She was up earlier than usual. I could hear her slippered feet sliding across the carpet, the swishing sound getting farther and farther away. I lay there in bed wondering where she was going now, what she had planned. Each morning I played the guessing game in my mind. Was she going into the sewing room to work on her current quilt project? Was she going into the cutting room, her old office where the cutting table sat? Was she going through the closets where the stash was piled high on shelf after shelf? Was she going into the hallway where her wall hangings and miniature quilts were hung? I waited, listening for some clue before I guessed.
But there was too much silence then. The heater on this frosty morning was between cycles. The refrigerator in the kitchen was quiet, too. Then, finally, I heard a whoosh, the sound carrying from the living room down the hall to my ears. She had dropped herself onto the sofa, the air from the pillows compressed as she fell into place. She had not just sat down. She had plopped. I knew that sound. She was in some kind of terror, some kind of agony.
"I'm on my way," I said aloud as I got out from under the warm blankets, the warm Friendship Star quilt spread across the bed.
After many years of marriage, I have learned from her that every sound has a meaning. And since she had taken up quilting, every yip or moan or sigh or chirp or whistle or song had a meaning beyond the normal sounds of marriage. There were quilting sounds, the likes of which I would never have imagined knowing two years before. But I knew them now. I did not have to guess that the sound she made was a sound of dismay that required my coming to her as quickly as I could.
"Any bones broken?" I asked. She sat in semi-darkness, the backyard light filtering in around the blinds. I could make out the narrow frown on her lips.
"Nothing is broken," she said softly.
"Any nausea? And stomach pains? Sneezes? Coughs?"
"My health is fine," she said.
"Then why did you get me out of bed if everything is all right, which from the look of you I know isn't even close to being all right?"
"I came to say good-bye," she said.
"Good-bye? Who are you saying good-bye to? Are you leaving me? Are you running off with the paper delivery man? Have you found someone who owns a quilt shop who wants to marry you and give you all the fabric you want if you say yes?"
"Don't be silly," she said. "I thought I was doing all right, you know," she added.
"I thought you were doing all right," I said.
"I was doing fine. I finished some new blocks and sorted all the fabric for the next quilt, and I went to sleep in a happy mood."
"You're not happy now?" I asked.
"I'm happy now. I'm sad, too. I have to say good-bye."
"If you're not going anywhere, am I expected to go somewhere? Are you telling me to leave our house and our marriage and go wandering off into the cold of winter where hungry wolves may find me and eat me up?"
"There are no wolves around here and you don't have to go anywhere. I'm not going anywhere." She seemed to be sinking farther down into the sofa, slipping into the wide crack between the pillows on both sides of her now.
"It's something about quilting?" I guessed. It was an easy guess. If she ran out of toothpaste or overcooked a chicken or forgot to put gasoline in her car, it had to do with her quilting.
"Do you think they'll all be happy?"
"Yes," I said. I could have answered by asking her who she was talking about, but that might have led to weeping and wailing. And there was no doubt that I would have been the one to do the weeping and wailing.
"Do you think they'll be taken care of?" she asked. She looked at me with hopeful eyes.
"Certainly. They'll be happy and well-cared for, and you don't have to worry about them," I said.
"It's like when children leave home," she said.
"The children have all left home a long time ago," I said, "but you know where they are, and they are all well and happy."
"I know," she said. "I was just feeling a little sad."
"What kind of sad?" I asked?
"A good sad," she said.
"So, it's the quilts?" I said, finally guessing what the sound was that awoke me from my pleasant sleep. A man married to a quilter soon learns to just know these things.
"It's hard to let them go," she said.
"I know," I said.
"I worked a long time on them," she said.
"I know," I said again.
"I'm really happy to give them away," she said, "but I'm allowed to feel sorry to see them go, aren't I?"
"Of course," I said. "It's a normal way to feel. In fact, it's required" I added.
"I just want to say good-bye."
"For me too," I said. The quilts had been in our house now long enough. As each one was finished during the past months, it was put carefully away, labeled with the name of the person who would get it. The quilts were wrapped for the children and grandchildren and friends and family. They were tucked away in a closet to wait the holiday season. Now they were all piled in the living room, ready to be delivered. It was time for the giving.
"So you go back to bed and let me stay here with them," she said.
"All right," I agreed.
"It's a personal moment," she said.
"Make it a cheerful good-bye," I said.
"I can't wait to see everyone's faces when they open the packages."
"Neither can I," I said, and I left her alone in the room, she and the room both now a little brighter. And as I hurried back to bed, I knew I couldn't wait to see her face as she saw their faces. Now, that was a gift worth getting.
Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver
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