How Mrs. Steinmetz Got Her Mink
Every day on her way to work and back, Mrs. Steinmetz stopped in front of the shopwindow of Vanderbolt Furs. Beyond the plateglass, mannequins stood frozen in elegant poses, swathed in ocelot, seal, beaver, chinchilla, ermine, but most of all, mink. Mrs. Steinmetz stared, and became a dummy covered in lumpy tweed and left outside to endure the wind that howls down big city avenues. Then a truck engine would backfire, or some workman or cop would shout, and the near-frozen woman would awaken and walk the rest of the way to her dimly lit tenement room.
Dinner was usually a can of soup heated up on the radiator. Mrs. Steinmetz listened to the radio while she ate, and often fell asleep to swoony brass choruses and whispered melodramatic dialogue.
The shopkeepers at Vanderbolt Furs changed the window display every Thursday. Thursdays were holidays, for Mrs. Steinmetz.
Hypnotized by a velvety knee-length model, she didn’t see the black sedan pull to a stop behind her in the street, didn’t hear its wide tires crunch the snow piled by the curb. The man sitting in the back of the car rolled down his window. The end of his cigar glowed like a lustful eye in the winter evening.
Mrs. Steinmetz was plain, but she had lovely skin. Cheap clothes couldn’t conceal her figure. An opera house crowded with fur-wrapped society matrons would envy such a balcony. Despite years of rapt window-gazing, Mrs. Steinmetz had never dared to enter Vanderbolt’s emporium of dreams. Her creamy flesh had never known the touch of mink.
“Excuse me please, Miss,” the man in the back of the hulking automobile said. “I’d like a word with you.”
Mrs. Steinmetz snapped out of her fur-lined reverie, and shivered. It was cold. Her breath showed in puffs. She hugged her thin coat tighter, hunched her shoulders as she approached the car and the stranger inside it.
“Do you need directions, sir?”
“Pardon my indiscretion, dear Miss, but I noticed how you admire the mink coats offered for sale in that shop. Would you like to have one of them?”
Mrs. Steinmetz nearly fainted. This was only partly due to the cold, her soupy diet and post-shift fatigue. She thought her prayers were about to be answered by the Mink Fairy.
“Oh, yes. Oh, thank you, kind sir.”
“Perhaps this can be arranged,” the man said. “Get in the car. We’ll take a jaunt uptown.”
The spacious cab was warm and smelled pleasantly of tobacco. The chauffeur was in livery. Mrs. Steinmetz mistook him for a cop, due to the hat. The man beside her was dressed in a tuxedo. The studs on his shirt glittered like diamonds, which they were.
“Take us uptown, Jim,” he said. “All the way.”
The big car took off without a lurch, barely a sound. The driver seemed to have the traffic lights under his command. They turned green to let them shush by.
“Would you care for a cocktail, Miss? I’m afraid I can only offer you rum, but it’s damn fine rum.”
“Oh yes please, sir. Thank you. I’d love a shot.”
The decanter sparkled like an outscale jewel, as did the glass which the man filled with dark liquor.
“Won’t you please take off your wrap? You’ll be so much more comfortable. Allow me to help you.”
Mrs. Steinmetz blushed. She wasn’t wearing her bra. She’d busted a strap that morning, and hadn’t had time to make the repair. The other girls at the factory didn’t notice or care, and they all wore smocks anyway. Mrs. Steinmetz’s smock was on its peg in the factory’s workroom, and a rich stranger was about to help her out of her coat. She nearly flopped out the front of her calico dress when she leaned forward. Her nipples were still stiff from the cold.
“Oh my God,” the man said. “I mean, excuse me, Miss, but you have such a marvelous bosom.”
Mrs. Steinmetz attempted to cover herself. “Uhm, thank you, sir. Where we going? I thought…”
The wide, brightly lit avenues had given way to dark, pitted streets. The skyscrapers had been replaced by shabby houses with boarded-up windows. Even the snowdrifts looked black and menacing. Mrs. Steinmetz had never been so far uptown before.
A group of men stood outside a storefront whose red neon sign throbbed LIQUOR, with the U burnt out. The driver slowed as they passed. Black faces turned to glower. Mrs. Steinmetz noticed the driver was a black man too.
“Keep going,” the elegant man said.
He poured himself another glass of rum. He poured Mrs. Steinmetz another glassful too, even though she tried to refuse. Her head was swimming. She’d only eaten a few crackers and an apple for lunch.
A tall man walked under the only streetlight still in function on a long block of vacant lots. He pushed a wheelbarrow from which several wooden handles stuck out.
“Sweet sweating Christ, look at the shoulders on him. Stop, Jim.”
The car rolled smoothly to a halt. The man leaned across Mrs. Steinmetz to roll down the window, spilled rum in her lap as he did so.
“Hey, big fella. Get over here a minute. I wanna talk to you.”
The giant set down his wheelbarrow, wiped his hands on his jacket. His voice was a low whisper from the grave. “Whatchoo want?”
“Ever seen one of these, big boy?” The rich man snapped a fresh $100 bill. “All for you.”
“How many I got to kill?”
“Nothing like that. All you gotta do is have some fun with this pretty lady here.”
“But I got my tools here. I can’t just…”
“No one around here wants them. Get in.”
There was barely room in the back seat, though it had seemed broad as a football field just a moment before. Mrs. Steinmetz felt dangerously crowded. The man smelled of dirt and sweat. They drove past a ruined church, a ghostly former schoolyard.
“Whip it out,” the man in the tuxedo said.
“’Scuse me, sir?”
“You heard me, bo’.”
The man sighed and fumbled the front of his pants. Mrs. Steinmetz gasped.
The rich man’s hands shook. “Now, you…blondie…get busy.”
Mrs. Steinmetz felt like crying.
“Shut up,” the rich man said. “You want that mink coat, don’t you?”
“It’s not that,” she said. “I’m afraid he’ll kill me.”
“You’ve got the wrong idea, girly.” He narrowed his eyes at her bosom.
Mrs. Steinmetz nodded, knelt on the carpeted floor of the car, and pulled down the top of her dress.
“You Jew-girls have a natural talent,” the rich man said.
“Miss,” the giant whispered, “you gonna make me…”
“Oh yes. Yes.” The rich man hissed.
The huge black man threw back his head.
The rich man lunged. The car filled with moans of horrible delight.
Outside the nearest subway entrance, Jim the driver handed Mrs. Steinmetz a mink coat wrapped in plastic, fresh from the cleaners.
That fur still hangs on Mrs. Steinmetz’s wall. She never wore it once.