The coda of my trip to Northampton was a visit to Webs.
From the outside and the first room inside it's fairly generic, though quite well-stocked. Then you get to the warehouse-like back room. OMG!!! It's like the Filene's Basement of fiber!!! We're talking Major Discounts here. Be warned: this is an extremely dangerous place for anyone with a serious yarn habit!
Aisles are organized by weights (bulky, worsted, sock, etc.) and skeins or cones.
Best to go with one or several projects in mind, so you can stay focused. There's an area up front, fyi, for non-knitters, with comfy armchairs and reading material, so they don't mind the wait while their knitting partners are in a Dionysian frenzy in the back room.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Here it is, a hand-knitted wedding dress, hanging in the window of Northampton Wools, on Pleasant Street in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I was yesterday and today. Up close and personal is the story behind it all (lower right corner pasted into the shop window):
This is a beautiful shop, well worth the visit.
Art imitates life, too!
Monday, May 24, 2010
"The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater" has concluded, and I now return to my usual postings of nonfiction knitting-in-New England items. I enjoyed creating the story--my method was the Victorian model of serial fiction, written to deadline--but while involved with that, I was also busy sussing out other topics and leads. Soon to come from this period of fact gathering will be posts about an alpaca farm in Rhode Island and a trip to Massachusetts yarn country. I was heartened to see, however, that while "The Curse" was ongoing, my readership spiked and the total readership outside the U.S. increased to twenty-four countries.
It is fascinating for me to know that there are some in Europe, Asia, and Africa who read this blog, and I am curious to learn what drew them to it. Are you New England knitters far from home? Are you Europeans/Africans/Asians who are interested in the knitting culture of the world? If any of you care to drop me a line via this blog's comments option (or the email address on my profile page) to let me know, I would be most grateful. Similarly I'm also interested in hearing from readers in North America, whether Canada, the U.S., or the West Indies, who are outside the regional scope yet read the blog regularly. What is it that you enjoy?
Meanwhile, I will use the rest of the this post to update the world about the prodigious accomplishments of the Langworthy Library Knitting Association. The sock photo at top is of the five amazingly gorgeous pairs Denise knit during April and May. Next, a photo of Julia (and a peek at Jane), both wearing their handknitted sweaters. Julia's is a top-down design in an alpaca-wool blend that requires minimal seaming. Her next project--same pattern, I believe--is on the table before her.
Finally, here's Jane wearing a beautiful pink cardigan. The shocking thing about it is...this was the first sweater she ever made, and she knit it when she was twelve. How awesome is that? The sweater is still in gorgeous condition, more than thirty-five years ex post facto, and the work is stunning. Below, a detail.
I shall close with two noteworthy items. First, WWKIP approaches: World Wide Knit In Public Day is the second Saturday in June. What will you do to celebrate? The Langworthy Knitters will meet at the library, rain or shine, and go at it from 10-2 on June 12th. Please join us, and we'll give you a sticker badge. If you want to learn to knit or need knitting help, we are there for you! 24 Spring St., Hope Valley, Rhode Island. It's also the date of the annual library book sale (need I say more?).
Second, this month marks the first anniversary of www.Knitting New England.blogspot.com! How time flies when I'm having fun! Please send suggestions for future posts. And yes, I'm actually going to Maine in September, maybe earlier, with at least one stop in New Hampshire.
smw and friend (below)
Saturday, May 22, 2010
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
© S. Moss-Ward, 2010
All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced, except with permission.
It was one of those parties where people holding frosty alcoholic drinks stood in small groups on a terrace with an awesome ocean view, and when they saw someone they knew there was a lot of excitement in three or four languages, and then they started bear-hugging and kissing the newcomer on either side of the face.
This is what happened to Guy as soon as we walked into party-land. There was a flurry in our direction, and then it was like he was being tackled by a bunch of kissaholic women and a few men. Seriously. I had no idea my dad possessed that kind of rock-star magnetism.
It was definitely eye-opening to observe him amidst his admirers. I mean basically all he does, besides teaching a couple of classes a term, is write. I don’t really get why anyone would find my dad’s work all that thrilling—because no matter how interesting the subject might be to him or anyone else, writing, like reading, is a pretty quiet job, and you wouldn’t expect people to get so fired up about someone who obsessively spasms about two very dead white men like Honoré de Balzac and Henry James.
Fortunately Guy had removed his headgear before it got knocked off by the enthusiastic groupies. I stood behind him holding the pith helmet, which looked like a misshapen basket. Or a bucket. Whatever possessed him to acquire this thing? I mean if he had to wear a sun hat, why couldn’t it be something less gross, like maybe a baseball cap?
The only other person I’d ever seen wearing a pith helmet was Shirley Temple in “Wee Willie Winkie,” an ancient movie I’d watched on tv at my grandma’s house when I visited her, like lightyears ago. Come to think of it, everyone in the movie wore pith helmets, not just Shirley Temple. In some parts of the world it’s normal headgear. But just because it’s normal in India or wherever, why wear it in Rhode Island? It’s like wearing one of those Yassir Arafat head-cloths if you aren’t Palestinian and just happen to live in Cranston. I mean, hello?
I put the helmet on my head.
“Bee, come here,” said my dad, “so I can introduce you.”
I shuffled forward. Guy put his arm around me and gave a slight hug. “This is Barbara,” he said. “My daughter.”
