Revisiting The Red Sweater

Two years ago I participated in one of WordPress’s Blogging University courses as I tried to hone my writing and blogging skills. One of my favorite assignments at the time was the challenge to write a story based on the given prompt, but from three points of view. I was pretty proud of the original post; happy with the way it turned out. Reading it now I see little mistakes here and there and flaws in the logic and setting. So I’m re-blogging my own post tonight, making just a few little changes, hoping that you like what you read.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll go back to finding, or even better, shooting,  a picture for the weekly photo challenge.

We sat in the car staring out the window. I had driven us home from what had turned out to be a big mistake. I thought a dinner out among people who (at least by all appearances ) did not have a care in the world would do us good. Instead we each sat lost in our own thoughts, barely touching our meal. And so now here we are at the park. This could be another mistake, but maybe what we need isn’t to be surrounded by carefree people, but to envelop ourselves in the quiet of the park. To reflect, and remember, and hold each other.

I open my car door and walk around the car to open hers.  I know she doesn’t want to be here. Too many memories.

“Please? You can do this.” I can see she’s on the verge. For me, it’s been easy — the tears just seem to come out of nowhere sometimes. I can’t hold them back. But she can’t let herself go. She’s being strong when she doesn’t need to.

She steps out and takes my hand without a word. I close the door and start leading her to the park, my eyes already moist with tears.

********************

He took my hand in his as he led me to the park. His grip was tight but comforting and without it I surely would have fallen to my knees in absolute surrender to the sadness already welling up in my heart.

“Come on,” he encouraged me. “We’re almost there.”

We walked hand in hand through the mostly deserted park. It was almost dusk and so the playground was now empty, the regular crowd of laughing children and watchful mothers already long gone, home for dinner, I suppose.

“Why are you taking us this way? I don’t think I can bear it here right now.” I stalled.

“Trust me. We need to be here,” he answered.

He led me to “our bench” and as we sat down he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. We sat in silence for a long while. I stared at the scene in front of me, not really seeing it but instead remembering days not so long ago when we brought him here, pushing our stroller through the park and daydreaming about the days we thought were ahead of us.

I felt him gently nudge my shoulder, bringing me back to the present.

“Look, over there past the swings.”

I turned my head to see what he was pointing to. Just beyond the swings, on the path we had walked on just minutes earlier, sat an old woman. At first glance I thought she was asleep, she was sitting so still. But then I noticed her hands were moving quickly, knitting hooks in hand, and a ball of red yarn on the bench beside her. She was knitting what looked like a child’s sweater. No, this was too small for a child. This sweater was for a baby.

I could no longer contain my tears. I took his hand in both of mine and brought it to my lips.

“Thank you,” I said. “You were right. This is just what I needed.”

We watched for just a few minutes more as she continued with her knitting, unaware of the emotions she had awakened. I stood up and held out my hand. His eyes still glistening, he smiled as he reached for my hand and stood. We walked out of the park, past the old woman, both taking a look over our shoulders to take one last look at the person who unknowingly helped us finally to find a way to shed the tears we’d been holding back since we’d heard the news.

********************

I watch them walk past me finally. “About time they left,” I mutter to myself. They think I didn’t notice them. They’ve stared at me from their bench on the other side of the playground for what feels like hours. I should know better than to come to a playground for some privacy, but I figured there would be no one here at this time of day. I don’t like people watching me work. It breaks my concentration and I have to keep re-doing my work. At this rate I’ll never get this sweater finished for my sweet Fiona. Oh, that reminds me. I need to pick up more kitty litter on my way home, and those treats she likes so much. All right, back to work. Knit one, purl one.

 A work of fiction for Writing 101, Day Nine

A Dish Best Served Cold

All bets are off once you sit down at the bar, otherwise known as the place where all good intentions are (temporarily?) abandoned. The taps are lined up in front of you, each handle designed to convince you it’s the right choice for you. Laura, your favorite bartender, is already reaching for a pint glass. What’s a girl to do?

I was already enjoying a post-workout high so I went for it, deciding one beer wouldn’t set me back too far. Besides, I was feeling pretty good about myself and wanted to celebrate. I had secured Willie’s cell phone number. Those elusive seven digits were permanently preserved in my brain but as I sipped by beer I couldn’t help staring at the brand-new contact entry on my phone, still not believing my luck.

