"I'm late. I'm late," she said. She was scurrying around the kitchen, down the hall, up the stairs, into her stash closet, back downstairs. "I'm late."
"Late?" I asked. "Late for what?"
"I only have a month," she said. "I started too late, and now I won't have enough time," she said. She scooted past me, but I took hold of her arm and pulled her to a stop. "I have to get started," she said as she broke free of my gentle grip and dashed back upstairs.
"Late for what?" I called after her, but she was gone out if sight in a flash.
"Jacob's birthday," I heard as the words fell behind her and down the steps.
That was still weeks away, I thought. He would be three, and she had talked of making a quilt for his new junior bed but had put it off to work on two other quilts, and now that she was free, no doubt it was now time to work on the quilt. Or, so I guessed. If so, knowing her, there would be more than enough time for her to make the quilt. Or, so I thought.
"I should have at least three months to do the quilt," she said later when she had come down again for our trip to the market, a trip, she said, that had to be completed in about twelve minutes as she had to get back to the quilt.
"It's just another train quilt," I said. She had already made one for another grandson, Bryce, and she had not complained of not having enough time then.
"No, it's bigger. His was a cuddle quilt, and this is a bed quilt, and I had a lot of trouble last time because I had to make some changes to the pattern and I don't remember everything I had to do before, but I have to do more this time, so I have to hurry to get it done in time."
"So, that's why we're rushing through shopping, up and down aisles a hundred miles an hour, our shopping cart knocking over twelve shoppers and three aisles of canned vegetables just so you can get back to work on the quilt. I offered to do the shopping myself, you know," I said quickly.
"I needed to get out for a while," she said. "I can't sit at the sewing machine all the time. I need to breathe once in a while. You don't know what it's like to be shackled to a quilt," she said. She grabbed a tub of whipped light butter as I grabbed a package of shredded non-fat cheddar cheese before turning the corner at the end of the aisle and heading for the turkey.
"You still have a lot of time left," I said.
"That's never enough time to be sure I have time to get everything done on time," she said. "Don't forget the tomatoes," she added.
The next morning I heard her climb the steps to the sewing room. It was only four, and the sky outside was black except for one distant set of stars, twinkling through the window at me. Two hours later she came down. "I just cut out 26 black wheels," she said.
"That's nice," I yawned. Having failed to get back to sleep earlier, I yawned my way around the kitchen in the hope that thirty-six cups of coffee would help.
"This quilt will take forever," she said. I didn't answer as I had begun a moment before chewing on a piece of toast and my mouth was already busy. "Engine," she said a moment later.
I swallowed. "Engine?" I said.
"It's a train, and there's the engine to cut out and the smokestack and the cars to follow the engine and the people in the cars. I have to fussy cut little bears to fit in the windows so they can look out at the scenery as the train goes by. And my scissors hand is tired and my fingers are tired and I have to keep cutting fast so I can get it all done. The train has to move."
"Choo choo," I wanted to say, but valuing my life, I said instead, "Jacob will like the train."
"If I ever get it done in time. I still have a lot to cut out and a lot to sew."
"You will," I said.
She grumbled. Day after day, she grumbled. "I finished the cowcatcher," she said, "but there's so much more and so little time."
"Are there cows on your quilt?" I didn't want to get into the time warp again.
"The engine needs a cow catcher. Just in case. And I still have odds and ends to cut out and put together. I wonder why people don't say ends and odds."
"That would be an odd expression to use," I said, hoping to help out and get her in a good mood, maybe a slow mood.
"Time and tide wait for no woman," she said a week later. I had persuaded her to go to the beach for an early morning walk. She had resisted, but I had insisted.
"This quilter is a woman," she said.
"Haste makes waste," I replied. She needed a long walk and a time to breathe in ocean air.
"She who hesitates is lost," she said.
"She?" I questioned.
"This quilter is a she," she said.
"Look before you leap," I tried, but it was all to no avail.