I took off the helmet. “Hi,” I mumbled, looking more at the ground than at anyone in particular, because I felt like totally embarrassed with everyone’s eyes on me. Face it, Bee, I told myself, you are a social misfit, and everyone knows it. They are zooming in with x-ray vision, and see that your underpants are high-waisted and a weird shade of pink because something ran in the wash, and you do not shave your legs because you are strongly opposed to sexist ideas of conventional female beauty.
There were blue flagstones underfoot, and there was a pair of very pointy-toed red stilettos opposite my purple-painted toenails and purple flip-flops. I looked up, my eyes traveling along the legs that belonged to the shoes, and discovered the red stilettos eventually connected to the rest of Professor Chantal Remercier. Her short hair and straight bangs were lacquer black, and she wore a red Suzy Wong dress with a mandarin collar and frog closures, like she was a sex worker from one of those Rhode Island “spas” that are always being outed on the local tv news.
“Allo,” she said. “We have met before, I believe.”
“Yes. How are you?”
“I am very well. And you?”
“Fine, thank you.”
Guy said, “Professor Remercier and her husband return to France next week.”
“Oh,” I said. “Are you happy to be going home?”
“It is always nice to return home,” said Chantal, “but of course it has been a great pleasure to be here, and particularly to work with your father and some other renowned scholars. But let me introduce you to my ‘usband.” Chantal reached behind her and pulled a blazered elbow towards us.
Its owner turned around. I ‘d never seen a man who looked like this before, and maybe I won’t ever again, unless for some weird reason I move to Hollywood, or take a job as a nanny to some major celebrity couple. He was Hugh Grant, Matt Damon, and James Bond all rolled into one, and when he smiled his teeth were super white. His brown, wavy hair was perfectly styled, and his brown eyes were just incredibly expressive. He was, like, totally super gorgeous, and I could hardly believe he was real. I suddenly wanted to touch his beautiful skin, and I could feel my palms sweat and itch. If he talks to me, I thought, I’m going to turn into a babbling idiot.
“Hello,” he said. His accent was British and French at the same time. “I am François Villon. And you are…?”
“Babar,” I squeaked, my mouth feeling horribly dry. Then I felt my face heat up and turn bright red, as if I’d walked smack into a wall, and then I started to giggle uncontrollably. “No…hehehehehe, …I mean…I am…hehehe…Babará….hehehehe,” pronouncing my name with the accent on the last syllable, like it’s pronounced in French.
I looked at Guy who was looking at me wide-eyed, with his mouth slightly open, as if he had a cold and couldn’t properly breathe.
“It is very nice to meet you, Babar,” said François Villon, who apparently hadn’t heard me in full. He, too, looked somewhat puzzled, but he was also smiling. “May I find you a drink? I was just going to get myself something.”
“Yes please,” I gasped. After the giggle spasms, my voice sounded like an accordion that had been totally squeezed out of air.
“And what would you like?
“Uh…a Shirley Temple?” I said. “Or whatever you’re having?”
“Uh…a Shirley Temple?” I said. “Or whatever you’re having?”
François said he would be right back, and moved off to the edge of the terrace, where there was a bar. While he was away, my dad was in rapt conversation with Chantal and several others, some of whom I recognized from past department socials, all of whom ignored me, which was fine because I just wanted to curl up in a little ball and die in some obscure hole.
Congratulations, Bee, I told myself. You have once again opened the mouth and inserted the foot. How could I have said such a thing to this Movie-Star Hunk? (There were, like, no other possible words except such fanzine clichés to describe him.) And why hadn’t Guy told me that Chantal was married? I could just imagine his answer, though. “Because you never asked me, Bee.” And then he would say, “Why did you tell François Villon your name is Babar? I thought you hated that name.”
If my mother had been in Rhode Island instead of in Maine, I thought, I would never have gone to this party with Guy, she would have gone with him, and this amazingly mortifying slip of the tongue would never have happened, and I wouldn’t have been perceived as such a pathetic loser. Well, whatever. Seeing as there was an abundance of alcohol at this festive get-together, I decided to find out, for the first time, what it was like to drown my sorrows in drink.
François approached me with a tall glass of something that looked like tomato juice in his hand. “Here, Miss Babar,” he said, smiling hugely with his amazing teeth on full display. “I hope you like it.”
“What …is it?”
“It is…how do you say…a ‘virgin Mary.’ Which is, I believe, a Bloody Mary without the vodka. Because I think you are under the legal drinking age, yes?”
I nodded, unable to deny the humiliating truth. We were standing at the terrace’s edge, leaning up against a railing, looking towards the ocean.
“You know,” François continued, “if I were you, I would not call myself Babar, ma chère.”
“It’s really Barbara,” I gulped. “I don’t know why I said that. I felt like my mouth froze.”
“Your mouth, it is frozen?” François looked at me quizzically for a few seconds, pondering. Then he continued: “No, I would call you, maybe, Celeste, because she is the queen of Babar’s realm.”
“Oh. Thank you.” I felt my face go scarlet again.
“Not at all. Except right now you are not quite the queen, because you are so young. In France we call someone like you une jeune fille en fleur. In fact, I would call you a princesse rather than a queen. Now what was the daughter of Babar called, do you remember?”
“Flora, I think.”
“Ah yes, that is correct.” He raised his gin and tonic to me. “A ta santé, Princesse Flora,” he said. “It has been a delight to talk with you.” We both sipped our drinks and then he joined the disciples around my dad.