Luck had certainly been on my side this afternoon. I had stopped by Hadsock’s office after class to see if he had any suggestions that might help me pass calculus. Apparently I was wrong about when his office hours were because I didn’t find him in his office I did find, however, a list to sign up for tutoring. And that’s when I saw it: Willie’s name and phone number were number five on the list.

I decided my beer needed some type of accompaniment so I indulged once again and ordered a turkey burger with a side of chips and guacamole as I pondered my next move. I knew I didn’t want others making the same mistakes I made. And Willie had already benefited from too many second chances.  I opened the browser on my phone and entered in the search terms that would lead me to just the right venue where Willie’s phone number would soon be broadcast. My food arrived and I ordered a second beer, savoring the satisfaction of sweet revenge.

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge

Evicted

Writing 101, Day Eighteen

Ashley’s always telling me to mind my own business, but that’s probably ‘cause she hates it when I listen in on her phone calls.

“Katie, I can hear you breathing I know it’s you. Hang up now or I’m telling Mom you’re spying on me again.”

Boy would she be surprised if she knew Mom doesn’t care. I think she kind of likes having me as her snitch.

But today I was just sitting there on the porch waiting for the mailman to show up (my birthday’s tomorrow and I just know there’s gotta be some cards coming my way – hopefully with cash or checks in them) when instead of the mailman’s truck I saw a police car pull up across the street. That’s when I noticed there was another car parked in front of Mrs. Pauley’s house. The man in the other car got out, wiping his face with a handkerchief. His face was red and he was dripping in sweat. Guess he didn’t have any air conditioning in his big, fancy car.

He walked over to the police car and started talking to the policeman who was now getting out of his car. He was pointing to Mrs. Pauley’s house but I was too far away to hear much of what he was saying. I walked down to our mailbox – you know, to check the mail.

“You have to do something, Officer,” the man was saying. “She won’t answer the door and I’ve tried everything I can. I don’t want to do this but she hasn’t given me any choice.”

The policeman stood and stared at the house a while before turning back to the man, shaking his head. “Let me see your paperwork. Is this the notice?”

“Yeah, you can see right here it’s all signed and official. I have the right if she’s behind. I haven’t seen a penny in four months.”

The policeman was shuffling the papers in his hands, looking at the house, back at the man, and then back to the house. He took a deep breath and started walking to Mrs. Pauley’s front door, with the man one step behind. “All right,” he said. “Let’s see what we can do.”

He knocked on the door and waited. The man reached around him and started to knock on the door again but the policeman stopped him by pulling his arm down. “Hang on a minute. Give her a chance to get to the door. Just let me do my job and stay out of the way.”

“Fine,” the man grumbled. “Just make sure she does what it says. I need to get my people in here. She’s been here so long I have no idea what kind of shape the place is in.”

“The house is fine. I mean, just look around the yard out here. Seems to me she’s been taking good care of this little house.”

I looked around Mrs. Pauley’s yard to where he was pointing as he spoke. It’s the prettiest yard in our block, probably the whole neighborhood. She’s always out here trimming and tinkering in her yard. Now that I think about it, normally she would be out here this time of day, cutting flowers to put on her table. Hope she’s not sick or something.

Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw someone pass by one of her bedroom windows. I looked back just in time to see the shade go down. Deciding to investigate further, I crouched down so I could avoid being spotted and slipped into the side yard behind some bushes and then I was in the back yard. I stepped onto the back porch and peeked through the kitchen window.

Mrs. Pauley looked perfectly healthy to me. Cheerful, even. Maybe she didn’t hear the knocks on her front door (she is pretty old, after all; maybe she’s gone deaf.) She was setting the table with three place settings. As she walked over to the stove she looked toward the window and spotted me. Busted, I thought. Before I could get off her porch she’d opened her door.

“Come on in Katie. There’s enough for all of us. You may as well come in and join the party, but come in quick before they hear you.” She was whispering as she stood there with the door open, ushering me inside.