"A stitch in time saves nine," she said.
"Actually twelve. There are twelve cars on the train. The engine and eleven cars behind it. So it's a stitch in time saves twelve, and now the tide is coming in, so I have to go home and quilt."
"Good-bye ocean," I said. There was no arguing with a driven woman. There was a quilt waiting in a hurry.
"Time marches on," she said.
"Next. Next. Next," she said. "Next."
I had just climbed the stairs to her sewing room to drag her away from the quilt and out into the sunshine. "What are you nexting about?" I asked.
"I'm in a marathon,' she said. She was lifting blocks from a pile on her cutting table, one after the other. "I have to finish the last of the pieces and put them together. And then I'll be done. I've quilted for 26 miles," she said. "Three hundred and eighty-five yards to go."
"You're running a race?" I asked. Quilting had finally done her in, I thought.
"It's like a long race against the clock. I'm almost to the finish line. Next."
She picked up the last block and put it with the others on the sewing machine.
"That's the last of them?"
"When I sew these on to the rest and add the borders, the top will be finished. Finished." She seemed to be in a trance. I looked at her eyes. Sure enough, they were glazed over.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
"Only a few minutes left to the finish line," she said.
"You have a lot of time left before Jacob's birthday."
"Oh," she said. "Oh, oh," she said, but she began to sew the last blocks to the rest of the quilt top which was draped through the sewing machine over the sewing table and down behind it onto the floor.
"The deadline's dead," I said.
"Oh," she said. "Am I done? Am I done? Oh, I'm not done yet."
"You said you still have the borders to do," I said.
'"Yes, I do. Then, I have to do the quilting and the binding. But, I'm almost done. The hard part's done." The sewing machine hummed. She hummed. "Soon, soon, it will all be done."
"How many days do I have left?" she asked halfway through the quilting. "I need so much more time."
"You could give Jacob the quilt for the fourth of July or Labor Day or Thanksgiving or any of the end-of-the-year-holidays," I suggested. But I knew she would be done in plenty of time for Jacob's birthday.
'"It's a birthday quilt and his birthday is coming soon," she said.
"You'll get it done with time to spare," I said. "And then you'll go crazy because you won't know how to stop your momentum, and you'll speed along into a new quilt, and you'll get all frizzled and fall apart and then I'll have to quilt you back together, physically and mentally."
"What are you talking about?" she said, looking askance at me, not trusting my judgment. I could tell by the frown and sideways twist of her head.
"You're taking Mother's Day off, no matter what?" I said. Mother's Day was only a few days off.
"Of course," she said.
"All day," I said. "Not just an hour or two."
"Well, if I'm on schedule," she said.
"What schedule? You don't have a schedule. We don't do schedules, remember," I said, reminding her about the main purpose of retirement.
"I meant progress--if I'm making good progress."
"You never say you're making good progress. You just plow ahead, frantic, Alice in Wonderland's March Hare, thinking you're late, that you're forever behind on your quilt."
"Hares don't quilt," she said.
"Mother's Day off," I said firmly.
She took off three hours and twenty minutes on the morning of Mother's Day. I counted. In the afternoon of Mother's Day she went back to the quilting. On Wednesday, she finished the quilting. She worked the next two days on the binding.
"I told you there was nothing to worry about," I said as she held up the finished quilt for me to admire.
"I had a deadline to meet," she said. "Don't you understand about a deadline?"
"Jacob could have waited. He's only going to be three. He would enjoy the quilt a week late, a month late even."
"I don't do late," she said.
"No, of course not. You do early. Very early," I said. Two weeks early.
"It's better than late," she said.
"Jacob will appreciate that," I said. "He's a smart three. He will certainly appreciate knowing his grandmother finished the quilt in time for his birthday."
"So there," she said, a little shout of victory in her voice
"So, there," I agreed.
Copyright 2003 by A.B. Silver
Click here to see finished "Deadline Quilt"
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