For the rest of the party, I wandered around the terrace (grabbing hors d’oeuvres from strategically-placed platters); I walked on the beach, I returned to the terrace, I went inside to the bathroom, I came outside and grabbed more munchies on the terrace, and I finally started giving my dad signals to convey my extremely deep level of boredom. But it was like he didn’t get it—like, maybe sometimes he’d wave over someone’s shoulder if he saw me, or lean over as I passed by to whisper “how are you doing?” and when I mimed yawning or going to sleep he’d smile as if he understood, and then he’d keep right on talking. He was behaving in a way I’d never seen before—so charming, so charismatic, so wise and witty and profound. I wondered if this was the person my mom had married, so many years before I was born.
Finally it got really dark and buggy outside; people started to drift away, even though mosquito candles were burning in glass lamps that twinkled on the terrace railings. Finally Guy found me and said, “Ready to go, Bee?”
“Uh huh. I’ll meet you at the car.” I sat there and dozed for another half hour while Guy made his farewells to the Europe-bound Europeans. Finally we were on our way back to Providence.
“It was a good party, don’t you think?” he asked me.
“I’m sorry if you were bored. I understand. There wasn’t anyone else your age.”
“I should have brought some knitting.”
“Hmmm….knitting. I’ve noticed you haven’t been doing much of that lately. Is it because your mother’s not around?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Well, I’m thinking about my next project.”
I turned and watched my dad’s face as he drove steadily towards home. Broken stripes of light washed across him as the car moved past intersections and down thinly illuminated streets.
“I’m trying to decide,” I said, “if I should make an afghan for Ben to take to boarding school in the fall.”
My dad didn’t say anything for a while. Then he said, “I had the feeling you and Ben have cooled it a bit.”
“Yeah, well, that’s true,” I admitted. “He’s working every day this summer, at his father’s office. He’s kind of scarce.” But I knew that was only part of the story. Ben was scarce because he wanted to be.
“Well here’s my two cents,” said my dad. “Don’t.”
“Ok. Why not?”
“Because, my dear, the truth is that guys don’t know how to deal with presents like that. It’s too…it’s very…complicated. I don’t have to tell you, of all people, what a big deal it is to knit a present for someone. Giving him a hand-knitted anything—well, he just can’t reciprocate or even acknowledge it in a way that’s proportional to the present itself. Especially somebody Ben’s age. Especially someone who’s just a friend, not a relative.”
“Oh.” I felt somewhat relieved to hear this, as if my dad had given me permission to, like, totally give up on the mitred-square afghan, which honestly I’d never felt right about, for reasons I couldn’t completely express.
Then I said, “Dad…thanks for taking me to that party. It doesn’t matter that I was kind of bored. It was interesting anyway.”
“That’s good to hear. I was a bit concerned.”
“It was interesting to see you…um, to see you….to see you…”
“…without Maxine?” He finished the sentence for me.
“Yeah. That’s it. Because seeing you alone gave me this idea that you are, and maybe everyone is, like a cube, like one of the dice from the Monopoly set.”
Guy chuckled. “Go on,” he said. “This is an amusing comparison.”
“Like there are different things on each side of the die, but you can only see some of them, depending on how it’s placed. Or how you approach it.”
“Nice analogy,” he said.
“So tonight I saw some sides of you that I’ve not really seen before, because I never see you at work. And when we’re staying in the house together without Mom, I see other sides of you—like the side that leaves empty pizza boxes all over the diningroom table—that would never show if she were there.”
“Undoubtedly,” he agreed. “Although you could take it upon yourself to chuck the boxes, if they bother you.”
“But they don’t,” I said. “They only bother Maxine.”
There was another silence as we drove along. By now we were almost home, and I didn’t want the ride to end because I felt that once we left the car the conversation would pop, like a tiny bubble of soap.
“Listen, Dad,” I said, all of a sudden. “There’s something I really want to ask.”
He pulled into our driveway, and we sat there, in the car, listening to things plink and click under the hood as the engine began to cool.
“What is it, Bee?” He turned and looked to me in the gray-black dark.
“You know that sweater Maxine made for you when you were in college? The one you always wear at holiday parties to make her feel good?”
My father nodded, and then he sighed. “Indeed I do,” he said. “That sweater has…” and he didn’t finish the sentence.
“That sweater has what?”
“Um….it doesn’t matter, honey. I’m not going to wear it any more, I think.”
“Is it too tight?”
“Yes, you could say that. At any rate, it definitely doesn’t fit me. And maybe it never did. Even when it was the right width, the sleeves were always too long.”
We went inside. The house was cool and smelled of air conditioning. It was a totally comfy mess of discarded newspapers, half-read magazines and books, empty pizza boxes, a kitchen heaped with dirty plates, glasses, and silverware; an upstairs of unmade beds, dusty floors, and slobacious bathrooms.
Tomorrow we would have to clean like maniacs, because Maxine was supposed to return by the evening, and if she saw how everything really was while she’d been away, she’d hit the roof. I thought how free we’d been, my dad and I, these past two weeks, without her, and how, really, we hadn’t missed her at all. The two of us had been like truants or rebellious…I don’t know…prisoners, maybe. And we’d had so much fun.
And then I thought how crazy it was that you could love someone like your mother or your wife, and yet something could definitely change in your feelings, so that it was like a stepping away from the rules of how you were supposed to be a daughter or husband. Because as soon as Maxine left to do something for herself, a new kind of space had appeared in our lives. I mean, how strange was that? It was like some door had been unlocked, or some spell had been broken, and I just knew in the very deepest part of me, that there was totally no way things could ever be the same as before.
