Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Death Takes a Bride

Today tastes like stale wedding cake, flat champagne, and dust.

The project currently on the needles has begun to whisper to me as I knit in the long hot dusk of summer, and so I've dropped all my stitches to run over here and write it all down.

Death Takes a Bride

It had been a long time since that night, that night he had used his hands on her mother and pushed her to the floor, had blackened both her eyes and the blood had come from her mouth. How long? She didn’t know, days at least, months at most. He was gone. That’s what mattered. He was gone but her mother was going.

Mother took to her bed right after the door slammed shut, took to her bed with her face to the wall, breathing. Just breathing. She wiped the blood off her mother’s face, kept the stained handkerchief in her dresser drawer, as her mother breathed softly. In, hesitate, out. She checked sometimes in the night or the afternoon, afraid her mother had stopped. Breathing slowly.

The girl would make soup–soup was easy, water and whatever was in the refrigerator, then the cupboard, then what she could “borrow” from a neighbor. Or a store. Good thing it was winter and she could wear her mother’s long coat, the one three sizes too large on her slender frame. She could fit more under it that way.

Potatoes were cheap. She could buy two bags and some bizarre vegetable–kohlrabi, rapini, mustard greens and still get change from a ten dollar bill. She would stand right there in line with the other customers, waiting impatiently while the clerk pulled up the code (tapping her feet, rolling her eyes) and rung up her purchase. She’d figured out the rules. If you were careful and didn’t go to the same store all the time and didn’t get greedy (put back the bacon and steak, get chicken legs and pork chops) you didn’t get caught.

Still, she knew this couldn’t go on forever. So it was no surprise when the knock came at her door one night.

He was tall and thin under his top hat and long black overcoat. His eyes glittered in deep-set sockets. He grinned. He always grinned. Big white teeth, straight and perfect–and somehow, too many for his mouth.

She’d never seen him, but she knew him. “Mr. Death,” she said, from behind the door chain. “Go ‘way now, please. You have no business here.”

Still grinning, he took off his hat. “I’m afraid I do,” and he flicked his chin in a gesture that sped through the shotgun apartment to the one back bedroom where her mother lay, breathing slowly in and out. His voice was whisper-soft and iron hard, the edge of a knife in the night.

She went to slam the door in his grinning face, but he laid one finger softly just under the peephole. The hinges squealed and froze. She threw herself against the door, but it would not budge.

Then he pushed, hardly more than a breath of air, and the door swung wide, taking her with it.

He drifted in, a chilling breeze, and was halfway down the hall before she could speak. "Wait!" He turned, his eyes the thinnest slice of the moon in the night sky, and regarded her as she opened her mouth, not knowing what she would say until she heard it.

"Mother . . . she always said she wanted to see me married before she died. It was her dream to see me settled with a good husband."

Death shrugged, as if to say her mother's taste in men was . . . suspect at best. And what were dreams and desires to him, anyway?

"It would make her so happy," she continued. "To know that I was okay. And . . . it must be pretty lonely. Doing what you do." Death cocked his head, frowning. "You meet people for only a brief time, and then . . . " she opened her hand, a flower's petals drifting away on the wind. "No old friends, just vague acquaintances. No one really knows you. No one's there to hold the thread of your story together." He was nodding, slowly. "I could--that is, we could . . ."

"Marry." His voice was the sirocco through dried weeds in August.

"Yes. And if you could wait just a little while, say, until after the wedding day? Then she'd have what she always wanted, and you'd have what you want, and I'd get a few more days to make preparations and well . . . to be with her. Just a little longer."

He thought this over, forefinger and thumb wrapping his jaw. Finally he nodded. "Until then," he said, and took his leave. She locked the door behind him, heart pounding wildly. She had bought a few more days, at least. She would think about the price later.

She had a dress from long ago, a black lace dress that had pooled around her feet as a little girl, and would come to her knees now. That would do. But a wedding veil--she needed a wedding veil.

