This story is by Timothy Guy and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
As her frail knuckles turned purple, it was clear, she had no intention of letting go. My subconscious told me that fighting an 85-year-old for a cardigan wasn’t okay. Although – it was MY cardigan. I’d specifically chosen the royal purple colour and cable stitch. The distinction between the colour of her knuckles and my cardigan was beginning to blur. She looked like a porcelain doll – like she would shatter into an uncountable number of pieces if she were to topple.
“Can I have my cardigan back please?”
“It’s my cardigan, my new top.”
What the hell! How could she possibly think it was her “new top?” I wanted to grab the cardigan – rip it out of her hands and call her a thief. A distant truth in her eyes held me back. It was like seeing a soft glow through a foggy window.
“Mum, mum! what are you doing? Oh no, not again.”
“It’s my cardigan.”
“No it’s not mum, it belongs to this nice lady, we need to give it back.”
The arrival of the cardigan thief’s daughter was timely and appreciated. She was in her late 50’s, short with dark hair and her words were soft and gentle, showing no indication of waning patience. However, the ghostly grip was not releasing, if anything, it was intensifying. I checked myself for thinking that the best chance of getting my cardigan back was to wait out the week – surely this amount of exertion would bring forth her end!
Her daughter broke my evil daydream, “I’m sorry! mum has a thing for cardigans.”
“You mean – this has happened before?”
“A few times.”
I rocked back on my heels, contemplating what I had just heard.
“Why does she love cardigans?”
“I’ve no idea, I can’t remember ever seeing her with one, maybe something from when she was a kid. I don’t know, but it’s getting out of control.”
Looking back at the 85-year-old, she continued to shield the cardigan, holding it to her breast. Eyes wide and body on high alert – ready to evade any attempt at regathering the top.
“What’s your mum’s name?”
Macy flinched at her name, looking at her daughter, then back to me. Her eyes mostly glazed over with the confusion of Alzheimer’s. It seemed that the cardigan connected her to another time, another world – even if she couldn’t articulate or recognise it. I couldn’t take that from her, I couldn’t leave her with just fog on the glass.
Moving closer in, I looked straight into Macy’s eyes and said, “Macy, it’s ok, I won’t take it from you, you can keep it.”
“My cardigan,” was all I received in reply.
Instead of finishing the walk to my car, I turned and headed back to my own mother’s room. I needed to tell her what had happened to the cardigan she had just spent five months knitting.
Her room was on the opposite side of the home. It was neatly laid out and as homey as possible. A small box of random knitting gear was sprawled across a rustic white bedside table. This and a small amount of leftover royal purple yarn were the only signs of anything but complete order and cleanliness. Mum was at the open window, tending to some flower boxes that hung from the sill. Her back turned to me.
How was I going to tell her that I’d given the cardigan to an Alzheimer’s patient? Should I admit that Macy had snatched it from me as I was on my way out? It was in my possession for all of 10 minutes. Taking mum months to complete.
Turning to face me she let out a startled, “ooh.”
“Mum, I just dropped back in to tell you that an elderly lady in the Alzheimer’s ward absolutely loved your cardigan.” I paused before continuing, trying to gauge mum’s response. Straightening her back and stepping away from the window, she was clearly wary of my words. I continued, “I don’t know what it was, but it really connected with her and I couldn’t bear to take that connection away, so I told her she could keep it.”
Mum’s eyes were wide and burning. Before I could say anything else, she grabbed her walking stick and hobbled out of the room, the word “Macy,” coming from pursed lips as she brushed by me.
“Mum!” I chased after her – “mum what are you doing? you can’t go say something to her.”
“Oh I can, and I will. This is not the first time Macy has stolen someone’s cardigan.”
The hilarity of the situation was hard not to recognise. I held back a laugh of disbelief as I walked next to my mother, who was moving as quickly as she could towards the Alzheimer’s ward.
“Mum, what are you telling me, you’re going to fight an 85-year-old for a cardigan?”
“Why not? – it will be a fair fight, after all, I’m 83.”
“Mum, you can’t fight a woman over a cardigan – just let her have it, it’s just a cardigan!”
Mum’s speed actually became noticeably faster, her feet shuffling double time as she rounded the corner and went bowling into the lounge room of the Alzheimer’s wing. I’d faltered with my words, it was not just a cardigan for mum, it was weeks of hard work and love.
“Macy!! We have had enough of your nonsense.”
Mum was closing in on Macy, who was filling a plastic cup with water at the cooler fountain. She turned to see my mother coming straight for her, and with malice intent.
“Give back my daughter’s cardigan!” Mum’s walking stick was prodding Macy in the shoulder.
Macy made a fatal error – she looked across to the couch, unwillingly giving away the location of the cardigan. The royal purple garment was draped over the brown leather couch. Mum’s walking stick was again on the ground, Macy’s eyes wide and clear – her resolve unquestionable – the cardigan was going nowhere! Mum had a head start, but was not as quick, being overtaken at the last second. Macy had the cardigan. Turning in time to face the impact of the walking stick in her right shoulder – this time, the force was enough to knock her off her feet. Surprised, I noted that she had not shattered on toppling, and still looked in reasonable condition.
“Mum,” I yelled after her. “Mum, what are you doing? It’s ok we can work this out.” I received no response. Mum was consumed in the moment.
“Just give her the cardigan,” Macy’s daughter yelled – losing the patience from her voice. She had heard the commotion whilst fetching her mum a cup of tea. The tea was dropped in haste, the smashed cup gaining no attention. A crowd of elderly residents gathered round. Mum and Macy, in the centre of a gladiator style fight, not to keep one’s life, but for a cardigan!
I was too stunned to act, as were the rest of the crowd. Our roles were now relegated to spectators of this wild saga. Macy gathered herself in an attempt to stand up. The cardigan gripped in her right hand, her left hand slowly attempting to lift her aged frame from the floor. My mother supported her weight with the walking stick, bent down and grabbed an arm of the cardigan. Macy tightened her grip, but, her left hand slipped. And in the moment it took her to fall back, she let loose the cardigan. Mum recoiled in victory, the cardigan in hand.
A look of triumphant joy almost instantly turned to one of shame and horror. We all stood and watched as Mum reached down, grabbing Macy by the hand and helped her to her feet.
“I’m sorry Macy – I’m sorry for trying to take your cardigan, here, please! have it back.”
I followed after my mother as she made her way back to her room. I was perplexed as to how things had ended. Once alongside her, I gently touched her arm and she turned to face me.
“Mum, what happened, why did you give Macy the cardigan? – I thought you might kill the poor woman for it.”
“I saw in her eyes a desperate fire and life as she held the cardigan, there was something alive. As soon as I had it in my hands – the fire disappeared and all I could see was fog.”