Monday, May 17, 2010
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
a continuing fiction
© S. Moss-Ward, 2010
All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced, except with permission.
Here’s the totally bizarre and surprising thing: as soon as my mother left, a deep feeling of relaxation washed over the house. Everything felt fresh. It made me think that something had been wrong for, like, forever, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what that something was. I mean, it was my mother’s house, too. In fact, it’s mostly my mother’s house, since her knitted stuff is everywhere—bedspreads in the bedrooms, afghans and throw pillows in the livingroom, curtains in the kitchen, and even a small knitted rug on the floor in front of the kitchen sink. It’s like our house is wearing one ginormous sweater that she’s never stopped knitting, and instead of a number on our mailbox we have a label that says “Hand Knits by Maxine.”
My mother is basically a good person. She can be incredibly aggravating, of course, but I always felt she was dedicated to me, to Guy, to our little family. Her knitting was proof of that—why put in the time unless she really loved the people who’d benefit from the work? But without her, everything felt happier and lighter. How weird was that? I couldn’t help thinking that if my mom had any idea of the positive change she’d caused by simply not being there, she’d be totally ballistically enraged.
For the first week of her so-called vacation “just for me” she phoned, like, every evening “to check in.” “We’re fine,” I told her, for what seemed like the nine zillionth time, although she’d been gone for maybe five days. I passed the phone to my dad. He and I were at the dining room table, which was covered with open and mostly empty (except for some crusts) pizza boxes, the accumulation of several days’ dinners. Plus the pizza dinner we were currently eating. We were doing “a study in comparative pizzaology,” as he called it. Every night so far we’d ordered in from a different local place. Tonight’s was a Quattro Stagione from Fellini’s, on Wickendon Street.
“Everything’s fine,” he said. “Having a good time? Well of course there's a period of adjustment. Listen, here’s Barbara.” He passed the phone back to me, like it was a hot potato. I looked at him cross-eyed. Why couldn’t he talk to her for more than a few seconds?
“How are you?” I asked, while nibbling as quietly as I could from a truly delicious slice that was covered with shaved prosciutto and oozing mozzarella.
“Tired,” she sighed. “It was such a long drive and I’ve been feeling almost jet-lagged since I got here. I wish I could go to sleep for a couple of days. And on top of that, there’s a lot I have to learn in this workshop. There’s even homework!”
“Mom,” I said. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I thought that sounded both casual and wise at the same time. “Just try to have fun,” I told her. “After all, it’s a dream vacation. Just. For. You,” I emphasized.
I put Guy back on. “Everything’s under control, Maxine,” he said, winking at me and making silly faces. I was drinking a twenty-four ounce diet Coke from a supersize cup with a bendy straw, and when I laughed it seemed like most of the soda sprayed all over and went up my nose.
“Don’t worry about anything at all,” Dad said. “Try to enjoy your time alone, ok? Yes, love you, too.”
After that she called less often. “She must be having a great time,” Guy and I told each other.
Another surprising thing—my dad was at home more than I expected. That basically killed my original plan of floating around the house doing whatever while he was thinking deep thoughts in his office. On the other hand, it was more fun and interesting than I’d imagined. He actually talked to me about meaningful stuff, like his work, and we started eating brunch together on weekdays, since, it turned out, without Maxine around to organize everything, we both liked to stay up late and get up late. And he did the cooking.
“I make very good scrambled eggs, don’t you think, Babar?”
I put on a stern face. “Dad,” I said, “this has to stop!”
“What? You don’t like my scrambled eggs?”
“It’s not the eggs,” I said. “You just can’t call me Babar any more, ok? I really hate that name.”
“Oh come on,” he said. “It’s been my name for you forever.”
“Well… I’ve hated it forever! I find it insulting. I don’t like being compared to a picture-book elephant.”
“Ok,” he said slowly, as if he were really thinking it through, which I doubted. “I see your point.” And the whole big deal was over, just like that. My dad is good in this way, unlike my mother, who simmers inwardly and never lets go.
We were quiet for a while, eating our eggs and toast. Then he said, in a manner I’d term ‘cautiously polite’: “If I can’t call you Babar, may I call you Bee?” I nodded yes because my mouth was full.
“So I’ve been wondering, Bee,” he continued, “You’re looking different to me recently. Is it possible you’ve grown taller?”
I put down my fork and went to the doorway between the kitchen and dining room where there were measuring marks for my height from, like, when I had first learned to walk. The last time I’d been measured was in sixth grade. Of course I was way taller now. I backed onto the door frame and commanded, “Tape measure, sir!”
He took it from the junk drawer in the kitchen. I placed my heel on one end, and he zipped the other up the wall and made a mark at the end with a pencil. “Mon dieu!” he said, smacking his forehead in super-exaggerated surprise. “How did you grow so fast?”
“The last time you measured me I was twelve,” I reminded him. “So how tall am I, anyway?”
“Five feet nine inches! Wow! Soon you’ll be towering over me!” He’s six-foot-one.
“I hope not!”
For about a month, though, I suspected I’d recently grown taller instead of wider. I thought that might account for the way my body was reshaping itself. My jeans had become looser around the hips, and my stomach no longer muffin-topped over the waistband, like a pregnant woman’s belly.
“You do look different, Bee,” he said. “You know…I’d be willing to bet that you’ve lost some weight. Though it’s hard to tell what you look like underneath your rather …um…oversized…um…coverings.”
