“Be bold; there are no terrible consequences in knitting.” Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Missy and Roland were knitting. She liked knitting, he didn’t. She was making him a cardigan, he was making her a diaper. Missy had already knitted sweaters for the two Chinese kids next door. Roland thought the whole family needed to shut up and stop dropping things. Didn’t they understand the concept of common walls?
“They aren’t doing you any harm, babe,” Missy kept telling him. “They got angels, too.” Missy had a thing about angels. She’d bought a book called The Angels in All of Us. According to the author — a real knucklehead, as far as Roland was concerned — each person’s angel suffered everything they did. Roland figured his angel needed ear plugs.
“At least you admit there are angels,” she said.
Missy figured she had him there. She held her knitting above her head.
Roland went to the kitchen for orange juice. He’d been doing that since he stopped drinking. They both had. That’s how the whole knitting thing started. Their sponsor said a mutual hobby might help them adjust. “What do you both like doing?” he’d asked.
They agreed they liked watching Coronation Street.
“How about hobbies?” he asked.
Missy thought knitting might be fun. Roland just wanted to get out of there. He didn’t think much of sponsors — or retirement in general. The sponsor told him knitting wasn’t such a bad idea. “It’s good for arthritis,” he said. Roland’s hands ached like crazy every morning. He could barely button his shirt. So knitting it was. Who knew Missy would be such a natural at it?
“You dropped a stitch, babe,” Missy said when he came back from the kitchen. She was checking his rows, pushing her fingers through the holes.
He grabbed his knitting away from her.
“Mind your own business,” he said.
“That doesn’t look like a diaper, babe.”
“Stop calling me babe. What if I called you an old bat?”
“I’m five years younger than you.”
Coronation Street was coming on in five minutes. Missy figured she should use the washroom. While she was gone, Roland wrapped her yarn around the coffee table and tied a big knot. He thought he had her there.
Missy came back and sat down. She didn’t say anything. During the commercial, she untied the yarn, carded it, and put it back in her bag.
“You’re hurting my angel, babe,” she said.
“You don’t have an angel, Missy. Nobody does. We’re flesh and bone. When that’s gone, we’re gone. The notion of angels is phosphorous. It happens with degeneration. Look it up.”
“You and your science.”
“It’s tangible, Missy. Tangible, understand?”
She gave him the eye the rest of the evening. Going to her room later, she leaning out and pulled down her lower eyelid.
“Is that supposed to scare me?” he asked.
“For now,” she said.
The next morning, Missy had a surprise for Roland. She’d finished his cardigan.“Try it on, babe,” she said, putting it on over Roland’s pyjama top. She did up the buttons. “Ain’t that nice?” she said, wiping the corners of her mouth with a tissue. She’d had a stroke the previous year. Now she drooled.
“Gimme that,” Roland said, grabbing the soggy tissue out of her hand. He went to the kitchen and threw it in the garbage can. As he dropped the can lid, something stung him in the arm. It stung each time he moved. He felt a sharp needle-like point in one of the purl stitches.
He held the cardigan up to the light.
Missy had knitted in a bunch of thumb tacks.
“Hilarious,” Roland yelled, probably louder than he meant. Missy was always worried they’d wake the kids next door. Roland wished they’d never moved here in the first place. He hated townhouses.
“Loosen up, babe,” Missy had told him. “New life, new house.”
If she’d loosened up in the first place, she wouldn’t have had a stroke. Four days in hospital, possible aneurysm. One bill after another. They lost their home of forty years. They had to move into what was called a “senior’s paradise,” affordable townhouses for the discerning retiree. Only it wasn’t retirees buying up these places. It was the Chinese.
Roland was pulling at the buttons now. He couldn’t get them undone. He was being poked to death by a bunch of thumb tacks. Grabbing a small paring knife, he cut off the plastic buttons and threw the cardigan on the floor. Then he picked it up and tossed it in the garbage.
