From Mary Tabor‘s Intermediate Fiction 103 class comes this modular story from junior Sarah Krouse.
She had knitted a baby blanket for a child that was not her own. In the bottom right corner of her meticulously crafted yarn tapestry was an “L.” She could be a part of this. She bought her 1100 square-foot apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, so that the kids would have room to play, to read, and to sleep in rooms connected to her own. Their own.
He had befriended her goldfish when they returned to her NYU suite after stories, laughs and tequila passed between them in a club too smoky, too trendy to warrant a second visit. The air had smelled like stale autumn as her heels slipped on newspapers mâchéed to the pavement by a phantom Manhattan rain that had managed to dampen the sidewalks without catching their attention. The rain returned as they traced lazy paths along each other’s stomachs and faces in the shelter of her loft bed. No sex, a connection of a different sort.
She thought she might burn the blanket, but why all that wasted work when there were perfectly good, cold babies in the world who could be wrapped in it. She supposed the margin would be narrowed by the L, but still, there had to be a hearty population of Lauras, Larrys, and Lailacs in need of a good blanket. She ran her fingers over the even stitches, the yellow yarn and depressed squares where knits gave way to pearls. Could this gift be given to anyone other than its intended recipient?
It was she who was the caretaker, the older sister with answers. She made the decisions, gave the final approval of the outfit that her mirror image, two years her younger, had selected for the homecoming dance. Rachael was the taxi when Meg first met vodka in her friend’s basement and ended the night apologizing profusely to the holly bush into which she had vomited her shots, pride, and that night’s make out session. Rachael knew what she wanted from the world while Meg maintained that she had no need for a plan.
She had slept with it, hoping to leave in its small knots a trace of herself. She would not be the one this baby truly cried for, needed, and looked to for solace. She had knitted on the train on her way to keep him company as he worked the red-eye shift, only to return home at three, nap until seven and begin her own nine-to-five work day. She swore if she wove herself into his life wherever she fit, she could become part of the fibers, part of the stitches that barely held it together.
The first time he threw the phone across the room, she insisted it had more to do with the stress of a dead mother, an abusive father, an ex-girlfriend, and a first child that was planned as part of a relationship that he had been too young to tend to, than it did with his anger toward her. He didn’t mean it and his wrongly placed anger would not be a problem in their future.
He loved pulled goat over rice and beans and she loved to see him love. They would sit in the overstuffed chairs on the 14th floor of an academic building that was part of a world that belonged to her, while they looked down on the city he was a small part of. He offered stories of Jamaica, lazy, smoke-filled days of reggae and juices too sweet for her tongue, while she shared stories of the Atlantic Ocean, Connecticut, and the family that was perplexed and frustrated by her decision to date a man so different from herself.
Running her fingers over the neat yellow stitches she told herself the same lie that nine months ago had seemed a deep, infallible truth as he ran his own fingers along her breasts and thighs. She had been away. Abroad. Not there. It was fine that he had slept with another.
Around her junior year in college she felt within herself a need. A need that went unsatisfied by lovers who groped desperately instead of feeling and boyfriends who wanted to date instead of apartment hunt. Her life to this point had been about caring for Meg, proof-reading her papers, driving her to work, making excuses for the laundry, dishes, for the reality that Meg ignored. But Meg was away; it had only been a matter of time. She was hiking the mountains of the world, kissing boys with souls darker than their compelling complexions, throwing herself from bridges and airplanes relying on mere ropes and threads to propel her back to safety.
Rachael needed someone, someone to need her in return. It was more than a want; it became a yearning, an obsession. Her body ached to hold another, her mind made room for the routine that would have been carried out by this imaginary child. She woke up in the middle of the night to check on it, bought books to one day read to it. She incorporated that child into her being. Winston was the one she wanted this with.
Jaden’s affection for his father was compelling and overwhelming. Donning matching Brooklyn Industry sweatshirts, the two formed a Freak-the-Mighty tower, Jaden’s braided head bobbing with Winston’s stride. She looked at this and saw what she had made room for in her 1100 square-foot Sunset Park apartment. She held him when Jaden’s mother was granted full custody.
But this new child was not Jaden. It did not come from a relationship that had ended, it did not come from a woman who knew that Winston spent nights in Brooklyn, and it did not come from Rachael. The first nine months his lie held true, but as the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth brought with them the cold truth and the answer to an equation that put infidelity on her watch, she had nothing to do but knit. The Hester Prynne of Sunset Park, she was not ashamed of the “L” corner that draped further over her legs as her blanket grew, marking her the victim of loss, loneliness. She could make room for this child.
Meg was infuriated, ranting to her sister halfway around the world, she was exasperated. “Jesus Christ, hasn’t he ever heard of a condom? Wrap before you tap. Why is this okay with you?” She did not know why it was okay, nor did she know why she unlocked the door for him to return each night after he stormed out leaving behind him a trail of swears and purple smoke.
She wrapped the yellow squares around Beulah; her Gund bear’s arms didn’t reach for her, didn’t wail for her breast milk. She could not keep the blanket.
Winston called begging her to come down from her office skyscraper because he had a surprise. Laila gurgled quietly from a backseat chair into which her daddy had buckled her. Rachael turned on her heels marched through the rotating doors and vomited in the lobby.
Two other women had sweated and pushed out children that were his. Two other women had carried for nine months something that he had given them. Despite her attempts to botch her birth control and ignore condoms, she had not been able to hold him. She had never really been able to have a part of him.
The two months of solitude she had asked him for made her strong. Meg had taken her dancing, they took the train home to apple pick, they allowed their mother to make them 4 o’clock tea and stroke the legs of her most marvelous creations the way she had as their five and seven-year-old bodies drifted to sleep years before.
Now it was morning in her 1100 square-foot Sunset Park apartment that has room for kids that are not her own. She is alone. Dust dances in the rays of sunlight that seep through the slats of her Venetian blinds. The lines of light create a cell in which she lies, knees to chest, clutching close to her heart the knotted truth.