“I think you may be on to something,” I agreed.
Then he asked two interesting questions. The first was would I go to a department party with him on Saturday? It was at someone’s house in Little Compton, in honor of visiting faculty members who were returning home.
The second was, if he gave me some money, would I buy myself some new clothes? Not that he objected to my usual attire, but given as how I seemed to be slimming down, maybe I could actually use some things in smaller sizes?
I said I would consider both of these proposals and get back to him.
That would be fine, he said.
About five minutes later I told him yes, and yes.
The next day Guy gave me a bunch of money and I moseyed over to the consignment shop on Hope Street. The owner, a harpy who could have been the twin sister of Monsieur Corbeau, of Cianci Academy Honors French fame—Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché, Tenait en son bec un fromage—followed me around the store like I was a criminal looking to pilfer her—let’s be totally honest—used merchandise. I was the only customer in the place, of course, so that made it easy for her to breathe down my neck.
There was a lot of interesting stuff, actually, or else I would have left sooner rather than later, because Madame Corbeau creeped me out so totally. Anyway, I ended up buying several items, including a long purple-blue tie-dyed skirt with an eyelet lace cotton petticoat underneath, and an olive green cashmere twinset—a tank top and a beaded matching cardigan. Also a Kelly bag in tangerine leather. I handed over the money haughtily, barely making eye contact, so she would realize her assumptions about my intentions were totally false.
I wore these clothes to the party, and traded the tank-like Doc Martens for a pair of ninety-nine cent flip-flops (purple) purchased at the CVS drugstore across from the consignment shop, along with a bottle of purple nail polish for my fingers and toes.
“Nice colors,” said my dad, as I folded myself into his sunflower yellow Beetle, carefully arranging the skirt so that it didn’t catch in the door, which he gallantly held open for me. “So lively. Your nails. Your outfit. Your hair-ribbon! (I’d tied my ponytail with some gold lacy ribbon I’d saved from a candy box years ago.) Everything!”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said. I figured he was being complimentary because lately he’d never seen me wear anything except my fugly jeans and immense tops.
“You might not quite understand this, Bee,” he said, after we’d been driving a while, “and please don’t take it the wrong way…but it’s kind of painful for me to see you hide yourself in those, um, oversized clothes you usually wear. Especially now that I see how cute you look in your pretty new things.”
I was tempted to respond sarcastically, because frankly, my dad’s comment was so ridiculously sexist and conventional. But I sensed that he was, in his weird way, really trying to be kind. So I put a lid on the snarkiness. “It’s just the way people my age dress now,” I explained carefully, as if talking to someone whose first language isn’t English. “You know, very casual and random, kind of eclectic, kind of anything goes. ” I realized this sounded either horribly patronizing or else defensive and lame, but I didn’t want to get into a microanalysis of my body issues and destroy the calm of our car ride.
“Well, my dear, I see people just about your age in my classes every day, and it strikes me that most of them make an effort to wear things that are a little less, um, drapey—know what I mean?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling a sullenness enter my voice. “Can we talk about something else, ok?”
Instead we said nothing for a while. I watched the landscape roll past, like a beautiful movie. We were near the ocean and there were lots of rippling fields that seemed to flow down to the shore and the blue-green ocean beyond; we passed postcard villages of antique houses, shingled with white trim, surrounded by thickly-planted gardens.
“Listen, I don’t mean to sound critical,” my dad said. “Let’s just forget what I said and enjoy the party.” He reached across to me and patted my hand, then pulled the Beetle into a long graveled driveway that was mobbed by cars. Far ahead I could see a large house, and a lot of people.
“I’m glad you agreed to come with me, Bee,” Dad said. He looked so totally absent-minded professor, with his frizzy hair and bushy mustache, his ridiculous straw pith-helmet sunhat, his blue-and-white striped shirt buttoned the wrong way (I fixed it for him as soon as I noticed!), his humongous turquoise-and-silver Navajo belt-buckle holding up blue jeans, and Teva sandals on his abnormally white feet. Maybe a couple of years ago I’d have rather died than be seen in public with him, but somehow none of that mattered now, because I had a feeling inside of me that said I don’t care what other people think! I felt like he was my dad and I was his daughter, and we could be friends and have fun, as well as just being related. We didn’t need to impress anyone else or try to be different from who we are.
A few days later, when I told Dr. Burger about this realization, which seemed to me like a small flash of insight, she smiled in a thoughtful way. Then she said, “It’s good to see that you’re gaining confidence, Barbara.”
“I guess,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Oh,” said Dr. Burger. “I think you already answered that question.” And then she smiled some more. Sometimes she could be more aggravating than my mother.
Monday, May 10, 2010
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
a continuing fiction
© S. Moss-Ward, 2010
All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced, except with permission.
“C’mon, Bee,” Ben had said. “It’s not like I died.” But in a way it was. This is what I discussed with Dr. Burger for the next few weeks.
“It’s a loss for you,” she said, and then I started to cry, which made me feel really lame and immature. Dr. Burger leaned forward with a box of tissues, and I extracted a clump. “It will take some time to adjust, Barbara. Right now it feels as if Ben has deserted you.”
“I feel like something terrible happened to him,” I sniffled. “I know it’s stupid, and I should be happy for him, going to a great new school and all.”
“But you don’t feel happy,” said Dr. Burger.
