It began, probably, as most projects do: to fill a space.
We had plenty of it.
Him, me, a bare breezeblock house, a hill, a field, a future. Between us we almost didn’t fill the bed (he was small, I was close, he complained, I ignored).
He took charge of the large stuff. A hand-me-down fridge, its warm metal spine useful for drying socks. A brand-new oven with gas canister outside, curly pipe attached. A flatpack desk assembled postmodern style, entirely asymmetrical. A toilet basin from nextdoor. He fixed the hammock to the rafters and de-iced the freezer with a hammer. He put up shelves and a phone antenna. On Sundays we’d hear the distant crackling of their voices, chat inanely about football and culinary achievements. He got rid of the mice (most). He bought us a motorbike.
New domestic post-feminist me took care of the small. A garlic press. A spatula. A tea strainer. A cotton sheet. You could see the fleshy mattress beneath the creases where it stretched, unwillingly, from top to tail. We fought, the sheet and me, and in the dark I’d feel its creeping victory wind its way up my naked leg. The mornings were cold and we’d boil water for coffee in the small coffee pot. When he left up the hill I’d boil water for bathing in the big cauldron pot. He didn’t like the wasted gas. I didn’t like the icy trickle of our water on tap. Through the lattice wall holes filled with finite spiders’ webs I’d see cows in early haze and feel the steam rise.
The days were long and often empty compared to city living he no longer loved. I read and watched and listened, the silence disquieting in its persistence. He’d come at midday, late sometimes, and we’d eat at our red square kitchen table. Black beans, maybe, with rice and boiled bananas. Sometimes a pork chop if he’d brought one home. He’d sit on the hammock and I’d have the white plastic chair, the table squeezed between us. He’d sway while I’d squirm, a pinch of skin caught in the crack running through the bottom. Between us, the edges of the table drooped like leaves of a potplant long not watered. Spoons and pens would drop off its splintering disintegrating sides. Lunch in motion, we’d say. Fast food eaten slowly. ‘What we need,’ I said, ‘is a tablecloth. You know, to keep things put’. ‘What we need,’ he teased, ‘is for you to hush your beak. You know, for things to stay put’.
I dreamt of lace patterns and twiddling thumbs (I didn’t. I dreamt of good sex and home). Filled with imaginary plans I pictured the tablecloth I’d make: a swirling doily off-white type that would cover the scratches and scrapes. And that was just the start. A throw for our plastic chair. A mat for our bedside cabinet. A set of curtains for our slatted metal shutters. Domestic romantic bliss. A baroque thrust to adorn. A gothic need to spiral upwards, outwards. Our next lengthy trip to the city took us to a craft shop where I talked briefly to a lady obscured by swathes of pink ribbons. Crochet, she said, is best. I left with two spools of cream and coral thread, a crochet magazine for beginners, a slim golden double-edged hook. The silent ‘t’ rang in my head. Crochet.
Chain one. We got off on a bad stitch, to tell the truth. The idea was overly ambitious; the movements illustrated on the page stayed static, that leap to reality proving too much. The maze of rounded arrows made things worse. Like deciphering the symbols of some occidental script I’d stare at the stitching codes, searching for clues in their meaning and understanding nothing beyond the fact that I didn’t understand. Mistake and mistake I’d go back and back and chain one for the thousandth time. Chain one. Half double crochet. At nightfall the moths and locusts and mosquitos would fly in the slit between the walls and the roof, circling the naked bulb furiously. We’d lie in bed, watching the circus of flying insects parade across the room. ‘Enjoy’, he’d say, ‘it’s a spectacle of nature’, and I’d mumble crossly with slipstitch and fine cotton.
