Our Knitting Heroine
Our knitting heroine is a Canadian. This means that she must skate, whether she likes it or not. Let us assume that in this case, the operative word is "not." She is, however, married to Darling, a Newfoundlander, and this means that the offspring of this union must skate, and often, and in inclement weather. Newfoundlanders are a hardy breed, and their only concession to the cold seems to be thrummed mittens. This particular Newfoundlander has yet to put on a hat or do up his coat this winter, despite severe cold. Our heroine only thanks her lucky stars every day that her children are girls, and she is thereby excused from taking them to hockey. (While girls are more than welcome to play hockey, it is still only mandatory for boys. With girls, people ask you if your girls play hockey, not on what team.)
It is Darling's life's work to teach our heroine to skate backward, as he considers this a vital skill. Our heroine does sometimes try to imagine the circumstances under which her life could be saved by skating backward. Thus far, she has not succeeded. Still, because she is eager to be a good mother, she skates, if only frontward and as infrequently as possible.
Let us imagine for a moment, then, that our heroine is going skating, since it is only 15 C. (25 C. with windchill) and therefore "warm."*
Now, what would you do if you had to go somewhere you didn't want to go, in order to do something that you find boring--but that leaves your hands free?
Thank you for your instant understanding. Our heroine packed the bed socks that she's currently working on because they are on 6-millimeter plastic double-pointed needles that aren't likely to freeze to her fingers, as metal needles would.
When her skating party reaches the pond, dependable Darling ties up all their skates and they stand up to head for the ice. Our knitting heroine reaches into her backpack, assembles her knitting, tucks the ball of yarn into her coat pocket, and takes a step, airily acting for all the world like this is perfectly normal.
She glances at Darling and her girls. All four are struck speechless.
"You have got to be kidding me," says Darling, eloquent as always.
"Moth-ERRRR!" say the daughters.
Now, our heroine has faced criticism before. There are those who think her odd. But her love of knitting and lack of time to do it make her uniquely qualified to answer these concerns.
"What?" she asks blandly. She is going to slide this right past them. She is the queen of cool. They don't know what's normal for knitters, after all. Yes, this could be her being weird. It could also be what all knitters do in the winter. It's all a confidence thing.
"That can't be smart!" Darling replies. But he and our heroine have been together a long time, and he knows that she is not easily coerced. She can be tricked, but she can rarely be convinced to detour from her chosen path without a really good reason. Apparently "logic," "good sense," and "an impending sense of doom" are not really good reasons.
"Isn't this kind of like running with scissors?" her eight-year-old chimes, looking concerned; you can see her making a mental note to skate far away from her mother. That's it, kid, bite that hand that feeds you.
Our heroine smiles, brushing off the comment; mere child, what does she know?
Our heroine walks down to the ice. She's not really worried, not being one to cloud the issue with facts and logic. Still . . . this might be another one of those moments that, retroactively, she should have seen coming. Such things do happen. She decides to give the idea a second thought. There: second thought done. Skating and knitting seem a perfectly natural combination. After all, she can walk and knit at the same time, and she's skated enough that she's not likely to fall while knitting. She can knit socks without looking, so she can keep eyes front to avoid skewering people at random.
Furthermore (I'd like to point out that despite what happened later, our heroine did have a "furthermore," an indication that she really had thought this through) if she did fall, she was unlikely to run herself through with plastic 6-millimeter double-pointed needles. Just to make sure, she gives her coat a test poke with the needle.
Reassured that knitting while skating really was an idea whose time had come, she steps gracefully onto the ice and meanders around the edge, knitting away.
Now, with some stories, there is a moment where it all starts to go wrong--a moment when you look at the character and think, "Uh-oh" or "Look out behind you!" or "He's in the basement" or "For God's sake, don't go into the forest!" In this story, that moment is subtle. It is not obvious.
Our heroine reaches into her pocket to pull out another length of yarn.
This is when the ball of yarn falls out of her pocket.
It is acrylic yarn, chunky, white. Which is a shame, because if our heroine had been a huge fan of neon pink, she might still be welcome to go skating.
The aforementioned ball of yarn is on the ice, and our heroine is blithely skating away from it, still knitting merrily along. Darling, who (quite frankly) has just been itching for a reason to be right about knitting and skating, picks it up. Darling trails our heroine, about 15 feet away, holding the yarn aloft and making excellent points about how the yarn has got wet, and he knew something bad would happen, and didn't he tell her that this was a bad idea? Our heroine, chastened, is about to tell him that he is definitely right, and that this disaster could have been averted if only she had listened . . . when they simultaneously spot the trouble.