I blew my nose noisily. “It’s really just like he died…at least I think this is what it would be like if anyone I knew….I mean, anyone I know…had died.” I looked blearily at Dr. Burger, sitting there in her dorky brown pantsuit, sensible low-heeled shoes, and flower-print scarf, wondering if she thought I was dramatizing way too much.
“Then you have to give yourself time to grieve,” she said.
Afterwards I felt oddly calm, so maybe it was a good thing that I had had a meltdown in Dr. Burger’s office. There wasn’t anyone else I could talk to about the situation, certainly not my parents.
Sometimes Maxine tried to find out what happened in my therapy sessions and I was always sketchy, because it was, like, totally none of her business. When we sat knitting after dinner, she’d make casual inquiries—“So how’s it going in therapy?”—and I’d say “it’s going.” Then Maxine would say, “Oh, that’s good. Do you think it’s helping you?” and I’d say, “Maybe.” It had been her idea that I go into therapy, anyway. She told me my problems were beyond her.
My problems? This was a conclusion my parents had reached, seeing as I had no friends except for Ben, and was somewhat overweight. Apparently to them being fat and basically friendless is the same as having a psychological disorder. Even though I’d pointed out that I’d never complained about anything, including the ridiculous quasi-education I was being subjected to at Cianci Academy, and had sucked up the fact that I was stuck in high school hell until I turned eighteen. As it turned out, though, I kind of liked talking to Dr. Burger and bouncing stuff off her. I liked her because she seemed genuinely interested in my life, and didn’t treat me as if I was some kind of sorry loser.
I think Dr. Burger helped me get used to the idea of a future without Ben. Suddenly, it was almost as if he’d already left, even though we saw each other a lot until school ended at the beginning of June. But there was now this barrier in place, like a big glass wall. We still emailed and texted somewhat, but it was highly superficial. I dealt with the situation pretty well overall, I thought. At least Ben had no idea of my devastation.
Then it was summer. Ben had a clerical job in this father’s law office, and, like a Stepford son, went downtown every morning wearing khakis, a Lacoste shirt, and loafers. One late afternoon, when I saw him get off the bus, I crossed to the other side of the street and walked fast in the opposite direction. I couldn’t actually believe I was avoiding the person who’d been my best and only friend, but that’s what I did. He had so totally defected. It was really sad that he had entirely vacated the premises of what summer vacation really meant—relaxing, reading for fun, making cool plans, maybe taking a little day trip to somewhere interesting, like Boston, or Mystic, or the beach.
My summer job was pretty “lite”—babysitting for two little sisters, Mackenzie and Madison Fleischmann, after the carpool dropped them off from day camp at five p.m., until their parents, both doctors, came home around seven. They lived just down the street, so it took about three seconds to get to their house. This meant I had the whole day before meeting the Fleischmann girls to do whatever, which was mostly sleeping very late, surfing the Web and doing email, walking to the Rochambeau branch of the library and finding interesting books—I’d decided to read at least thirty novels over the summer—and doing the occasional errand for the parents. I’d started knitting a blue-and-green mitered square afghan for Ben to take to boarding school in September, but after a while I lost interest, so I put it aside. For most of June I didn’t knit anything at all.
Instead, after dinner I just sat with my mother as she worked on her latest project—a set of white lace café curtains and a swag valance, for the window over the kitchen sink—and read, or watched Netflix movies or tv.
After a couple of weeks of this new routine, Maxine asked, “What’s with the not knitting?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m just not in the mood to be sitting with a pile of wool in my lap.”
“So knit cotton, or one of those new bamboo or soy yarns.” That’s what she did when the weather was hot. The curtains were made of very fine flax.
“I’m not in the mood.”
“Then you should study for the SAT. Have you looked into taking a Kaplan course?”
“No.” The thought made me inwardly retch. I decided, at that moment, to tell her to back off.
“There’s something I want to tell you,” we both said at the same time, and then we laughed a little.
“Bread and butter.”
“Bread and butter.”
“You go first.” I gestured grandly towards Maxine.
“Well…all right. There’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” she began dreamily, as if she were reading a story out loud that began once upon a time.
I looked down at my hands, neatly folded in my lap. Being June, it was too hot to wear the sweater tent, so I’d helped myself to one of Guy’s old sweatshirts. It said BROWN in white letters, which I thought was an interesting concept, sort of like spelling the word “red” in black letters. It made you think about word meanings or the lack thereof. The sweatshirt, a men’s size extra-extra-large, had had very long sleeves that I’d had to partly hack off, because rolling them up didn’t work well. It would be an understatement to say that this garment looked seriously shabby.
Maxine said, in a weirdly joyous voice, “I’m going to take a little vacation.”
“Oh?” Why was she presenting this as if it were some humongous deal? She and Guy had occasionally taken vacations, with or without me. When they’d gone by themselves, my grandma, who lived in Brooklyn, would come to stay, or I’d be sent to her house. Not for a while, though, come to think of it. “Where are you going?”
“Maine,” she said. “There’s a craft school in Deer Isle that runs courses on weaving. I’ve always wanted to learn to weave, and I’ve been accepted, and I’ll be leaving next weekend.”
So this was her grand plan. Yawn. I mean, I’m all for her doing what she wants to do, but why all the drama?
“You’re going alone?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, now sounding kind of edgy. “This is something just for me, something I’m doing for myself. Will you be ok with your father? You know how absent-minded he is—you’ll be on your own a lot.”
“I hope you can figure out something productive to do while I’m away.”
I ignored the comment. “How long for?” I asked.
“I’m not really sure. At least two weeks, perhaps longer if I go somewhere else afterwards.”
