Category Archives: In the Company of Cloth

notes from a quilter, collage artist, fabric collector

Fiction: Pandemic Day 70 or so

“I’ll take it!” she says smoothing her skirt, meaning all of it: the dispensations of season, the failures of faith and even the fear crashing through the pores. She sips her first cup of coffee as if it were a usual day in a usual spring when it was anything but.

The body bags, faux and real, pile up — some in the basements of overwhelmed funeral homes, yesterday on the steps of City Halls all over the country, overseen by a sober enactor wearing the black robes of the Grim Reaper, holding the scythe at this side, a symbol we all understand.

The refrigerator trucks on Long Island and Manhattan may be fewer now, but the peripatetic Reaper still makes his rounds. You want to read The Plague, you don’t want to read The Plague. You want to know how many the Black Death killed. You don’t want to know how many.

What you really want is to sink into a silence so vast it encompasses all, not just the tectonic plates of our Republic colliding, shattering, heaving up obstructive mountain ranges that dwarf the Rockies, but also galaxies minding their own sparkling business and tree toads calling out the melodies of spring, impervious to our need.

She smooths her skirt, examining her calves, shaved at last, as sure a sign of spring as any.

The TV goes on. The TV goes off. Sometimes the mere introduction of the pundits is enough to make her click and run. Outdoors offers its usual blessings — sun drops vigorous in their social bunching, ferns already unfurled and waving, Solomon’s Seal arching in the shade and dimpling the shadows with their delicate white bells.

But it, the outdoors, offers risk as well. That fucking 20-something female jogger you swore you would yell at or trip but did neither this morning. Even at just 4 1/2 feet away, the jogger didn’t notice your hot glare and how could she, head downturned, scrolling at her phone with one finger, earbuds in. Need I say more?

The morning sun offers its own rewards, especially after a dank and dreary March and a freezing April, months when the weather seemed determined to conspire with the catastrophes of contagion.

She glances heavenward at the rust colored leaves of the 250 year old beech. How lovely the contrast with the maple! As if Nature planned it for her pleasure. Nature planned what? Surely a virulent virus is within Nature’s purview as well? If only the ancient beech could speak to her in a way she could understand — more deeply, that is, than the beauty on offer for any and all to see.

The stories pile up with the bodies. Children’s blood pressure tanking, their little bodies on the verge of heart failure. Fathers dying alone. Sisters, cousins, wives grieving somewhere else.

“There’s no wishing our way out of this one,” she thinks, but what the powers that be do collides so violently with reality it might as well be wishing. “We wish it was over. We wish it was safe to ride on busses and trains again.We wish putting bacon on your plate didn’t require human sacrifice.” So much wishing! It’s nearly a surprise that they don’t attend press briefings wearing pink boas and rainbow glitter.

How is it that wishing gains the traction and force of an avalanche, the weight of an anvil?

If only we were six, she couldn’t help but snicker, watching the cliff fall out from under Wile E. Coyote, knowing he’d spring back to life in the next frame to find yet another way for his idiocy to get him killed. How contained that idiocy was! So without the power to harm a single hair on a single head of a single child mesmerized and laughing in front of the screen. Unlike now, when idiocy lurks and thieves and coalesces and twists itself into tornadic destructive power.

Spring reminds us of the uses of patience, the thrall of cycles, of elements whose duration outlasts our simple, narrow lives. Like that exalted beech tree, here before Emancipation, here during the Spanish flu and the Great Depression and Vietnam — stalwart, soaking up sunlight, season in and season out.

Is that second, necessary cup of coffee ready at last? When she stands, she steps into her own shadow. Inside, a stay-at-home husband discusses pressure. How to ramp it up, how to release it, how to apply its force to productivity. Who knew engineers spoke in such a sexy jargon?

Lessons are all around, she thinks, as the dog looks at her with his liquid eyes of need, wanting her to yet again fling treats around the backyard and command, “Find it!”

***

The prompt from Thursday class teacher was the following poem.

Day 65, Crosses, and Thomas Cromwell

Digital collages made this week with CROSS motif. Day 65

Reading second Mantel book in Wolf Hall series. Thank you Joanne for the reminder. Hilary Mantel is among my top ten, maybe even top five, writers alive. Colum McCann is another. I’d have to think about who else.

These days TV feels like a slog and sewing does too. So how great to be filling my head with absolutely incredible historic fiction.

These collages have extra impact if you know the sources — kind of how fabric provenance can lend energy to cloth work.

The pentangle you may recognize as the wooden box my sister used to keep her Tarot cards in. The favorite ones. The small hanging quilt was made in Assisi and was photographed there. The punched tin was photographed at the Cathedral of San Rufino, also Assisi. I think you confess your sins through it.

