"Can you clean up after dinner by yourself tonight?" she asked. It was one of those questions that didn't require me to answer. Even if I had answered, it wouldn't make any difference. I would clear the table and put everything away. I seemed to be doing that by myself more and more lately.
"Can you take in the groceries by yourself, Honey?" she asked, a small smile on her face, already knowing I had no choice and would make eight trips from the car to the house by myself.
"Can you run over to the gas station and fill up the tank in my car?" she asked, having already moved the driver's seat back so I could fit behind the wheel of her tiny car.
"Can you listen for the dryer to beep and take out the clothes?" she asked just after I had moved the wet wash from the washing machine to the dryer.
This had been going on for weeks now. Chores we had shared for the last three years of our retirement had recently become my responsibility to complete. Oh, of course she never said I had to do any of the three dozen new jobs she "asked" me to do, but somehow I knew if I said "No," the house would grow cold and lightning would strike and a great chasm would open up in the crust of the earth and I would fall in.
So, after I folded the wash, watered the one remaining plant that had survived in our house from the woman-made drought ("I forgot to water, Dear"), and vacuumed up the trail of quilter's debris down the hall (where they lay after she had hurriedly and carelessly carried her trash can full of threads and snippets and used masking tape and bent pins and needles and torn paper-piecing patterns to dump them in the kitchen trash), after all that I finally asked, "All right, what's going on here?"
"What going on where?" she asked oh, so innocently, an innocent in our marriage of almost forty years.
"I've become a slave, a toiler, a worker in the house of the Queen Quilter, one who toils all day and night for the Mistress of Fabric and Thread," I said.
"Could you go to the magazine store for me?" she asked. "I think the spring issue of 'Quilt Almanac' is out."
"Pay me some attention, Woman," I said, rebellion in my voice, my words a cry for freedom.
"All right, what is it, but speak fast. I have things to do."
"Things to do? You say you have things to do? I've been doing all your things." I began to sing, " Up in the morning, out on the job, work like the devil for my pay," but she covered her ears. "Talking about pay," I said as I removed her hands from her ears, "how about a salary?"
"Have you been drinking too much coffee and eating all those cakes with all that sugar? You should cut back if this is what it does to you."
"I'm like this because I just finished changing the light bulb in your sewing machine, setting up the tables for you to baste your quilt on, ordering fabric for you on the Internet, setting the table for dinner, and hanging another miniature quilt on the wall."
"I've got to go now," she said, starting to take off before I could say another word.
"Freedom!" I cried as she tried to slip away.
"Is something wrong?" she asked as she hesitated and looked back at me.
"Tell me about your day," I said, trying a new tack.
"What?" I had confused her. Hah!
"Tell me what you did all day?" I asked.
"I quilted," she said. "You know that."
"You quilted this morning and this afternoon and you plan to quilt some more," I said. No need to wait for an answer. It wasn't a question.
"I enjoy quilting," she said. She had moved closer to me, a puzzled look on her face as she stared at me. "Don't you want me to quilt?"
"I want you to quilt," I said.
"Well, then, what?"
"You had me come into your sewing room this morning to pull up the blinds to let the morning light in," I said.
"It was a beautiful sunrise," she said.
"It was raining," I said.
"Well, yesterday we had a nice sunrise." Her stare fixed itself somewhere on my nose. She no longer looked into my eyes.
"All I ask is why?" I said.
"Why did you call me in from the bedroom to pull the cord on your mini-blinds which you could have done yourself in two seconds?"
"Two seconds here and two seconds there," she said. She looked back into my eyes with a new brightness in hers.
"I'm gathering time," she said.
"Quilters need a lot of time, and I need even more time if I'm to finish all my projects."
"So you gather time?" Maybe too much quilting turns all the neurons of a quilter's brain to 100 % cotton batting, I thought.
"A minute here, a minute there. They add up. It's a way to borrow time and bank it," she said.
"Borrow and bank time?"
"I'm shaving a few minutes off all my day's activities. That way I can borrow time and bank that time until I have an extra few minutes, an extra hour or two."
"Borrowing time?" What was strange to me at the time was that I was beginning to understand her.
"If I don't stay in the kitchen to clean up," she began, "that gives me ten extra minutes to quilt. If I don't wipe down the shower after I take a shower, that give me three minutes more to quilt. If I let you change the sheets on the bed yourself, that gives me ten minutes more to quilt. It's quilt efficiency. Time and motion. I'm quilting an hour more a day just from borrowing time."
"So that means I'm working an extra hour or two more a day doing your share of the chores, doesn't it?" Maybe now she would understand what the word slave means.
"You don't mind, do you?" she asked, but she didn't wait for me to answer. By not waiting for my answer, she saved ten seconds she could bank for quilting. Maybe if I go on strike....
Copyright 2000 by A.B. Silver
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