I lost her in a quilt shop.

Maybe she lost herself.

How does one get lost in a small shop?

Maybe it wasn't that small.

And when did this happen?

Last Friday.

Early Friday morning.

I drove her to the shop and stopped the car outside the main door. It was eight-fifty-eight and the shop opened at nine.

"Do you have the cash?" I asked her. She patted the pocket in her pants, Even though it was spring, she wore heavy duty pants for heavy duty shopping. She wore a heavy sweatshirt to protect her in the aisles. Shopping for fabric could be dangerous.

"Yes," she answered.

"And you left the checkbook home?"

"Yes," she said.

"And the credit cards?"

"At home," she said.

"No wallet? Nothing hidden away?"

"I set the limit," she said. "I'm not spending a penny more this time."

"Then go for it," I said. She was ready. No matter how much she might lose control, she had limited herself to how much she could spend. In a fabric store, that was wisdom beyond Solomon's. No changing of her mind. No credit card or checkbook available even if she saw just one more thing she just had to have.

"I'm off," she said.

"I'll pick you up in an hour. Is that enough time?"

"I only need a couple of things. I'll be just looking around after that."

That was the last I heard from her. I watched her go into the shop and I went a few blocks to Wal-Mart to buy some light bulbs.

When I returned an hour later, five minutes late, I expected her to be out on the sidewalk waiting. She wasn't. I turned off the car's engine and went into the shop to get her.

But she wasn't there. She was nowhere in sight. She wasn't at the display of scissors by the cashier. She wasn't at the display of templates by the front door. "My wife," I said to the cashier when he looked at me. He knew DW and her quilting money quite well.

He nodded. "She's been shopping here," he said with a grin. I supposed my Darling Shopper had spent her limit and the shop had a good day's income already.

"Still looking around, I guess," I said. He nodded. I went to look for her.

The shop was larger than I thought. Though I had been in many times before, I had never gone beyond the front room where large bolts of fabric filled every bit of floor space. The fabric was arranged by colors along one wall. Specialty fabrics were along another. Reproduction fabrics were on two cases down the center of the shop. Batting sat in rolls in bins near the back.

Everything in the shop was arranged in a way guaranteed to invite the fabric maniac to touch and feel and clutch and buy. I know. I had watched my darling wife shop in there too often. But she wasn't in that front room, so I moved through an opening between two bolts of muslin and ducked under a Drunkard's Path quilt that hung down too low from the wall above. Two women stood by a revolving stand of quilting books, but my one and only wasn't there either.

"Have you seen my Darling Wife?" I asked. The two women looked me up and down, shook their heads, and busied themselves by opening books up and down the rack.

I went on looking. At one point I thought I found her. "Ohhh, this is nice," I heard, but when I went past a cutting table and turned into an alley between bolts of fabrics covered in stars, all I saw was a young teenager swooning at what was probably her first sight of a hundred fat quarters all in one place.

I moved down another row, around another corner, into a room where the walls were hung with miniature quilts. By now I was getting a bit concerned. I was in some labyrinth even a mythical hero could not get out of, and there was no sign of my happy shopper. I started to push aside bolts of fabric, rolls of fabric, boxes of fabric, thinking she might have fainted at the sight of all these riches and fallen into some dark corner. Or she might have been accidentally rolled up into one of the bolts. Well, it might have happened.

I searched and I searched, but to no avail. The back of the small shop became a dark storeroom of dark corridors, the overwhelming smells of musty and dusty fabric making me gasp and choke. "Honey, where are you," I bellowed near and far, but no reply came back. Even the chance of an echo was muted by the miles of fabric.

"May I help you," came a voice then, out of nowhere. I turned around and looked for the source of the voice.

"Yes, who are you?" I asked, desperate for any help now. But I saw no one.

"I'm over here," the voice said, and I turned to see a mystical shape lift up off the floor, and there, from behind a large box of Olfa mats, a small woman emerged. The shop owner. "I was just checking for water damage. We had a small leak in the ceiling," she explained.

"Have you seen my wife?" I asked, never explaining who she was, what she looked like. I assumed the owner would know her. My good wife spent fortunes at this shop.

"She went out back. I told her to wait until they unloaded, but she was anxious to see the new shipment."

"Out back. Anxious? New shipment?"

The owner laughed. "She couldn't wait to see what was coming in. She went out to the truck to see the new fabric."

"Where?" I asked, and as she pointed into the depths of this tomb of fabrics, I ran toward a small wedge of daylight in the distance. I brushed past stored cartons of books, bolts of fabric, rolls of batting. I pushed my way past sealed boxes of thread and quilting pins and needles. Then I was out into the alley. And there was the truck. And there she was inside the truck. My Darling Wife was rolling a bolt of solid lavender Hoffman Bali to the side of the truck. I watched, shock stopping me in place. She put the bolt next to another one of William Morris black agapanthus. (Don't ask!). Then she turned back and saw me.

"Hi, Hon," she said. "Look what I found."

"I've been looking for you," I said as slowly and calmly as I could. Maybe if I wrapped her in a few bolts of duct tape and kept her at home....

"I'm glad you did. You're just in time. I need some extra money to pay for this fabric. Isn't it nice?"

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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