She opened her dresser drawer, thinking she might have a sweater laid by to rip and re-knit, and she saw the handkerchief stained with her mother's blood. She knew then what she needed to do.

Out of the blood she spun a thread, fine as the hair on her head, long enough to reach the moon. Red as cherries at midnight, red as the dreams of the unborn, red as the secret heart of the rose. And as she spun, the drops hummed and sang about loss, about betrayal, about release, but she paid them no heed. She had a plan.

She cast on with needles fashioned from broom straws, and began to knit. And that night, Death returned to the apartment.

He did not knock this time, nor open the door, but simply stepped through the barrier. She stood up and curtsied, careful not to drop a stitch in the complex lace she was working, fine and airy as foam on the sea.

"Are you ready?"

"Gracious, no! I have a dress, but, well, this is my wedding day. I want it to be perfect. So I'm knitting my veil." She held it up on spread fingers. "Once it's done, as soon as it's done, I'll be ready." Death frowned at this, but nodded. And again, he left.

As soon as he was gone, she sat down and ripped out half the knitting she had accomplished that day. She went and lay next to her mother, listening to the woman breathe in and out. In, hold, and out. Slow and steady.

And so it went for weeks. She would meet Death every night, sitting on her narrow daybed, knitting away. She would offer excuses for her slow progress each evening: "It's such complex work. There's so much here that's new to me." "I've never tried anything like this before, and I want it to be perfect." "It's such fine thread. It's hard to see, so I can't go very fast." Each morning, she would rip back half of what she had knitted the night before, and hold her mother, listening to her breathe, listening to her heart beat. Feeding her the thin broth which was all she could swallow.

Knitting a web of love from her mother's blood, and their days together.

It took months, of course, of knitting and ripping and knitting again, but the night came when she was down to the last row, and the last stitch, and the final binding off, which she saved for her bridegroom's visit. "Tomorrow night," she said, smiling. "Tomorrow night, I will meet you at the foot of Mother's bed and we will marry."

"Until tomorrow," he said, and touched her cheek with ivory fingers.

The next night, she waited for him at the foot of her mother’s bed, carrying a bouquet of lilies she had picked in the public gardens and orange blossoms plucked from the trees that dotted the city. Sweet and pale and free. She wore the black lace dress, much tighter in the shoulders and hips than it had been on the stick-straight child playing dress-up in a grown woman's cast-offs. And over it all, the sheer red lace veil.

Death smiled to see her so, in clothes that were between present and absent, in the same way he himself was between here and gone. To see his bride one step out of the world, and one step into his. It would be a good match. They clasped hands and swore their vows, and Death went to lift the veil from his wife's face, for their first kiss.

And he found himself ensnared for the first time in all eternity.

Death knows nothing of love, knows nothing of the bonds between beloveds, knows nothing of joining, but only sundering. The web of blood and love tangled in his hands, wrapped around his feet, muffled his jaws, tripped and trapped him. He snarled and writhed and thrashed, and only became deeper and deeper ensnared.

"Let me go!" His voice was the silence after the earthquake, the bubbles in the undertow, the embers of the forest fire.

"Promise me," his false bride demanded, "Promise me that you'll leave and never come back. You have no business here, Mr. Death."

He stopped, and looked up at her from where he lay on the floor. "Is that all you want?" he asked, hollow as a tornado, eerily quiet where there is no wind or air to carry sound. "For me to go, and never return?"

She felt the hook in his question, but ignored it. She had bested Death himself! What had she to fear from her conquered foe? "Yes. Leave me, and my mother, and never come back."

"Done." And with that, the fragile web tore, falling from tangled strands into three drops of blood on the floor, which turned into dust and blew away as Death turned on his heel and fled.

Death kept his word just as he keeps all things. She never saw him again. And to this day, the mother lies in the back room of the shotgun apartment, long and narrow like a tomb, breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, with the girl there as her eternal handmaiden. Perhaps they are happy. Perhaps.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wedding Gift, Nine Years Later

Today tastes like honeysuckle, asphalt, and monsoons.

