She sat on a park bench, her fingers flying about their task with sureness while her mind wrapped itself in dreams of lullabies and sweet, satiny skin. Lost in such imaginings, the young woman didn’t pay much attention to the elderly couple making their way along the nearby path.
Instead, dreamily, she watched her fingers while her grandmother’s instructions sang in her memory… Knit and purl, that’s right, knit and purl… create the design as you go…
Her eyes focused on the small piece of knitting in her hands, watching the bright red yarn begin to take shape. Like her grandmother, she took joy in the exercise of creation.
Knit and purl, needles clicking, counting stitches, each row adding up to something more.
She smiled as she considered the pattern slowly emerging. A baby’s sweater, cherry red, made with love. Just as cells inside her womb were knitting together, creating a life-forming pattern, so she sat on this bench, enacting the same scenario on a much smaller scale.
Knit and purl, tissue and pieces of bone joining together, lovingly fused by some force greater than herself.
A merciful force.
Her eyes closed briefly, and she offered up a prayer of thanksgiving.
She had been desperate for this child, and many tear-soaked entreaties had floated upward on wings of sadness. Bearing the weight of unanswered prayers, her marriage began to show small fissures, and a once warm coupling began to change slowly into something determined and clinical.
But that was before.
Now she would be someone’s mother! And what a good mother she would be! And what a wonderful father her husband would make.
Knit and purl… sweet scent of powder, soft touch of baby skin… high diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon…
Lovingly, her fingers caressed the red fibers, feeling – almost! – the little one they would shelter one day.
A brief spasm of coughing made her look up as the elderly man and woman came closer. The man’s eyes looked at the small sweater she was creating. Happy, she started to smile at him, but then stopped. He had turned away, something stricken in his expression. The woman next to him patted his arm, and on they went.
For a moment, she puzzled over the man’s expression, at the quick tears she thought she’d seen in his eyes. But it was too nice a day to linger over thoughts she had no answers to, and she again focused on the knitting.
She was happy! Yes, so happy on this summer’s day, thinking of the pattern emerging inside her. Exultant, she almost laughed aloud.
The best days! These truly are the best days, she thought.
With difficulty, the old man walked with his wife, holding tightly onto her arm.
Dear Eloise, ever his strength and partner. It was Eloise who fussed over him, who made certain he took his meds, and who sat beside him during those dark hours of the night when Truth would rear up and hit him, like a hard and brutal punch to the gut.
He understood this would probably be his last walk in the park. His strength, almost depleted, made walking difficult. A thief in the night, the disease robbed him of his former vitality. Taking everything, it had won. He could barely remember when he’d last felt well – it had been that long ago.
Clinging to Eloise, he haltingly made his way down the tree-lined path.
He noticed a young woman sitting on a bench. In her hands was a square of bright red material. Suddenly, unexpectedly, grief washed over him, and tears welled up in his eyes.
That red – its bright cherry color – that had been the shade of her sweater. When he dared remember her, it was always wearing that red sweater, especially toward the end when she had trouble staying warm.
Seventeen years old and, finally, that was that.
During five years of hospitalizations, he had always looked forward to coming home because she would be there, happy to see him, eager to provide solace… a ‘kiss’ on the palm, across the chin. As he slept, she’d lay close to him, her little head resting on his chest, sharing his warmth.
Yes, seventeen years old. And that was that, dying peacefully in her sleep one night, not a peep out of her.
The disease had never made him cry. Not once.
But the death of Clemmie had.
Now she lived in his dreams. She’d appear suddenly on a stretch of white, sandy beach, her paws delicately and playfully skirting the edge of ocean blue waters. He’d call her name and she’d look up, eyes bright, tail wagging, and make a run for him. Such were his dreams: games of toss and fetch, Clemmie a pup – and him, hale and hearty.
In dreams, he heard once more the roar of the ocean, the music of the gulls, the happy sound of barking. In dreams, he felt the wind in his face, the strength in his limbs…
Where had all the happy days gone? A few words from a doctor, and the pattern of life forever altered.
Games of toss and fetch… a cherry red sweater, a small dog. Good days. Happy days.
Tears threatened. He swallowed them back.
The best days! Those truly were the best days, he thought.
Eloise felt the sudden burst of emotion that shook her husband’s thin body as he leaned upon her arm. She rested a hand gently on his forearm, wordlessly giving comfort.
She, too, had glimpsed the knitting in the young woman’s hands. She knew at once the color had reminded Larry of Clemmie, and a wave of sadness passed over her. Clemmie had been a faithful friend to Larry, especially during these last, difficult months of his illness.
Her passing, two months ago, had nearly broken him. It was more than the passing of a beloved pet; it was the passing of something more… something she couldn’t articulate. Losing Clemmie was losing something of his old life, the Larry he used to be.
He’d never been much for animals and Clemmie was supposed to have been her dog, but he’d quickly taken to her, and Clemmie became the beneficiary of happy walks by the ocean, and treats surreptitiously passed beneath the table.
With Larry’s illness, Clemmie sensed a new vulnerability in her master. The animal’s devotion moved Eloise. Larry would nod off into drug-induced slumbers, holding the animal close and Eloise would stare into Clemmie’s face. The dog would gaze steadily back at her. It seemed to Eloise, then, that all the understanding in the world was contained in those gentle brown eyes.
Now, sometimes, she’d hear Larry murmuring in his sleep: “Fetch the stick, Clemmie… good girl… bring it back, bring it back, girl…”
In those moments, Eloise’s heart would expand painfully.
Bring it back, Clemmie… please! Please bring back the days when disease and despair had not been their companion, but instead a funny little dachshund wearing a cherry red sweater.
The best days! Those had been the best days, she thought.
Sometimes you don’t even know you’re in them until they’re gone.
The couple moved past the young woman, not hearing the soft lullaby she was humming.
Knit and purl, patterns emerging, patterns changing, a small red sweater…
Author’s Note: Story written in response to a prompt from the DailyPost – Writing Post 101 – a man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass a woman sitting on a bench, knitting a small sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene from three different points of view, from the perspective of the man and the two women.