My Retired Quilter
"I'm going to retire," my wife said to me at half past four Wednesday afternoon on the 24th of April, 2006.
"You already retired," I said. "Ten years ago next month."
"That was from teaching, from work, from all the days and weeks I worked." She stopped and took an orange from the counter and washed it in a bowl of soapy water. She rinsed the orange and put it aside. "I'm talking about quilt retirement," she said.
"Hah, hah, hah," I said. I didn't actually say that. I chuckled, a false laugh, a knowing response to her having told me once again she was going to stop quilting.
"In fact," she said, glaring at me or staring at me, her eyes daring my eyes to stay open and watch her lips move. "In fact," she repeated, "I quit yesterday morning. I haven't quilted since yesterday morning. So there."
"So where?" I asked. "Yesterday we spent the day visiting the children and grandchildren. You didn't have a moment to quilt."
"I didn't quilt all day today either," she said. "I've been retired all day."
"So you're not going to quilt again?"
"Not even to finish the quilts you never finished and the quilts you never started but wanted to start as soon as you could."
"Not even," she said.
"And so you are going to spend the day sitting around or walking around or puttering around?"
"Puttering sounds good," she said.
"I don't believe you can do it," I said.
"Retire from quilting."
"You'll see." She said the last smugly, the smuginess heavy in her voice, her eyes, her whole body.
Now, she could have stopped quitting for a day or two. She has on many an occasion, most of those occasions when she was bored of a project or she was waiting for fabric to finish the quilt she had begun or when she couldn't decide on a new project. But, she could never, ever retire. Or so I thought.
"I haven't quilted all day," she said at the end of the day.
"Neither have I," I said.
"You don't quilt," she said. "I did quilt. I used to quilt. There was a time when quilting was very important to me."
"So what are your plans for tomorrow?" I asked.
"Same as today. Puttering. Puttering can be a lot of fun, and sometimes it's useful. I put a new roll of paper in the upstairs bathroom and I cleaned the crumb tray in the toaster."
"That would have left you plenty of time to quilt," I said.
"Quilt what? I have no quilts to quilt. I am retired."
"You have several quilts to quilt, quilts you started and put away, quilts you haven't started yet but have been waiting to start."
"Everything is put away. The projects, the magazines, the books, the fabric-everything!"
"I've heard that song before," I said.
"You're trying to convince yourself that you are retired, but you're not."
"Am to," she repeated. Just you wait and see."
I waited. The next day she started puttering in the kitchen. Five minutes later she began puttering in the garage. Ten minutes later she puttered in the yard. Then, she came into the house, washed her hands, and sat down in the living room. She sat. She did not turn on the television. She did not read the newspaper she had left after breakfast. She sat there on the couch and hummed to herself for a minute. Finally, she stood up.
"Now what?" I asked.
"It's time for a walk," she said.
"I'm ready," I said, and we went outside and we walked for forty-seven minutes and then returned home.
After we were in the house for twelve minutes and twenty-seven seconds later, she looked through the kitchen window. I looked at her looking, and then she turned to me and said, "I didn't think about quilting during the whole walk."
"But you're thinking about it now," I said.
"No. Now I'm thinking about not thinking about quilting. I'm still retired."
"That's nice," I said.
"I've been quilting for a long while now, little by little."
"You've been quilting a lot by a lot," I said. "When you retired ten years ago you began to quilt, and you've been quilting more and more each year."
"Well, I don't miss it," she said.
"Miss what?" I asked.
"Quilting," she said. "And there's a bee in the garden."
"There are a lot of bees in the garden," I said. "It's spring."
"But this is a different bee. This is the kind of bee that belongs in a quilt."
"What?" I asked. I looked away from her into the yard. I thought I saw a bee but I wasn't sure.
"Nothing," she said. I looked back at her. She wrinkled up her nose and furrows appeared on her brow. "Not a thing. Bees sting. Ouch."
"You want to put a bee in a quilt," I said, knowing then where this conversation was going.
"Don't be silly."
"You want to sit down at your sewing machine and cut fabric and sew it all together and make a quilt with a bee in it," I accused. "Admit it."
"It was just a tiny thought, a passing thought. I'm thinking about dinner now. Should I make something new for dinner?"
"A quilt?" I asked.
"I can't make a quilt for dinner," she said.
"Before dinner. After dinner."
"I'm retired," she said with some insistence in her voice.
She stayed retired for three more days. They were very long days. She was edgy. She was moody? She was faint of heart. She was restless. She was bewildered that the sun came up and the sun set. She was puzzled by the touch of a spring breeze as we walked. She didn't hear the sounds of children playing in a nearby park. She didn't see birds flying directly over us. Strangest of all, she didn't stop and smell the flowers that bloomed everywhere in our neighborhood.
"That's enough," she said last Saturday morning.
"That's enough," she said at lunch."
"That's enough," she said just before dinner.
Halfway through dinner she jumped up from the table, left her plate half full (not half empty), and ran up the stairs to her sewing room.
I didn't follow. I turned on the television and watched the news. The news anchor read the headlines. "Today, in Southern California, a woman known as Darling Wife came out of retirement to make a quilt with a bee in it."
"What? What in the world! What?" I shouted up the stairs. I yelled up the stairs. I screamed up the stairs. "Honey."
She finished the quilt ten minutes ago. It's a small quilt. A wall hanging. Darling Wife is back to normal. Maybe soon I will be, too. Or I may just retire myself. Maybe for a little while. Maybe.
Copyright 2006 by A.B. Silver
Click here to see finished "FlowerBee" Quilt
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