Authors: Arlene Sachitano
"I couldn't take Sarah's commentary,” she explained.
"Hey, you don't have to explain it to me.” Robin leaned close to a small sampler that had been stitched with a variety of thread weights. “I never thought about using such a heavy thread to do the actual quilting. It looks like three or four strands of embroidery floss. I've used it to do embellishment, but not for the actual quilting."
"I wish we could see the back side."
"It's the same as the front,” Carla said, surprising her. She wasn't sure she'd heard the woman utter a dozen words since they'd left Foggy Point.
Carla glanced up when no one said anything. Her cheeks turned pink, and she stared at her feet. “It tells what they did on this card,” she said, and pointed at a white printed page that was mounted on a piece of mat board and hung at the end of the display. “They were supposed to make the back side look exactly like the front side."
"I wonder where Lauren's exhibit is,” Robin said.
"Probably wherever she's standing,” Harriet said, and looked down the curve of the exhibit hall.
"I just want to get there before Sarah. I've been witness to enough train wrecks for one day."
"Let's walk until we spot her. Then we can go back and look at the rest of the stuff at our leisure,” Harriet suggested. The other two agreed, and they continued down the hall, searching for Lauren.
"Isn't that the janitor from the dining room?” Harriet pointed at the slender man in the khaki uniform, who was now standing beside Lauren.
"Looks like it,” Robin replied. “I wonder what they're talking so intently about."
The three quilters approached, and the janitor turned and left.
"I hope I didn't scare him away,” Harriet joked.
"Why would you think that?” Lauren said. “He's just a janitor. Someone spilled a drink and he was cleaning it up."
"Is this yours?” Robin asked and pointed to the piece behind her. “It's wonderful."
Lauren's quilt was simple yet compelling. The background was tones of brown that ranged from beige to almost black. The stitching was cream-colored, and it looked like she had used a thread that was slightly heavier than most people used in functional quilts.
In the quilting world, there were two broad categories of work: functional quilts and art quilts. Functional quilts are just what the name implies; they can be used as bed covers, lap robes, table toppers or for any other task where a warm cover is useful. They're usually made from fabric and thread that can stand up to being washed and dried.
Art quilts, on the other hand, while incorporating traditional techniques also include materials and threads that may be more fragile. Dyes or fabric paints that are water soluble might be used; glues, metallic fabrics and threads, and pretty much anything else the artist can conceive of and attach to their work can be employed. Art quilts often take the form of wall hangings, but in exhibits, art quilts go hand-in-hand with other stitched constructions, such as fabric bowls or vases, boxes and even fabric dolls or quilted garments.
Lauren's work was a medium-sized wall hanging. The primary stitching was in evenly spaced lines around a lopsided figure-eight shape that was just left of center—it reminded Harriet of the grain lines in a piece of wood. She'd stitched a sheer fabric that might have been silk in irregular shapes over the grain lines, and then stitched a darker thread along one edge of the sheer pieces so the silk appeared to float above the brown background. The result looked like a magnified segment of tree trunk, complete with peeling bark. Harriet glanced at the two exhibits on either side of Lauren's and realized that trees were the theme of their grouping.
The other students in Lauren's group had taken an opposite approach and attempted to create groups of trees seen from a distance. The one on the left attempted to portray palm trees. The artist had created three-dimensional palm fronds using a woolly thread. It reminded Harriet of a crewel embroidery kit Aunt Beth had given her when she was thirteen. The fingers of the fronds had given her fits and probably contributed to her dislike of this piece.
The wall hanging on the other side was a bird's-eye view of pine-covered hills. It was competently done, if unremarkable. Lauren's was clearly a level above the rest of the entries in her group.
"She's outdone herself,” Robin whispered from behind them.
Lauren was busy talking to a distinguished-looking older gentleman with a white goatee, who was pointing at her work. Mavis, Sarah, Connie and Aunt Beth came around the curve in the hall; Harriet waved to her aunt, and they came over to Lauren's display.
"Wow!” said Connie. “No more cartoon kitties, huh?"
"Looks like school has been good for our Lauren,” Mavis agreed, and leaned in for a closer look.
The man smiled and gave a small nod to them as he walked off.
