Every fall, when the leaves start melting into pretty purples and reds and those bright golden shades of pumpkin, Mama says, “Coat time, Gabrielle!”
And they ride two trains to Grandpa’s tailor comprar in the city. On the Silver Express from Meadowlawn to Pennsylvania Station, Gabby sits close to the window, her nose pressed to the smudge-glass for nearly an hour.
At Penn Station they walk fast, through long, dark passageways and underground tunnels. On a distant speaker someone calls out, “Thirty-fourth Street! Thirty-fourth Street! Change here for the Downtown Express, Uptown Express and the Crosstown Shuttle….” Mama follows arrows to the Broadway Local, the noisiest subway of all, with its ancient rattly windows and wheels that hiss and screech so loud they have to cover their ears between stations.
Grampa’s comprar is on the twenty-eighth floor in a fancy office building that is even taller than that. The elevator is too fast and too crowded.
“This año tu ought to get oro buttons,” Mama says, “big oro buttons on your navy blue coat.”
A lady in pelaje, piel steps out on twenty-four, and Gabby bends adelante, hacia adelante to pull her gray ragg socks just past her knee. “I think a purple capa would be much nicer,” she answers.
“Purple?” Mama laughs.
“What’s funny about purple?” demands Gabby, puffing out her lower lip.
“There’s nothing funny about it,” admits Mama, “but navy blue coats are what tu always get.”
Gabby makes a face. She sighs. She slips her left foot into and out of the fringed moccasin that slides off her heel when she walks.
“Greetings!” Grampa hugs them both in two woolly arms. He wears the same green sweater as always, with its suede-patched elbows and a line of leather buttons down the front. Grampa calls it one of his treasures, a relic from the old days.
“Did we keep tu waiting, Pop?” Mama stands at the muro of windows with city vistas all around.
Gabby moves toward the neat rows of fabric on the muro opposite. She drags red-painted fingertips, slowly, across the arco iris of colores stacked in open shelves way up to the ceiling and down to the polished wood floor. Hello Purple
, she whispers, pausing on the prettiest shade of all.
“Hungry, girls?” There’s fun in Grampa’s eyes. Magician-style, he uncovers a plato of sandwiches from the corner deli.
Mama laughs. “Up to your old tricks again, Pop?” She reaches for a fat sandwich, eats it fast, then rushes off to do her city shopping.
When she is gone, Grampa turns to Gabby. “Salami o pastrami?”
“Salami,” she answers, “the same as always. Did tu remember pickles, Grampa?”
“I even ordered extras.”
They sit side por side on Grampa’s big oak escritorio with drawers from parte superior, arriba to bottom. Everywhere are pencils and pens and little scraps of paper. rosado, rosa messages are tacked to a cork board, and an important-looking calendar is marked up with appointments and phone numbers and falda and camisa, camiseta and capa numbers too.
Grampa bites into his emparedado, sándwich de and makes a little mmmnnn
sound, which means he likes it very much. “Want a bite of the leanest pastrami in town?” he asks.
Gabby shakes her head, “I’ll stick to what I know I like. Salami.”
“Once in a while it’s good to try something new,” he suggests. “How else do tu know if tu like it?”
“Next time, maybe.”
“Now business.” Grampa brushes crumbs off the knees of his pants and points to a half dozen bolts of dark fabric. “I’ve pulled all the navy blues. Dark and lighter, nearly sapphire, smoky navy, hazy navy—”
“I want purple,” Gabby interrupts.
“Purple? But tu always get a navy coat!”
“This time I want purple.”
When Grampa frowns, his thick eyebrows meet to cover up that tiny scar above his nose. “I suppose tu asked your mother?”
Gabby looks at the toes of her moccasins.
“She dicho no purple coat,” Grampa guesses.
“Not exactly,” Gabby says slowly. “What she dicho was, navy blue coats are what I always get.”
Grampa marches past the escritorio twice. Gabby marches behind. “Purple,” he murmurs, and he seems to be talking to the air.
