This story is by Susan J Liddle and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
From inside my cocoon I can just see the outline of the picture of Mandy and Joe with the babies.
I can’t make out the details, but I know the picture by heart. My daughter, exhausted, euphoric from giving birth to twins. Joe, teary, grinning, his arm stretched out to take a group selfie. And the babies, wrapped in their parents’ arms, so new with their little old man heads and tiny translucent fingers.
My heart hurts all the time, except when I forget. Then when memory sweeps back, it’s worse than before.
I’ve been alone with this heartbreak since I got the call two months ago.
I had answered quickly, expecting Joe’s voice to tell me they were all home from the hospital.
Instead, a kind voice: “There was black ice. The two vehicles collided head-on. Everyone died on impact. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
With the sudden quarantine, everything was locked down, funerals on hold. The hospital offered grief counselling over the phone. I turned it down.
What if we had our funerals together after quarantine? I pushed the thought away, at first.
It’s been an eternity of identical days, but the pain is yesterday-fresh. How many stitches in a dishcloth? Five hundred? A thousand? How many in a blanket? Fifty thousand? My cocoon may have that many. A million stitches’ worth of pain. Feels like more.
The fabric around my legs is all tight single crochet, nothing fancy. I made a long, narrow blanket and crocheted the edges together. I had to wing it since none of my books had instructions for making a cocoon.
The beauty is in the colours, red and electric blue, Mandy’s and Joe’s favourites. I added pale blue for the babies — Bill and Lenny. It looks white in the dimness.
It’s tricky to sew the final edges together in front of my face. I take my time.
When I retired two weeks before Mandy gave birth, I picked a hobby to make her happy. She thought I’d be bored. Secretly, I planned to make the new babies my hobby.
I checked out an armful of crochet books from the library, stocked up on hooks and yarn, and sat down to try it. The enjoyment took me by surprise.
When Mandy was growing up, we used to joke that it was safer to patch holes in her pants with duct tape than for me try to mend them. Every string I touched — whether thread, fishing line, a necklace or the strings on her mittens — tangled itself within seconds.
I still have the crochet books. Can’t return them to the library. Don’t want to. They’re a link to before. When I checked them out, I still had my family. Someone will return then. After.
I lean over slightly and push the crochet hook out through one of the holes. It makes a soft tink on the wood floor.
I wriggle my right arm a bit so I can weave the ends in with the tapestry needle that I had tucked in my shirt pocket. It’s a bit hard to see in here, especially without my glasses. When I’m finished, I snip off the extra yarn. I’m satisfied. I can’t find any loose ends. It’s an orderly way to finish a piece of work. A life.
I hold the tapestry needle for a few seconds. Should I keep it? What if I find something unravelling?
No one will care about that, least of all me. I last ate four days ago and I haven’t drunk any water for a couple of days. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that people don’t last longer than three days without water. It’s a matter of waiting, now.
I push the needle through a stitch and listen to the tiny metallic sound it makes as it lands.
Last, to get rid of my folding scissors. They won’t fit through the holes, and I don’t want to undo any work. I’m tired and ready for sleep. I let them fall, then stand and hop a bit until they hit the floor inside the cocoon with a muffled thunk.
I lie down and close my eyes, listening to an old rock song on the radio, which I’ve left on for company.
Some time later, the news come on. I’m groggy and comfortable, though thirsty. I can smell my sweat. Sweating is a sign of dehydration, if I remember correctly. My mind wanders. I don’t know what time it is. It doesn’t really matter.
I surface again to hear the end of a news report: “— ICU unit fire damage. Hospital staff are calling for donations of clothing and blankets for the premature babies.”
Some time later, my eyes pop open from a vivid dream of crocheting booties and mittens and tiny hats. I rub my fingers together, surprised not to feel a crochet hook.
I close my eyes again, but it’s no use. My mind keeps working through instructions for mittens and blankets. I think of my stash of soft yarn.
My heart aches for my grandbabies, for my daughter and son-in-law. I cry, again, wrapped up in my cocoon.
When I next wake, my eyes crusted, my mind wanders immediately to the ICU babies.
What if I helped?
I count backwards from a hundred to calm myself. The news again. Doctors and nurses with smoke damage, babies coughing, cold. Makeshift cribs in a nearby hotel.
I can’t stop thinking about them. Grief hasn’t left; it has shifted over a smidge to make room for something else.
I sit up fast and almost pass out. I breathe slowly.
Am I changing my mind? The more I think of helping the ICU babies, the more I feel like I need to do it.
I hesitate to give up my plan. But there’s all that yarn.
If I come out of my cocoon, the pain will still be here. But I could help the babies, the nurses and doctors. I could do something useful.
I count backwards from 200, focussing on the numbers. At zero, into my mind pops the book of crochet patterns for babies that’s sitting in the front hall. I imagine the bonnet on the cover in electric blue. Who says baby clothes have to be pastel?
It seems I have changed my mind. For months, I wanted only the impossible — my family back. I still do. But now, I also want to help. I need to help.
I poke my index finger through a hole, then I put all my fingers through the holes and try pulling as hard as I can in every direction. There’s a bit of stretch, but not a single stitch lets go.
Could I gnaw my way out?
Where are my scissors?
Oh yes, at my feet.
I lay down on the couch again and gradually inch my feet up the back of the couch onto the wall. I imagine I look like some enormous caterpillar. I feel the scissors slip past my toes, sliding towards my hips. I squirm around again until I’m lying on my side. I get one hand down to my waist and search, search, and there — I have them.
For a moment, I can’t remember how to unfold them, and I want to sob or laugh.
I finally unfold them, and, fingers slippery with sweat, I snip, snip, snip. I cut a line from my right hip across to my left shoulder. The yarn falls away and I take a deep slow breath.
I kick to push the yarn down and shrug it off my shoulders. I stand up cautiously amid the pile of red and blue. I sit quickly, feeling dizzy.
What if I change my mind about dying and then die anyway? I still don’t know how long I was in my cocoon.
Surely I can get to the kitchen for water. I stand again, holding onto the arm of the couch. Small steps. I grasp a chair and make my way around it. I stretch my arms out towards the kitchen counter and walk carefully, with tiny steps. The last thing I want to do is fall and break a hip.
I make it to the cupboard and get a cup, fill it with water at the sink. Small sips. I’ve never loved city water more than at this moment.
I lean on the sink. The sky is lightening. I open the window wide and breathe in the green spring smell, listen to the birds.
The news comes on. It’s Tuesday, five in the morning. I was in my cocoon for all of eight hours. A laugh escapes me, and I fill the kettle.
I get a can of vegetable soup out of the cupboard. Not my usual breakfast, but it’s the only food I have, and I need to eat.
I have crocheting to do.