“Do that again and I’ll wring your neck, Missy.”
“Serves you right for being so mean, babe.”
The Chinese kids were playing outside. Their yard was full of toys. They screamed, they chased each other. A pan dropped next door. Roland opened and slammed one of the cupboards.
“What are you doing in there, Roland?”
“Nothing,” he said, coming in the room, grabbed his knitting needles and yarn. “I should call the cops on those people.”
Missy was staring at his knitting.
“What?” he said.
“Still doesn’t look like a diaper, babe.”
“I’m making you a straitjacket instead.”
Neither of them said anything for the rest of the evening. When they went upstairs, Missy said, “What’s wrong, babe? Your angel got heartburn?”
“Shut up about angels.”
“You got one, babe.”
“No I don’t.”
Roland slammed his bedroom door. On the other side of the wall, one of the kids was crying. Probably wet his bed again. Funny how they never made commercials about incontinent kids. Incontinent seniors got it coming and going. Pills, panties, leak guard. Why not kids?
Standing at the window, the next morning, Roland watched the Chinese mother next door taking her kids to school. He’d been up since four o’clock knitting. Now he sat with his paper, waiting for Missy to come see his handiwork. He’d even straightened the self-help books on the coffee table.
She finally came downstairs in her slippers and old housecoat. As soon as she walked in the room, she saw the noose hanging from the chandelier.
“Hilarious,” she said.
“Wanna try it on?”
They had their breakfast and listened to the news.
“Guess what I’m knitting you for Christmas,” Missy said, dabbing soft-boiled egg from the corners of her mouth. “Bet you can’t.”
“Bet I don’t want to.”
“C’mon, put your thinking cap on.”
“What’re those Chinese puzzles called? You put a finger in each end? They get stuck and you can’t get’m out.”
“Finger traps. That’s what you’re knitting me?”
“Easy as pie.”
“You expect me to put my fingers in there?”
“I’ll do it while you’re sleeping.”
“Finish your breakfast. Try getting some in your mouth for once.”
After breakfast, Roland did the dishes. When he came back in the living room, Missy’s needles were going like hungry chopsticks.
“Got another idea,” she said, eyeing Roland over her bifocals.
She worked away the rest of the morning, then took it up again after Coronation Street. “Why aren’t any of those people happy?” she asked.
“On the show.”
“They could say the same thing about you.”
“You, too, babe.”
“What are you knitting now?”
“None of your business.”
Around five o’clock, they turned on the news. Same nonsense.
“Whatdya want for dinner?” Missy asked.
“I thought we were going out?”
Thursday nights they went to Red Lobster.
“I thought it was Thursday,” Roland said. “I don’t care what we eat.”
“You want some soup?”
“Why would I want soup?”
“What do you want then?”
“I don’t care.”
“Well, I’m having soup.”
Missy made dinner, set the table, then did the dishes afterwards. They watched Golden Girls at eight o’clock. Missy thought it was hysterical. She laughed and drooled and wiped her mouth. Roland felt tired. Maybe it was being in the house all day. He’d tried napping earlier, but things kept dropping next door. Maybe they figured it made them lucky.
He used to drink for the same reason.
“I’m going to bed,” he said to Missy.
“It’s only eight thirty.”
“Maybe I’m catching something.”
“You gonna help the kids next door with their science project?”
“All you gotta do is help ’em make a volcano explode.”
“Why do you volunteer me for this stuff?”
“You’re the only science teacher I know, babe.”
Roland went upstairs, brushed his teeth, flossed, looked at his face in the mirror. He noticed his eyes were hooded. Didn’t Aristotle Onassis have to hold his eyes open with surgical tape? Old age was a crap shoot. Something was going to get you. He tossed the used dental floss in the garbage.
“Don’t forget to turn out the lights,” he called downstairs.
“I will, babe.”
