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Printer Version

Excerpt from Talk Gertie To Me

©2006 Lois Winston

Dorchester Publishing, ISBN#0-505-52684-0

by Lois Winston (May 1, 2006)

(Note: Lois is much more than one of the industry's top needlework designers. She's a novelist, too, whose stories have a strong craft influence. Here is an excerpt, Chapter 11. The novel is available at Amazon.com and book stores throughout the country.)

"How many of those do you own?"

"What?" I followed Hyís gaze to the lavender and pink hydrangea-decorated straw shoulder bag I set on the black granite counter of his ultra modern, stainless steel kitchen -- a kitchen easily twice the size of my daughterís entire former janitorís closet apartment nine floors below. In such a setting my decoupaged purse looked about as out of place as a pork roast among Orthodox Jews. (And yes, I do know of such things. I may hail from Ten Commandments, Iowa, but that doesnít mean Iím ignorant of other peopleís beliefs and traditions.)

Hy turned his attention to a frosted glass-doored cabinet above the sink, retrieving a burnished stainless steel sugar bowl and cream pitcher. I settled onto one of the zebra print stools surrounding the island that served as a kitchen table. "Your bag," he said. "Thatís the third one Iíve seen you carry."

I shrugged as he placed a smoky gray glass mug on the placemat in front of me, somewhat surprised that he had even noticed my pocketbook. Earnest certainly wouldnít have. "So? Lots of women have more than one purse. Even women who come from Iowa."

He glanced down at my matching straw pumps as he brought the teapot to the table and poured for both of us. "Did you make them?"

Okay, so maybe they didnít exactly go with my new sophisticated wardrobe, but I liked my purses. And my matching shoes. And hats. And belts. Even if they did embarrass certain people. Like my daughter who kept the ones I had given her buried in the deepest recesses of her closet.

Besides, those high-heeled sandals Loretta had talked me into buying were not exactly comfortable for someone used to wearing penny loafers and low-heeled pumps. Talk about an impulse purchase. And having worn them, I now couldnít return them. I donít care how sexy Loretta said they made me look. They hurt my feet.

I scowled at Hy. He was dressed to match his apartment -- all in black. Didnít anyone in New York ever wear any colors besides black and gray? I glanced at my purse and decided it didnít look out of place at all. It added much needed color to this depressingly monochrome room. As a matter of fact, both Hy and his entire apartment could stand a good splash of color, and I intended to tell him so. Right after I reproached him for his condescending attitude. "Well, thatís not very gentlemanly, even if my accessories are too Midwest for you."

Hy laughed. "My dear Constance, you donít give yourself enough credit."

I eyed him suspiciously but couldnít help noticing that his voice didnít sound teasing. Or condescending. On the contrary, he seemed to be thoughtfully appraising my purse and shoes rather than condemning their lack of elegance and sophistication. "Credit for what?"

He sat down on the stool next to me and took both of my hands in his. Gazing into my eyes, he said, "Connie, Iím about to make you an offer you canít refuse."

And then he did. Except I didnít believe him. I pulled my hands out from between his and laughed. "You have got to be kidding!"

"Iím totally serious."

Still, I kept waiting for the punch line.

And waiting.

And waiting.

Eventually it occurred to me that maybe he was serious. As well as insane. "What makes you think anyone in New York -- or anywhere else for that matter -- would pay for my decoupaged handbags?" After all, as much as she loved me, my own daughter keeps hers hidden in a closet. For that matter, I often suspected that Marjorie and my other friends only carry theirs when they know theyíll be bumping into me. And thatís back in unsophisticated Ten Commandments, Iowa.

But Hy was persistent. "Trust me, Connie. Iím in the trends business. And I intend to make these purses of yours tomorrowís biggest must-have item."

Right. The man had gone delusional on me. "You told me you were an importer."

"I am. I import trends."

How can someone import a trend? Apparently, Hy had already figured that one out. Quite successfully, too, if his apartment was any indication of his bank account and stock portfolio.

He drained his cup of tea. "Iíll be right back." He stood and strode from the kitchen. A minute later he returned with a newspaper and set it in front of me. "This is the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times." He flipped open the paper and pointed to some tacky-looking fuchsia and chartreuse vinyl purses embellished with five-and-dime plastic flowers and rhinestones.

I scrunched up my nose. Even in Ten Commandments the women had better taste than to be caught dead carrying something like that. "Those are hideous."

"Read the caption."

I bent over the paper and gasped. Those Salvation Army rejects were selling at a place called Henri Bendel for...I spun around and gaped at him. "Five hundred dollars?"

"Handmade by the fourteen-year-old daughter of a banker who lives on the Upper East Side. Weíve already sold six hundred, and the store only started carrying them last week. Iíve recently signed a contract to have them mass-produced in China, exclusively for Target Stores."

"Six hundred people have already shelled out five hundred dollars each for..." I pointed at the monstrosities. "...for those?"

Hy smiled. "Itís all in the marketing."

By the time he explained his marketing strategy to me, he had me believing I was going to be the next Martha Stewart. Pre-stock scandal Martha, of course. Goddess of all things domestic. Iíd be lying if I didnít admit the idea appealed to me. Suddenly I had visions of my face plastered all over Wal-Mart the way Martha was plastered over K-Mart. And then there was the Connie Stedworth magazine. The Connie Stedworth television show. The Connie Stedworth empire. Iíd be a household name. Iíd be a somebody finally, rather than an addendum to my husband and daughter.

