Read The Quilt Online

Authors: T. Davis Bunn

Tags: #Patchwork, #Quilts & Quilting, #Crafts & Hobbies

The Quilt (4 page)

BOOK: The Quilt
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Mary paused to wipe her mouth with an age-spotted hand, then went on, “Everett was always right there beside Poppa Joe, screaming to be picked up so he could drink too. Jonas had this way of drinking that just seemed to go on forever, stopping to breathe that long sigh between each draught. Like to have drove that boy crazy, having to wait till Poppa was finished before he'd pick Everett up and let him drink too.”

For some reason Jody saw her own children, had a little kaleidoscope of images all crowding there in front of her eyes. She saw the little things that touched her heart so, and tried to imagine what it would be like to look back in thirty years and realize that all those special times were over forever. Over and gone, yet even when they were there the strains and pressures of the moment often washed all the joy away.

“A lot to be thankful for,” Mary said softly, her eyes focusing on the room once more. She turned and smiled a sad, sweet smile for Jody. “The Lord's been awful good to me.”

“Good to all of us,” Jody said, though she had a little trouble getting the words out.

“That's the truth,” Amy said from her place on the floor, her eyes a little misty too.

“And that's what we're here for, isn't it,” Mary said, her voice gathering strength. “We're going to sit here and thank Him for all these wonders. Every cut, every stitch, every piece we lay down, each one's going to have its own little prayer to help set it in place. Doesn't matter if this thing takes us twenty years. That's the way it's going to be.”

“It was a real strange feeling,” Jody told her husband that night. “I got down on the floor and started cutting and felt, I don't know, kinda uncomfortable at first sitting there with my scissors, trying to cut straight and pray at the same time. I couldn't think of anything to say. And I sure as goodness
couldn't look Amy in the eyes. I was sure if I did I'd break out laughing, it felt so funny.”

Jody had a way of talking to her husband that was born of long years of talking as much to herself as to him. Jonas was such a quiet man. He'd sit for as long as she held him with her voice, the dinner dishes piled up where their oldest boy had sat, the kids upstairs raising Cain, all excited because they had been freed from their usual routine of kitchen chores. Whenever Jody had something to talk to Jonas about, she sent them upstairs with the promise that if they weren't quiet she'd be up soon enough to put them to bed. But they'd learned long ago that if they gave the elders twenty minutes of relative calm to get deep in discussion, they could peel the tiles off the roof without much worry.

Jonas was a carver. It was his only real hobby, and he tried to spend at least an hour or so at it every evening. When the house was quiet and the kids in bed, he'd pull his little tray out from under his favorite chair and sit and carve. Sometimes it was soap, sometimes sandalwood, sometimes just a likely-looking stick he'd picked up on the way home. The first gift he'd ever presented to Jody, back when they had just started courting, was a lovely little soapstone jewel box. What's this, she had asked him at the time. Jonas had replied, seeing as how you're going to carry my heart around with you, I thought you might need something to put it in.

He had all of these tiny instruments, some made for carvers and some coming from a jeweller friend who was always after Jonas to let him sell the pieces. Every time the jeweller was over he walked around picking them up and inspecting them and shaking his head. What on earth are you doing, he'd ask Jonas, letting the kids play with these things? Jonas replied with an easy smile that looked so much like Mary's and the words, just letting my children enjoy them the only way they know how.

Whenever Jody sent the children off and started on one of her evening talks, Jonas would walk into the living room
and come back with his carving tray. He might look up once during the whole time she talked. He just sat there, his face set in those calm expressionless lines, and carved. It amazed Jody how those big, hard hands could be so gentle, so careful, so patient, and so gifted.

When she was younger she used to try and force a reaction out of him, ask him direct questions and badger him, always trying to draw him out of that placid shell. The last time she tried it was the year before their first child was born. She lost her temper a bit, frustrated by his eternal calm, and half-shouted that she could just as well read the telephone book out loud to him as talk about something really important. Jonas looked up at that and said the first words he'd spoken that evening. That's just not true, he said, and the calm force behind those words startled her. But you never say anything, Jody told him. I've never been a man with much to say, Jonas replied. Jody asked, well, do you want me to stop talking and be quiet too? As long as you want to talk, Jonas replied, I want to listen. I love the sound of your voice, and the sound of your heart coming out with the words.

Jody had long since grown accustomed to talking to her silent man, and had made two interesting discoveries along life's road. The first was that a silent listener like Jonas could draw her deepest thoughts out better than the world's best talker. It was at times like these, when she had said something from the deepest part of herself or spoken out a revelation which came from somewhere else, that Jonas would look up at her and smile what Jody had always thought of as Mary's smile.

The second thing she discovered was that not only did Jonas really listen, he remembered. He would come to her, days and sometimes even weeks later, and mention something she had said in one of these talks. She would spend a couple of frantic minutes searching her memory for what he was referring to, then spend a good while afterward thanking the Lord for giving her such a man.

