Better than the Real Thing

A week had passed since Scott’s birthday and Doris was still waiting for a thank-you letter.  “Today’s youngsters,” she tutted.  Perhaps her parcel had got lost in the post.

Doris dialled her daughter’s number.

“Rachel?  Did Scott get my present last week?”

There was a pause.  “Yes, mum … sorry, I should have thanked you.”  The voice sounded weary and flat.

Scott should have thanked me.”

“Things have been a bit hectic.”  A child screamed in the background.  “Don’t do that, Scott!” shrieked Rachel.

“I’ll let you go, then.”

Mum …” Rachel’s voice was suddenly insistent.  “Don’t you think Scott’s getting a bit old now for your … homemade presents.”

“He’s only nine.”

“I mean, it’s sweet and everything, but…”

“It was a mobile phone.  I thought he wanted one.”

“Not a knitted one!”

“You know I can’t afford to buy them expensive presents.”

“But what can he do with it?”

“He can pretend to ring up his friends and chat with them.  Anyway, don’t I always ask you what Scott wants?”

There was a muffled grunt at the other end of the line.

“Last year it was Harry Potter.  Before that, dinosaurs and Thomas the Tank Engine – all knitted to look just like the real thing.  Better than the real thing.  What does Flora want for her birthday?”

The reply was drowned out by another squealing child.

“Is she still into Barbie?” Doris persisted.  “I could knit her some accessories …”

“No!” shouted Rachel.  “Don’t knit anything else.  They hate your presents.”  Then she hung up.

Doris was thunderstruck.  She lived for her knitting.  Since Stan’s death it was what kept her going.  It was like an addiction.  Drug addicts used needles to get their fix.  Doris used knitting needles.

Knitting was a dying art which she fought to keep alive.  Doris could look at a picture of something and knit it – just like that – so that sometimes the likeness was uncanny.

She had plenty of customers.  The front room of her terraced house had been transformed into a shop window where she mounted displays.  At the moment it was Halloween, with witches, broomsticks and pumpkins.  At Christmas there was always the Nativity.  Then there were the film tie-ins like Lord of the Rings.  Quite a challenge, that one.

Passers-by would ring on her doorbell, step inside for a chat and leave clutching a bag of her woolly creations.  All the money went to charity: the Heart Foundation.

It was Stan’s heart that gave up on him.  In her darker moments, Doris wondered whether her husband had just given up on life.  Whether his heart had stopped beating through lack of purpose.  Four years ago he’d lost his job and ended up staring into space like a zombie.

One day Doris went out to the shops and when she came back Stan was dead.  The only way she’d known had been the strange sideways slump of his body in the armchair.

Doing nothing was death, thought Doris.  The trick was to keep busy.

She settled down on the sofa with her latest knitting and Neighbours.

Within minutes the doorbell was ringing and Doris remembered what day it was.  She was ready for visitors: a plate of tiny woollen pumpkins grinned from the entrance hall table.

“Trick or Treat,” said a spotty vampire.

“Money or Eat,” muttered a sullen witch.

Trick or Treat was really begging, thought Doris.  Or blackmail.  It seemed to have replaced “Penny for the Guy” as a way for youngsters to get more pocket-money.

“Show me your trick, then,” demanded Doris.

The teenagers looked at each other as if she had asked them to recite Shakespeare.

“Don’t have one, do we?”  Dracula frowned.  “The deal is you give us a treat,” he said, “then we won’t play a trick on you.”

“Lucky for me that I’ve made these, then.”  Doris brought out her plate of mini pumpkins.

Five hands shot out to snatch them.

“They’re wool,” spat a baffled witch.

“Yes, aren’t they lovely,” said Doris.  “You could decorate the ends of your pens with them.”  She shut the front door sharply, just as the first swear word reached her ears.

As Doris retreated into the living room, the letter box rattled.

“Don’t know why I bother,” she muttered to herself, looking around the room for comfort.  But the hundreds of woolly faces that gazed back at her from the shelves seemed aloof and blank tonight.  There were animals and characters of every size, shape and colour lining the walls.  They seemed to be breeding like rabbits.

Doris picked up her knitting needles out of habit, but quickly tossed them aside.  What was the point?

She felt faint.  All this wool was making her choke.  It was suffocating her.

“Give us some money!” shouted a nasty voice through the letter box.

Something smacked against the front window.  Doris guessed it was an egg, but she was afraid to draw the curtains.

Raucous laughter followed her up the stairs.  She ought to ring the police, really, but they’d be extra busy on a night like this.

What if those yobs put fireworks through her letter box?  Her house would go up like a bonfire.  All that wool.  It was a fire risk as well as a health risk.

Doris lay down on her bed and tried to breathe deeply to stop herself panicking.

“Maybe I will just stop,” she thought.

Tomorrow she would give up the knitting and get rid of her creations.  Have one last clear-out sale.  Then she could take up something more sociable.  Help out in a charity shop, perhaps, or take up Bridge.

“Yes, thought Doris, “it would do me good to make some new friends.”

She reached out for the soft woolly hand of the mannequin tucked under the covers beside her.  “What do you think, Stan?”

It would be November the 5th in a few days time.  Maybe she’d throw her husband on the bonfire as well.



© Nick Walker 2004

This story was published as Gran, Please Stop Knitting by Take a Break’s Fiction Feast magazine in November 2005:

Gran, please stop knitting