Settling into my seat in the craft room, I make a green patch first. It’s taken from an old cushion that I don’t need anymore. Green like my eyes that people used to tell me were identical to my mother's. As I stitch, my mind drifts 18 years back in time to when she first taught me to sew.
“Like this darling, see?” my mother, Lily, asked, and I watched closely as she showed me how to stitch patchwork squares, my eyes lit up with eagerness. I was six years old and she was teaching me how to tailor patchwork quilts. She adored making them to use around the house, to give as gifts, and even sometimes to sell. This wasn’t the first time that she had ushered me into the craft room and locked the door behind us, leaving daddy downstairs in one of his moods, shouting, slurring, and throwing things. The noises were somewhat frightening, but we tried to ignore them and focus on the patchwork. Mum said everything would be ok if we just keep on adding to the quilt.
I jumped and shuddered in response to a loud bang from downstairs. Mum took my hand reassuringly.
“Let’s make a special quilt just for me and you,” she suggested, "a blanket that will keep you safe." I nodded. I liked the sound of that.
“Which colour would you like first?” she asked, and I pointed excitedly to a pink floral fabric on the desk.
I still have some of that fabric left. I take a square now and add it to the quilt; a reminder of where it all began. That patchwork quilt that we started to sew together 18 years ago is the same one that I’m working on now. Although I’ve since moved out of that house and I rarely see my father anymore, it grants me a sense of comfort. When I was just a child my mother had told me that this blanket would keep me safe, and I suppose some part of me still believes that even though I know it's silly. And so, whenever I feel scared or alone or anxious, I come here, to my new craft room, I lock the door out of habit, and I keep on adding to the quilt. I go through phases where I don’t feel the need to do it for months, and others where I am adding to it almost daily. Of course, 18 years on, that quilt is getting huge, taking up a large portion of the tiny room. I guess some part of me thinks that if I keep it going for long enough, my mother will come back.
I was nine years old when she ran away. I got home from school and she just wasn’t there. Daddy was in one of his awful moods. I could smell the beer on him and hear his yelling the moment I walked through the door. Not that I knew what beer smelt like – I just knew that that odour meant I should hide in the craft room. I sprinted there as quickly as my little legs would allow, relieved to find the door unlocked, and then immediately saddened to see that my mother wasn’t there. I settled into the chair and began adding a blue wool patch made from one of mum’s old jumpers to the quilt, assuming that she would join me soon. I sewed until long after daddy’s noises stopped, until I fell asleep in the chair, shielded by the quilt which was now a full metre longer.
I find that blue patch on the quilt now, smoothing the wool with my fingers. I even sniff it to see if it still smells like mum. It doesn’t. I don’t have any of the original jumper left, but I do have an old navy sweater of my own that I can make a patch from. It’s somewhat threadbare and worn, but I want to use it anyway. I’ve been feeling the need to add to the quilt more often recently, but I’m not sure why. When I first moved to my new house I added to it a lot, until I settled in and realised that my new home is safer than my old one. Whenever I would go past that old house or see or hear from my father, I would come home and add to the quilt. Often, I would think about my mother and feel a sadness that drove me to this room, to the quilt.
I can’t sew forever, of course. I have plenty to keep me busy. I work as a legal secretary from 9-5, down at the courthouse. I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about it, but I have friendly co-workers and it allows me to make enough money. Mornings are usually spent at the local bakery where my mother used to take me, with a chai latte, a newspaper, and whatever breakfast treat I fancy that day. In my free time, I sew. Since I began that first patchwork quilt I have made many, but I haven't kept a single one. I used to give them away as gifts like my mother did until I came up with a better idea. Now I sell them and donate the profit to a charity that supports victims of domestic abuse.
I struggle to admit it to myself, but there is a part of me that thinks that working with this charity may be what brings my mother back into my life. In any case, it's a good thing to do. However, due to the charity angle, I feel guilty when I'm not making new quilts, so sewing takes up a lot of my weekends and evenings, along with craft stalls and markets. There are charity events, too, where I am sometimes invited to attend and enjoy, or speak about my quilts and the good that they have done.
On some level, I suppose I always knew that the reason why we hid from my father was that he could get violent when he was in one of his moods. I only realised later in life that 'in one of his moods' meant drunk. He has never been violent towards me, although I grew more terrified of that possibility after my mother left. When she was there I always sort of felt safe. After she left, all I had to protect myself was the quilt. Some say that she did a terrible thing leaving her daughter in the house with such a violent man, but I don't hold it against her. As a young child, I grew so used to seeing her covered in cuts and bruises that I just didn't question it anymore. Maybe the only time that she could get away was whilst I was at school. Maybe she meant to come back for me. Maybe she still will.
Tomorrow is Sunday, which is market day, so I leave the quilt alone after the navy patch and get an early night. I still wake up late, leaving no time to visit the bakery. I pack up a selection of quilts and hit the road. It’s a brisk morning and I regret not leaving time to grab a hot beverage, but fortunately my market neighbour Caitlyn has my back.
“Chai latte?” she offers, wandering over and holding out the disposable cup as I dump my bags of quilts on the ground.
“You’re the best” I reply, taking it from her gratefully. Caitlyn and I have had neighbouring market stalls for about eight months now and it’s always lovely to catch up with her as we set up and whittle the time away with pointless chatter on quiet days.
"I think it's amazing," she tells me, and I peer at her, trying to figure out what she means "it's 6 am, it's freezing cold, and you're still here raising money for charity." I just smile at her. Mine is one of only a few stalls that are not-for-profit. No one knows why I do it, not at the markets or at work, or even at charity events, although the charity often asks. I just tell them it’s an important cause, which is one version of the truth.
It’s a busy day and I sell a lot of quilts. Maybe people are drawn to them because of the wintery weather. I always feel good after a successful market day, and I know that I must head home to make more. I don’t need to add to my safety quilt today. It’s been a good day.
My good day turns into a wonderful week, and my wonderful week turns into a marvelous month. In fact, my huge patchwork quilt gathers dust on the floor of the craft room for a good six months as I focus on other things. A wonderful winter leads to a splendid spring, which slowly transforms into summer.
The sun often puts a smile on my face, so I wake up feeling that it’s going to be a good day. I leave plenty of time to visit the bakery before the markets. It’s a scorcher so no chai latte today – instead I take an iced coffee to sip as I read the newspaper, making a mental note to get one for Caitlyn on my way out.
As I flip the black and white pages, brimming with both harrowing and happy news stories, one catches my eye, making my breath catch in my throat. Ex-local resident, Lily Campbell aged 42, drowned in Lake Woodleigh. I try to read the rest, but my brain has become incapacitated. There are only two things I can take away from the article: first, my mother had returned to the area, possibly to find me. Second, my mother is dead.
I don’t know what to do. I get up and leave without finishing my coffee. I don’t go to the markets today; instead, I go straight home. I walk directly to the craft room, trying to hold back the tears that are pushing through as the news sinks in. I lock the door behind me, settle into my chair, and pick up my patchwork quilt. My mother told me that this quilt would keep me safe, but she didn’t say how big I must make it first. And so, I keep sewing, and the quilt grows and grows, taking over the floor, the desk, the window ledge. Still, I don’t feel safe, so I keep on adding patchwork squares, until it fills the room around me, smothering me, and still, I keep on stitching.
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Oh this story is so heartbreaking but so beautiful at the same time. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, I'm glad that you enjoyed it.