The Mule




She was standing in the middle of her sewing room. She swayed slightly from front to back and then side to side. Her face had a look of total puzzlement on it, her eyes dull, her cheeks slightly flushed. I watched her a moment. Though I had seen her in a dozen odd poses since she had begun quilting, I had never seen her quite like this. I was soon puzzled myself.

"Are you all right?" I finally asked.

"I'm fine," she said.

"What are you doing?" Watching her gave me no clue.

"Trying to decide," she said. She spoke with a sigh between each breath.

"What are you trying to decide?" I asked. The conversation seemed to be going very slowly, her lips hiding her words like some ventriloquist's.

"I can't decide what to quilt next," she said. She looked straight at me, but her look seemed empty. The normal sparkle was gone from her eyes.

Now, this was a very strange event going on. I thought of calling the newspaper to send a reporter to take it down. I even thought of CNN or MSNBC. The fact that she was hesitating for even a moment over what to quilt next was equal to any top news event. "Just pick something. Anything," I said.

"I can't," she said, resignation in her voice, gloom in her voice. I did not know this woman.

"You'll starve to death," I said.

"What? I'm not hungry." Her face changed that moment from a look of dismay to a look of wonder at what crazy statement her husband had come up with.

"Remember the mule," I said.

"What mule. I'm not quilting a mule. Do you see a mule in here?" Now she was a bit more animated.

"The mule that stood midway between two stacks of hay and couldn't decide which one to eat. It finally starved to death from indecision."

"I'm not a mule. I can decide."

"All right, decide." I went to her sewing table where she had laid out several books open to quilting projects, several samples of fabric laid out as well. "Pick one," I said pointing to one quilt pattern after another. "Go ahead," I dared her.

Her eyes moved back and forth, she licked her upper lip, she swiveled her head, she bobbed her head, and then she shook it. Finally she sighed a long sigh. "I can't." On her forehead, beads of sweat danced like drops of water on a hot iron. Her own iron, needless to say, sat cold on the ironing board. "Do this one," I said, grabbing a book of patterns for miniature quilts. "Why don't you make this flower garden?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," she said doubtfully.

"All right," I said, "I'll go get one of the spinners from the grandkids' game box and we'll label all the different types of quilt and you can spin for a winner."

"My head is already spinning," she said, and she did have a dizzy look now.

"We'll roll dice, " I suggested.

"No, there aren't enough combinations."

"How many projects do you have?" I asked. Another in a long list of imbecilic questions.

"I'm up to twenty-seven. That's what caused the problem. I started opening the quilt books, and I liked this quilt and that quilt and I want to do them all, but I can't decide."

"How about a game of Pin the Tail on a Project," I said. I'll blindfold you and spin you around three times. You do have a pin in here somewhere?"

"How about I stick a pin in you," she said,. "You're not helping me decide."

"Do you want me to pick one?" Uh-oh, I knew what would happen. If I picked one, she would ask me what was wrong with the other twenty-six.

"No. It's my responsibility. Just give me some more time."

"How much time?"

"Two weeks?" she asked.

"Is that a question?"

"I don't know how long. What should I do?"

"Ask me," I said.

"Ask you?" Now she seemed more bewildered than before.

"If I decide, then you're off the hook," I said graciously.

"Do you think....?"

"Ask me," I said. How difficult was it to pick a quilt? All the choices were fine with me.

Well, she thought about that, and while she did, I thought about that as well. I realized I had no idea what kind of quilt she would want to make next. And if I suggested one and she didn't like my choice, then what?

"All right," she said. "What do you think?" She looked at me with hope.

"I think you should decide," I said. I wanted to be alive and well when this crisis was over.

That was yesterday. Today, as I was trying to decide what to have for lunch, a tuna salad or a chicken sandwich, a bowl of soup or a bowl of stew, a burrito or a taco, I heard her open the front door.

"Going somewhere?" I asked.

"I need to get some new fabric," she said as she ran from the house toward the front walk. The door was swinging closed behind her.

"New fabric?" I called out between the door and the door jamb. She had enough fabric in the house to make a quilt large enough to cover the earth.

"For my new project," she said from farther down the walk. The door was almost closed.

"You decided what project you're going to do next?" I yelled after her.

"I decided I need new fabric before I can decide," she said, and with that the door slammed shut. I went back to the kitchen. I decided on tuna. I was no mule.

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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