Here's a little story I wrote a couple years ago; enjoy!
It was a chance comment over the lunch table at work that got Margot and Sharon thinking about taking the trip.
“This canned crabmeat tastes like salty cardboard. I don’t know why I bother,” Margot sighed.
“Mmmm, no problem. Let’s just run up to Maine and grab a couple of fresh lobsters,” said Sharon, around a mouthful of salad. “And while we’re at it, let’s browse through a few antique stores up and down the coast.”
“Right,” Margot laughed. She and Sharon pulled out some knitting and occupied two of several comfy chairs in the employee’s lounge. Five more women joined them, and the room filled with talk of patterns, yarn, and needles. Margot was shy and didn’t make friends easily, but in this knitting group she felt comfortable. Several women looked to her for help and guidance, and she was pleased to give them a hand.
“Margot, maybe that Maine idea isn’t such a bad one. There’s a long weekend coming up. Let’s go!” Sharon exclaimed. “We’ll dig for treasure in the antique shops. We’ll luxuriate in the old-fashioned luxury of the bed-and-breakfasts in the picturesque villages --”
“You’ll stare at the hunky lobstermen, you mean!” giggled one of the younger women. For a moment, each woman’s mind was filled with the image of young men, stripped to the waist, muscles rippling, skin glistening in the sun.....a collective sigh filled the room.
Margot’s brow wrinkled, though she smiled. “Well. I can’t really think of any reason not to....okay, let’s go!”
The drive up was beautiful. They took the scenic route, taking turns driving after every pitstop so the other woman could knit.
“Sharon, I hate to admit it, but this was a great idea. That lobster we ate for lunch was out of this world!” Margot said.
“Absolutely. And the blueberry cheesecake was yummy, too,” Sharon sighed. She squinted a bit at the sock she was working on. It was just plain stockinette stitch, boring, but excellent for a car ride. The variegated colors of the soft merino and cashmere blend yarn made the simple knit more interesting.
“What’s that up ahead? Does that sign say ‘Antiques’?” Sharon asked, excited.
“I believe it does, right under ‘Homemade Fudge’ and ‘Bait’. We’re stopping!” Margot replied, and pulled into the parking lot.
The shop was small and a bit shabby, but some attempts had been made to spruce it up for the tourist season. Inside, it took a while for one’s eyes to adjust from bright sunlight to the somewhat dim lighting of the store. The refrigerated cases of soda, beer and sandwiches were new, as was the gaudy lottery-ticket display with its flashing lights. But the penny-candy counter, woodstove, pressed tin ceiling, and uneven wood floor were all original, Margot thought.
As they went in, they smiled at the woman behind the counter, inquired about antiques, and were shown to the back of the store. Sharon eagerly went to a large and dangerously tilted set of shelves and began scanning the old books. Margot was drawn to a big table in the corner, labeled “Flea Market”. It was piled high with junk.
She was smiling to herself at one of the treasures here, an avocado fondue pot circa 1978; turning to get Sharon’s attention, she noticed in the far corner of the table a lumpy, dusty bag with wooden handles. The handles looked hand-carved, and the textile used for the bag was possibly hand-woven, in an unusual pattern. She reached out and pulled the bag toward the front of the table.
“Like old stuff, do ya?” a querulous voice said behind her. Margot turned quickly, and faced an elderly gentleman holding a folded newspaper in one hand and a pencil in the other. He’d been working on the crossword puzzle. He wore an eye patch over his left eye, and a sleepy cat was draped around his neck. Margot thought about pointing out that a parrot would create a better pirate effect, but kept the thought to herself.
“Um, yes. This bag just caught my eye,”she said, nervously. He had surprised her. Cautiously, she opened the bag and gasped as she saw its contents: a treasure of old knitting needles! She pulled them out on the table. There were a lot of the typical aluminum needles found in every knitter’s collection. These she could share with her knitting group at work -- the younger girls, especially, were always needing to “borrow” needle sizes they didn’t have. But the collection also included other finds: handcrafted wooden needles, plastic needles with brightly colored knobs, sets of steel double pointed needles so fine they looked dangerous to knit with. There were several sets of needles whose brands she didn’t recognize, and she thought she knew them all.
As she gently examined them, stroking them lovingly, she thought, I wish I could know the knitters who used these needles over the years. What did they create with them? Whom did they knit for? What were they feeling as they employed these tools, and did knitting help them get through unhappiness? or celebrate joy?
