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A Lovely Mend

Sue Ellis

I´d noticed her before, a poorly-kept older woman who loitered at the transit station. She liked to sit in the open waiting area beneath the skylight, crocheting. On bright days, her steel crochet hook caught the light as she maneuvered it over the project in her lap.

I was drawn to her—curious about her project since I crochet, too. I wondered at the way she´d look up at the sound of a bus´s air brakes, her eyes sorting through the passengers as they stepped down onto the sidewalk.

One morning, with only minutes to spare before work, I sat down beside her. I´m not sure what I expected to see in her project. Maybe a bowl with fruit or deer in a meadow—common filet crochet designs. But not the wild disarray of birds in flight.

White thread uncoiled from a cardboard tube as she worked, contrasting with grubbier sections of the piece, which looked to have been in progress for some time. She had no paper pattern to guide her, but that didn´t appear to slow her progress as she deftly looped and hooked the thread. I wondered how she managed to concentrate so intently on the free-form design.

“What kind of birds are they?” I asked, hoping to open a conversation.

“Tina didn´t get to finish baking,” she said, glancing in my general direction.

I felt uncomfortable then, anxious to move on because she was clearly not in her right mind.

“She grew zucchini,” she continued. “They overran her garden.”

And just like that, I knew.

Tina. The young woman who had gone missing from her job as a cable TV technician. It had made national news at the time--more years past than I could recall. She had never been found.

Her young husband had been cleared within weeks. Everyone remembered his stunned statement that she´d left a note in the fridge on top of a plastic-wrapped bowl of zucchini bread batter. It said that she hadn´t realized she was out of vanilla; she´d pick some up on her way home from work. Don´t bake it until I get home, the note admonished, followed by a row of x´s and o´s. He was completely hung up on the small domestic task left unfinished, as if God couldn´t have intended for her to be taken.

“I remember,” I said, and touched her arm. “I´m so sorry.”

She lapsed into crocheting again, seemingly as oblivious to me as she´d been when I first sat down.

I gathered my things to go, but then her coat sleeve caught my eye. It was wool, and a shade of sky blue that must have been lovely at one time. Its frayed cuff had been encased in a piece of similarly-colored organza, a fabric opaque enough to reveal the tattered threads that lay beneath it. The wool fibers had not been trimmed or neatened in any way, merely enshrined within the casing, preserved with tiny stitches at precise intervals along the seam.

I could imagine her rummaging through a thrift shop, searching out the organza--coming across a rack of party dresses, and then finding the color she wanted. The gown would have whispered against its netted tulle underskirt as she slipped it off the hanger. It might have been enough to remind her of a beloved girl preparing for a night out, except that her thoughts would have been mercifully taken up by her search for a particular shade of blue.

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