“I didn’t mean to snoop, Mrs. Pauley. I was just worried about you and wanted to make sure you were OK. Are you going to let them in? Are those cookies in the oven?” I sat down while she set another place at the table and went back to the oven, pulling out a cookie sheet full of steaming chocolate chip cookies.

“Oh don’t you worry about those men out there, hon. I just need to finish this up here and then I’ll go invite them in.” She looked around the room, sighing. “I suppose I may as well get this over with.”

I followed her out of the kitchen and through the house to the front door. While the kitchen had been bright and cheery, the rest of the house was dark, dreary. The lights were off and there were boxes stacked everywhere.

“Don’t mind the messes, dear. This day has been coming for a while, much as I tried to pretend it never would. I’m afraid I just can’t move as quickly as I used to.”

She stopped at the front door and took a deep breath. They were knocking on the door again as she swung it open.

“Hi Andrew, I knew it would be you.” She was talking to the police officer, a sad smile on her face. She turned to the other man. “Hello Mr. Stephens. Can’t say I’m glad to see you, but I guess this is just the way it had to be.”

As the man and I stared, the policeman stepped through the door, removed his hat, and wrapped his arms around Mrs. Pauley. They stood there like that, hugging, for a long while.

“What is going on here,” the man cried. “Shouldn’t you be escorting her out the house or arresting her or something?”

“Mr. Stephens, I probably should have said something earlier. Mrs. Pauley is my mother. I’m afraid it’s been a long time since I saw her, too long, and I didn’t know how she would feel seeing me at her door again.” He was looking at his mother as he said this, waiting for some kind of sign from her maybe.

“Say what?” asked Mr. Stephens, “Does that mean you’re not going to evict her?”

“That won’t be necessary,” answered Mrs. Pauley. “I’m ready to leave this place. It’s not same without Bill. It took me a while but I finally figured out what I needed to do. I’ve made other arrangements and I’ve got movers coming for some of this furniture and my stuff; I’m donating the rest to Goodwill. ”

She took the policeman’s hands in hers and led him into the kitchen, asking us to follow them.

“Now let’s sit down for some fresh-baked cookies and I’ll get the milk. We’ve got some catching up to do while we wait. Mr. Stephens you’re welcome to join us…you too Katie. There’s plenty. “

She took a gallon of milk out the fridge, set it down at the table and sat down.

“Now, Andrew, tell me. Why haven’t you called or come by in so long? Is this what a mother has to do to get your attention?”

Cancelled

Writing 101, Day Fifteen – Your Voice will Find You

You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart — an annual fair, festival, or conference — will be cancelled forever (or taken over by an evil organization). Write about it. For your twist, read your piece aloud, multiple times. Hone that voice of yours!

I’ve been here nineteen years (this month!) and we have always had one. The second Saturday in December has always been set aside for our company Christmas party without fail. My first couple of years the party was held in our warehouse. There weren’t as many of us then and we (plus our significant others) could fit there with no problems. Just move some equipment aside, bring in some banquet tables, hire a DJ, and we could party all night. Or at least until 11 p.m.

In recent years the party has moved to the country club. The set-up has changed a few times (buffet/sit-down dinner, open bar/cash bar, DJ/employee-made playlists, etc.) but we’ve always had a party. Even during the furlough days when several people did grumble that they would rather have that money back in their paychecks.

Personally, I have looked forward to the party every year. Even when my spouse didn’t want to come with me because he didn’t know anyone, I still went for a little while to make an appearance. When I was going through my divorce and didn’t have someone to bring, I went anyway. Now I’m married to someone who knows almost as many people at the party as I do and we both come and have a fabulous time.

Many companies have done away with the big holiday party. It is not an insignificant expense for my company. It takes a lot of planning and coordinating. I appreciate the effort and cost and see this event as another benefit to working here. This is also when our service awards are given out and we get to clap and cheer for our colleagues who have earned them. Then we sit patiently while we wait to see if we get to go home with one of the many door prizes. (I think I’ve only won once in all these years.)

And then, the lights go down and the party music comes on. The line at the bar grows and the regular crowd (yes, mostly women) hits the dance floor. For many of us, this is the one night a year when we get to dress up, leave the kids at home, have a nice dinner, and dance. I get to pretend I’m forcing my former boss to do the moonwalk when Billie Jean comes on. I can usually count on my husband dancing one slow one with me.

