Ready for some more bad art and overwrought writing in the name of Storytellers? (Check out Purlescence for more details) Well, here you go! A submission for September’s prompt, “What would Persephone knit?”
Also, Elli and I went on a lovely field trip to a sheep shearing today at Schacht Fleece Farms. I haven’t gotten the photos off my camera yet, but she has some pictures on her blog. You should go look at them! Sheep are cute.
In the Underworld
She’s old now. I guess it happens to everyone, but somehow I always feel so alone when I think about it. It feels like you are the only one this could ever happen to, the only one this has ever happened to; unbearable, the confusion in her voice when she answers the phone, the bewildered yearning in her eyes when I walk away from her, even for a moment. I know everyone gets old eventually, and I know, from my job, that many people begin to lose their sense the way she has, but even so, it hurts.
I suppose that in a way, we are unique. Well, what a thing to say; everyone’s unique. But my mother affects other people’s lives far more than the average elderly woman.
“Mom? Mom, it’s me. I’m coming home tomorrow, OK?” She mumbles some things, whispers to me faintly. “OK, Mom. I love you. I’ll see you soon. Tomorrow.” And I hang up, and sigh.
My husband comes up behind me, kisses my neck. “Do you have to go already?”
I look out the window at the snow, the black branches, the weak winter light on the slushy street. “I have to. It’s been four months already.”
We have a calendar on the wall, and I always mark the day with a big red X, as a reminder. He glances over at it, and sighs, puts his arms around me. “I never think the day’s coming until it’s here.” I wrap my arms over his, lean my head against his shoulder, and we rock like that for a while, in silence, enjoying each other’s company.
Finally he sighs, kisses me, then throws on his heavy black coat and the cashmere scarf I made him, and heads out to run some errands. We’ll go out for a nice dinner tonight—he’s made reservations somewhere special, but he won’t tell me where—he wants it to be a surprise.
Brave little brown birds flit and swoop across the snow-covered front lawn, then settle on the chunk of suet we’ve set out on the balcony, arguing and scolding in their shrill bright voices. The dog groans a little and thumps his tail, looking out at them wistfully. My husband tells me the dog loves chasing birds and squirrels in the summer.
I know I have to go, but it’s hard; it’s so comforting just sitting here in the half-light of winter, wrapped in a blanket, working on my projects. I pick up the hooded pullover I’ve been working on. I guess I won’t get to use it much this year. It’s lovely and cozy, an inky, smoky black that makes me think of my husband’s overcoat, but I’ve knitted some little surprises into it: the edges of the hood and the cuffs are worked in a luscious, deep red yarn, seed stitch, with garnet-colored glass beads gleaming here and there; and the folded hem facing and the linings of the slanted pockets are lined in the same deep, surprising red.
It makes me think of pomegranates, and even now, after so many years, I flush a little when I think back on that evening before the fire, the way his hand shook a little as my lips brushed his fingers, the way the seeds gleamed in the flickering light, the way that tart red juice tasted when the seed burst suddenly between my teeth. I’m going to miss him. I always do.
“Mom? Mom, I’m here,” I say quietly, and she starts—she’d been half-dozing, looking up at the ceiling, but now she focuses on me. A great smile breaks out across her face, and I feel the air in the room brighten. I smile too, come over and hug her. She feels thin now. I can feel her tiny frame of bones when I circle her body in my arms. I can feel her happiness radiating off of her, pouring out into the world, a deep and gradual warmth. I’ve missed her. No matter how much I miss my husband, or how sad I feel when seeing how weak and fragile my mother’s become, the visit always feels worth it, just for this moment.
I sit down in the chair beside her bed, and we talk for a while about her nurses, and the foods she likes, and what she’s been watching on TV. I gather she’s mostly been watching the Weather Channel, so there’s not much to talk about. Chocolate pudding is currently her favorite, and she’s not so keen on the beef stroganoff they’ve been serving her.
I take out the other project I’d been working on. I finished the knitting on the plane, and just a bit of finishing remains. It’s a peplos, nice and traditional. I thought Mom would like it. I knit laceweight on large needles for a gauzy fabric with a lot of drape without a lot of bulk, and instead of fastening the shoulders with fibulae, I’m sewing on buttons and crocheting little button loops on the other side, with the apoptygma, the decorative overfold, draped in separate front and back pieces without a lot of ease. It’s cropped, too, just waist-length instead of a full-length garment. I couldn’t stand to knit a full-length version.
I finish crocheting the button loops and hold it up to see. “What’s that?” my mother asks. “Put it on. I want to see it.”
Checking the hall to make sure no nurses are coming, I strip to my camisole and slip on the peplos. There’s not much ease in the body of the garment, and I can see in the mirror on the wall that I’ve judged the fit properly—I look like a proper Greek maiden, without having to swim in pounds of heavy draped cloth. My mother looks at me for a long time, and her gaze seems to clear up. That old, sharp, probing gaze is back again, for a moment, and then she slips into her memories and I feel like it was a mistake to show this to her. Maybe a mistake to come at all.
“You were dressed just like that on the day you went out into the meadows,” she says dreamily. “Remember how you were playing in the grass, among the flowers? The poppies. Those red poppies.”
“Mom,” I say warningly, but of course, she doesn’t listen.