I needed to lose twenty pounds. Fast.

"What else do you do?" Hy asked, pulling me from my reverie.

"Do? Well, I make a mean pickled beet that wins a blue ribbon every year at the county fair." Connie Stedworth gourmet foods?

Hy scrunched up his face. "Iím not sure the world is ready for pickled beets."

Okay, so we wouldnít be featuring a line of gourmet foods in the Connie Stedworth empire. Yet. I had brought some jars of pickled beets with me for Nori. Hy would change his mind after he ate some. "Come downstairs with me," I said, taking a last sip of tea. Iíd show him my painted jumpers and the various other craft items I had made for Nori.

Then Iíd feed him some pickled beets.

"Meet Iowa haute couture," I said a few minutes later as I pulled half a dozen fabric-painted denim jumpers from the closet and spread them across the bed. "Hardly what youíd find at that store you sent me to yesterday."

With one hand cupping his elbow, the other stroking his nearly white goatee, Hy stared at the array of painted cows, chickens, teddy bears, geese, strawberries, and sunflowers that wound their way around the hems and covered the bibs of each garment. "Retro sells."

He picked up a jumper and fingered the row of black and white speckled hens parading around a burgundy and taupe checkerboard border. "Weíve already revisited the tie-dyed Sixties and the disco Seventies. Everyone is cacooning. Family is paramount, especially after what this country has been through over the past few years. Perhaps the time is right for a reemergence of the American country look of the Eighties."

He dropped the jumper back onto the bed. Deep in thought and continuing to stroke his goatee, he paced back and forth over what little available floor space there was in Noriís bedroom. His eyes darted around the room, stopping occasionally on the few pieces of my handiwork that Nori hadnít hidden away in her closet. "Yours?" he asked, lifting up a dresser box I had decoupaged with Iowa tourist brochures.

I nodded.

He continued to pace. "And this?" He pointed to an ivy-painted flowerpot on the windowsill. Within it rested the remains of a geranium that had long since passed on to wherever neglected plants go when they die.

I offered him a sheepish grin and a shrug. Nori never met a plant she couldnít kill in record time. "The pot only. I take no responsibility for my daughterís murderous tendencies toward all things green."

He bent down and squinted at the dead plant. "What in the world is this?"

I stepped around the bed to take a closer look, expecting to find a mealy bug or two attempting to eke out a bare-bones existence on the remains of a dead leaf. But Hy wasnít referring to anything creepy or crawly. He pried something off the surface of the caked dirt and held it up for closer inspection.

My belly flip-flopped. Red-hot heat surged up my neck and into my cheeks. I felt as embarrassed as the time my mother caught me reading The Joy of Sex. And I was already married then. "Thatís nothing," I squeaked out through a suddenly restricted windpipe. I grabbed for the item in his hand but he refused to part with it.

He held it up to the light of the window, turning it to inspect the one-inch object from all directions. He cocked his head; his forehead furrowed, his bushy white brows knitting together. Then he laughed. "Iíll be damned. It looks like a younger version of your daughter."

I filled with pride that he could so easily identify the caricature representation of Nori I had painted on the piece, but I really didnít want to have to explain the origin of the item he held in his hand. "Uhm...yes...well, itís nothing. Really. Just a stupid idea I once had."

I donít know what I was thinking when I came up with that lunatic notion. Maybe I had suffered from PMS that day. The entire incident was too embarrassing to dredge up and explain. I distinctly remember tossing the piece out years ago. How strange that Nori had picked it out of the trash and saved it.

"Is it stone?" Hy weighed the irregularly shaped piece, slightly larger than a marble, in the palm of his hand.

"Not exactly."

"No, I didnít think so." He bounced it in his hand. "Too light." He studied it once more. "And too oddly shaped for stone." He peered down at me. "Connie, this is fascinating. What exactly is it?"

I shook my head. "Iíd rather not say."

He raised his head and stared at me, an expression of disbelief and astonishment settling over his face. "Why the bloody hell not?"

"Youíll think Iím nuts."

"Why would I think that?"

"Because it was a crazy idea. And weird. Everyone said so."

He raised an eyebrow. "Iím not everyone."

No, he wasnít. And he hadnít patronized me and my countrified crafts projects once. Hadnít referred to them as tacky or unsophisticated. Not that what he held in his hand was anything close to a typical "country" craft -- either in technique or style or subject matter. Not by a long shot. This was no painted sweatshirt with little piggies or a floral decoupaged ice tea tray. Hy hadnít once laughed or rolled his eyes or made a face the way my highfalutin sister-in-law Florrie did behind my back. He actually expressed admiration for what I created. Wanted to market them.

I chewed my lower lip, trying to decide whether or not to divulge my secret. But what was the worst that could happen? Heíd roar with laughter the way Marjorie had? Still.... "Promise you wonít laugh?"

He nodded.

I took a deep breath. "Itís a belly button casting."

(Note: Lois has sold a second novel to Dorchester Publishing, Love, Lies, and a Mocha Latte, a romantic suspense set whose heroine is a renowned needle artist. It is scheduled for release in the second half of 2007. Lois continues to design needlework products. Her latest is published in the June issue of The Cross Stitcher. To contact Lois, email winston72@verizon.net and visit www.loiswinston.com. To read previous entries in "Kate's Collage," click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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