“Okay, if that’s what you want,” the old man chuckled, which was odd, since she hadn’t said anything. She turned to ask what he meant, but he wasn’t there. Her scalp prickled, and a feeling she recognized from years ago crept and hissed around the edges of her consciousness. Silly, she thought, and shook it off. Don’t be alone....
“Sharon!” Margot cried, and heard a loud sneeze from the book shelf area.
“Okay! I’m ready to go!” Sharon said, sure that’s what was on Margot’s mind. Sharon tended to lose track of time while looking at old books.
“All right,” Margot replied, curious that Sharon was ready to go so soon, but glad, because the old man’s disappearance had unnerved her. She stuffed the needles back in the bag and took it up to the counter.
“Let’s see,”the woman who had smiled when they came in fumbled with the bag and found a faded, handwritten price tag dangling off the handle, “that’ll be $7.00.”
Margot paid, thinking the woman would have gotten a lot more for it at an online auction site. The bag itself was gorgeous. Feeling guilty about getting such a good deal, she wanted to give the woman a compliment, at least.
“That’s a beautiful cat you have back there. Is it a Maine coon cat?” she asked. “The man carrying the cat disappeared before I could ask him.”
The woman looked puzzled.
“The elderly man with the eye patch, with the cat around his neck,” Margot tried to clarify it for her.
“Dunno. Got no cat, and no man, neither. Sorry!” The woman looked at Margot in a less than approving manner, reserved for tourists who ask ridiculous questions.
“My mistake, sorry...” Margot mumbled, and walked quickly to the car as Sharon paid for the books she had chosen.
The rest of the trip passed too quickly. They ate lots of lobster, reveled in the beauty of the sea, pawed through innumerable antique stores and flea markets, and finally returned to daily life back home. Margot found that her septic system had experienced “problems” while she was away. In the hectic rush to get the problems fixed, it was a couple of weeks before she thought again of the bag with its needle collection, and the mystery of the one-eyed man.
The next Saturday afternoon she dug out the bag, emptied it of the needles, and carefully hand washed it. No mystery there; it was just a beautiful but dirty bag, now significantly cleaner. She lightly sanded the wooden handles, well-worn but sturdy, and gave them a coat of tung oil. Then she turned to the needles and washed each of them. They were all in pretty good condition, actually. Some of the plastic needles had slightly discolored spots, but that wouldn’t interfere with their use. She had expected to find rust on the metal needles, and the steel needle sets did in fact need a little work with steel wool. As she worked, a joke fermented in her mind, about using steel wool on steel needles, but didn’t form completely.
After she fortified herself with a fresh cup of tea, she laid out the needles on the coffee table as a prelude to deciding which sets to keep in her collection, and which to offer to the knitting group. Several wooden and plastic needles were bent slightly, from use. That got her thinking again about the previous owners of the needles. What kind of people were they? What had they knit with these needles? She picked up one set of wooden needles that were surely hand made, with cleverly carved knobs. They felt warm, as if someone had just set them down before she picked them up. She stroked them gently. Tell me what you know, she thought......
.....and suddenly, she was there. But not there. She was the woman holding the needles, not Margot, but she was Margot too. She was in a small, dark room, lit by oil lamps and a soft glow from the door of the woodstove. She sat in a large, comfortable rocking chair, and through the window she saw snow falling thickly and silently. Her son, a toddler now, played with his wooden toys on a braided rug next to her. An newly-baked apple pie scented the air. A man, back turned to her, was tuning a fiddle. He turned, and his eyes were filled with love. She knew her eyes reflected the same feeling. Her mind filled with memories of hours upon hours of winter evenings, knitting away as the snow fell and her Irish carpenter husband played lively jigs to amuse his little family. She always told him she could knit a hundred times faster when he fiddled a wild tune. The soft brown wool, hand spun on the wheel in the corner, danced along in time with the music. It was so comfortable, and happy, this memory....
.....smiling, Margot came to her senses and shook herself. Not again, she thought. These visions had stopped when she grew out of her teens; she hated them. They made her different. When she was very young, and didn’t know better, she tried to talk about them, tell people what she had seen. But her father just slapped her, and when she tried to ask her mother what the visions were, all she got was tears in reply. But now it was happening again.
