Monday, 24 October 2011

Another story, about knitting

Casting on

Sue held up the scarf, eyeing it critically from top to bottom. It was much wider at one end than the other, with several bumpy patches and some loose holes hanging off one edge. Definitely the worst scarf I’ve ever seen, she decided. And smiled.

Just a first attempt after all, and she’d almost certainly improved as she went along. She’d pop down to the shop later and get some more wool – chunkier this time, so it would be faster. The next one would be good enough to wear. Or at least to hang up in the hallway.
Then she’d try something different. Gloves maybe, or a hat, and she’d like to make herself a cardigan – nothing too fancy, just something warm and snuggly. ‘Oh thanks,’ she’d say, ‘Do you like it? I made it myself.’ Then there’d be Christmas presents, birthdays, christenings. Who did she know with small children?
Going into the kitchen, her eye caught on the picture of her mum by the phone. She smiled again, but this time with a frown. For the first time it occurred to her that having the picture there was strangely appropriate – or inappropriate. Mum must have circled round the telephone like I am now, she thought. Trying not to look at it, or think about what news it might bring.
She’d been ten when they got the diagnosis, eleven when Mum died – or ‘lost her battle’ as people said, in magazines at least. So she should have been old enough to understand, really. Old enough to know better, to realize that cancer wasn’t contagious, and that she couldn’t somehow catch it from talking about her mum, or behaving like her. At any rate, her dad had thought she was old enough to have a serious talk about how these things did work, by which he meant the statistical risks of history repeating.
‘I don’t want it to be something we can’t talk about,’ he’d said. ‘All this doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to get breast cancer. But it won’t help to ignore it, or pretend it’s not a possibility.’ For Sue though, ignoring it was exactly what she felt like doing. She hated going to the doctors, hated going bra shopping for her newly developing breasts, and hated herself for the sense of resentment she felt.
Mainly, of course, she just missed her mum. And it was natural, surely, that it was painful to be reminded of her. But alongside the pain was a twinge of fear. Over the years she’d found ways to cope, to remember her mum in happier ways, to enter a lingerie department without feelings of panic. It was only last year, when Dad had suggested she might want to take Mum’s old knitting things, that she’d realized how much she was still holding onto. She’d practically shouted at him, as if he’d said something totally inappropriate, and he’d ended up taking it all to a charity shop.
When she’d found the lump, she hadn’t felt scared. Well, she had, but also something else – relief? After all those years of waiting and worrying, she was ready to face her demons. All the rest of the day, and the next, she felt fine, pleased with herself for staying so calm – until she got back from seeing the doctor.
She’d put the kettle on, and then – what? What was she going to do now? Three days she had to fill (‘We’ll call you on Thursday with the results,’ they’d said) but how? She didn’t have the stomach for cooking, walking seemed too lonely, shopping would feel pointless, and she just knew she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on a book. But then her gaze fell on the chunky hardback Beginners Guide to Knitting that Diane had given her, for a birthday. ‘It’s very trendy these days, knitting,’ she’d laughed, ‘I’ve got a feeling you’ll be good at it.’
Well, she wasn’t exactly good. Not so far, anyway. But it had been the ideal way to fill the time. Calming, meditative, but absorbing enough to stop her going mad. Satisfying too, seeing the rows build up – even if the end result wasn’t exactly perfect. Not yet. She understood now why her mum had spent that last year filling the house with quilts and knitted cushions, inundating everyone with scarves, gloves, hats, jumpers.
Maybe this is what they call closure, she thought, making herself smile again as she imagined herself saying the words in a corny American accent. And she picked up one of the needles, holding it up like a spear. She narrowed her eyes, aiming at the phone, and this time laughed out loud. Maybe I am going mad after all, she thought, but in a good way.