Mingled Yarn

Story scraps from 2006

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn–the good and ill together. – William Shakespeare

She never thought of herself as the crocheting sort. In her mind it was something older ladies with withered pink cheeks, grandchildren and pies in the oven (just the pies, not the grandchildren) did, sitting by a crackling fire, or in sunny, mid-afternoon drawing-room circles, with fragrant, bottomless cups of gossip and tea. Crocheting, to her, was at once quaint, and foreign. Where she grew up, people didn’t crochet, for they had no use for the items that the act generally produces. You don’t need scarves, sweaters, socks, blankets or winter hats in the blazing year-round summer of southern India. But she didn’t live there any more. And when the wind snapped around her ankles, and nipped at the tips of her ears and nose she was grateful for woolen warmth. No. She had never thought of herself as the crocheting sort. But later on looking back she realized she ought to have seen it coming.

You see, the phrase ‘spinning a yarn’ wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. And there is a certain kindred-ness between the creative acts of looping wool and words along the slim needle’s narrative. And she had always loved stories. Picking them up like pebbles wherever she found them with caring, careful hands. They had a tendency to spill out of her pockets as she walked through the world.  When she first started crocheting she was startled to find that these stories found their way into the very fibre of the wool, until it was impossible to tell one sort of yarn from the other. She wasn’t sure what to make of this, and at first it frightened her a little. But in time she came to understand that even if she couldn’t always see it, there was an underlying design to the way these things worked.

Now, standing in front of the yarn rack she waited for one color to single her out. She had found that the quieter she was inside the more quickly and clearly she knew which skein was waiting for her. Today it took her a few moments to recognize that it was to be deep red. A red the exact shade of rubies and ripe pomegranate seeds.  A color that called to mind, blood, but not in a violent way. For there was something in the red yarn that carried an echo of those pulsing tunnels, those insistent threads that course beneath our skin, frequent visitors to the heart, whether or not we remember their laboring existence.

She reached out and picked up the soft coil, savoring its texture and gentle weight.

She never knew, when she started a new piece, who it was for. “Remember your audience” is something writers and filmmakers are often urged to do. But she was neither. And in any case, according to her, audiences were rather tiresome, they demanded entertainment—and then sometimes yawned, or worse still, fell asleep when it was provided. So she never “remembered her audience” when she started crocheting a new piece. Why try and “remember” someone when you may not have even met hem yet, and when people are always changing anyway, and when it is so much easier to meet everyone as if for the first time instead of stubbornly insisting on consistency.

She took the yarn up to the front counter to pay for it. The sales clerk was a young man with a purple airplane tattoo on his left forearm. He didn’t look like the kind of person who knew the first thing about yarn. He smiled when she placed the skein on the counter. “Great color,” he said, “ Rubies-and-ripe-pomegranate-seeds”…a sublime choice.” She looked at him a little more carefully then, “ Why the plane?” she asked, “ To remind me of the journey,” he said easily, “At some point we take off and at some point we land, and if you’re not the pilot you don’t really have complete control over your destination- but—” he paused for a moment, “But what,” she asked, “ But it’s up to each of us to decide what we want to do while we’re up there.”

“ And you want to sell yarn, is that it?” “ Is that what I’m doing right now?” “No,” she said slowly, “It’s not actually”. “Well there you have it, ” he stopped smiling then and broke into a broad grin, “You didn’t expect that did you?“ What is your name,” she asked, because suddenly, she really wanted to know what kind of nomenclature was attached to this young seller-of-yarn with the purple airplane tattoo that reminded him, and those who asked him about it, of the journey.

“Johnson,” he said, “But most people call me Jo.” “ Do you have any parting words of wisdom for me Jo?” she asked, as she paid for the wool and prepared to leave the little shop, “ The only completely consistent people, are the dead,” he said, “ Everything that surprises you is an affirmation of life.” “And that’s your message for me today?” “Mine and Aldous’s.” “As in Huxley?” “Yeah that’s right.” “Thank you,” she said, and gathering her purchase walked out the door towards a somewhat braver and somewhat newer world.

***

The art of crocheting doesn’t demand patience so much as it cultivates it. She had realized early on that it was impossible to hurry when one was crocheting. One might just as soon ask a turtle to sprint. There is something in the steady, yet skilled repetitiveness of the act that demands a degree of attention to the moment coupled with a disregard for the passage of time. She remembered in particular one morning the first week she’d started- she’d been sitting on a park bench frowning over the tangled mess of needle-and-wool in her hands, a deepening furrow of frustration between her brows because she hadn’t been able to get her fingers to fly as fast as she wanted them to, and she was beginning to feel impossibly clumsy and in adept at the whole thing. Out of nowhere a little white terrier had come scurrying up and jumped onto her lap, further tangling the wool in a few frantic moments of tail-wagging excitement. “ He seems to be having more fun with that than you are,” the voice was dry, and deep and not unkind. It belonged to a sharp-faced old woman who looked like she belonged on a broomstick with a black cat instead of a rambunctious little white dog. She raised one long, knobbly finger and for a moment it seemed as if she might be about to chant some sort of ancient spell that would cause time to flow backwards, automatically untangling the wool out of its present predicament and back into a neatly coiled bundle of unknotted potential. Instead she drew her finger across the furrowed forehead, smoothing out the little line that lay there. “ In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving,” she said suddenly, “ And see how the pattern improves.” “ Rumi?” she’d asked, and the little dog had looked over at her with a short, happy bark. “ Yes that’s his name, he chases his tail all day long, goes round and round quite exactly like a whirling dervish. And if you look carefully into his eyes you’ll see a poem there.” She tried to peer then into the laughing black depths of the puppy’s eyes but he had already jumped off her lap and was chasing his tail so fast that he was just a blurred circle of white. Ever since that brief encounter in the park she hadn’t had any trouble at all with tangled wool. And her fingers forgot their hesitation and found a rhythm she hadn’t known they knew.

***

She didn’t put much stock by her dreams— she didn’t have, nor had she ever had, one of those dream journals that some people keep by their pillows, that in the first groggy strains of consciousness they scribble in, one hand clutching a pen, the other clutching the colorful-but-fast-fading dream-scraps they’ve smuggled back with them into the waking world. She had once heard someone refer to dreams as “recycled impressions”, and she could see how that might be. She was not interested in recording recycled impressions. And that’s why it was strange that it should be a dream that had led her to decide to learn how to crochet in the first place. It was really Mark Twain’s fault. They had been eating lunch together (in her dream, of course) at a restaurant—a little Mediterranean café full of waiters with uniformly gleaming black hair and gleaming white smiles. Over a crisp bite of spanakopita he had looked her straight in the eye, from under those famously bristling, bushy white eyebrows, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover,” he said all this in a single breath and when he finished she had said, unaccountably, “I think I shall learn to crochet then.”

And that was how it had all started. Sometimes the hidden impulse of our lives is revealed to us in unexpected moments, and in those moments of revelation comes a deep sense of trust in the inexplicable.  When she woke from her dream it was with that sense of trust. She bought her first crochet needle and a skein of wool that same day.

***


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