"Who was that?” Robin asked.
"He owns a gallery in Anacortes. He asked if I'd be interested in a commission to make a piece similar to this one for his entry alcove.” Lauren's eyes were bright, and her cheeks were flushed with color.
"That's great!” Connie said, and pulled her into a hug. “Congratulations."
"Yeah, congratulations,” Mavis echoed.
"Good job,” Robin said.
Harriet looked at Aunt Beth, who was uncharacteristically silent. She had a solemn look on her face. Harriet raised her eyebrow in question. Beth shook her head once in a gesture Harriet knew meant “Keep your mouth shut and I'll tell you later."
The Loose Threads marveled over Lauren's work for another five minutes before they broke back into their separate groups and continued on their routes past the rest of the displays. The women regrouped a half-hour later by the exit door. Mavis led the way across the porch and down the stairs. When they reached the path back to their Tree House, she stopped.
"Okay, Beth, spill."
Harriet looked from Mavis to her aunt.
"She's at it again,” Beth said simply. “It's true it's a lot more sophisticated, and probably took a lot more time to copy, but that is not an original piece of art."
"Whoa, are you sure?” Harriet asked.
"That can't be right,” Robin protested. “I remember her talking about dyeing the fabric."
"She spent a lot of time picking the thread,” Carla added in a louder than normal voice. She immediately looked down at her shoes as if she'd spoken out of turn.
"I'm not saying she didn't work hard on the piece. I'm saying I've seen it before,” Beth said. “It's true she used a different border and binding, but I swear, the dyed fabric, the stitching lines—I remember the distorted figure eight. I might even have a picture of it. It was at a Fiber Guild exhibition in London when I was on my cruise."
"Well, I guess we know a leopard never changes its spots,” Sarah said.
"Thank you for that little insight,” Connie said and walked off toward the Tree House.
"I saw what I saw,” Beth said and followed.
Sarah brushed past Carla, pushing her a little harder than was necessary. Harriet started to follow her, but Carla grabbed her arm.
"It's okay, really."
"It's not okay. She doesn't get to treat you like that."
"She's the one who won't be changing her spots any time soon,” Carla said with surprising insight. She looked directly at Harriet for the first time. “She wasn't the center of attention, but she's afraid to do anything to get the attention back in front of Miz Mavis or Miz Beth. So, I did what my mama taught me and turned the other cheek."
And thus, Harriet thought, another generation of victims was trained at their mother's knee. As far as Carla had come, she still had a long way to go. But, at least she was trying, unlike Sarah.
"Let's go,” she said. “If we're lucky, Sarah will have gone up to her room already.” She turned and went up the path.
"What do you think everyone will do about going or staying?” Carla asked.
"I'm guessing we'll stay. We've all already paid. Aunt Beth will take DeAnn home and sort out what happened."
"Whew, I was afraid we would be going home. It's really nice sleeping in a bed."
Harriet stopped. “What do you mean? Don't you normally sleep in a bed?"
"Nothing. I didn't mean anything,” Carla's head was down, her eyes avoiding Harriet's.
"Come on, Carla, where are you sleeping in Foggy Point?” Harriet put her hand on the younger woman's shoulder. “Don't clam up on me now."
Tears began to gently slide down Carla's thin cheeks. “We're living in a car."
"You are raising a baby in a car? What car?” She realized this was a dumb question as soon as it was out of her mouth. What difference did it make what car? The fact Carla hadn't owned a car two months ago was irrelevant.
"When the vitamin factory closed for a month after Miz Avanell died, I only had my part-time job at the fabric store, and I couldn't pay my rent. Then, when the factory started back up they only had day jobs, and Margaret said when Sally leaves in July she can give me full-time hours and a little for benefits, too, but I can't do that if I go back to the factory. It's okay, really. My friend Willy loaned me a van to live in, and Wendy goes to free daycare at the Methodist church, so she gets to run around all day."
"You cannot live in a van even for a few months,” Harriet stated.
"Please, you can't tell anyone.” Carla looked up, wiping at her tears with the back of her hand. “I'll figure something out. Promise you won't say anything."
"I can't promise that, Carla. You need help."
