pants, but had a faint black outline around her eyes noticeable enough to suggest that she did not normally wear pastels.
Mrs. Tolliver smiled at the girl. She reminded her a little of her granddaughter. Not so much in appearance - this girl was a brunette, her granddaughter a blonde - but in the sense Mrs. Tolliver got that the girl before her had the same fears and insecurities, the same dreams and desires, as her Elise. Most young women reminded Mrs. Tolliver of her granddaughter in this way.
"Just looking for some gloves," Mrs. Tolliver said, already holding a pair she liked in her right hand. "Forgot them at home." She rolled her eyes self-mockingly. "Did nearly everything right, but forgot my gloves."
"It is freezing, I hear."
"It certainly is. And windy, too." Mrs. Tolliver said.
The girl pointed to the gloves Mrs. Tolliver had chosen, as if rudely advertising a dusting of dandruff on Mrs. Tolliver's shoulder. "I wouldn't recommend those," she said.
Mrs. Tolliver looked at the gloves inquisitively and said, "Why, what's wrong with them?"
"Well," the girl said, grabbing the gloves from Mrs. Tolliver. "They have this fur trim." She held them by the index finger, careful not to touch the fur at the wrist. The other fingers drooped to the sides like the legs of an octopus.
"But the label says it's faux," Mrs. Tolliver said.
"Faux schmau," the girl retorted. "It looks like fur. You have to think about what that implies."
Mrs. Tolliver seriously considered the girl's suggestion. It struck her as odd that no effort was being made to sell anything. The girl said, "It says - to the average passerby - that fur is okay. That the idea of fur is permissible." Mrs. Tolliver remembered going to the department stores in her youth, when the shopgirls - they still called them shopgirls then - went out of their way to be kind so that you might purchase a shirt, a dress, anything, from them. The relationship had changed, and Mrs. Tolliver now felt the burden of kindness partly on her shoulders. Not that she minded completely. Perhaps the girl was right, and in no way did she want to support killing animals.
"And you're against fur?" Mrs. Tolliver asked.
The girl put her hands to her chest. "I would never harm a living thing."
"You wouldn't even wear faux?"
"I would not wear fur, and I would definitely not wear faux fur. I don't want to get all philosophical, but without fur, there would be no faux, and vice versa."
"Well save me, I never thought of it that way," Mrs. Tolliver said, and she selected another pair. "What about these?"
The girl examined them, looked at the tag, and grimaced. "Cotton," she said, exasperated. "Who knows what kind of slave wages this was harvested for. To wear them -" She gesticulated with her hands, the gloves flailing like sock puppets - "would suggest to the world that you're okay with that."
"No," Mrs. Tolliver said, quickly and gruff, shaking her head. Silently, she admonished herself for even thinking those gloves would do. "That's not the implication I'm after." She scanned the display again. "These?"
The girl shook her head.
"I just want a safe and reasonable pair of gloves," Mrs. Tolliver said. "Is that too much to ask?"
"Listen, Ma'am." The girl put a hand on Mrs. Tolliver's shoulder." I'm going to be honest with you. You're going to be hard-pressed to find a pair of gloves like that here."
"I just don't get it," she said. "Why would you work here if you disagree with all these gloves?"
The girl shrugged. "It's only temporary. Till I find something better."
"It just seems so unfair."
"It is unfair."
Mrs. Tolliver detached her gaze from the girl's and looked at her watch. She needed to hurry. "Thank you so much," she said. "But I think I'll look elsewhere."
"Good luck," the girl said. "Have a nice day."
Mrs. Tolliver had not taken more than three steps from the display when she turned back. "Oh wait," she exclaimed. "I know. I know. I saw a pair earlier." She swung the display around, pulled a set of gloves off the rack, and showed them to the girl. "Microfiber," she said excitedly.
The girl raised an eyebrow.
"What does microfiber imply?" Mrs. Tolliver asked.
"I'm thinking," the girl said. Her eyes moved over the gloves as if looking up the answer in a book. Then she threw her arms up. "I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know? It's your job to know." Mrs. Tolliver stole another glance at her watch.
"I mean I don't know. But I will say this: I'm willing to bet that whatever it is, it's not good."
Mrs. Tolliver sighed. "Not good," she said, her voice resigned. "Not good. No - that kind of uncertainty won't do. I won't take them. But thank you, and I sincerely hope you're out of this hell hole soon enough."
Mrs. Tolliver hurried out of Macy's and up 7th Avenue, fighting the wind and crowds through Times Square. Her hands were tucked firmly in her pockets, but she felt them turning red as she walked. Rounding the corner onto 47th street she saw, from a distance, that her friends were waiting for her outside the theatre. They had five minutes to curtain, and, as she approached, Mrs. Tolliver anticipated with dread the obligatory small talk, the inquiries into her lateness that would inevitably keep them on the curb an extra thirty seconds, or worse, a minute. She wished they had just gone inside without her.
About the author:
Adam Lefton lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of Dickinson College and hopes to one day graduate again. But from a different school. Preferably with a higher degree in hand. His humor writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency. This is his first published work of fiction, and he plans to use the phrase "his work has appeared online at Pindeldyboz" in future bios.