I. We See Whose Mother Is Spinning Black Wool. (Croatian: Da vidimo čija majka crnu vunu prede)
Luka, handsome and upstanding, could have found what he wanted among our sturdy, well-mannered girls. Instead, he stood upon Dubrovnik’s gargoyle; from there, he spied Basia and invited her for coffee. His gargoyle wish blossomed into love, marriage, and children.
Basia brought a dowry, sheep with fleeces unsurpassed for glossy silkiness. Quite unlike our own. What Basia didn’t spin and knit, she felted—those little red caps of hers! Soon, all our men and children wished for one fitting as snuggly and surely upon their heads, keeping them warm in the worst sea-driven storm.
She claimed her sheep grew glossier and stronger wool for our salty air and herb-spiked meadows, a sentiment endearing her to us. Tourists sought her wares in our market—those red felt caps! She taught our daughters her skills and employed them. Soon, more than Luka’s own kept snuggly wrapped in articles of Basia’s making. We had no worries of the propuh!
Yet drafts come in many forms. Winds blow from many directions.
One day, a few dark fibers appeared in one of Basia’s glossy white fleeces. Over time, dark fibers tainted several staples. The birth year of Luka’s youngest son, an ewe produced a dark-fleeced lamb. Perhaps it’d come with a sullied pedigree?
Luka passed. His eldest son and namesake tended the family’s traditional herd and cheese-making, leaving wool production to the middle brother. The daughter married into our best family, the patriarch claiming, “Fear not the unknown drop of blood!” Sentiments the man hadn’t expressed back when Basia first appeared, his attitudes softened by the wealth she’d introduced to our parts and by her daughter’s beauty, manners, and skills. We clapped and cheered. His softening echoed our own.
None could have wished trouble on Luka’s goodly children. So, we turned from the deeds of the youngest—a trader for his brothers—as we locked away our nubile daughters. And we turned from Basia at the market, wrapped in a dark wool shawl and stooped over her spinning wheel, her distaff unashamedly full of the shiniest, blackest wool.
II. To Have a Stick in One’s Ear (Danish: At Have en Pind i Øret)
Monday, Boss says, “We double production.”
Doubling’s not possible, the sew-ladies say. Most of them are Turks. Next thing, Boss has a stick in his ear. “Wha’s tha’ for?” the sew-ladies ask.
Boss points to the clock. Seven, no questions. The sewing machines go da-da-da-da-da. Deafening.
Coffee break. Us Danes use the espresso machine. The sew-ladies boil grounds with spices and sugar. Everyone talks about Boss. The sew-ladies ask when a stick is a stick. The one they call Kaçık—her crown bald from plucking out hairs to nibble on their roots—laughs. She says, “Softwood? Or hardwood?” Kaçık retires at the end of this week. The others explain, “She lives with cats. Many cats, no man.” The sew-ladies slip into a babbling, Turkish argument.
Lunch, afternoon break, five to four—Boss shakes his head. Sew-ladies scowl. No “air and water,” their expression, between them. No “wishing health to hands.” Departure is tense.
Next day, stick’s still in Boss’s ear. The machines rattle; the tongues not. Occasional curse words mean fifty-cent coins dropping in the penalty tin. At a flashing red light—unexpected downtime—I go see what’s what.
“Hurry, hurry!” Time is their money.
Tuesday, Wednesday, the machines run like hot soup pouring from a ladle, but the sew-lady lips are all like pig grease gone cold.
Thursday, first thing, old Kaçık says, “Morgen!”
Us Danes respond, the sew-ladies groan. Where’s her sense of solidarity?
Friday, Kaçık say, “Wha’s with stick, Boss? Tell us!” She’s never been bold, but this is her final working day.
Five to four, Boss holds up a sheet of paper. Columns of numbers. The sew-ladies’ feet still. The machines silence. “Congratulations, ladies,” Boss says. “We set a production record!” He shakes the paper. “Keep this up, now! No falling behind.”
“Ne?” the sew-ladies say. Even us Danes form “hwad?” on our lips.
Kaçık says, “Ladies, you been right done. Old trick!”
“No hygge for us!” someone shouts.
Come Monday, how will their machine run on anger?
We Danes shake our heads. Boss with his stick—maybe in the wrong ear!
Meredith Wadley lives and works in a small medieval town on the Swiss side of the Rhine River, where the bridge to Germany is currently blockaded and the skies are free of vapor trails. She has fiction published or forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, upstreet thirteen, Collateral, Gone Lawn, Lammergeier, and Orca Lit.