I couldn’t imagine where she’d go afterwards, but just then it didn’t seem to be worth asking. I was already thinking of how nice it would be to have the whole house to myself all day, since Guy would most likely be at his office, writing or researching. I smiled a huge smile. “Have a great vacation,” I said. “Learning to weave sounds really cool.”
“What were you about to ask me,” asked Maxine, “when we both talked at the same time?”
“Well…here’s the thing,” I said, keeping my voice light and upbeat. “And I’ve been thinking about if for a while, too. It’s that I really don’t like calling you Maxine. It doesn’t feel right. I’d really rather call you Mom.”
She stared at me for a few seconds. “Is this something you dreamed up with your therapist?” Her voice had returned to its usual level of repressed emotion.
“Actually not. I started thinking about this on the day I turned sixteen, when you said I should call you Maxine. It didn’t feel right then, and it doesn’t feel right now. I kept expecting I’d get used to it after a while, but that hasn’t happened.”
“You are so reactionary,” my mother said. She looked extremely pissed. “But if that’s how you feel, there’s nothing I can do about it. So go ahead, call me Mom, or Mother.” She shrugged and surveyed her knitting. “I never thought I’d …,” she muttered.
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” She was intently examining the curtain, which was about half done. It covered her lap like a big white skirt.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, and left.
I went into the upstairs bathroom and undressed without looking in the mirror. My dumpy clothes lay in a mound on the floor, looking like they needed to be burned rather than washed. Then I stepped on the scale. The reading was the same as it had been in the morning. It had taken me by surprise, as I ‘d made no effort to diet. But since Ben and I had stopped our after-school routine a few weeks earlier, I’d lost eight pounds. And, since I’d continued to wear the customary sack-like outfits, neither my mother nor Guy had noticed. This was very good, I thought. I would continue to melt away, and one day I’d completely take them by surprise.
There was a knock on the door. “Babar,” said Guy, using his “pet” name for me, “are you going to be in there for a while?”
I stepped off the scale. “Maybe, Dad,” I said. I heard him clomp away down the hall. It always amazed me that in a house which featured three bathrooms—one for each resident—one of my parents always seemed to need the bathroom I’d chosen. I would have vacated if Guy hadn’t called me Babar, a nickname that might have been cute for five minutes when I was a pudgy baby. Now it was just one more annoying thing to endure. I made a mental note to take the bull by the horns, and have a little chat with my father about this when Maxine--I mean, my mother--was weaving her heart out in Maine.
Monday, May 3, 2010
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
a continuing fiction
© S. Moss-Ward, 2010
All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced, except with permission.
I wish I could say the story came true, that I gave Ben his birthday present that had taken me, like, six weeks to knit, and that afterwards we’d somehow moved into an even more “interesting” phase of our friendship. I did actually text him one Friday night at ten to see if he could go with me Saturday to Olneyville, and pretty soon afterwards he replied: “bizzy.” So right from the start nothing went as I’d hoped.
The next time I saw him, after hours of numbing servitude in the Olneyville community garden and a weekend that generally stank because it was either homework or chores, was early the following Monday. Ben was ahead of me on Rochambeau, walking fast towards the bus stop, and didn’t turn around once to notice I was a half block behind.
It was drizzly and dank out, but it was really spring by now with green grass and leafy trees and tulips and daffodils; I was grateful that I didn’t have to pick my way over patches of dirty ice and slush as I’d done for all the winter months, since no one in Providence shovels sidewalks. Even with clear sidewalks, though, it was impossible to catch up to him. By the time I reached the corner he was already across the street and the bus was there. Of course the light was red in my direction, there was a ton of morning rush hour traffic on Hope Street, and by the time I made it to the other side, the bus had already loaded. I could see Ben, through the windows, moving towards the back as the bus roared away.
I should have known this was an omen, but I’m not really superstitious. It wasn’t until fourth period French that I had a chance to confront him.
“Hey,” I said, struggling to keep my voice even. “What was the big hurry this morning?”
Ben stared blankly.
“Like you couldn’t get onto the bus fast enough,” I continued. “I was a half block behind you, which you would have noticed if you’d bothered to turn around.”
“I didn’t want to be late. What’s the problem anyway? You could have yelled to get my attention.”
“No big deal.” I felt suddenly stupid, prissy. I didn’t want to admit I’d been trying so hard to catch up that I was completely out of breath and couldn’t have yelled if I’d tried. After I reached the bus stop, I’d stood there feeling my heart pound like it was trying to punch its way out of my chest.
“Monsieur Golden,” interrupted Mr. Corbeau, our Honors French teacher, who was then circulating through the room, collecting homework. “Est-ce que vous avez des bons mots à partager avec la classe?” He shifted his beady gaze from Ben to me, then back to Ben.
“Pas maintenant, Monsieur Corbeau,” Ben replied, giving a dazzling smile and offering his paper and mine, which I’d pushed onto his desk. “Plus tard, peut-être.” Mr. Corbeau, always a sucker for Ben’s politesse, took the papers, cackling “Bien sûr,” and moved away.
I stage-whispered to Ben, as we opened our books. “We need to talk.”
“Ben, are you ok?”
Ben was suddenly focused on the exercise—past participle agreement of reflexive verbs—that we were supposed to do for the first ten minutes of class. He held a mangy Bic in his right hand and chewed the cap end as he read Monsieur Corbeau’s hand-out. His expression was calm; his wavy blond hair fell across his forehead, and he wore a green tee shirt that said “Pave the Bay.” Soon he began to write.
