Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Life, life, death

The yarn slipped through her fingers like silk, her needles moving without conscious thought as she knit row after row, barely looking at her hands. The yarn was beautiful, sari silk in a multitude of colors, red, purple, burnished gold. She was knitting a simple slip stitch pattern, a scarf, one that she had made so often that her hands remembered the pattern even when her mind did not. Knit, knit, slip. knit, knit, slip. The bamboo needles made a pleasant ticking sound.

She didn't hurry, it wouldn't do to hurry. She kept up a constant rhythm, turning the scarf when she came to the end of a row, purling each even-numbered row. She could do it in her sleep by now, and sometimes she would dream that she *was,* the tick-tick of the needles soothing her.

"Mom?" The voice came from the front of the house, her son. He had let himself into the house using the key that she had given him years ago, maybe when she and his father had gone on a vacation, or maybe when one of them had been in the hospital. She would have asked him to come over and water the plants and let out the dog, the dog that was long gone. The plants were long gone, too. All that was left was the knitting.

Knit, knit, slip. Knit, knit, slip.

"Hi, mom, how are you today?" She didn't answer him. She never did. She was beyond answering. She was so far away already that death would just be a slipping over, like her knitting pattern. Life, life, death.

Her son sat down beside her, on the footstool that rested next to her chair. He reached for her hand, trying to still its motion, but she shook him off and continued to knit. "Mom," he said, "please. Won't you stop for a minute, just a minute?" When she ignored him, he shook his head and got up, looking around. On previous visits, he would fill his time by filling a watering can at the kitchen tap and go around watering the various plants that grew in the room.

There had been a wandering Jew on the windowsill, and a mother-in-law's tongue, and something that he didn't know the name of that crawled along the top of the bookshelf and trailed down the side until it almost reached the carpet. It had sharp, pointed leaves, and tiny berries like blood. It made him shudder, but he had watered it, too. But they had all withered and died, and he had bagged them all up and thrown them out with the trash.

He stood in the doorway and watched her as she knitted. The brightly colored yarn flowed from the basket at her feet, and the finished rows pooled in her lap. Knit, knit, slip. She wouldn't communicate with him anymore, so all he could do was bring her the most beautiful yarn he could find. Wool or silk or rayon, she didn't seem to care, as long as the colors were bright and beautiful. He never let her run out; if it looked like the pile of yarn in her basket was getting low, he would make a special trip to the yarn shop in town and fill a bag with anything that caught his eye.

As he stood and watched her knit, he saw her eyes close, and her hands on the needles began to slow their constant movement. Knit . . . knit . . . The needles fell from her hands and the beautiful silk scarf dropped from her lap. "Mom?" he cried out, rushing to her side. "Oh, no! Mom!"

And before the world could wind down, a young woman on the other side of the world picked up her needles.