Written for Tango-Design.com
“Ouch!” Alesha exclaimed and sucked at the pinprick of blood on the tip of her thumb. Her fingers were dry and cracked, the pink nail polish chipped. An unfortunate side effect of making jewelry. She put down the thin bronze wire she’d been shaping. She flexed her fingers to ease the cramping and headed into the kitchen to make a cup of hot chocolate.
The apartment was small and cramped, but everything had a place and was neatly set in its place. Alesha lived in a third-floor studio apartment in Flushing Queens, New York City. Surrounded by small electronic shops and disheveled discount stores, it wasn’t an exciting, hip, or fashionable address. But the rent was reasonable, and she could walk to the train station saving time and money getting to and from work. As a bonus, there was a fabric and craft supplies outlet within walking distance and several options to have food delivered.
Alesha grabbed a mug and a packet of cocoa mix from the faded white cabinets above the scarred linoleum countertop. Twenty-four inches of a countertop, a two-burner stove and mini fridge were the sum total of her kitchen. Not that it mattered, Alesha wasn’t much of a cook. She emptied the mix into the cup, added water from the faucet, stirred it using a spoon she’d left in the sink from the last time and put the mixture into the microwave. Two minutes later Alesha retrieved a steaming hot mug and walked across the room back to her tiny work area. She stood for a moment surveying her handiwork while sipping her hot chocolate.
Mm, that’s good” she whispered to herself and patted her stomach when it grumbled. “Yeah, I know. Time to eat but I just need to finish this first.” Alesha inspected the items she’d been working to finish since getting home.
On a burgundy colored dress form, she’d arranged her favorite tailored grey pinstriped shirt. A pair of bootcut black jeans were folded over the back of a nearby chair. She touched the raised collar of the garment, impressed how well she’d sewed it. Her favorite feature was the row of antique brass buttons down the front. A lucky-find she’d stumbled on at an estate sale. Her stomach grumbled again, but she knew there was no point in checking the fridge. She hadn’t gone shopping yet this week and was low on funds having splurged on the materials for the leather cuff and brass ring she was making.
“Well nothing for it,” she said, pulling her mobile phone out of her back pocket. The phone rang three times before a familiar voice answered.
“China Garden,” a voice chirped happily.
“Hi Mrs. Chang, this is Alesha.”
“Good to hear from you. Need a delivery?”
“Not tonight, thanks. I’ll just have a bowl of chow fun noodles with shredded chicken and iced coffee.”
“Coffee this late?” Mrs. Chang exclaimed. “You burning the midnight oil again?” Tutting under her breath she added, “You young people going to age yourself before your time.”
Alesha laughed. “I know. My mom says the same thing.”
“You should listen to her more,” she admonished. “Charles will bring on his way home. We closing up.”
“Sounds great. Night.” Alesha returned to her work area and sat down. She looked carefully at the ring mandrel she had vertically clamped to the table to hold it in place. On the scarred wooden mandrel was the brass ring she’d been working on to go with her outfit for tomorrow.
At the center of the ring was a delicate cream-colored pearl, surrounded by two layers of intricately looped brass wire. Alesha picked up another six-inch piece, centered it below the pearl and wrapped each end around the base of the ring three times to secure it in place. Then, doing one side at a time, she gently pulled at the wire, warming it with her hands to coax it into bending and looping at her direction, creating a third tier of loops around the pearl.
This was a slow and meticulous process that required patience. You also had to have an eye for the shape, size, and position of each loop, balancing the additions against what had already been formed. Alesha was finishing the final tier when her doorbell rang.
Standing barely five feet tall, she had to go up on her tiptoes to look through the door’s peephole. It was Charles from China Garden. He was balancing her order in one hand and staring intently at his mobile that was in his other hand. Charles was uncommonly tall, at over six feet, he’d already changed out of his uniform into a pair of blue jeans, black T-shirt, and a tan windbreaker.
Alesha unlocked the door and let him in. “Hey, Charles.”
“How goes it?” Without looking at her, he thrust the white paper bag in her direction. “Got your order.”
Alesha stepped aside. “C’mon on in. I’ll get my card.”
“Working late I see.” He looked around the small one-room apartment. “And you don’t even have the game on?” He raised his jet-black eyebrows to his hairline. “What kind of New Yorker are you? We’re playing the Boston Celtics tonight.”
Alesha laughed as she pulled her wallet out of her desk drawer. “The kind that doesn’t care about basketball.”
“That clinches it, we’re never getting married,” he teased.
Alesha rolled her eyes at Charles while handing him her debit card and taking the bag from him. “Your loss, bet your mom won’t be pleased.” She teased back.
Although Alesha was joking, she knew there was a small truth to what she said. In the two years she’d lived in this apartment and had been ordering food from his family’s restaurant, his mom had tried on several occasions to invite her for a meal or family event. Alesha always declined not wanting to complicate the situation or her their friendship with Charles. Granted, he was easy on the eyes with his tall, athletic physique, bright almond-shaped eyes, and short spiky haircut but Alesha wasn’t looking to date anyone now. She had her hands full as a buyer for the Bloomingdales women’s athletic wear department and her pursuit of being a fashion designer in her free time. There was no room for a man or relationship drama.
Charles swiped her debit card through the white attachment protruding from the top of his cell phone. He smiled at her appreciatively and continued joking. “So, you’re okay with breaking my mom’s heart? You can’t even pretend to like a few sports?” He winked and mockingly assessed her.”’Cuz everything else is top shelf.”
