The Memory Quilt
By Simone Schutte
Marion’s breath fogged in the evening air as she shuffled up the steps clutching her sewing
bag. Inside lay what remained of the year’s memories; a dozen colourful squares of fabric to
be sewn into her quilt.
She stopped in front of the double doors and hung her head with a sigh. It was tradition that
the women meet in the town hall on New Year’s Eve - before the real festivities began - and
so here she was. But in the whole of Bethal Town, she'd be the only one who hadn’t brought
her Memory Quilt tonight.
Squaring her shoulders, she stomped the snow off her boots and pushed through the doors.
The chatter of a hundred different voices filled her ears. She blinked in the bright light and
swept her gaze across the room. Young women sat cross-legged on an enormous rug in the
centre, older women encircled them on folding chairs, and in the laps of each were their vibrant patchwork creations. At the snack table, mothers sipped steaming mugs of gluhwein while their daughters crowded the platter of pancakes, syrup dripping in long sticky trails down their chins. Nearby, grandmothers bobbed their heads in conversation, poking their threaded needles at any syrupy fingers that came too close, laughter in their eyes as the girls scurried away.
Marion bent to remove her boots, placing them side-by-side alongside the others, and wiggled her toes inside socks that left damp imprints on the floor. She headed straight for the wine urn, hugging friends that crossed her path and smiling at women she knew and didn’t. Until she was through the throng and pouring herself a drink. The sweet, spicy wine lent her welcome warmth as she gulped it down, scents of cinnamon and orange swimming in her nostrils. She hoped the next mug would lend her courage.
“Marion!” a voice called from behind her, “Bring me one of those too, would you dear?”
Mrs. Emerton waved her arms from where she sat across the room, as full of life and character as the blanket that lay draped across her knees. Marion smiled and gave her a thumbs up, turning back to the table to pour a mug for the town baker.
“Here you go Mrs. Em.” Marion said, handing the older woman a cup.
Mrs. Emerton thanked her and took it gladly, taking a hearty sip as she patted the chair beside her. “Come, sit, I want to hear all about the memories you brought tonight.”Marion shrunk into the seat, lifting a few squares from her bag as she prepared the lie. “I only have a few with me, looks like Mikey got into my bag before I left. Only noticed how much lighter it was when I got out the car.”
Mrs. Emerton slapped her knee. “The little rascal! How is your boy these days? He get hold
of your quilt too?” She said, appearing to notice its absence.
Marion flinched, picturing the grey quilt stuffed into the top of her cupboard. A tinkle of
nervous laughter escaped her lips. “Yeah, he was all snuggled up under it when I left, couldn’t bear to take it from him. He just turned three last month; drives me up the wall with his antics, but I can’t help laughing afterwards.”
The older woman nodded, eyeing the scant few swatches in Marion’s hands. She pointed at a green one with purple dinosaurs scattered across it. “I bet this is one of him?”
Marion looked down and smiled, this one hadn’t faded yet. “Yeah, from a few weeks ago. We were running around the house pretending the dogs were dinosaurs chasing us, then we’d jump on the bed and it was our safe place where they couldn’t get us and we’d laugh like crazy.”
Mrs. Emerton’s eyes wrinkled with mirth. “Oh that is a good one!”
Nodding, Marion lifted her mug to her lips for a long pull of the warm liquid as she gazed longingly at the other woman’s quilt. “How about you Mrs. Em? What’s this white one with the yellow flowers?”
The square Marion pointed out rested atop Mrs. Emerton’s knee, a memory from many years
earlier judging by its place in the quilt. Older memories always fascinated Marion, and she envied the baker’s patchwork of memorable moments.
Mrs. Emerton followed her gaze, a soft smile spreading across her lips. “Ah that’s a sweet one. It’s from when I was fourteen and a secret admirer taped a pansy to my locker. Every morning for weeks I’d step out of homeroom and there’d be another one, sometimes a note with a poem too. It gave me the best butterflies and I walked around with the goofiest smile on my face.”
Marion traced a finger over the square. “Did you ever find out who he was?” The other woman nodded. “His name was Frederick. Handsome boy, and a few years older than me too. He made me feel so special, like I was the only girl in the world, you know?”