Nine years ago this March (the 4th, to be exact) two dear friends of ours got married in our backyard. The yard was turned into a small medieval faire for a weekend, with folks in costume and folks in mundanery milling about. The neighbors still mention this when they see us on the street.

The bride plays in the Society for Creative Anachronism, with a relatively late period persona. Think "encrusted" with lace and frippery dripping from every seam. With this in mind, I pledged her a wedding gift of ten yards of lace edgings, either knitted or crocheted. I explained that she could make up the dress (or what have you) then I could work up the edging to fit and tack it on. The lace could then be removed and sewn to another garment at a later date. A gift that could keep on giving--ten yards is a LOT of collars and cuffs, or one amazing court garb hem trim.

And so, eight years and nine months later, at the New Year's Not a Party, Caladasia wandered over to admire the lace shawl I was draped in. This one, to be exact.

She kept wandering over throughout the evening, petting my arm or shoulder, pulling the wing away from my body for a closer look, asking questions. And finally, at the end of the night, she said softly, from just behind me, "I don't suppose . . . you would do soemthing like that for me?" I turned to face her, and she hurriedly added, "Oh, nothing that big, or even that intricate maybe, but . . . I'd really like a shawl." In the smallest meekest voice.

Honey, you only have to ask.

I had a pattern kicking around for a while that I'd wanted to play with: Liz Lovick's "Orkney Pi" pattern. I loved the swirling diamonds and the border, so decided to modify these old Orkney motifs into a modern Shetland square. Does this then make the shawl Orkney Cornbread?1

I had some amber beads I wanted to add for flash and sparkle. I intended to go much further with the edging, but by the time I reached the last round of cat's paws, I had hit five and one-half feet across. Much bigger, and I'd have another seven-foot monstrosity on my hands.

It's next to impossible to get good shots of beads--they're more visible as flashes of color and sparkle in motion. I keep trying.

Thorax, at least, is a much more forgiving subject. For certain values of forgiving. She wanted to go travelling for this shot, again. I told her we were not going to Santa Fe just to shoot this finished object. She pouted, whined, and dragged her feet.

She very nearly won. Until i reminded her of how long a drive it is, and then she was happy with this choice of location much closer to home.

And after all, bougainvillas don't grow in the Cit Dif.

1. Because, as Churchy reminds us, "Cornbread are square. Pie are round."

The pi shawl gets its name from the shaping ratio. You double the number of stitches when you double the number of rows. Cast on 8, knit one round, double. Knit 16 rounds, double. Knit 32 rounds, double. This lets you insert lace patterns into the round between your doubling rounds without having to fiddle with half-patterns.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

O Wad the Gift the Giftie Gie Us . . .

Today tastes like melted gum, fried eggs, and concrete. It's summer, and the humid is rolling back in.

So, in the immortal words of the bard, it's always interesting to see how we really appear, to see ourselves as others see us. I love wordclouds, where the net does an impersonal search of your blog according to varied and arcane criteria and shows you what you really talk about. Not the genius posts in your head, not the tastes and textures of the words betwen the words, but what's in black and white there on the page. What did you really say?

Wordle: Madwoman's Lunchbox

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ten Things to Remember

1. You were able to spend a whole day saying goodbye.

2. You were there when she died, petting her and talking to her.

3. She waited for you.

4. You did everything you could for her. Nothing prevents old age.

5. You were able to take her home, clean her up, and bury her with her favorite toys.

6. She lived a long life with safe places to sleep, plenty of food to eat, and the monkey of her choosing.

7. The curse is: they die before we do. We remain to mourn.

8. The blessing is: they die before we do. We get to hold thier whole lives in ours.

9. Of course you miss her. That's because you loved her.

10. Where doesn't matter. She's as much with you now as ever she was.

Dreams of My Dead (Rodentia)

Today tastes like white linen, caliche, and pine.

I dreamed of Rodentia last night.

