Emerald Fineman and I met while working as telemarketers. It was for a company that made windows with vinyl sashes that insulated far better than the commonly used technology. Or so we were told. She sat at the console next to me. On our first day we got to talking; turned out she had just moved to the area a few weeks before. When Friday rolled around, I asked if she wanted to go with me to see a movie. The movie was a comedy, I picked it, she didn’t have much to say when we were talking it over. I never heard her laugh during the movie, even though I couldn’t stop myself from giggling. When it was over I asked her if she liked it and she nodded in a polite way and said “Sure.”
At work I’d do most of the talking. We had a lot of time to talk in between calls, because usually the phone would ring and ring and anyone who answered hung up right away. Emerald was a good listener. She’d pat the sleeves of her shirt while we were talking, an odd habit, but not too distracting. As she was doing this one time I saw a scar straight across the white flash of her wrist, but I knew better than to draw any conclusions. I told her about my boyfriend, a guy that I’d broken up with and gotten back together with more times than I could count, and I told her about my roommate, who was a slob and left the bathroom in the morning looking like a tornado had hit. One day Emerald mentioned something about a project she had been working on the night before, something that had kept her up. I asked what it was and she said it was kind of hard to explain so would I like to go over and see? I said “Sure.”
The apartment building that Emerald lived in was very well maintained, with a gleaming plastic strip running through the center of the hallway to protect the carpet from the winter slush and mud. Her one-room apartment seemed small for a grown lady but it was homey, with soft lamplight reflected off a reddish hardwood floor and framed posters of museum paintings. The paintings all looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t properly say who the artists were. I didn’t even bother guessing. I just nodded while Emerald looked at me and I said “Nice.”
To one side of the room was a futon that would fold out at night as Emerald’s bed, and on the other side was a kitchenette. In the center of the room was a simple pinewood table with a couple of folding chairs. I didn’t quite know where to take my seat, because the table was covered with newspaper and jars of paint. Finally I decided on the futon, went and sat down, waited for Emerald to explain.
“I paint lamps,” she said. “See?”
And sure enough, on closer examination, the two lamps in the room were elegant things indeed. On one there was a vague picture of a woman in a meadow, and the other had doodly green and blue swirls. I could see near the bathroom a couple other lamps tucked away. I was very impressed.
“How lovely,” I said to Emerald. This seemed to please her.
As I got to know her, I found out that Emerald wasn’t so shy as she seemed right at first. Even though she didn’t like that comedy I took her to, she liked to laugh in general, and she was pretty sarcastic in a way that avoided being mean. She came out with my boyfriend and I once or twice, and during one weekend when I wasn’t too annoyed with my roommate we all went out dancing. Boy, you should’ve seen that girl go. She came over to my apartment in the wee hours of the morning because I was the designated driver and her car was parked at my place. My couch is very comfortable. I have people over all the time.
I awoke before her that morning. I tiptoed out to the kitchen, which opened onto the living room. Emerald was curled up on her side facing the back of the couch. Her thick dark hair was tucked over her shoulder. Running up her back between her shoulderblades and disappearing under her hairline was a tiny row of stitches. I frowned a little, and wondered what kind of operation she must have had, but she stirred so I stepped back into the kitchen to finish making coffee. I never have been one for diplomacy, I guess, so when Emerald woke up the first thing I asked her was if she wanted some coffee and then the second thing I asked about was those stitches, what kind of operation she’d had. Emerald blushed deeply and said she’d tell me about it some other time. Not much later she hurried out, thanking me for my hospitality, patting her hair over her neck in a nervous gesture.
Even though I’m not particularly tactful, I’m not particularly nosy, either, so I figured it was Emerald’s business. I forgot all about it by the time I saw her at work on Monday. I told her how my boyfriend was mentioning a few friends that maybe he could introduce her to, and how nice it was to have a pleasant night out so he and I could be distracted from our fighting, and how it really would be a shame for all that fun to be smothered by her little apartment weekend after weekend, where even though I’m sure she liked painting her lamps I couldn’t imagine it was too healthy in the long run to be doing that and only that. I guess I really was rambling on. Emerald listened, occasionally indicating that she had someone on the line, then smiling at me to continue once her line was free. When I had talked and talked and said all I could think to say, she crumpled her eyebrows and frowned.
“Listen,” she began. And then she told me something I still don’t quite believe, even though I have seen the truth for myself. Emerald said she was a woman made of patches, sewn together like a pattern for a housedress, in small stitches that kept everything tidy and functional. She said some people grow one way, and some people grow in other ways, and she has patches for different years of her life that no one person has seen the sum of. I said that must be lonely and she crumpled her eyebrows some more and said that yes, indeed, it is. But then she had a favor to ask me.
That night I went to her apartment with moths fluttering around in my stomach, crashing one way and the other, not so graceful as butterflies. Emerald was sitting at her table, smoking a cigarette. It was the first time I’d ever seen her smoke. Her overhead light was on, as well as a tall unpainted lamp by the kitchenette sink. Beside the sink was a tray of flossy-looking thread.
“For the most part, I just need you to watch,” she said. “I’m adding a couple of swatches to the hips. I’ll tell you when to help; just putting your thumbs on the stitches as I make the knots.”
“Can I have some water?” I asked, starting to feel dizzy.
“Sure,” said Emerald. She fetched water from the tap. I drank while she watched me. All of her usual shyness was gone. When I was finished, she took off her clothes and smiled at me apologetically, like she knew this was harder for me than it was for her. Long lines of stitching ran up the length of her legs, her torso, around her clavicle, down the soft flesh of each upper arm to her wrists. Why I had never noticed her wrists before I don’t know; she must have always been wearing long sleeves. Emerald grabbed the surgical scissors and began to snip the stitches at her left hip. When all were loose, she grabbed a rectangle of a very thin material from a plate by the sink and inserted it on the side of her hip extremely fast. A few drops of blood ran down her thigh; she grimaced and asked if I didn’t mind could I grab some gauze and wipe the surface dry. I was so amazed at her independent surgery that I didn’t think anything of it, said “Sure.”
Emerald completed the new lines of stitches; I held everything flat as she tightened the knots. We repeated the procedure for her other hip. By the time we were finished, her forehead was beaded in sweat. Instead of putting on the clothes she’d been wearing when I came over, she went to the closet and grabbed a long, formless smock.
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to sleep now. Thank you so much,” All of a sudden, she became the shy young lady I’d met a few months before. “I’m not so good with people. I’m scary.” I shook my head and patted her shoulder.
“No, it’s fine,” I said. “Don’t you worry about a thing.”
Emerald didn’t come to work for the next few days, and when she did return, she announced that she’d be moving out west, to California, where maybe she’d find some buyers for her lamps. I didn’t know what to say.
“Good luck,” I offered finally.
She twisted her lips in a self-mocking sneer.
“I’m made of luck,” said Emerald. That’s the last time we talked about anything important, because there was nothing else to figure, and nothing to reveal, and a few weeks later she was gone. Not long afterward I got one of her lamps in the mail, with a beautiful sunset wrapped around the seams. California, I thought. How about that.
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