It’s kind of hard to imagine on a week like this one, as the high temperatures and summer humidity bathe us in sweat, that December is coming any time soon but it will still be here before you know it. And I expect that come mid-November my inbox will receive the official email announcing the details for this year’s party. Because they can’t take that away from us now, can they?

The Red Sweater

We sat in the car staring out the window. I had driven us home from what had turned out to be a big mistake. I thought a dinner out among people who didn’t have a care in the world would do us good. Instead we each sat lost in our own thoughts, barely touching our meal. And so now here we are at the park. This could be another mistake, but maybe what we need isn’t to be surrounded by people, but to envelop ourselves in the quiet of the park at night. To reflect and remember and hold each other.

I opened my car door and walk around the car to open hers.  I know she doesn’t want to be here. Too many memories.

“Please? You can do this.” I can see she’s on the verge. For me, it’s been easy — the tears just seem to come out of nowhere sometimes. I can’t hold them back. But she can’t let herself go. She’s being strong when she doesn’t need to.

She steps out and takes my hand without a word. I close the door and start leading her to the park, my eyes already moist with tears.

********************

He took my hand in his as he led me to the park. His grip was tight but comforting and without it I surely would have fallen to my knees in absolute surrender to the sadness welling up in my heart.

“Come on,” he encouraged me. “We’re almost there.”

We walked hand in hand through the mostly deserted park. It was after dusk and so the playground was now empty, the regular crowd of laughing children and watchful mothers already long gone, home for dinner, I suppose.

“Why are you taking us this way? I don’t think I can bear it here right now.” I stalled.

“Trust me. We need to be here,” he answered.

He led me to “our bench” and as we sat down he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. We sat in silence for a long while. I stared at the scene in front of me, not really seeing it but instead remembering a day not so long ago when we brought our children here to let them run and play and use their outside voices as much as they wanted.

I felt him gently nudge my shoulder, bringing me back to the present.

“Look, over there past the swings.”

I turned my head to see what he was referring to. Just behind the swings, on the path we had walked on just minutes earlier, sat an old woman. At first glance I thought she was asleep, she was sitting so still. But as I looked closer I noticed her hands were moving quickly, knitting hooks in hand, and a ball of red yarn on the bench beside her. She was knitting what looked like a child’s sweater. No, this was too small for a child. This sweater was for a baby.

I could no longer contain my tears. I took his hand in both of mine and brought it to my lips.

“Thank you,” I said. “You were right. This is just what I needed.”

We watched for just a few minutes more as she continued with her knitting, unaware of the emotions she had awakened. I stood up and held out my hand. His eyes still glistening, he smiled as he reached for my hand and stood. We walked out of the park, past the old woman, both taking a look over our shoulders to take one last look at the person who unknowingly helped us finally to find a way to shed the tears we’d been holding back since we’d heard the news.

********************

I watched them walk past me finally. “About time they left,” I mutter to myself. They think I didn’t notice them. They’ve stared at me from their bench on the other side of the playground for what feels like hours. I should know better than to come to a playground for some privacy, but I figured there would be no one here at this time of day. I don’t like people watching me work, it breaks my concentration and I have to keep re-doing my work. At this rate I’ll never get this sweater finished for my sweet Fiona. Oh, that reminds me. I need to pick up more kitty litter on my way home and those treats she likes so much. All right, back to work. Knit one, purl one.

 A work of fiction for Writing 101, Day Nine

Just Three Little Words

It was just a short letter; a handwritten note. It wasn’t addressed to me but there it was, a folded piece of paper that I initially assumed was just another piece of trash.

It was moist from that morning‘s rain and as I started to ball it up to throw away three words caught my eye: “don’t do it”. The rest of the message was running off the page but as I tried to make out more words or a name all I could glean was a sense that the writer was making a last, perhaps futile, effort to stop a wedding.

Did the letter reach its intended audience? Did this person immediately disregard it or did it accomplish its mission? Or did the author give up before delivering the message? I will never know, but every once in a while I remember the note and can’t help but wonder.

(A work of fiction for today’s brief writing assignment)