“Those nymphs didn’t do a thing to stop him. Remember how the earth split, remember how that horrible man came up from the earth in his carriage? The black horses. All those black horses trampling the flowers.” She’s getting agitated, starting to chant. One of the nurses peeks in through the door, alarmed at this loud, steady incantation of Greek syllables, and I wave her away, whispering, “It’s fine, don’t worry.”
“Mom, it wasn’t like that. Don’t you remember? He brought me flowers. I went out with him.”
“The black horses trampled those red poppies. Red poppies everywhere, like blood. I couldn’t find you. I couldn’t find you. I made those girls into monsters because they didn’t stop you. How could they have left you? You were innocent. My innocent girl, playing in the grass, in your little girl’s peplos.”
“Mom, please don’t.” I kneel beside the bed and put my hand on her shoulder, trying to stop her, but she just looks at me and continues.
“That horrible man. He took your innocence. That rapist. I turned those girls into Sirens, into monsters. They were monsters, just standing there when the black carriage came out of the earth. Winter. Winter. Cold. There’s nothing here without you.”
“Don’t, Mom. I went with him. I chose him. He’s my husband. He’s not a rapist. Don’t say such horrible things!” But it’s useless. She starts to cry and wail a little, and I’m afraid she’s going to start beating her breast and tearing at her hair, old-style, and then she calms down and falls asleep.
I sit in the chair beside the bed and cry a little, quietly. I want to call my husband, but I don’t want to tell him the things she’s said yet again, the ideas I can’t seem to get out of her head, no matter how many times I try. Outside, the sun is shining merrily down, and I can feel the snow starting to melt, and the crocuses stirring themselves, getting ready to press their impatient green shoots up through the earth and the melting snow.
The nurse comes in with Mom’s meds in a paper cup, and a tray bearing both the hated stroganoff and the beloved chocolate pudding. Mom wakes up at the sound and starts to tuck into the food with a surprising appetite.
She eats half the stroganoff, takes her pills, and stops just short of licking the pudding cup clean. “Aren’t you hungry?” she asks, and I take the rest of the stroganoff to make her happy. She seems better now, much more lucid.
“Where’s your husband? You should have brought him,” she says. “I like that man. You made a good match.”
“Yes, Mom,” I say quietly. He doesn’t like to come anymore, not since that first year he tried coming back home with me, with disastrous results. These days, sometimes I think it would be nice to have them see each other again, but her moods are so unpredictable, I don’t think it’s a good idea.
“I’m proud of you,” she says, and looks at me for a while. “When are you going to give me some grandchildren? I want a granddaughter.”
My hand shakes a little. I push the stroganoff around on the plate. “I don’t know, Mom.”
“I’m old, you know. I won’t last forever.”
I imagine myself lying in that bed, staring up at the blue and red circles and jagged lines of weather systems swirling around on the digitized map. I imagine the loneliness of lying in that bed, alone, for four months a year, and I know it’s selfish of me, so selfish. I can’t imagine giving up those four months a year, though, those peaceful months, lying in bed, with the blanket of snow stretching out around the house, muffling the sounds. I feel warm, there, and safe.
“I—Mom, I know. But—I’m just—I’m just not ready yet.” I’m not ready to be a mother. I know what it means for me, for us. I’ve held on for so long, even though I know I shouldn’t. But I know what it means.
She can’t go until I have a baby. She can’t leave me until I let her. The world won’t let her; spring must come every year, and summer, and autumn, and that won’t happen if she’s not here. Until I’m a mother, and can take her place, she has to stay. I look over at her roommate’s ventilator. We’ve learned to build so much machinery around ourselves to keep our lives intact.
Sometimes I think of what it would be like to share our lives with a little child, to hold the baby’s tiny hands in mine, kiss her tiny toes. But then I think of what it will be like, that great betrayal when she reaches her teens, that moment when she turns away from me, like I turned from my mother, and climbs into the black carriage, into a world of mysteries, of winter darkness, of all the secrets we keep from our parents.
And I think of what it will be like, once my daughter is born, to see my mother fade at last, slipping away from me the way her mind and self have been slipping away for centuries now. “Oh, Mom,” I whisper, and stroke her thinning hair, thinking of how once, it was thick and wheat-golden, how she used to stride through the September fields barefoot, with her hair unbound, smiling, holding my hand. “Oh, Mom, I’m not ready yet.”
Persephone’s Pomegranate Hoodie
To evoke pomegranate seeds, the hood edges and cuffs of this hooded pullover are worked in seed stitch, in a deep red yarn, with garnet beads scattered randomly throughout. The dark red color continues in hidden places: the linings of the diagonally slanted pockets, and the folded hem facing at the bottom edge. The rest of the hoodie is worked in shadowy black.
The peplos was one of the basic types of classical Greek women’s clothing: the fabric was folded over at the shoulders and pinned there with pins called fibulae to form a decorative overfold, the apoptygma. This knitted version of the peplos is fastened at the shoulders with buttons; it features little ease in the body, and the apotygma is draped as separate front and back pieces, for a more modern fit. The laceweight yarn knit on large needles provides great drape and reduces the bulk resulting from the multiple layers of knitting.
Edited to add: damn it, why does WordPress keep eating my paragraph breaks?