He went to his room and closed the door. The kid on the other side of the wall was crying again. It happens, Roland muttered. I pissed in my sock drawer a few times. Missy probably did, too. They loved our stories at AA.
Roland woke up the next morning with a headache. His head hurt so bad he could barely move. When he tried getting up, he found his hands were knitted to the bedposts. So were his feet.
“Morning,” Missy said from the doorway.
“My head hurts.”
“I sedated you.”
“Poisoned me more like it.”
“You’d be dead if I did. Read more packaging inserts, babe.”
“How did you sedate me?”
“Put it in your soup.”
Roland pulled at the knitted restraints.
“What happened to the finger trap idea?”
“Yeah, well, take these things off.”
She was holding a towel.
“You knitted me a towel?”
She went to the washroom, then came back with the towel dripping.
“C’mon, Missy, let me up. I gotta pee.”
“Hold your horses, babe.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Sticking this over your face.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“It’s murder if I drown.”
“I’m an old woman. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Fat chance they’ll buy that.”
“The neighbours’ll rat you out faster than you can say Chairman Mao.”
“They hate Chairman Mao.”
Roland struggled and squirmed. Missy placed the dripping towel over his face. Her knees were on the bed. When did Missy kneel for anything? She wouldn’t even kneel in church. She was a lousy Catholic.
“Missy — ” he choked.
“Not listenin’, babe.”
He pulled and yanked, kicking his feet. He screamed and suddenly one of his arms came loose. He pulled the towel from his face. There was Missy, grinning away. “Happy Chinese New Year.”
Roland coughed and hacked.
“You damn near killed me.”
“Got your attention.”
“I could have died.”
“I ain’t finished, babe. Knitting ain’t cutting it for me.”
“You think waterboarding is a better hobby, for chrissake?”
“How many more strokes you think I’m good for?”
“I have no idea.”
“I wanna go someplace nice. A real getaway. I got brochures.”
“I still have to pee, Missy.”
She got off him and shuffled downstairs. He went to the washroom, pissed, then found some aspirin in the medicine cabinet.
His head was still pounding. Missy was stark raving mad. Maybe a trip wasn’t such a bad idea. They hadn’t been away since they retired. If she tried anything nutty, he could always have her locked up. Some tropical island. Throw a few bucks their way, they’d haul Missy off to an asylum.
“Roland?” Missy called upstairs. “Coronation Street’s on.”
“I’ll be right down.”
“What’re you doing?”
“Figuring out how to get you committed.”
“How’re you gonna do that?”
“You’ll know when it happens.”
Roland dried his face and went downstairs. Missy had the volume way up on the television. He sat in his chair and picked up his needles.
“Don’t pout, babe.”
“I’m not pouting.”
“I thought you were making a straitjacket?”
“I’ll have you in one soon enough.”
“Aw, that ain’t very nice.”
“You tried to waterboard me, Missy.”
“I let you up.”
“I can still have you arrested.”
“You’re hurting your angel.”
“I told you I don’t have an angel.”
“Everyone’s go’ an angel.”
Something dropped next door.
“If they drop another pan — ”
“They ain’t hurting you. Let’s plan a trip.”
“You’ll get your trip, believe me.”
“Some place tropical, I hope.”
“Oh, it’ll be tropical. Might even have an asylum in a grass hut. Would you like that? You can watch the banyan trees through bamboo bars”
“What in heaven’s name are you talking about?”
“I’m gonna pay some island chief to have you committed, Missy. And don’t try to run. They’ll follow your trail of wet tissues.”
“I think I cut off your oxygen for too long.”
Roland stabbed away at his yarn, making a mess, watching Missy shake her head. He made big loose holes, then tied nooses in the yarn, hanging them from his fingers, swinging them back and forth.
“It’s coming, Missy. A nice asylum in a grass hut.”
“You’re starting to worry me.”
“Good, Missy, that’s good.”
“You’re hurting your angel, babe.”
“That’s good, too. Keep the little fucker on his toes.”