"Sardines," I said.
"Quilters," she said.
"Toothpicks in a dispenser," I said.
"Quilters," she said .
"Buttons in a button bin," I said.
"Quilters," she said.
"A lot of quilters," I agreed.
We were at the Malvern (pronounced Mulvern), England, quilt show, two and half hours by train from London, inside Severn Exhibition Hall. There were 228 billion quilters in the hall. We were in the hall. We were squashed between a group of quilters lined up at a row of tables set up by venders to sell fabric and patterns and a swarm, a mass, of quilters pressed up against the display of quilts in the center of the hall.
"Don't wander off," she told me as we entered the hall, for she knew how easily I could disappear at a quilt show while she dawdled in front of a prize-winning quilt for six days straight.
"I can't move," I said, except I was moving away from her, slowly but steadily, as half a dozen quilters surrounded me and carried me along with them as they moved inch by inch along the floor. "Help," I called out, but my voice was muffled by the cacophony of sound that rose from the floor to the roof.
"Come back," she called after me, but it was too late. I was pressed up against a rack of quilting templates a hundred miles from her. I knew I would never see her again.
Actually, I would see her again, for in planning for the show, we had a contingency plan if either of us were lost or went astray in a crowd. On the way into the hall, we located the rest rooms, those places second in importance only to the quilts. They were also the most important places at any tourist attraction, theater, department store, train station, or other location we found ourselves in during our trip to London and several small towns surrounding the city. Our plan was simple. If we were separated, each of us would head for the rest rooms. If they were far apart from each other, the meeting place would be the woman's rest room, or toilet, or loo.
Knowing where to go was one thing. Getting there through a crowd of milling quilters, each intent in going in a different direction, was another thing. I pulled away from the display rack, the impressions of diamond and hexagon and square and round templates pressed into my skin forever, my feet buried under the sensible shoes of a dozen quilters all going in the opposite direction, and I looked for the women's room.
"Excuse me, pardon me, sorry," I kept repeating as I was spun and twirled and pushed and shoved and moved along by the crowd. As I was moving very slowly, I had time to look at the quilts as I passed by, amazed by the colors, the designs, the quality of the quilting. As I moved slower than molasses in a freezer, I had time to take photos of each as I passed. Our original plan was to limit the photos to those Darling Wife, wherever she was, most wanted to see again. Having no Darling Wife nearby and wondering if I would ever see her again, I snapped photos of everything in sight. (Later, many of the quilt photos would be of heads and feet and bodies and arms of quilters, not quilts.)
The show, obviously, was a big success. We were there the first morning of the first day of the four-day show, and there was delight on every quilter's face that I could see when I wasn't looking at the back of a head or at the floor or at a package of fabric or notions being swung by my head by someone who had just made a happy purchase at one of the tables. Nowhere did I see frustration or anger or impatience expressed by the quilters who were packed together face to face, back to back, and face to back.
It took eighteen minutes for me to reach the "facilities." She was nowhere around. Women going into and out of the "lav" looked at me suspiciously as I stood there looking for my lost wife. I must have looked like some Jack the Quilt Ripper standing there, my face taut with concern for my missing Ladyship, my clothes pulled and mussed by the crowd I had just escaped. "I won't hurt you," I tried to smile. But they shunned me as they moved quickly away.
It took fourteen more minutes, each minute marked as I looked at my watch, before my lost helpmate showed up. I expected her to look as worn as I did, as disheveled, as weary and exhausted as I felt, but she came up with a spring in her steps, a grin on her face, and her arms full of packages.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," I said back.
"This is a great show," she said.
"This is a crowded show," I said, staring at the number of large packages in her hands, her fingers stretched thin holding them all.
"Look," she said, swinging the packages up for me to see. We had been separated thirty-two minutes, and she did not come up to me in relief and cry, "Oh, I missed you so." No, what she said was, "I bought some great things."
"You said you were just going to look," I said. I said it by rote. I always said it. It never mattered that I said it. She ALWAYS bought something.
"Just a couple of things that are definitely English," she said.
"You bought most of England," I said. "What about the quilts?" She always went to quilt shows for the quilts.
"We'll see them next," she said. "And you can take some pictures."
"You've been shopping and haven't seen the quilts yet?" I asked.
"Some, but not all of them. When you disappeared I had to follow the plan and hurry to meet you here."
"You hurried?" Thirty-two minutes?
"Let's go," she said. "there's a lot to see. "And don't get lost again," she admonished.
I looked back onto the floor of the show. If anything, the crowd was larger. What tiny spaces there might have been between quilters before, those spaces were gone.
"A lot of quilters," I said, but I went with her. When in Rome...or England... or a quilt show....
Copyright 2000 by A.B. Silver
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