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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

String Theory

Everyone who knits has experienced it at one time or another. Inexplicably, in the middle of a row, through no fault of your own, a stitch disappears. It's a bit like that one sock in a pair that gets eaten in the dyer. This conumdrum was briefly discussed at the knitting group I go to the other night, and I thought it would make a good topic for a piece of flash fiction. I've never written any flash in the fantasy genre before, so I also thought it would be a good writing exercise. 

Initially, my idea was to write about a mischievous little elf (or fairy) who stole stitches from innocent knitters. But I just couldn't get the idea to go anywhere. Instead, I discovered a story completely different from the one I wanted to tell, but I went a long to see where it would lead me.

In making my lists the other day, I forgot a very important one. What I've learned from knitting...and my knitting group. And what I've learned is this: knitting is an act of creating, and when you create, you put something of yourself into the work. So this post, this story, is dedicated to the members of Not You Grandmother's Knitting Group, for what they've taught me about being comfortable in my skin, and about loving my craft. 

The woman, girl really, sat upright in her chair, arms folded in her lap. Before her eyes a pair of needles hovered, knitting a thin black yarn. The rhythm of the needles was broken every few stitches by the appearance of a coloured stitch, sliding onto the needle as if from nowhere. The knitted material dangling off the needles was riddled with these stitches, each one different.

The door to her room opened, and the man entered. Her needles stilled as he approached, but remained suspended in the air.

“Why are you stopping?” he demanded.

“Is it done yet?”

“Why are you stopping?”

She looked up at him. If she was younger, she would have stuck her tongue out at him. Had she ever been younger? Yes, she remembered. It had been a game once. Seeing the stitches. Stealing them. Watching the women desperately counting the remaining stitches. But it wasn’t a game. Not any more.


She’d done it again. Gotten lost in her thoughts. “I’ve told you before. I can’t focus on the stitches when you’re in here.”

He fingered the fabric, and the coloured stitches glimmered slightly.

“Is it done yet?” She asked again.

“It’s done when I say it is.” What he always said. He turned to leave.

“Why? Why do you need the stitches?”

He stopped but didn’t turn around. “To see the world in a grain of sand.”

She thought for a moment, remembering. Or was she looking forward. It grew more and more difficult to tell the difference. But she had it now. “William Blake.”

He didn’t answer. Just left.

Her hands stayed trembling in her lap, and she brought her needles down to them. She was scared of him. Or did she hate him? She couldn’t remember anymore. His power was strong. Strong enough to bind her to this room, to this task. Beacause he couldn’t do what she did. Couldn’t ‘see the world in a grain of sand’. But she did. She saw all the threads in the world, all the stitches. Not just the ones made out of yarn. The tiny, invisible ones made of atoms. The thin, reaching thread of time. She could see them. And some of the bigger ones, she could touch. And steal.

She fingered the cloth in her lap. Cloth. Clotho. Lachesis. Atropos. The Greeks had understood all those years ago (or would they figure it out- did it matter?). Each life was a thread. Spun. Measured. Cut.

Gently, she laid her finger against one of the coloured stitches. In a flash, all that was contained within it filled her mind. The woman who had spun the yarn. The woman who knit it. Everything she had touched. Everything she had made. Each stitch a life, bound into the cloth as surely as she was bound in this room. Cloth. Clotho.

She wondered if the Greeks had understood how each life was bound together. Not like in her cloth, no, her cloth was a mockery of the world. Little lives bound together for a lesser purpose. But the real world. All those lives, all those stitches, bound together. Woven.

There had been a woman, once, who had weaved to save her life. No, that wasn’t right. It wasn’t to save her life. It was to keep from having to marry a man she didn’t love. But perhaps it had meant the same to her.

What was her name? It was rich. Had a coppery sound. No, not yet. That was in another time. In her time she was Penelope. Yes, that was right. Penelope who wove to save her life. But that wasn’t right either.

She looked at the cloth that lay across her lap. So long. Miles and miles of it. Or was it just a few feet? Had she been knitting for a lifetime, or a couple of days? She couldn’t remember. Did it matter? So much work, so much labor, for him. So he could bind the lives she had stitched into the material.

Penelope. But Penelope didn’t weave to save her life. That wasn’t it, was it? Almost without thinking, she slid the needle out of work. Tugged the yarn in her hand. The black stitches slowly pulled apart. When she came to a coloured stitch, it quietly disappeared; it was simply not there. Gone. Released. Freed. Because she had it now. She remembered the story. The weaving had been a guise. A distraction.

A pile of black yarn rested limply beside her. Penelope hadn’t weaved to save her life. She had unraveled.

Some references, if you're interested: 

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