Alesha blushed, a rose-colored flush rising on her cheeks. She unconsciously swept a few errant blonde tendrils behind her ear and patted at the knot of hair she had pulled high on her head. Her face as thin with an angular jaw and high cheekbones. Light brown eyes peaked through thick curly lashes.
Charles’ teasing wasn’t usually so overt. Recovering her composure, she smirked at Charles and put out her hand. “Card, please. I’m busy, silly.”
Charles handed back the card but made no move to leave. He often chatted with Alesha for a bit when he delivered her food. He walked over to her work area. “Whoa, what’s this,” he asked leaning over the nearly finished ring.
“Just a little something to go with my outfit for tomorrow. I didn’t have anything that would go right with the shirt. So, throwing a little something together.” Alesha’s voice was relaxed but she was inwardly pleased that he’d noticed the ring and seemed to like it.
“May I?” Charles asked pointing to a hand-sewn leather and brass cuff on the table near the ring.
“Sure.” Alesha went to stand next to him. “That’s going with it.” After he’d examined it for a moment, she took it out of his hand and went to stand next to the shirt on the dress form. “Not too much is it?”
Charles considered the shirt with its gilded brass buttons alongside the leather cuff Alesha was holding beside it. “Nah, looks good I think. But what do I know? You’re the fashion maven of the neighborhood.”
“Well you know if you’d look at me crazy if I walked by wearing these things together.” She indicated that she meant the shirt, over-sized leather cuff, and ring he’d admired.
“I’d think shit, she looks a bit too high maintenance and expensive for my blood.” They both laughed.
His attention back on the ring Charles asked, “How long did this take? All those swirls. How the hell do you know where to make the next?” He leaned in close for a better look. “They’re not mirrored or alternating. There’s no real pattern, yet it looks balanced.”
Alesha smiled. It was nice to have someone to talk with about her designs. Like going to school for fashion and moving to New York City, these ideas of hers were so far out of the realm of her parent’s imagination, they acted like she was speaking Greek whenever she tried to explain what she did for a living or her future aspirations.
She hadn’t made many friends since moving to New York either. Fashion could be a very closed off community. Being the new kid on the job, she didn’t talk much with her co-workers beyond things that were directly work-related. She didn’t want them knowing that the coveted position she had wasn’t the end-game goal for her, as it was for some of them. Or that she spent every spare penny she had, along with her evenings and weekends, designing and sewing clothes. She didn’t want them to think she was pretentious or thought too much of herself.
“I don’t know really. I just sense where it should go to be in harmony with what’s already there.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“Sounds like how my grandfather used to explain rock garden landscaping. He was a real Master of It back home in Japan.” Charles put on the voice and manner of an old wise man, “Something you feel he used to say.”
Alesha took the nearly finished ring off the mandrel and slipped on her finger. “Maybe. Never really thought about it before. I stay broke making this stuff,” she waved her hand around at the various clothing racks wedged into every corner. “But I can’t stop. I get an idea, and I feel compelled to bring it to life.”
Charles walked over to a rack of dresses on the other side of the room and Alesha followed. Carefully, he lifted a sleeve, touched a hem and commented on the designs. “You sound like my sister with her music. Probably why my mom gets you.”
“Gets me?” Alesha’s face registered surprise.
“Yeah. Working all the time. Up all night sewing and designing. How your orders get smaller toward the end of the month just before payday. My sister was the same. She drove us crazy practicing all the time. No instrument to hand, she composed songs on every scrap of paper handy.” He laughed remembering, and his voice sounded endearing.
“That’s embarrassing actually,” Alesha said disconcerted.
“That my stupid life is so obvious. Especially my finances.”
Charles waved his hand dismissively. “She thinks it’s great. You’re ambitious. We’re doing good now but weren’t always. If it wasn’t for my sister’s music teacher offering her free lessons for three months before she auditioned for Julliard, she might not have gotten in no matter how much she’d dreamed about it. The restaurant was just opening. Parents couldn’t afford private lessons. A teacher helped and now look. Jenny got her scholarship, graduated top of her class, and now she’s a soloist in the New York Philharmonic.”
“Wow, that’s so cool. Would love to meet Jenny the next time she comes for a visit.”
Charles made a rude sound with his lips. “We go to her. Too busy to come home.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“You’ll be the same when it happens to you. Think you’re coming back to this cramped neighborhood when you make it big on Fifth Avenue?”
Alesha sighed. “Fifth Ave is the dream that’s for sure. Not even a shop of my own. Simply seeing my stuff on a rack in Midtown would be insane!”
Charles patted Alesha on the shoulder as he walked past and went to her desk and looked at the array of tools and gadgets. “Keep at it. It’ll happen. And we got you, if you’re ever short but need a meal.” He caught the look on her face and added, “I know. I know. Not something you want to do.Just sayin’.”
“Thanks. I appreciate the offer.” She held her finger up to the light and examined the ring. “There’s something about these things that speak to me. Ya know? I can’t explain it. Probably sound crazy. It feels like little pieces of me coming to life in the world.”
Charles came to stand beside her and admired the ring again too. “It’s hella cool. Most of your stuff I’ve seen is more minimal and zen-like than this piece. This is a bit out there. Bold but in a good way.”
“Yep, I call it my Chaos Ring.”
Charles rubbed his chin. “Chaos? Now that doesn’t sound like you at all.”
“I know right? Probably why I like it so much. The idea of it has been stuck in my head for months.”
“You really do sound like Jenny.”
Contemplatively she replied, “I think we all need little bursts of chaos in our lives to remind us to take chances, climb out of a rut and remember to live this one life we get.”
s locked. “Now that’s deep,” Charles said with a strong sense of admiration in his tone.