Sima's Undergarments

Author Ilana Stanger-Ross shares this excerpt from her new book Sima's Undergarments For Women. In a hidden underground bra shop in an Orthodox neighborhood of Brooklyn, one woman's 50-year-old secret comes unhooked…

Beneath the streets of Brooklyn, women revel in frank friendship while searching for the perfect fit. In the comfort of her basement bra shop, Sima Goldner teaches other women to appreciate their bodies, but feels betrayed by her own. Shamed by her infertility and a secret from her youth, Sima has given up on happiness and surrendered to a bitter marriage. But when Timna, a young Israeli with enviable cleavage, becomes the shop seamstress, Sima finds herself awakened to adventure and romance. As the two serve the colorful customers of the orthodox Jewish neighborhood, Sima's curiosity about Timna leads to an obsession, ultimately forcing Sima to confront her past and decide her future. Years after giving up on their marriage, Sima and her husband, Lev, must decide if what they have is worth saving. While it refuses to shrink from inner darkness, Sima's Undergarments for Women is a glorious story of hope, of love lost but then reborn.

The excerpt below from Sima's Undergarments For Women comes early in the novel, as Sima and Timna are getting to know one another.

Sima's Undergarments For Women

Sima stood at the top of the stairs on a Sunday morning, looking down into the bra shop. Everything was clean and organized, ready for the week ahead: even the counter had been polished with wood oil the previous Friday. Never mind it wasn't real wood; she liked all the same the clean, sharp smell of the oil.
Descending the steps, Sima walked over to what she'd begun to think of as Timna's sewing table. She picked up a pale blue cardigan folded on Timna's chair and brought it toward her face, losing herself in the sharp smell of inexpensive perfume. A creak upstairs brought her back; she dropped the cardigan onto the chair and walked quickly away.
"Tell me," Sima asked when Timna arrived a half hour later, a cup of coffee in one hand and a Hebrew newspaper in the other, "what will you most want to show Alon when he gets here?"
She'd thought the question out the night before.

Timna sat down at the sewing table, casually tossing the cardigan Sima had doted on over the back of her chair. "I'm not sure," she said. "By the time he comes, I'll know this city so much better. I'm just a tourist now-"

"You work here, you have a job." She didn't want Timna to think of herself as a tourist-it was all more permanent than that.
Timna smiled. "I guess so." She removed the lid of her coffee cup, took a long sip. "It's funny you ask though," she said, wrapping both hands around the cup, "because the truth is wherever I am I think about being there with Alon. I have imaginary conversations in my head where I'm showing him things or we're commenting together-a woman will go by walking a dog or something, and suddenly I'm talking with Alon about that." She paused, ran a finger around the rim of the cup. "Does that sound crazy?"

"Not crazy at all," Sima said, remembering vaguely that she'd once dreamed up conversations with Lev.
"But then sometimes it only makes me feel more alone. Yesterday I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, and it was just a beautiful, perfect morning. The sky was bright blue and the bridge was filled with families and people jogging." Timna lifted the cardigan from the back of her chair, folded it in her lap. "It was the sort of day, you know, when everybody seems to smile at you?"

Sima nodded, though she wasn't sure-would she have remembered to smile on the bridge? Of course, she thought, she wouldn't have been there.

"But then, to stand there looking into the water and feeling part of such a perfect day, and to feel so much-joy, just joy for the day and the place and the time in my life, you know? But to have no one to share it with, no one beside me who I could turn to and point and say, 'Look.'" Timna placed the folded sweater on the counter, smoothed it with her hand. "It's hard, that silence. It made it all less real somehow, because there was no one there to understand."

"Yes," Sima said, "Yes, I know what you mean." And it seemed to her that she did, as she imagined Timna on the Brooklyn Bridge, looking into the river between the woven ropes, though she wasn't sure, after all, if she'd walked across the bridge even once in the last three decades, and then again how long it'd been since she tried to share what was inside, parted her lips to say, "Look."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ilana Stanger-Ross grew up in Brooklyn. She holds an undergraduate degree from Barnard College and an MFA from Temple University. She is currently a student midwife on the University of British Columbia faculty of medicine. She has received several prizes for her fiction, including a Timothy Findley Fellowship, and her work has been published in Bellevue Literary Review, Lilith magazine, The Globe and Mail, and The Walrus magazine, among others.

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