That night Jonas was working on one of his little men, a gift for their daughter. She had a veritable army of tiny friends, each one about the size of her six-year-old hand. They remained lined up on her dresser until time came for tea parties and long afternoon chats. Jonas's jeweller friend refused to go into their daughter's room at all. He said looking at all those little fellers going to waste up there gave him indigestion.

Jonas had the tray set in the place where his dinner plate had been, his sleeves rolled up to expose wiry arms, and those big work-strong hands wrapped around a little steel carving hook. He'd pick a couple of times, blow, inspect, flick at the spot with a tiny smidgen of sanding paper, pick some more. And listen. Jody had long since learned that he always, always listened.

“But you know, this praying while we worked was something real important to Mary,” Jody told her husband. “I could tell. She stopped every now and then and read from that big old Bible, then go back and cut some more. And the way she did it, honey, it was like something out of a slow-motion picture. She'd cut just like this.” Jody made sure Jonas lifted his eyes before cutting the air in excruciating slowness. “I couldn't watch her for long, it just drove me crazy. You know how I am, there's so much to get done and so little time, I swear I don't even know what I'm doing up there at the house with so much to do around here.”

Jody bent her own head and started making little slow-motion designs on the tabletop with one finger. “I don't know how long I was up there, but after a while all that stuff just stopped mattering. I don't know as I can explain it, but it was like everything just slowed down. All the things I've been worrying about, Timmy's problems at school and the car and the chores, it just went away.”

Jody lifted both hands and pressed against her forehead as though trying to squeeze the memory clear. “I was thinking about when Betty was little and got so sick, and how the
doctor said he wasn't sure she'd get over it, and how tired we both were when she started getting better, you remember?”

“I remember,” Jonas said softly.

Jody raised her head and was surprised to find him sitting there and watching her full on, the carving and the tools set aside. She couldn't ever recall having seen that before.

She collected herself and went on, “So I just started thanking God for healing our little girl. I started to apologize for not having said it sooner, and then stopped myself, you know, because Mary said we weren't supposed to say anything but thanks. So I thanked Him for quite a while. I think it was right about then that it started feeling like time was slowing down.”

Jonas nodded as though he understood, just a tiny nod, but a nod just the same. His expression didn't change, it almost never did. But his attention was focused on her with an almost frightening intensity.

“We were laying out the patterns, trying to get the colors to match. We're going to do a flower design, with a central circle and fourteen petals coming out. And you know, whenever I've done a quilt with others before, there's always been a lot of talk and comparison and gossip, argument too. Everybody has their own idea of how they want the pattern laid out.” Jody found that the intensity of Jonas's gaze somehow made the memory come alive for her once again. “But this time, honey, there wasn't even any talk. We just laid it out as we wanted, almost in turn, and I really think every one of us was praying as we did it. I know I was.

“Then the next thing I knew, I looked at the clock on her mantel, and I'd been sitting there for almost four hours. When I got home the children had already made their own lunch and gone out to play.”

Jonas looked at her for a long moment, then picked up his carving tool and rolled it back and forth between his scarred thumb and forefinger.

“I think you oughtta go back and help out as much as you can,” he said to Jody.

“There was something else,” Jody added. “All the rest of today I've been thinking of things I want to go back and give thanks for. Everywhere I turn it seems like I'm looking at things that I've spent years taking for granted, and now they're all coming alive again. I might sound crazy, but even the kids seem more important—no, not that. More beautiful. No, not beautiful.”

“Jody,” Jonas said in his quiet, strong way.

“I don't know how to, wait, I know. It's like, when I stop and thank Him, I'm really seeing it for the first time. Not like I've never seen it before, but like I've never seen it with His eyes before. Everything becomes a gift then.” She looked up. “Does that make any sense?”

“I want you to go up and help out Momma whenever you can,” Jonas repeated.

“I was planning to,” Jody said. “I really think there's something special going on up there.”

There is a lot of work that goes into a handmade quilt, long before the first stitch is ever sewn. Once the backing is stretched across the frame and the front piece is chosen and the design is selected and the various bits of cloth are all brought out and washed till they're limp as used paper towels, once the measuring's been done a dozen times, once the design's cut out one time for all the other designs to be compared to, once the little sheaves of fabric are all scissored and trimmed a second time, once they've been mixed and matched a thousand times until all the colors are just as they should be, once the designs are laid out across the floor with one extra set put aside for covering the mistakes that are bound to happen, once the design pattern has been measured and drawn and cut from the front fabric, then and only then can the stitching begin. And as any good quilt-maker will tell you, the work doesn't really get under way until it's time to pick up the needle.

When Everett arrived five days later for his regular Wednesday visit, there were three ladies cutting out petals, one doing the inner circles, two busy drawing out the design on the front fabric, and another helping his mother stretch and pull and separate and flatten all the strands of cotton batting.

And what's more, the place was as still as a church bowed in silent prayer.

Everett stood on the front stoop and peered through the screen door, not sure he belonged, and feeling truly riled over a bunch of strange women upsetting his routine. He pushed his hat back so as to be able to scratch the front of his balding head, and pressed his face up against the screen like a little boy watching his mother bake pies on a Saturday afternoon.

BOOK: The Quilt
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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