A small child, skating at the speed of light, is streaking toward the span of yarn that connects our heroine and Darling. Realizing that they are jointly going to clothesline the little sweetie, Darling lowers his end of the yarn, essentially turning the clothesline into a tripwire. (Why he didn't raise it above the kid's head has never been satisfactorily settled.) The kid hits the yarn (white on white, remember?) going about a zillion miles per hour. He falls down and begins a long slide.
Ever watch curling? No? How about bowling?
Our heroine's thirteen-year-old daughter is standing with a gaggle of her preteen friends about 10 feet off, trying to look cool (and succeeding, since they are all too cool to wear hats), oblivious to the child whom our heroine has innocently turned into a projectile.
They never see it coming. (Except for that perfect Brittany . . . how does she do it? All this, and shell-pink lip gloss too.) Helpless, our heroine and Darling watch the six-year-old spin as he slides. To her grave, our heroine will swear that he maneuvered himself so as to knock down as many of the girls as possible. The six-year-old hits the preteens the way a toddler hits the block tower his sister has been working on for the last two hours.
Our heroine and Darling gasp in horror. They rush toward the scene. As they do, our heroine skates to the left of her eleven-year-old and the eleven-year-old's buddy, and Darling goes around on their right. Our heroine is still holding her knitting, and Darling is still holding the ball of yarn. The eleven-year-old, like any child her age, loses interest as soon as she realizes that no one is really hurt, and she turns to skate away.
Little does she know that her loving parents have wrapped her skates in deadly yarn.
Since they have tied her left skate to the ice, she doesn't get too far. As their daughter heads iceward, she grabs her friend's arm, taking her with her.
It is at this point that our heroine realizes that days like this are probably why she isn't taken very seriously at school parent council meetings.
Badly rattled now, Darling and our heroine realize that he must hand her the yarn before they actually strangle someone. He glares at her as she takes the ball. Clearly, he thinks this is all her fault.
They crouch on the ice to tend to various shocked children. Our heroine puts her knitting down on the ice to brush snow off kids and to wave reassuringly at the stunned parents watching from the sidelines. She has to admit that she sympathizes with these parents. From their perspective it must have seemed that their children were thrown to the ground by a viciously wielded invisible force field.
Remarkably, none of the children is hurt. In fact, the projectile six-year-old looks dazzled. His comments cause our heroine to wonder if this episode has given him ideas for some G.I. Joe-style sabotage of his own.
"Was that on purpose?" he asks Darling, who is checking him over.
"No way," says Darling, who would never hurt a fly.
"It was pretty cool," says the six-year-old, and off he skates, clearly trying to figure out how he can do that all over again.
Darling stands and shakes the snow off his clothes. Our heroine can tell that he might be a little upset. It is not often that our heroine's knitting plans end with disaster on this scale. Her mind is racing. In her own defense, she'd like to point out that this is not solely her fault. If the yarn had been wool, not acrylic, it would have snapped long before it could have done that kind of damage; moreover, if it hadn't been white and perfectly camouflaged by the ice, the victims might have stood a chance. She pores over all of this in her mind. How could anyone predict something like this? Pulling herself together, she decides that her best defense is a good offense . . . she is going to point out, that despite the 3-foot height of the juvenile missile, Darling had opted to lower, not raise, the yarn. After all, if he had raised the yarn, none of this would have happened. Our heroine has now been knitting for thirty years, and this is the first time that nine people have been knocked over in under three minutes as a result of her habit. This (she plans to say) was a freak accident, and not anything that you could blame on her, or on knitting. It was an act of God, like a tornado, a flood. It says nothing about combining knitting with skating. If people had given up trying to make planes when the first one didn't fly . . . well, where would humanity be? Finally (she intends to say) innovation and the creative spirit are often unconventional. You have to try new things to stay young. . . .
She is going to tell Darling all this when suddenly he is no longer in front of her. He is down on the ice. He has tried to skate over her knitting, which she has forgotten to pick up.
She picks it up now, and humbly goes to sit in the car.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from KnitLit (too) by Linda Roghaar & Molly Wolf, Editors The Editors of KnitLit: Sweaters and Their S tories. Copyright © 2004 by Edited by Linda Roghaar and Molly Wolf. Excerpted by permission of Potter Craft, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.