"Please, let me be part of the group this week without feeling like everyone's stray puppy. I know I'm here because Margaret paid for it, but she said it would make me a better employee so it was job training.” She turned back to the trail and started to walk again. “I just want to be normal."
Harriet slowed, giving Carla time to enter the Tree House and pull herself together. As she approached the porch, she heard a familiar voice from the trail behind her.
"Les, if you have something to tell me, say it. If you don't, we'll have to have this little reunion later. I've got work to do."
She glanced back. Lauren stepped onto the porch as someone moved back down the path.
"Who was that?” Harriet asked.
"No one. And it would be none of your business if I were talking to someone.” Lauren pulled the door open and went in. Harriet followed her, turning left into the common area while Lauren went straight up the stairs.
"Remind me again why I'm here,” she said as she flopped onto the worn leather sofa. Mavis, Aunt Beth and Connie were seated in easy chairs around the river-rock fireplace. “And by the way, are we staying?"
"Yes, mija, we're staying,” Connie told her. “DeAnn wasn't out of line with putting a stop to Selestina's behavior, but leaving is a little extreme. We've all spent a lot of money and made a lot of arrangements to be here. I don't think we should throw it all away."
"It's not like we didn't know about Selestina's behavior before we signed up,” Mavis pointed out. “Robin's right—she is worse than she used to be, but she's always been over the top. DeAnn knew that."
"More important than all that,” Aunt Beth said, and lowered her voice until it was barely above a whisper, “you need to find out more about Lauren's exhibition piece. She swore she was doing original work. I asked her about it last week, and she was pretty convincing, but I know what I saw and it was that exact piece.” She stood and picked up her handbag. “I've got to go. I still have to meet up with DeAnn. I'll figure out a way to send a copy of that picture to you guys."
Harriet walked her aunt to the door. Then, she went to the kitchenette and poured hot water from over a peppermint tea bag she put in a pottery mug. She carried it into the common room and sat down again.
"Something strange happened when I was coming in tonight,” she told Mavis and Connie. She related her encounter with Lauren, including Lauren's insistence she hadn't been talking to anyone.
"Honey, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. In spite of Selestina's behavior, this isn't a jail,” Mavis said. “Maybe Lauren has a boyfriend. Maybe she's met someone in Angel Harbor. She's been taking classes for a while now."
"I've got my first class with Selestina tomorrow.” Harriet took a drink of her fragrant tea. “I could feign ignorance and ask her about the European exhibit Aunt Beth saw. It wouldn't be much of a charade, since I don't know anything about it."
"I'll see if I can get anything more out of Lauren,” Connie said. “We're taking a machine embroidery class together tomorrow."
"You'll be in hand quilting tomorrow morning, won't you, honey?” Mavis asked Harriet.
"I'll be hand quilting all day tomorrow—Carla, too."
"Don't worry,” Mavis assured her. “Selestina likes to intimidate people in the orientation session, but she really is an expert in her field, and a good teacher to boot."
"Well, it can only go uphill from here. What will you be taking?"
"Tomorrow...” Mavis read from the schedule lying in her lap. “...I will be dyeing."
"Let's hope not,” Connie teased with a smile.
The next morning dawned clear and cool, and the Loose Threads walked briskly through the dark woods from the Tree House to the fiber arts pavilion. The women had opted for toast and tea in the Tree House; no one had wanted to chance an encounter with Selestina or Patience before they'd fortified themselves.
Harriet pulled the sleeves of her gray hooded sweatshirt over her hands. She glanced at Carla; the younger woman was dressed in new-looking blue jeans and a gray hoodie with the hem of a red T-shirt hanging out below. Harriet glanced at her own jeans and slightly-too-long red T-shirt and realized they had the same personal shopper. She was definitely going to buy some new clothes when she got home, and not at Wal-Mart, either.
"Okay, everyone, shall we meet back here at eleven-thirty and walk to the dining hall together?” Mavis asked.
Lauren declined, saying her class had arranged for a local delicatessen to bring sandwiches in. Harriet could understand that, if you were here once a month for a period of months, you could get tired of soup, even if it was really good soup. Everyone else, however, agreed to the plan, and the group broke up to find their various classrooms.