"What are you doing?" she asked, alarm in her voice.
"Dusting off the window sills," I said. She should have been cheering.
"What are you using for a dust rag," she asked, her eyes attached to the rag I held.
"Just a rag," I said innocently. But her look found me guilty of some grave offense.
"Just a rag?" she asked as she grabbed the rag and shook it out to see what it was. As I and the rag had been working hard just moments before, she also shook out sixteen tons of dust. "This was the beginning of a new quilt!" she exclaimed. I'm not always sure what an exclamation sounds like, but she sounded as if she were really exclaiming.
"What?" I said, trying to get back to innocence.
"Where did you get this?" she asked. She looked it over carefully. She tried to straighten out some of the wrinkles. It didn't look like anything but a rag, a very dirty rag.
"In the back of the hall closet where you keep all the rags," I said.
"I don't keep any rags back there," she said, and before I could answer she darted off down the hall to the closet. I followed cautiously.
"There's a small pile of rags," I said. "You have small piles of them in the back of all the closets," I added.
"They're not rags," she said. "They're just...." Her voice trailed off. She pulled out several of the "rags."
"They're just what?" I asked. When she didn't reply immediately, I became insistent. "Just what are they?"
"Mistakes," she said softly, more to herself. "They're just mistakes I made while learning how to quilt. See," she said, showing me the rag she held. It was a nine-inch square with what was supposed to be a flying geese design. I looked more like a cooked goose.
"What kind of mistakes?" I asked. As long as she was confessing, who was I to interfere?
"On this one I sewed the geese both backwards and upside down." She seemed to let out a low moan.
"And this," she said, picking up a pile of sewn together confetti. "This is where I used the wrong size needle and ripped the paper pattern to shreds." She began to look miserable.
"Why didn't you fix them?" I asked helpfully. She could fix anything, I thought.
"I was going to," she began, but then her voice changed and she said, "but they can't really be fixed."
"So they're rags?" I asked.
"No, I didn't want to throw them out. I just can't throw anything out. I was saving them...."
"Well, it's so difficult to throw them out. I thought I'd use the fabric in something else or cut them up into patches or squares and donate them to someone else for quilts or...." She trailed off again. That was becoming as habit with her.
"But you don't need to keep them, do you?"
"So why don't we just clean house," I offered. "Let's get rid of them." Wasn't I the practical husband?
"I've been wanting to. I just don't feel I can."
"You don't have the guts?" I prodded. I would be the strong one.
"Help me," she pleaded. I can't face it alone."
"You won't back out?" I asked. I could see her body tighten, and a grim look appeared on her face.
"I'll try," she said courageously. "I'll really try."
And she tried. She went to get a large plastic trash bag while I emptied out the pile from that closet. I didn't let her look at them. I pushed the orphaned quilt beginnings into the bag. "Where else?" I asked. She pointed to the bedroom. I led her to the back of the bedroom closet. There in the dark corner was another pile of terminally ill miniature quilt tops. Why hadn't I noticed them before?
"Mistakes?" I asked. I picked one out.
"The colors don't work together. I didn't know anything about contrasting colors when I began. I was just learning...." She seemed to shrink in her apology.
I stuffed the "rags" into the bag. "Next?" I asked.
"The kitchen," she said meekly. Off to the kitchen we went. In the cupboard under the sink were some small embroidered quilt squares. I couldn't read the embroidery or make out any legible design. "I used the wrong thread and the wrong needles and the wrong tensions," she confessed. "I saved them anyway, in case we ran out of kitchen towels," she explained.
"Well, we could use them if we have a flood and use up all the others," I agreed. "Or we might use them to wipe up water if you put too much garbage in the disposal and the sink overflows." She gave me a look and I shut up. I stuffed the embroidery mistakes into the bag. I did hesitate a moment, for they would make good rags for washing the car.
The big black bag was getting heavy. "Any more?"
"A few," she said. And we were off. Under the sink in the bathroom, the cupboard under the bookcase in the living room, the coat closet by the front door--all had a small pile of rags. Oops, sorry. I should have written "Mistakes."
And she was honest about what she had done: uneven triangles, unsquared squares, two-inch strips that began at one end at two inches and ended up at the other about half an inch wide ( She didn't want Olfa to know.)
"They were beginner's mistakes," I said to comfort her.
"This one was yesterday," she said, showing me a square with two of the nine patches going the wrong way.
"It happens," I said philosophically.
Finally, when the bag was full, she said we had them all. I tied off the bag. "Are you sure now," I asked, feeling some sympathy for her, feeling empathy for the choice she had to make. She had come face to face with her quilting past and it loomed out at her like some dark monster.
"I'm sure," she said, her lips quivering.
"No turning back?"
"No. Go ahead, take them to the thrift shop. Go now, before I change my mind." She pointed me to the door. I looked at her one more time to be absolutely sure. She had her hand covering her eyes, her palm toward me, the back of her hand shielding her view. "I'm all right," she whispered. Go."
That was a week ago. Since then she has been fine. Oh, every once in a while I catch her staring off into space or opening a closet where the mistakes had been hidden in storage. And occasionally as she quilts she lets out a long forlorn sigh, but all in all she has been brave. And I am proud of her for letting go. Still, now I have to find a new supply of dusting rags. She's no longer a beginner, so I can't expect her to provide any more now, can I?
Copyright 1998 by A.B. Silver
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