Margot gazed at the needle collection again, though with some trepidation. She knew darn well she should stop now, put everything away. That first vision had been short, and happy, and she knew that what she might see could just as easily tear her apart, but those fine steel needles intrigued her. They looked very old, and one of them was curved from the tight or long-term grip of a knitter. She picked up this needle, which was cold.....
....it was dark, dark, with bright flashes of light and loud, terrifying noise, so loud she screamed. Artillery! and the popping sound was gunfire! And fear was all around her, men screamed and scrambled and swore. The explosions and screams went on and on and she couldn’t tell if the warm wetness in her eyes and on her face was rain, or tears, or .....it smelled like blood. Her hands, scrambled in the mud, encountered a hand, but horrified her as she felt it end abruptly halfway up the forearm. As she half-stood, flinging it away from her, a sharp, fiery pain sliced through her hip, and something hit her head, hard. Then all was dark, and quiet, for a long time, until slowly, slowly, light filtered in, sunlight in a quiet white room. A pretty nurse stood near her.
“How’s the knitting going, honey?” she asked.
Margot was surprised by the deepness of her own voice as she replied her knitting was fine, but she was even more disturbed by the second part of the reply, “I guess I could knit better if you came over here and gave me a little kiss, darlin’.”
Then she realized she was a man......and despite her confusion, her head filled with a stranger’s memories again. There had been a battle, and he was badly wounded. Margot felt his desperation of knowing he wasn’t going back to the fight, but knowing also his buddies were there. There was no way to get back, to help them, to make a difference in this damned war. Laid up, useless. Frustration, depression ... dark hours that didn’t help the healing process much. And then that pushed-to-the-edge pretty nurse taught him to knit.
“You wanna help the war, soldier? Want to make yourself useful? Here. You’re gonna knit bandages. Lord knows we need ‘em....” Memories followed, hours of knitting, and other guys that were wounded too joined him in knitting bandages. At least it was something.....he thought how happy his mother would be to see him knitting, after all the years he played with his little wooden toys on the braided rug at her side. Knitting was therapy, and he and the other guys could talk, eyes on their needles. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk about stuff that is too much of a nightmare to see reflected in another man’s eyes, but you gotta talk about it. You gotta get it out.....
......Margot shivered. That poignant vision took longer to leave her mind. Why, she thought. Why these visions? Why now? It all went back to that old man in the store. Enough, she thought. Time to get these needles sorted and set the keepers aside, to put back in the bag when it was dry. She found a box to be their temporary home, and started wrapping each set in tissue and laying them carefully in the box.
The last set were a pair of bamboo needles, about a size 3 or 4, she guessed. There was really nothing very unusual about them, but she just liked them, with their smooth, polished shafts that belied lots of use, and the perky round wooden knobs on the ends. And when she picked them up, she felt such joy, she knew she had to keep them. I wonder, she thought, and tickled a spot under her chin with the knob of one needle...
...instantly, in her mind, she was knitting, quickly and joyously. Quickly, because time was running out, and joyously, because the garment was nearly done! She held it up to examine it, and realized it was an intricate, full-length lace bridal veil....for..for her daughter. Ah yes, and it was special, for the wool had been hand spun from the fleece of island sheep, renowned for the lustrous purity of their clean, white coats. Her own mother, the bride’s grandmother, had spun the cobweb weight yarn, the finest yarn that you would ever see. She thought of the veil she’d worn at her own wedding, hand knit like this one. She hadn’t planned to give up nursing, but it was during the war, and there was this one handsome soldier...her mother had been so pleased. Her daughter’s veil, she knew, would pass the knitter’s test and easily slide through the bride’s wedding ring. The lace pattern she had devised incorporated motifs that wished the couple happiness: hearts, for love; eggs, for fertility; ships, for wealth; mountains, for longevity; oak trees, for patience, and one she added on a whimsy: cats, for curiosity. Every good married couple should have a sense of curiosity, about each other and the world they lived in, she thought.....
....Margot laughed out loud, and the vision left her. She finished wrapping the bamboo needles and set them in the box. Then she took a sip of tea, leaned back on the couch, and put her feet up. Sometime, she thought, I’ll see what the needles say about the rest of that family. What will my needles show of me, she reflected, when some traveler finds them on the flea market table? She closed her eyes, and an elderly man’s voice, chuckling softly, filled her dreams.