Cara Blue Adams
I met Loss the other day. I took his measurements. My yellow tape looped around my arm, pins held tight between my pursed lips, I circled him. I measured his thin wrists, his frail neck, his elegantly sloped shoulders. Inseam, sleeve length, the stretch of his forearm, I marked them down in pencil.
He was small. He stood very still as I worked.
His entourage, six thick-necked men, boisterous despite their size, pale handkerchiefs peeking from their dark suits’ breast pockets, poked in the nooks and crannies of my shop. They hula-hooped with my skirt wires, nudged one another with my dead mother’s ornate wood-handled umbrella, tossed fabric bolts back and forth. Loss looked straight ahead, glancing over only when a crash erupted or someone called to him affectionately.
No one used his name. To them, he was Oss, Lossie, Bonedaddy.
Loss wanted a single-breasted suit, standard issue, merino wool and cashmere with a peaked lapel, but also a prayer robe and a felt cloak. He was going on holiday, he told me. Where, he didn’t say.
He produced a tailor’s pattern book from 1589. I turned the dry pages. Cutting patterns for clerical robes, silk kirtles, ropa de letrado, all given in ells. One ell equals forty-five inches: this is ancestral knowledge, parceled with the family Bible and shears, passed down the years from grandfather to father, father to son. Loss didn’t know this. He handed me a conversion table.
“A Savile Row tailor threw me out,” he told me.
I told Loss I could give him what he wanted. Ducking the pincushions that whizzed by my head, I flipped through my notebook to a blank page and noted his figuration and posture. I asked him to stand relaxed. He nodded but remained stiff.
As I sketched, I asked Loss about his operation.
Hundreds of people were in his employ, Loss told me. Cataloguing, mostly. Rows of dark heads with neat parts bent over typewriters, clacking away.
“You can’t imagine the clamor,” he said. “Eventually it numbs you.”
Worse, Loss said, were the administrative meetings. The ceaseless bickering over what constituted loss. Keys, located after four panicky minutes: lost or just misplaced? A silver dollar stolen from an aunt’s purse and tossed down a wishing well, a swallowed tooth, an uncle in the grasp of dementia. How are we to gauge? The problems of classification were endless and unyielding.
As he spoke, I saw the warehouses. Each person’s losses filed in long skinny drawers. The cavernous echo of clerks’ footsteps as they pushed ladders to the far reaches. Each birth a long span of empty drawer that filled. Slow or quick, it always filled.
Each time someone died, Loss told me, the records were purged. In the night, bonfires dotted the perimeter.
I finished. We discussed drape and cut, scheduled a second fitting. Loss offered to pay in cash. Half up front, half after the skeleton baste. His money roll was enormous. He peeled away crisp hundreds like onion skins.
“No need to pay the second half,” I told him. Loss raised an eyebrow.
“Have a clerk pull my note cards,” I said. “I’ll take those instead.”
Loss shook his head. Beneath his eyes were tiny plum veins. “They’d fill a wheelbarrow. Take the money. Buy something. Only in Vegas can you trade with your losses.”
I hefted the heavy felt in my hands. Loss reached out and stroked it. I waited. He said nothing.
I waited some more.
“Okay,” Loss said finally, “but just a sampling. And duplicates only.” We shook.
After he left, I oiled my shears. I marked the thin brown-speckled pattern paper with Loss’s measurements. Scotch-taped to the window, the paper shone like stained glass. In my hands, the fabric came apart and then together again in Loss’s shape. Not alchemy, but close, I thought. Close.
At the appointed hour, Loss returned. His entourage waited outside, kicking empty cans into the gutter. In the gray light they looked at once thuggish and impossibly young.
During the fitting, Loss was patient. He stretched out his arms like a child playing airplane, reached for the sky, ducked and feinted. A few minor adjustments were agreed upon, but everything fit him beautifully.
I promised him the finished garments sewn up tight as a shroud in ten days’ time. Loss nodded, said his assistant would collect them, and then reached inside his jacket and handed me three manila cards.
Each card was annotated in an old-fashioned typeface. My name appeared at the top left, the series number at the top right. Dead center was the list. Gold filling, the first card began. Train schedule. Yellow slicker just before the sky opened. Bearings (ball). Bearings (sense of). Orange rind. Tax forms.
Things I couldn’t remember losing. Things I’d missed all my life.
“Sure you don’t want the money?” Loss asked. “You could buy another slicker.”
“No thanks,” I said.
Loss shrugged. I had the sense he’d seen it before: people unwilling to let go of what was gone.
Before he let himself out, Loss brushed my cheek lightly with the back of his knuckles — just the way you always would. Just the way I know you will again, after you walk barefoot down the dirt drive to your mailbox, slit open my envelope and find these cards, after you finally hold in your hand what for all those years I could never bring myself to show you.