Mr. Gregson shuffled into the window-lit house. Yellow walls reflected light around the kitchen where he set down his duffle bag. He paused, breathing in the still and familiar air. His fingers rubbed at his shadowed eyes.
It had been a long week.
Crumpled blankets and pillows lay strewn across the living room floor. On the coffee table, an open sleeve of cookies sat next to two water glasses. A picture frame lay on the carpet where it had fallen a few days before. A pile of assorted yarn sat on the kitchen table.
Feeling slightly dizzy, he forced himself to move. Tea might help. His shoes scuffed the cold wooden boards as he filled a kettle with water. His hands shook—something they hadn’t stopped doing for a week now.
He stirred a spoonful of honey into his tea, dull dings from metal against porcelain barely breaking the deafening silence. Mr. Gregson lowered himself onto one of the wooden chairs at the kitchen table. It creaked beneath him as he set his cup down beside a skein of purple yarn.
Reaching forward, he picked up the ball of yarn and brought it to his face. He breathed in its familiar scent—it smelled like her—like fresh picked lavender. Marie had always loved her lavender.
The tea chilled slowly in the cup, untouched as Mr. Gregson wept into the ball of yarn.
As the sun set, the yellow walls had nothing left to reflect around the room. The grandfather clock chimed seven times, startling the now silent old man. Mr. Gregson put the yarn down and pushed himself up using the table’s edge.
He dumped his cold tea down the sink, changed into his pajamas, and crawled into bed. Before flicking off the lamp, he smoothed his hand across the blanket to his right, where nothing but a cold empty space greeted him. Empty of tears and exhausted from his week of sleeping in the hospital, Mr. Gregson fell asleep feeling truly alone for the first time in forty-five years.
The next morning, Mr. Gregson rose with the sun. Sunlight warmed him through the open curtains—he’d have to remember to close them now.
His arm instinctively reached to the other side of the bed.
A dull ache stole the air from his chest.
They had to make funeral plans today, but he didn’t feel up to it. He thought about just telling the kids to make plans without him, but knew he’d regret it later. He wanted to make sure it was special for her—for his Marie.
Struggling into a blue sweater that his wife had knitted for him the year before, Mr. Gregson hobbled to the kitchen. His hand kneaded at a sore back, and stiff muscles reminded him of the hard hospital chair that had been his companion for days.
As he entered the kitchen area, the old man froze. His youngest granddaughter, Molly, sat in front of the pile of yarn, wearing a similar sweater.
At the sight of her grandfather, the teenager smiled. “Hi, Gramps.”
Her red hair hung in a crumpled mess around her shoulders—a finger-brush-through kind of day. The foundation she had bought that summer didn’t quite match her hands or neck, but as always, her eyeliner was drawn on in perfect little wings.
“I couldn’t sleep and figured I’d just come over early. Mom said I could,” she explained. “I made you some tea.” She lifted a cup from behind the pile of yarn and held it out to her grandfather.
On any other day, Mr. Gregson would have told her she needed to be more careful. He didn’t like his seventeen-year-old granddaughter driving alone in the snow. But the thought didn’t seem to cross his mind today.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” he said, taking the dainty, white teacup. He sat down and took a sip. “Nice sweater.”
“Right back at you.” She reached out and traced her fingers along the yarn. “Was this the yarn for this year’s sweaters?”
“Sure was. She’d just started on this one, you see.” He gently picked up the yarn he’d grieved over the night before. “Lovely color purple, isn’t it?”
“Gorgeous. I’m honestly not sure what I’ll do without—” she stopped, choking on the words. She looked past him at the messy living room and continued, “Well, without another sweater from Grandma.” She lifted the tea to her lips and took a long sip, like it was the only thing in the world able to hold back tears.
“Well, you have a lot of them.” He forced himself to laugh. He knew if one of them started crying, neither of them would stop any time soon. Molly wasn’t like her older sister, Shirley, who could always maintain her composure. He tapped the handle of his teacup and looked from her to the pile of yarn. “Which one’s your favorite—of the ones she made ya?” he asked.
Molly pressed her fingers to her lips for a moment before responding. “Probably the one she made me in third grade—the red one with yellow letters. I was so obsessed with Winnie-the-Pooh.” She stood up and walked over to the living room. Busying herself, Molly picked up the pillows from the floor.
“Oh, yeah. She was real proud of that one,” Mr. Gregson said. He glanced over at the mess in the living room, then immediately looked away. “You wore that everywhere. She had to take it away from you when summer came around.”
Molly laughed. “I wanted to wear it as a cover up to the pool.” She picked up the picture frame from the floor. After fixing the crooked side table, she placed the picture frame back on it. It was a picture of her grandparents on their wedding day. “What was your favorite?”
