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"Two and a half yards," said a middle-aged woman in an Eastern European accent. She dropped a bolt of cloth on the cutting table at the Evanston Vogue, then leaned her elbow on the table and propped her chin in her hand. The line of bracelets along her arm clinked.

The fabric, blue metallic threads lacing through black, fluttered through the clerk's fingers along a yardstick. Her eyes watched his thumb. The piece was short, and the edge landed with his thumb just past two and a half yards. He smiled.

"Two and a quarter," said the woman, shifting her eyes toward the bolts on the wall behind him.

His thumb pressed hard on the half-yard mark. He stared at her, his mouth pursed, for several seconds, then said firmly, "No."

She stared back for several more seconds, then straightened up, flipping her hand backward. "OK," she said, and sighed.

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