Working the same slim strip over and over, the rest of the discarded loom gathered dust and dirt and tangles on the floor. Chain one. Double crochet. Chain one. Undo. At ten we’d watch our soap and the news on the only channel of our broken tv, before he’d stroke my hair and we’d bicker about whose turn it was to get out of bed and face the cold and switch off the overhanging bulb. Eventually resolved, our bug-eyed show would finish and the creatures would disappear in search of more warmth and more light elsewhere. He’d sink to sleep and I’d drift to the sound of his breathing. Slowly slowly sleep would come to me too through rehearsal of undoing knots, like counting sheep backwards. A production of nothing. Unchain one, dedouble crochet, back and back to the beginning.
Morning and coffee and secret warm wash and I’d pick the disembodied wings from my messy chain of loops, abandoned bedside the night before. The process was fiddly and frustrating but distracting from the prying eyes that scanned our windows and the heavy sighs that broke the quiet. I’d tell Eugenia nextdoor, upbank what I was doing. Chain one, triple crochet, chain three. She’d smile and nod and not say much as she platted and unplatted her thick greyblack strands of mountain hair. I had made, at least, a circle of sorts (though a circle of sorts isn’t really one at all). Eugenia was different from the women who lived up the hill. Eugenia was accepting of foreign eccentricities, frank in her curiosities and asked when I’d give my husband a child. I don’t know, I’d say. I don’t know but I know not now. She’d smile and nod and sip sweet coffee.
Chain three, triple crochet, slipstitch. The size and smell of a fifty-pence piece, my circle was proof I could create, if not life, then something to occupy my hands. Meanwhile, the women in the village would scan my torso expectantly, chattering at the sign of weight gain or loose clothing. Crochet does not a woman make, their looks would say. Try booties or baby caps to bring veracity to your home. Whispering as I walked by, the boldest piping up. Pregnant yet? He’ll start to look around. Laughter. It didn’t matter to me, not really, apart from feeling alone. He seemed not to mind. Diplomatically, diplodocusly, he’d tell me he didn’t mind. ‘I was born to be a child, not to be a father’, he’d tell me at the red square table between hammock and chair, swinging slightly towards his plate. Triple crochet, chain one, triple crochet. Triple crochet, chain one, triple crochet. Triple crochet, chain one, triple crochet.
I ended up with four circles. Four fluffy, dusty circles, half faded in the sunlight, each slightly more precise than the last. Four circles that took six months. Four circles that took a fraction of the yards of yarn I’d bought. Four circles that took one eighth of what it took us. Four. Carefully, I joined them with a fragile cotton cross, pulling the strands together one by one. Slipstitch, slipstitch, slipstitch, chain five. Pulling the circles together to make a sort-of square. It wasn’t a tablecloth or anywhere near, but it did sit quite nicely as a centerpiece on the red square kitchen table. A small space filled, the apex of furniture curvature covered. He admired it, the scrappiness, the homemadeness, the childish charm of it all. You can keep adding to it, he said, it’ll do for the whole crooked table one day.
But it didn’t. I didn’t. It stayed like it was and we stayed like we began. Slip knot. Chain one. Unhook. Unchain. A loose thread. Chain one. A dropped stitch. Chain one.
It lay forgotten, in the end, untouched in dust for a long while as we rowed. It seemed pointless to pick up something so pathetic, so tangled and dirty that once meant future. Sometimes, in the witching hours, my mind would wander over to the pile of thread now pressed between books piling up on the tabletop. Something pre-fabricated that remained unfinished had a particularly poignant feel about it; bittersweet more bitter than sweet. And yet. And yet with time somehow it grew of its own accord. A medley of tomato-sauced stains spotted its pale salmon shades; strands of dried matter clung to its holes; moments of lunch and laughter stuck to the edges. It moved with us, against the odds, losing shape but growing in form, eventually becoming one thing of many incomplete. Alongside: a half-done mirror mosaic that fragmented the hills at back; songs started in the black nights of the blackout with no last cadence; words that clustered and retreated before revealing concrete intent. Spaces alluded to we didn’t yet know. And so. And so it stretches still, potential of what might be. And so. And so we grasp at darkness, fingers woven and palms clasped.