Without hesitation, he said, “The rainbow sweater.”
“Which one was that?” she asked.
“She made it for me long before any of you kids were born. She also made me promise to never wear it in front of her.” He chuckled lightly as he shuffled into the kitchen. “More tea?” He raised her empty teacup.
“Yes, please.” After folding a blanket, she laid it across the back of the couch. Everything was back to the way it was before the heart attack. “Why couldn’t you wear it?” She picked up two empty water glasses from the coffee table and placed them in the sink.
“Well, when your grandma and I got married, money was tight. We had a little apartment and bought lots of our food on clearance.”
“Food on clearance?” Molly asked as she leaned against the counter, reaching for her teacup.
“Yes ma’am, back then, you could get your food cheaper if it were just past the expiration date,” he said.
“Interesting.” Suddenly, Molly jerked back from the tea that had barely touched her lips. “Hot. Hot.”
Her grandfather chuckled.
“Your grandma had already started the tradition of making sweaters for me every year—she had started that while we were dating. We were about your age.” He reached over and nudged her.
When she laughed, he smiled and went on with his story. “I had four already, and I thought that was plenty. So, with money being tight, I didn’t even mention a new sweater.”
He stirred a spoonful of honey into his tea, then slid the honey jar across the counter to her.
“Why was money so tight back then?” she asked.
“We both worked full-time jobs but could barely make ends meet. She worked at the restaurant below our apartment until almost ten o’clock every night, and I’d go to work at five o’clock the next morning.” The two made their way back to the table. Mr. Gregson used the table’s edge to ease himself down into the wooden chair. Molly held out a hand to help, but Mr. Gregson waved her away. “We usually didn’t see each other, except for a few hours on our lunch breaks when I’d stop by the diner.”
His granddaughter rested her chin on her hand and waited.
“Well, come to find out, she actually got off at nine and would spend that last hour every night knitting me a sweater. But, you see, she didn’t want to buy yarn when we needed the money for other things; so she took her own sweaters and unraveled them. She used that yarn to make one for me.” He could imagine Marie knitting away in the dim apartment, being careful not to disturb his sleep.
“Aw, that’s so sweet! But why wouldn’t she let you wear it?”
“As you know, I was quite a bit taller that your grandma, and because of that, she ended up using two of her sweaters, a scarf, and a knitted hat that had been left behind at the restaurant to make me that sweater. The yarn was all different colors and sizes, and she hated how it turned out.” Mr. Gregson looked fondly at the pile of colorful yarn on the table.
He felt the lump in his throat begin to grow, but he choked it down with another sip.
“When she gave it to me, I about melted. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe she’d made time to knit me another one. She was always so worn out with work.” He walked back over to the table and picked up a ball of yarn, pressing it to his lips. He closed his eyes. “That night, she thought I didn’t say anything cause I hated it.” A tear escaped and ran down his cheek into the yarn.
Similar tears streaked down Molly’s chin into the neck of her sweater.
“She tried to take it back and say that she was sorry, but I just gave her a big kiss. I told her how much it meant to me—how much I loved her. Yet, despite how much I loved that ugly sweater—I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty ugly—” he chuckled, “she would never let me wear it.”
“Do you still have it?”
“I do. Hold on.” He set down the yarn and shuffled faster than Molly had seen her grandfather move in a long time. He traced his hands along the walls of the hallway as he went.
Mr. Gregson returned to the kitchen and with trembling hands laid the sweater on the table. Molly silently ran her fingers across the threads until a sob broke from her. Mr. Gregson inched closer and wrapped his arms around his granddaughter. She turned toward him and cried into his chest. Tears ran down his face and his body shook more than it usually did. His chest felt hollow and like someone was choking him. The silence was broken only by deep gasps for air.
After a few minutes, Molly swallowed down her pain and looked up at him. “What if—” she sniffed and took a few quick breaths, “what if we all wore our favorite sweaters to the funeral?”
He knew exactly which one he would choose. “I’d like that a lot.” He nodded. “I think she’d like that too.”
A week later, Mr. Gregson woke up alone in his bed. It was time—time to say his last goodbyes—but he knew he would have to say goodbye to her every morning for the rest of his life.
Mr. Gregson combed what little hair he had left and washed his face with cold water. He put on his dress pants, an undershirt, and then, gently pulled the rainbow sweater from a drawer. He struggled to slip it over his head, but eventually wiggled his arms into the sleeves. He looked at himself in the mirror.
“Anyone would think it’s the ugliest sweater they’d ever seen,” he said to Marie—even though she wasn’t there. “But I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever worn.” He patted the empty spot on the bed and made his way to the front door.