Read The Lacemaker
Click, tick, tick, click. The ornately carved lace bobbins quietly jostled one another as Maude expertly moved them over and under, under and over. Applewood and cherry, walnut and ebony, one even made of bone, but all spangled with a loop of pretty glass beads to weight them down and keep the thread taut. As Maude reached the end of the stitch, she plucked a slender brass pin from her pin cushion, slipped it up under the threads and slid it into place. A good lacemaker never touches the thread and Maude was a very good lacemaker.
Her eyes flickered up for a moment to take in the mass of people browsing the other craft stalls but she quickly forced her head back down again. Never look at the buyers. Instead, she focused on the large roundel she was making, a Bedfordshire-style piece in a design of her own devising. There was no pattern to show her were to place the pins, no card with the design marked out and holes pre-pricked. The stitches came to mind as they were needed, the pins placed perfectly in the straw-stuffed cushion.
As the doily took shape, Maude saw clearly the implications of each motif: The butterfly, a rebirth, a transition, a change, and in this case a troubling one. The windmill, a slow steady grind, simple hard work. The spider was complexity, difficulty, fear, its eight legs may seem tangled but order would emerge if you completed the stitch properly. After change and hard work and confusion, then came the ears of wheat, the harvest.
Click, tick, tick, click. Over and under, under and over. The fine threads twining together to create the most delicate of textiles. She could have made it out of human hair, if anyone could grow hair long enough. Or perhaps with silver thread if anyone could draw it thin enough. Instead she used silk, glimmering gently in the light, soft and smooth and white, all so pure except for that one thread, weaving through the others like an unwelcome guest at a wedding.
Maude watched the ebony bobbin, spangled by black beads, click and clack its way across the pillow with its more innocent cherrywood twin. Some bobbins travelled in pairs, staying together for the whole pattern. Others began life together but were soon separated, passing each other only occasionally and never for long. All the threads looked the same to the innocent eye, but Maude could see the black heart running up through that one strand.
This piece had a single black bobbin, a single deceptive blight working its way left to right, right to left. Others had many more. Sometimes the darkness shot through the whole work, beginning to end, her pillow funereal with black. Sometimes the taint came and went. Maude saw the ebb and flow, the concentrations and separations, though they were no doing of hers.
Click, tick, tick, click. Over and under, under and over. The curséd thread wove its way through the body of a butterfly. The buyers only ever saw a pretty doily, handmade by a lady that reminded them somewhat of their grandmother, but whose face was always forgotten as they turned away with their purchase. The cruel thread left the butterfly and wove down the leg of a spider, through its heart and out the other side. Soon it would reach a field of ears of wheat, a bountiful crop, an easy time and one in which darkness didn’t belong.
As if on cue, the ebony bobbin jerked and fell into her lap, the last of its thread left dangling. She picked up another bobbin from her box, this one oak, a good successor to ebony, strong, sturdy, dependable. With deft fingers she joined the two threads. The knot would show, but only if you knew what you were looking for.
Click, tick, tick, click. Over and under, under and over. She worked steadily, the going easier now that the weight of the darkness had lifted. Just another inch, a few more stitches and she was ready to cut the threads and carefully sew the ends in. So skilled was she that few would be able to see the join. She would always know, but it would take a sharp pair of expert eyes to spot it. She smiled, removed the finished mat from the pillow, drew a small can from her work basket and gave the roundel a quick squirt of spray starch, then gently passed the travel iron over it to set the starch stiff and it was done. She put it on the stall with the rest.
“You made all these?” The woman’s voice was kind, soft, incredulous.
“I did indeed,” Maude replied, matter of fact, not looking up. Never look up.
“They are just beautiful!” The woman picked up the circular mat that Maude had just finished, admiring the delicate work. “How on earth do you manage it?”
Maude chose to treat the question as a rhetorical one and busied herself with tidying her bobbins as the woman browsed.
“It’s almost too hard to choose,” the woman said quietly to herself as she picked up one piece and then another.
Maude was aware of the woman’s movements in case of light fingers. But no, she didn’t sound the sort to steal. She sounded tall, slender with wavy brown hair the colour of chestnuts, the sort to pick a toddler up and soothe away the ouchie with a warm tender kiss to the stubbed toe or the scraped knee. She sounded like Maude’s mother.
Maude looked up.
“I’ll take this one,” the woman said, holding up a square piece, twelve inches across, her smile and wavy brown hair exactly as Maude’s mind had imagined it would be. She put it down on the top of the pile whilst she extracted her purse from her handbag and riffled through a wadge of receipts, looking for the cash hidden between them.
Maude winced. Clear to her but invisible to the woman was the mass of black threads that came and went throughout this piece, speckling it grey. This life would be one of continual ups and downs. Every time the future began to look rosy, hopes would be dashed. Every time headway was made, the tide would turn. It would be a tedious, hard life with little respite.
“No, no, I see a flaw in that piece,” Maude said, her heart racing as she did so. Never interfere. Never intercede. Never influence the buyer. The rules were clear. But still Maude picked up the piece she had just completed and held it out to the woman for her consideration. “I just finished this, it’s a little nicer. Better workmanship.”
“Oh, it’s exquisite!” The woman couldn’t see the imperfection in her first choice but, well, if the maker said this one was better, it must be better.
“Thank you,” said Maude, taking the money and making change.
“No, thank you!” The woman said, slipping the package carefully into her shopping bag to nestle with her other craft fair purchases. She moved away from the stall and joined up with a blond-haired man, his hand resting on the handles of a pushchair.
Maude watched as the woman delicately kissed the man’s cheek and smiled down at her newborn, hidden amongst woolly hat and scarf. The baby coughed, a dry cough, and the woman crouched to check on him, touching the back of her hand to his forehead to feel for fever. Her expression fell, her carefree look replaced by worry. She stood, spoke to the man softly, concerned. Together, they hurried off with their child.
The black thread had begun in transformation. Maude’s hand fluttered to her open mouth as she realised her mistake. No matter how many ears of wheat completed the piece, they would never make up for the loss of the child.
She grabbed the piece that the woman had originally chosen and dashed out, pushing her way through the crowd thickening with people on their lunch break. She reached the door of the room and searched for the couple in the crush of the crowd trying to move through a corridor narrowed by craft stalls. Desperately she elbowed her way through and hurried down the stairs to the café. They weren’t there. She ran to the exit, hoping to catch them before they left the premises, but she was too late. They were gone.
She walked back into the arts centre, back up the stairs, back to her stall, slowly, painfully. The air was gone from her lungs, the blood clotted in her heart. She put the lace back on the pile and reached over the display to her money box. She opened it up and drew out the notes.
She looked around the room. Pottery. Woodwork. Paintings. Handbags. Jewellery. There were all sorts of things for sale, all beautifully made by the people selling them. The skill on display was astonishing, but Maude couldn’t feel the awe she usually did when seeing others’ work. She crossed the room to a stall that had caught her eye many a time throughout the fair. Her fingers randomly caressed the silk scarves hanging from the rail. Without looking, she chose one, presented it to the weaver and handed over the money. She accepted the change without saying a word and took the scarf back to her stall.
The weaver looked at the woman who’d just bought a scarf and sighed. She could see the black threads that appeared towards the end of the cloth, threads she knew that the old lady would never even realise were there. She saw the way they multiplied and intensified until finally, there was only black, warp and weft. She grieved for a moment, but remembered the rule: Never, ever intervene.
The Lacemaker by Suw Charman-Anderson
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Seidr Press
© 2013 Suw Charman-Anderson
The right of Suw Charman-Anderson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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