A slight frown creased Marion’s forehead. She didn’t know. “Frederick’s not your husband though, right?”
Mrs. Emerton laughed, shaking her head. She fingered a pale blue square with a single red rose in the centre “Here. This is a good one with Charles, back when we were only eighteen and marriage was still a few years away. It was the first time he said ‘I love you’. We were in his Beetle sitting outside my house. It was almost my curfew and we were counting down the minutes until I had to go inside, then he looked at me with those beautiful brown eyes and said it so softly that I almost didn’t hear him. The butterflies were the size of bats that time!”
Marion tried to remember ever feeling bat-sized butterflies. “That’s a lovely story.” The woman smiled. “It’s one of my favourites, but life’s not all sunshine and gravy is it? See this one?” She patted a black and white checked square. “This is from when I was seven and my brother and I had a huge fight. I went into his room, you see, and took all his toy cars out their packaging; so I could play with them, you know? Well he came home from soccer practice and saw what I’d done and went absolutely ballistic. Slammed his door so hard a window broke and mom gave us both a hiding. He didn’t speak to me for a month after that.”
“That doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing to do though?”
“Yes well, I’d never seen my brother so angry. Who knew those silly cars were so precious to him? I guess my mom must have, because she never gave us hidings. But I got the message, stayed out of my brother’s things after that.”
The words fell like drops of rain upon cracked earth, and Marion thirsted for more. She pointed at a yellow square with an orange butterfly. “How about this one?”
Mrs. Emerton glanced at it then closed her eyes, smiling as she recalled the memory. “The birth of my wonderful daughter. I loved her from the moment I first laid eyes on her little wrinkled face. She was a screamer that one, cried the whole family awake. But then the midwife gave her to me and I held her tiny little body in my arms and she snuggled up against me and quieted right down, like she knew I was her mama.”
Marion blinked, fighting back the surge of self-pity that threatened to overflow.
Standing, she stuffed her scraps of cloth back in her bag. “I just realised I left some snacks in the car.” She said, turning to walk away before the other woman noticed her glistening eyes.
She hurried towards the exit, imagining the way Mrs. Emerton’s brows would be furrowing in concern or offense. Right now her need to escape was more clawing than being polite. Boots once again on her feet, Marion burst through the doors and sucked in a shaky breath of wintry air as the tears spilled onto her cheeks. She let them fall, and with hunched shoulders plodded over to her car and drove away.
Through blurry eyes Marion gazed at the bleak winter landscape beyond the windscreen, the snow blanketing the world outside in white, just as her memories were blanketed in grey. In spring the snow would melt and the world outside would once against burst with colour, but never her world.
For long minutes Marion sat in the driveway of her modest home, waiting for the redness in her eyes to clear before she went inside to relieve the babysitter. The girl would be thrilled to leave early and join her friends for the fireworks. The thought put a bitter smile on Marion’s face as she tried to recall last year’s firework show; it had been spectacular, of course. So she told herself.
The door creaked loudly as she opened it and Marion winced, hoping she hadn’t woken Mikey.
The babysitter turned from where she sat quietly watching TV. “Oh, hi Mrs. Bramley. You’re home early.”
Marion placed her keys gently on the table and smiled at her neighbour’s daughter. The lie came easily. “Hi Hannah. Yeah, I thought you might like the extra time to get ready for tonight.”
Hannah jumped up from the couch, fist pimping the air. “Yes!” She hissed, “Thank you! I’ll just get my things.”
“Thank you for watching him tonight. Everything go OK?”
“Yeah, we had fun and he passed out with no trouble. Beats spending the night sewing, that’s for sure!”
Marion forced a laugh. “I know what you mean.”
When the girl had left Marion tiptoed into her baby boy’s room. Gently, she lay a hand on his chest and felt the steady rise and fall of his breathing. Her love for him swelled inside her.
Bending forward she placed a soft kiss on his pudgy little cheek. “Promise me you won’t forget.” She whispered.
Mikey sighed softly and a brief smile flickered across his face, as if to say “I won’t forget mama, I’ll remember for the both of us.
Simone Schutte is a 32 year old jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Wife and mom, aspiring author, Pictionary artist extraordinaire, bookworm, photography lover and green-fingered elf. She lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is most often found gazing out into the garden, having conversations with visiting birds.