I buy her a meal before I let her go. Fair’s fair, she’s been a good employee, and never let it be said I wronged anyone.
I am sorry to have to do it because it will be hard to find another seamstress who is so meticulous. She never cuts corners, never takes the lazy way out. Her needlework is immaculate and her eye sharp. The fabrics we work with are delicate and expensive, and she is one of the few who could be trusted never to snag the lace or get stains on the silks. She was good with the fittings as well. She didn’t talk back when the clients complained, didn’t talk at all if they chose to ignore her, and never jabbed anyone with pins, no matter how greatly they deserved it.
But I cannot have a thief in my employ. Rich women won’t stand for their jewels being stolen, even when they can so easily replace them. When she was caught she cried, as they always do, and mentioned the sick children yet again, and the absent husband, but what choice did I have? She had to be dismissed.
And so here we sit, meal had, tea drunk. I’ve brought her to my favourite restaurant because, although she’s leaving in disgrace and can’t have the usual farewell with the other girls, she deserves a thank you for all the years. She hardly touched her food, unused to so fine a restaurant, no doubt. But I had the chop suey, which was excellent. We’re here at the best time of day as well. When the sun goes down, the neon sign outside the window is switched on. It’s so cheerful, all that red and yellow. Like Christmas.
I indicate to the waiter that I wish to pay before my final task, which is to tell her that I cannot, in all conscience, give her a character reference. I am a good Christian woman with a respectable business – I simply cannot lie and recommend her as a person of integrity. It would reflect poorly on me. Reputation is everything.
In response to Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey (1929)
Anne O’Leary lives in Cork, Ireland. Her work has been published in Fictive Dream, The Drabble, Jellyfish Review, Dodging the Rain, The Nottingham Review, Spontaneity and The Incubator. She won the Molly Keane Award 2018 and From the Well Short Story Competition 2017, was runner-up in the UCC/Carried In Waves Short Story Competition 2015, was shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award 2016 and highly commended in 2017, and longlisted for the Irish Novel Fair 2016 and RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition 2015.