Leaving on May 12th had been traumatic. She paced around her sewing room for an hour, checked that every switch was off, recited some incantations to protect her sewing machine, her fabric stash, her notions, her finished and unfinished projects, and wrinkled her brow with concern.
"Do you think everything will be safe?" she had asked.
"I think so," I said.
"Make sure you set the alarm."
"And I'll have the police patrol the room," I said in jest.
"Will they do that? For my quilts?"
"I'm sure they will," I said.
"It's just that I hate to leave that room. There's so much to do...."
"Everything will be fine. We'll be back in a month and everything will be just the same." I considered surrounding the room with yellow caution tape or police tape, but I was sure the locks and the alarm would be enough. After all, none of the other rooms was as secure as her sewing room.
"All right," she said hesitantly. Then with a shrug and, no doubt, a prayer on her part, we left the house standing.
When we came back from London yesterday after a twelve-hour flight and a sixteen-hour overall trip, we were both exhausted. Well, I was. She had been barely awake the last two hours of the flight, but now as we arrived home after a month away, some strange mood overcame her fatigue; some state of anxiety awakened her.
"I hope everything's all right," she said. Her hand was on the car's door handle and she was ready to leap out before the car was stopped. Obviously, she was eager to be inside.
"Another few minutes," I said.
"I can't wait to quilt again," she said. She said it calmly, as if she hadn't begun to fret halfway home about what calamity might have befallen the house and her quilting empire inside while we were gone. When, earlier in the day, we had flown over Greenland and looked down at snow-covered mountains and icy glaciers five miles below us, her only comment had been, "That would make a nice quilt."
But we were home now, the house and contents intact, and in moments we were inside. It was still and quiet, hot from being closed up and the June sun. I ran to turn on the air-conditioning, which gave a loud roar and began its work of cooling down the house. She, somehow, was already in her sewing room barely a third of a second after I opened the front door. I let her be and went back to the car to bring in the luggage. A dozen trips later, when everything was in, I caught my breath and went back to her sewing room. The house was only two degrees cooler so far.
She sat humped over her sewing machine. The machine was on, but she was not moving. She sat there, a wax figure in a sewing museum. Had she melted in the hot stuffy house?
"What's wrong?" I asked. The room seemed too warm but was otherwise normal.
"I forgot how," she said quietly. She turned her head slightly to look at me, but she kept one eye on the machine as well. That was quite a trick, but not for a long-time quilting addict.
"You forgot how to what?" I asked. I was gentle and kind, the perfect counselor for someone lost in her mentally-fogged world. Would a sane person who has just flown nearly six thousand miles rush into an empty house and head straight for a sewing machine? What about food? What about the bathroom? What about helping her husband unpack?
"I don't remember how to use the machine," she said. "I've been away too long," she wailed.
"There, easy now, Honey. You turned it on, didn't you?" That was obvious, but she needed to be taken through this slowly.
"You can see that it's on," she said. Ah, there was emotion in her voice. All was not lost.
"But you can't remember how to sew, how to quilt?" I asked in an exhausted but kind manner.
"I know how to sew. I know how to quilt. I just can't remember what all the buttons are on the machine are for. I can get the machine to run, but run where?"
"It's threaded," I said encouragingly.
"I left it that way."
"So what's wrong?" I needed the direct approach with her.
"There are too many buttons," she said. She pointed to the electronic control panel. "What's that for?" she asked. "And that one?"
First she pointed to the button with the word "speed' on it. "That adjusts the speed," I said.
The second button had the word "off" on it. "That turns something off," I said.
"It turns what off?" she groaned. Then she pointed to another button. "And what's that crooked line with a plus and minus sign for?" she moaned.
"Probably the stitch width," I opined.
"How do you know?"
"You told me once," I said. She had gone through every button with me when she had first bought the machine, and she had given me regular monthly reminders.
"Do you know that one?" she asked, pointing to the reverse arrow.
"Reverse," I said. I was worrying now.
"This thing?" She pointed.
"That thing up there?"
And then it happened. She wiped the frown from her face, took a deep breath, smiled, and faced down the machine. "I know all that," she said.
"Yes, you do," I agreed. At least I hoped so. She must have been too tired from the trip, too emotionally drained, too jet-lagged. But that wasn't it at all.
"I had to let the machine know I missed it," she said snappily. "You're not ever supposed to take this machine for granted."
"You're not?" I asked. What was she talking about?
The machine missed me. I couldn't just begin quilting again just like that."
"So, why did you say you forgot everything?"
"So it would know I had been away too long. It doesn't sew well if you're too cocky."
"I wasn't cocky," I said. I was just some fool for worrying about her memory.
"The machine's ready now. It knows I'm ready."
"Are you going to sew then?" I asked as she spread the piece of fabric she held under the presser foot. She was certainly ready for something. I was ready to go lie down.
"No, not now. We've just gotten to know each other again. I have to go unpack."
"But you know how to sew, and you will make another quilt soon?"
"Oh, yes, I will sew," she said, her voice at the same volume as the jet engine that roared at us all day long.
"And you'll quilt?"
"Of course, I'll quilt.
"So, I can go lie down?"
"No, you have to help unpack," she said. "And help me find the fabric I bought on our trip."
"Fabric? What's fabric?"
Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver
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