Knots and Chains

by Catherine Pontoriero

“Knots and Chains” placed third in Southern New Hampshire University’s 2018 Fall Fiction Contest.

The first time you are four years old.

You’ve spent most of your life watching her work the yarn. You’ve memorized her hands, the worn skin, the heavy knuckles. She plies the needles like magic – long strands of lumpy yarn goes in and out comes straight stitches that will one day be a sweater.

When she isn’t looking you snatch the work from her basket. Four long rods of steel are held together by string the color of pumpkins. You grab the project and happily flip the needles up and down just like she does.

Later you present her with the fruits of your labor, knots like spider webs instead of perfect, straight stitches, a basket like a rat’s nest, instead of careful rolled up balls of burnt orange yarn. You are so proud of yourself.

You never forget the look of horror in your grandmother’s eyes when she realizes the mess you’ve made of her work. But horror fades to humor and the love you’ve always seen in her eyes as she takes the knitting and sets it to rights.

***

By the time you are eight you’re ready to try again. This time with one needle instead of four, and with a hook at the end instead of a finely honed and dangerous pointed tip.

You make a loop. Then you catch another loop of yarn and pull it through the first loop, letting it go as the second becomes the first. Then again. And again. It is so simple, just like tying knots.

This is all you can manage. Loop after loop becomes knot after knot becomes chains of yarn. You take up any scrap of yarn you can find, and turn it into spirals of chains, some longer than yourself.

You want to give her something. You offer up one length of chain. She smiles, ties it into a circle, and places it around her neck. You’ve made the perfect necklace.

***

You don’t touch the needles again for a long time. Not until you’re in college and you meet a boy that catches your eye. You say I’m going to make this boy a hat.

He’s the boy you’ll marry one day. But you don’t know this yet.

You buy yarn in the same blue shade of his eyes. You bring it to her and ask, ‘how do I do this?’ It’s one thing to chain together stitch after stitch, but to turn it into something someone can wear is altogether different.

She smiles at you. She takes the yarn and shows you. Her hands, more gnarled now than you remember, still sure as they stitch the seam. What’s fun is making the pom-pom together, winding yarn around the plastic discs you’ve played with since you were four. You attach it to the top of the hat. It is now complete.

You present it to him. He takes the hat with a smile. You flush with pride. He likes it.

Until the day he loses it. But this isn’t a story about him.

***

You’re living alone for the first time in a fully furnished apartment overlooking the ocean. The waves lull you to sleep at night and the air is thick with the smell of salt.

This is only a temporary stop, a place before you find where you are meant to be. Yet you want to remember this. You find the perfect yarn – it’s blue, white, and sand colored by turns. It matches the couch. It reminds you of the beach. It’s absolutely perfect.

She looks at your stitches, neat little rows of double Vs and nods. ‘You do good work.’

The blanket ends up crooked. You slipped up somewhere. But it’s warm to cuddle up beneath. You add the fringe for fun, and even when you leave, you’ll never forget the freedom of living on your own for the first time, the sea air in your hair, the waves rippling against the shore.

Her words are written in the blanket, too.

***

Ever since you were a little girl, you knew about the hope chest: a large casket of cedar standing guard in her bedroom. The wood was polished to a burnished red, and its warm scent tickles your nose when you lift the lid.

And inside, oh inside, it was filled with carefully crocheted white thread: a bedspread full of lace, painstakingly crafted by her hands. It took a lifetime to finish. She must have begun when you were a baby, planning, even then, your future.

‘This is for your wedding,’ she tells you. When you are a child, that day seems like a dream, so far away it’s not worth thinking about.

And then you meet him, and things change. It doesn’t happen right away. He wears the hat you made him. You wear the ring he gives you. You are so happy.

She dies three weeks before your wedding. She will never see you walk down the aisle.

***

When you find out about the life inside you, you are absolutely certain it’s a girl. It’s like a secret between you and baby, right now when you cannot be separated.

You pick up a hook, a small gauge to go with the baby yarn in multi-colored pastels. It’s soft, so soft, you can barely imagine how it will feel when it’s complete. This is for something special, so you learn something new. You make granny squares in the shape of hexagons.

Every night as your belly grows, so does the blanket. You count stitches. You rip out mistakes, frustrated. You take up a yarn needle and bind each hexagon together. It feels like a lifetime. But then, before baby makes her arrival, you finish.

You smooth your fingers along its surface, confident that the delicate strands will caress and protect your baby’s sensitive skin. You pick up the edges and press them together, folding the blanket into a perfect square. You set it at the end of the crib, and your nursery is complete.

She will never see the blanket you make for your baby, but she is there is every knot and chain.

 

Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student