The open doorway is lost to me for now but the cross visible on the lower right and the nearby brick wall are in Charleston, right across from St. Philip’s Church. That structure and some of the graves were there in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s day.

Going to consult with a friend about her garden. She wants to pay me. I’m a little wary of my commitment reflex right now, especially with us on the verge of a major backyard renovation. I kinda want to do it, though.

Two scenes from Coronavirus Life:

  • Neighbors held a Bat Mitzvah on the front lawn just down the street. When K passed, the girl was reading her Torah portion behind a six foot table — the kind you set up for a yard sale.
  • I cut K’s hair today and did a fine job. Better than adequate. I was nervous because his hair is very fine. Mistakes show. I can’t tell you how many times he’s come home with a botch job from the barber’s. “It’s great,” says K. “You did a really great job!”

Monday walking the dog

Here are few characters Finn and I met up with this morning.

Don’t ask why, but every once in a while I like to walk a stretch of Route 9. During a normal season, I let the roar of traffic pass through me and it is somehow energizing. Today, of course, there were very few cars.

Happy Monday all! Already had a busy busy few hours in spite of a terrible night’s sleep, so now I’ll sit for awhile with some breakfast and a notebook.

(Speaking of notebooks, I rounded up the pages from the time period I was vested with my sister’s care. There is some thought that pulling out things I wrote about her and the situation and assembling them might bring more closure. For now, I’m just gonna look at the notebooks).

Calling empathy. Calling hope.

A zoom convocation last night. One spoke for terror. One brought in empathy — especially concerning the coming famines. Gratitude. Gratitude always comes in. Another addressed hope. I mentioned unspeakable beauty, the fleeting exchanges between light and shadows as one example.

This morning I went to the basement in search of sleeves for my robe and found so many significant sections of patchwork that I fled back upstairs, my head exploding. Maybe it will remain a vest, after all.

Snow and no

Maybe I started dividing the perennials too soon? Woke to a snow squall and even now at 2:20, it’s sticking.

Cookie dough on trays and the oven won’t heat up. It’s been a little funky for weeks, but totally dysfunctional now.

And, I have four masks left to make. The threads will not stop breaking. Break. Break. Break.

Worst perhaps of all — we ran out of coffee this morning. My peapod order last week didn’t deliver it. Who knows if the order next week will. So I ordered directly from a Peet’s website. Six days ago.

It’s probably a good day for sleep.

Tomorrow makes 30

Thirty days contained. Completely home bound except for yard work, dog walks, one take-out ice cream jaunt and one produce pick-up in the Fenway. Groceries are coming on Saturday. I am absurdly excited about the delivery, measuring time in half and quarter onions.

In this house, Ocean Deep Freeze is underway.

There were two real missions called Ocean Deep Freeze. My father, an electrical engineer, was recruited to join one of them. They were mapping expeditions of Antarctica.

My Ocean Deep Freeze is more domestic. It involves a steely commitment to use up or chuck the food in the two freezers in this house. Think: Marie Kondo on ice.

In the “use and consume” category, find precooked shrimp and peas (above). Made with a jarred curry sauce, this tasty dish really belongs in the Pantry (Pandemic) Cooking File because, with the exception of the fresh cilantro, all the ingredients are canned goods, frozen foods, or root vegetables.

In the “give up and chuck it” category went the three boxes of spinach soufflé and single bag of fake “crab meat” that came out of my sister’s freezer right about this time last year. Holding onto a frozen food for a year that never was appealing to begin with is long enough, right? Even in this time of supply chain anxiety?

Seeing those boxes of spinach triggered memories of last year. Right about this time in 2019, I was scrambling to sell or stow my sister’s things and about to climb onto a plane to Italy. It’s long ago and worlds away last April, isn’t it?

Imagine that! Walking the carpeted tunnel to an airplane with only a sense of adventure on my face — no mask, no anxiety.

Writing has seemed more essential than ever since hunkering down. It’s always good to put impressions down, but there’s a heightened sense about it now. We’ll want to look back and remember.

I keep thinking I’ll post some of those scrawls but each page feels so full and then the afternoons and mornings around those pages also feel so full, that it gets exhausting to contemplate. How can a life so stripped down feel so very full?

Monday, Day 26

The sun is out and the blue bells show their dainty heads. Supposed to get up into the 60’s today. Are we ever ready!
I am committed to making 24 more masks. I’ve made 20 and am getting faster but I was kinda done ten masks ago. Now a friend wants to buy 9. I don’t want to sell them to her, she’s a good friend, so now what? I’d refer her to another friend who IS selling them, but at $22 / mask?

If that is the day’s top dilemma, I’ll count myself lucky.