I’m afraid I broke the cardinal rule—never tell your visitor they’re dead, or recall their death while dreaming. It’s unutterably rude. They broke the rules to come back and see you while your waking, rational mind is out of their way. The least you can do is meet them halfway and respect their efforts.

We were first in the vet’s office, and the vet was asking if she’d bitten anyone in the last two weeks. I found this funny in the dream for some reason, and thought, “Wait till I tell the Dinch about this one.” And then I remembered, and looked down at the table, and she looked back up at me with stricken eyes, and I woke up.

Woke up angry at myself for opening my big mouth, with a fleeting impression of Rodentia—all her fur grown back, at her healthy adult weight. Realizing that this was a dream, one of those precious dreams of the fallen. I apologized to her, whispering in the night that I meant it when I said she was welcome anytime, that I was willing to try again if she’d forgive me for taking that steaming dump on the dinner table.

So I slept again, and she was back.

We went places a cat would find interesting—to my folk’s house in Albuquerque with a wild front lawn that went on for acres, full of plants and birds. It smelled wonderful to my nose, green and wild and blooming. She sat on the front porch glider with me, and I stroked her fur.

Her fur was silky, like human hair, and I could run my fingers through it like my own, all the way from skin to tip without tangle or mat. She twisted about to groom herself, limber as a rubber band. It was clear grooming was about the pleasure of bending more than about arranging her fur. It gleamed with health.

She sat beside me in a way she never had in life, half on her side with her hips on the ground, half sitting up on her forelegs. “Hips,” she said, with gloating satisfaction, and I could see she was no longer in any pain from the arthritis that crabbed her walk up on tiptoe. She flowed like water again.

She held up a front paw, showing me her claws were back, needle-sharp and translucent white. Pearly like the moon in crescent. She caught a sparrow easily, plucking it from a plant like an ear of corn. Her teeth were strong and white. She offered me half, which I declined, and she shrugged and ate the whole thing herself, leaving a pair of angel wings on the path.

Then we were in Greer, sitting on the back deck of the cabin, watching the birds and squirrels and rabbits. Just sitting in the sun, with soft breezes blowing. She rolled on her back on the deck, showing me her belly fur—creamy off-white and shiny. No growth, no tumor, just healthy muscle and a small layer of fat. I stroked her ribs and belly the way she liked when she was in heat.

At the crest of the La Luz trail, there was a stone bench overlooking the city where we sat and watched the sun set. She hopped up next to me with a silver comb in her mouth. “Brush monkey,” she said, and I took the comb to her fur. No tangles, no mats, no bits of stuff to pull. Just strands parting easily under the teeth. We sat there, she and I, as I brushed her and brushed her and brushed her while the moon rose.

I woke with the most amazing sense of peace in my heart. Thank you, little cat. Come again anytime; you are always welcome.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Rodentia Rides the Burro (1990-2009)

And so it comes to pass.

Sleep you sound, little cat.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Perfect Storm of Meh

Today tastes like dry cleaning bags, glass, and sand.

Not every knitting project is successful. Sometimes the lessons learned are useful but not necessarily the ones I wanted to learn.

F'r instance, lessons learned from the following project: always have your batteries charged so you aren't stuck with a cell phone camera, and you'll generally do better to scatter colors in a scrapghan.

I was liking this project a lot until I seamed it all together. The idea was great--pastel colors and a simple lace, with a variegated earthy color at the changes to break it up some and define the chevrons.

Spike, darlin', you would have done better to alternate colors more frequently. Make stripes of 10-15 repeats (even a Fibonnaci sequence if you didn't want a perfectly even striping sequence) rather than pulling one ball and going till the yarn ran out.

Yup. Scrambled, not fried. This binkie is most definitely fried--yolk HERE, white THERE. Blap blap blap, no blending at all. Ah, well, it will keep someone warm and give someone something soft to hang on to during a hard time.

Trying something new with the next big binkie--using the knit 1 in the row below technique in variegated pink/gray/green with shades of deep purple offsetting bias lace text. I like it so far, but again, the proof will be in the final article post-seaming.