"Oops," I said.
"Clean it up. Quick. Now!" she said.
"It's all right. It's just a little spot," I said.
"It's all over. Cold water. Hurry before it sets."
"It'll be fine," I said.
"It had better be fine," she threatened.
That was the first stain for the new quilted tablecloth. The blueberry jam came off the square where it had fallen off the slice of toast that carried it, and only a forensics scientist could have found the stain with a microscope and a lot of time. I was more careful after that. My Darling Quilter Wife Joan had spent a lot of time making the quilt. And though I had insisted time and again that the table was no place for the quilt even with placemats to protect it, that she or I or the grandkids would most likely dirty it, an easy thing to foresee, she said she made the quilt to cover the table, and there was no use not using it even if it occasionally got a crumb on it.
It had many crumbs on it, crumbs which we both dutifully whisked off onto the floor which we vacuumed moments later. Crumbs were not the problem. Jam was. And maple syrup when the eye was not as quick as the hand and she poured it over the pancakes, over the plate, and onto the seam which joined two blocks of the quilt so nicely together. "It'll come out in the wash," she had said then, but before the washing machine, we tried a little soap and water and gentle rubbing, and soon the stain was only visible to the ants that crept into the house, up the leg of the table, and onto the quilt during the night. The ants were partying in the morning when we came in for breakfast. I decided against using ant spray, which might have stained the quilt forever, and chose the hand vacuum which made a "swoop" as it sucked up the ants.
"Maybe you should wash the quilt," I said at lunch.
"It doesn't need it yet," she said.
"Yes, it does," I said.
"You spill something again?" she asked as she looked up from her plate and over to the area where my plate and knife and fork and napkin sat. My glass of apricot nectar, which I had a moment before "accidentally" hit with my hand as I opened the newspaper and turned to the local news section, that glass was still rolling across the quilt, pouring out its sloppy contents. The juice was a tidal wave of apricot pulp spread across the table top.
"Sorry," I said.
"It'll wash out," she said, but I heard a tiny bit of doubt in her voice. It wouldn't be the first large quilt she had washed. But, because the very first bed quilt she had washed had left it looking like it had been caught in a hurricane, and even though the second quilt she washed more carefully had came out fine, there was no telling if this one would come out of the wash anywhere as nice and as useful as it went in.
"I hope so," I said, feeling guilt and shame and sadness and remorse, yet I had hope that both the quilt and I would survive whatever came next.
"After that first quilt came out of the wash such a mess, I've read hundreds of suggestions about how to wash out a quilt so that it comes out looking better than new," she said.
"I hope," I said.
"I should have made two or three standby quilts," she said. She was already long out of her chair, removing everything that sat on the table on the quilt. I was already sopping up juice with a dry dish towel.
"Two or three what?" I asked.
"Standby quilts. The table looks so good with a tablecloth that it will look bare without one."
"It will go right back on after you wash it," I said encouragingly. "Won't it?" I asked.
"It might need a rest," she said. At that, she lifted one side of the quilt and folded it over and then again, and she carried it off to the washing machine.
"I need a rest," I said to her, but she was already gone and I was talking to myself, but what I had said was true. I needed a rest. I had a couple of hours before the quilt was washed and dried and back on the table--if it went back on the table. I had never heard of any quilt surviving apricot nectar. But, then again, I had never heard of any human being pouring apricot nectar onto a quilt that had been commissioned as a table cloth.
She began the new tablecloth quilt moments after putting the one I had almost destroyed into the washing machine to soak. She was determined. "I need to make a standby quilt, like an actor's understudy, so that if the tablecloth quilt is dirty or just too tired of being on the table too long and needs a rest, a different well-rested one can go on the table," she said all in one breath, probably using standby air she kept in her lungs for sentences like that.
After telling me to put the quilt in the dryer when the time came, and after she told me that she wondered why washing machines and dryers didn't come with a quilt cycle, especially one with an apricot-nectar-stained-quilt cycle, she dashed up to her sewing room. "I needed a project anyway," she said halfway up the stairs, her words trailing down to me and my dismay.
I went into the small laundry alcove by the garage and patted the washing machine gently, gave it a hug, and said, "Do good." The machine gently churned and sploshed, and I felt a little better. Forty minutes later, having rested my eyes as I lay on the sofa, I was back to remove the quilt from the washer and put it into the dryer. She had already pressed all the machine's buttons as to time and temperature and wrinkle removal and gentle spin and whatever quality care the quilt needed. I patted the dryer and gave it a little hug as I pressed the "ON" button. "Be nice," I urged.
An hour later she came down from her sewing room, removed the quilt from the dryer, and carried it into the kitchen to put it on the table. I helped, though, with my eyes closed in fear, I was a little awkward, but in a moment it was done. I opened my eyes and looked at her before I looked at the quilt. She smiled.
"Try to find the stain," she said.
"I don't see it," I said before looking.
"Look," she said. I looked. No stain.
"It washed out fine," she said. "Do you want tea, a muffin?"
"Tea?" I wouldn't dare. Eat again? Never. Have tea or coffee or juice at that table again? Never.
"I started the new quilt, and after that, maybe another one," she said.
"Standby quilts. The table wants to be covered," she said. "It needs to be covered all the time."
"But, what if...?" I could forsee spilled gravy, spilled coffee, spilled soup.
"I have a lot of stash and a lot of soap and a lot of water and a lot of time."
"Are you sure? This one was just washed. Doesn't it need some time off?"
"You don't plan on spilling anything, do you?"
"I plan to never spill anything or drop anything or smear anything ever again." I promised.
"Maybe when I'm done, I'll quilt some really large placemats to match the tablecloth," she said. "Just to be sure," she added.
"Sure," I said. Sure!
Copyright 2004 by A.B. Silver
Click here to see finished "Standby Quilt"
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