The needles clacking together fill up the silence. They move rhythmically, like a heartbeat. It’s what she does now, instead of going outside.
She is using up every bit of yarn in the house and there is a surprising amount of it. Not in anything like the right amount to finish a project but making jumpers and bonnets and booties aren’t the point anymore. The point is to hit the needles together, to knot lengths of wool in intricate patterns, to keep the tension even. And not to drop a single stitch.
Sometimes her finger joints throb and ache but she takes aspirin and keeps knitting. Her son calls her Madame Defarge.
The phone rings again. Usually she ignores it. Alec is only checking up on her and she hates being checked up on. It’s not like she calls him at work “just to see how he’s doing.” But today she has just come to the end of a small ball of turquoise and cast off the row, so she might as well answer. She puts the wool to one side and heaves off the couch.
“Hello?” That’s new, the tremor in her voice. She sounds old.
But he’s gone. She took too long to reach the phone. With regret she replaces it in its cradle. It would have been nice, she thinks, to hear another human voice.
She digs through her basket and lands on another small ball. She starts casting on twenty? No. Better make it fifteen stitches. Even though she is making small pieces that aren’t supposed to add up to anything, she can’t quite lose the habit of measuring them out with a tiny limb or chubby torso in mind.
And none of it in those nauseous pastel colours, thank you. None of your baby pinks and blues. Not even a gender-neutral baby chick yellow. Children should be in brighter colours. Vibrant. Something like the early autumn display of maples on her street, but of course in greater variety. Fuchsia, ruby, indigo and sunflower. Van Gogh colours, she calls them.
But she’s coming to the end of her hoard. She will have to venture out soon, if only to the store on Bank Street. Yarn Forward and Sew On. They know her there. Or they used to.
A squeal of tires draws her eyes off her work and out to the street. Next door’s cat, Morgan, a self-important calico, not at all disturbed at having four thousand pounds of metal screech to a stop inches from his whiskers, paces deliberately to the park across the road.
She watches, barely breathing, as the cat makes it to the other side and disappears under the bushes while the white hatchback slowly rolls forward. She tries to swallow but her mouth is too dry. The present is always dissolving into the past. The slightest trigger and she’s back five months, among the rotating red and blue lights and howling sirens. Three ambulances, one for each of them, surrounding her mangled car like wagons drawn up in a circle.
She pays attention to her breath, making it come slow and steady, making her needles clack slowly in response to its soothing pattern. She looks outside at the barren world. The leaves are nearly all down now and the pavement glistens with frost. Everything looks so fragile.
Without stopping to think what she is doing, she gathers up all her bits of knitting, small squares, rectangles, all the rag-tag bits and pieces. She stuffs them in her purse, in the deep pockets of her red winter coat.
For a moment the crisp air outside stops her, frightens her with its unfamiliarity. The seasons have changed since she was last out and now she shivers. Her red fingers hurry to do up her zipper, but she doesn’t pause for gloves. She is across the street, where the bare limbs of trees look thin and vulnerable, and she bundles them against the cold, wrapping them in crazy rainbows, all the branches she can reach. The lampposts too, though they are thicker and need larger pieces, and she bends down stiffly to reach the legs of the deserted park benches. Morgan watches from the overgrown shrub near the gate.
The park is beginning to look like something out of Dr. Seuss. She hurries home, exhilarated, to fill her pockets again. Her colours warm the chill day and she feels more alive, more vital than she has in months. She feels like she is flying.
One sapling, a slender birch, left. It grows out of the shrubs Morgan hides beneath, stretching palely from the shrub’s dark tangles. The shrub should have been trimmed back and cleared away to give the young tree room to grow; mentally she tuts at the city for neglecting it. She brings out the turquoise piece she finished when Alec called and hugs the wool tight around the trunk.
But thinking of Alec brings back other memories. Her fingers, cold and swollen, fumble with the loose strands. Branches become limbs. Strong little limbs that hang limp, still. And she is holding them tightly, rubbing them to bring back their warmth.
Horrified, she looks at what she has done. There aren’t any trees or lampposts or benches, only the bodies of her grandchildren splayed across the park.
She thought she could give the world this one little thing, a little padding for winter. A little armour against the cold.