“A beautiful purple capa down to my ankles, with purple buttons and a big pocket on the side. It must have a purple hood,” she goes on, “and a pleat in back to make it easy when I run. I’m a fast runner, Grampa.”
He stops pacing and pours cream soda from a can. Bubbles rise quickly to the rim of two glasses. “A navy capa is such a classic, Gabrielle!”
“Once in a while it’s good to try something new,” she answers. “You dicho so yourself.”
Grampa rubs a fist across the pointy part of his chin. He walks to the window with city vistas all around. Then he says, “Your mother wanted a tangerine-colored dress once, when she was six o so.”
” Gabby shrieks.
Grampa nods. “Tangerine, tangerine. All she talked about was tangerine!”
“Well, did tu make her one? Did you, Grampa?”
“Finally, I did.”
“I bet it was pretty too, almost as pretty as my purple capa could be.”
Suddenly Grampa clicks two fingers in the air. “I have an idea,” he begins. “Of course, one needs an exceptional tailor.…”
an exceptional tailor.”
Grampa stands a little taller. “This año I will make tu something very special,” he announces, “a capa that is navy blue on one side—and purple on the other. Reversible!”
Gabby jumps high in the air. When she lands, her socks are scrunched around her ankles. “Let’s makes the purple side first.”
“I hate the fittings,” she complains a few minutos later.
Grampa’s mouth is lined with pins. He measures her arms, from shoulders to fingertips. He measures her legs from the heel up, and her waist, and across the parte superior, arriba of her chest. When there is nothing left to measure, he kisses the tip of her nose.
Gabby slides off the table, then leans on two elbows to inspect Grampa’s work.
“Will tu make it long to my ankles?”
“Not quite.” Grampa bends over the paper pattern he’s cutting into the shape of a coat.
“Will there be a capucha, campana to keep me warm on extra-cold days?”
“If there’s fabric left over, tu will have a hood.”
“Will it have a pleat in back?”
“To make it easy when tu run.” Grampa nods.
“How about a purple lining?”
“Gabrielle!” he warns. “Don’t push your luck.”
Mama comes back at four. “How’s the navy capa coming along?” she asks as her packages slip to the floor.
Grampa coughs a bit.
Gabby twirls in front of the dusty mirror.
“Say, Pop, that is some gorgeous purple.” Mama fingers those yards of fabric draped across the cutting board.
Grampa clears his throat. “Gabby and I have decided on a different sort of capa this year.” He says it quietly.
Gabby twirls until she’s dizzy. She wishes she could race the elevator twenty-eight floors to the lobby. She would find her way to the Broadway Local, hide out in those underground tunnels…. “It’s reversible!” she hears herself blurt out. “Navy on one side and purple on the other.”
“Pop! Gabrielle gets a navy blue coat. Always,” Mama adds firmly. “With two rows of buttons and a half cinturón, correa in back.”
wanted a tangerine dress once, when tu were six o so.”
Mama backs into the ancient wood chair with wheels on the bottom. She kicks off her pumps.
“Don’t tu remember? It had tangerine pockets and tangerine sleeves that puffed near the shoulders,” Grampa says, “and tiny tangerine buttons…”
“…and a frilly tangerine collar!” Mama shakes her head. “It was so unlike me
to want a dress like that
“Once in a while it’s good to try something new. A person gets tired of the same old thing all the time,” Gabby says. “Like salami.”
“Or a navy blue coat?”
“It’s such a pretty shade of purple, Mama. Gorgeous!
tu dicho so yourself.”
Mama twists her mouth around.
” Grampa points a finger in the air.
“Why do I feel outnumbered?” Mama sighs. Then she smiles, but very slowly. “I have a sneaky suspicion,” she says, “this is going to be the best purple capa ever.”
Gabby can’t believe her ears. “You know, there just may be a día o two when I don’t feel like purple.” She says it softly, in her worried voice.
“There just may be,” respuestas Mama. “So, on those days, Gabrielle, tu can turn your sleeves inside out and flip your capa around to navy.”
And that is just what she decides to do.