“Good shirt,” I hissed, even though I didn’t like it as much as some of his others. I felt it was time to inject a more positive note into our conversation.
“Merci.” His eyes stayed on the assignment.
What was going on with him? I started thinking of the line he sometimes used when we were talking about teachers or sketchy people in general: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” And I was, well, if not afraid, let’s say anxious. Ben was clearly in an altered state of consciousness.
Then, after last period, he was hanging out by the exit where we usually met up before our after-school snack.
“Hey,” I said, with some trepidation.
“Hey, Bee,” he said with an easy smile, making me think it was all right, that I’d just been projecting some of my crap onto him.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Gotta go home. Eventually.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t certain this was an invitation to do something together.
We stood there for a couple of minutes, as the rest of the school streamed past us, heading for buses or for rides from boom-box vehicles that idled along the street in front of the building, waiting to pick up the usual complement of sluts and druggies as they were disgorged from their daily education.
Then I said, “Is everything, like, ok?”
“Of course everything’s ok.”
“It’s just that…I don’t know…you seem kind of, uh, far away. Preoccupied. Know what I mean?”
Ben sighed. “Well,” he said, “I do have some news.” He looked serious and kind of happy, all at once, and I was totally and completely overcome by dread. My heart started to pound like I had palpitations or something. I mean, I was fearful, truly.
Be afraid, be very afraid.
Without saying anything else, we walked to the bus stop, just like always, and boarded our bus, mechanically throbbing, belching out putrid exhaust. It was stifling inside because the heat was on, even though it was probably sixty-five degrees outside. We sat in the seat by the back door, which was open while the bus stayed there idling, and the window next to the seat was open at the top, letting in a little air. I tried, discreetly, to flap my sweater a bit, and I rolled up the sleeves to the elbow.
“Hot in here,” I observed.
Ben said, “Listen, Bee…”
“Oh,” I said, lightly, as if I’d suddenly been reminded. “So what’s the big news?”
But I had already figured out what he would say. And I knew that I’d brought this moment upon myself. Tears, hot and embarrassing, filled my eyes, and I immediately turned from him and looked out the window.
“I’m transferring to another school next year.” He spoke close to my ear because the noise of the bus was so huge. His breath was warm upon my skin.
All the air left my body, and I felt inwardly crumpled. Finally I turned around and croaked out, “What did you say?”
Ben stared at me for a minute, then repeated, “I’m going to another school next year.” His voice was louder and more forceful. “You’re the only person outside of my family who knows right now.”
I wanted to say, Ben, Ben, you can’t do this to me, but no words would come. Finally I forced a laugh. “I didn’t know you hated the Vincent A. Cianci Academy for Creative Community Service all that much.”
“Honest to God, Bee, I don’t really care one way or another. I mean, it’s boring and easy and everything, but so what? It’s my parents. They think I’m wasting my time. They had me do the private school application thing a few months ago. I didn’t want to tell you until I was sure it was going to happen. But now I know. It’s going to happen next fall.”
“Shit,” I said. My tears had stopped, and I dragged the back of my hand across my eyes to get rid of the evidence. “So where’re you going? Moses Brown?”
“Nope. Boarding school. Out of state.”
I was looking at my feet, in their ginormous Doc Martens, beyond the grassy field of my tent-like sweater. Ben’s black-and-white Converses with the scuffed rubber toe caps were next to my shoes. Wads of flattened chewing gum, a discarded newspaper, and some candy wrappers were on the floor just beyond our feet.
“Shut up!” I said, trying to make it sound like a positive with a high-pitched lilt. “Shut up! No way! I mean, I’m happy for you. I’m just really surprised. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Ben gave me a puzzled look. “What you’re going to do?” he asked. “What do you mean? You’ll just do the same as always—go to school here, hang out with…um…your family, you know…”
“Yeah, I guess so.” We were almost at Kennedy Plaza, and prepared to get off the bus.
“Café Choklad?” he asked.
I sighed. “Uh…ok.”
We trudged along for some blocks without talking. I felt seriously discombobulated. I felt ill. Then he said, “Look Bee, we’ll still be in touch. We can email, text, phone—you know, all that stuff we do anyway.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“And I’ll come home for vacations.”
“Where are you going?”
“Andover,” he said. “It’s in Massachusetts.”
“Jesus H. Christ! That’s fucking far.”
“Not really. Maybe two hours at most. Maybe less.”
We walked into the Café and studied all the beautiful, perfect pastries in the glass case.
“I’m going to have an éclair, “ Ben said. “What’ll you have? My treat.”
“I don’t know,” I said, sighing again. “Surprise me. I’ll get us a table.”
I found us one in a nook to the side, and unloaded myself onto a chair. Ben came over with a tray and put it down, then sat, facing me.
“C’mon, Bee,” he said. “It’s not like I died.”
I swallowed and said nothing. He pushed an iced brownie on a plate in front of me, and handed over a cup of tea. “You want anything else? I’m going to get some sugar.”
While he walked across the room, I pulled The Present from the bottom of my pack. I’d been carrying it around since the morning, and it looked worse for the wear. The green tissue paper of its wrapping was slightly crushed and ripped. The bow of blue curly ribbon was flattened. When Ben returned I looked up at him and handed him the gift.
“Happy birthday,” I said, trying not to sound dreary. “Sorry the wrapping is kind of skanky.”
He stared at the package, now in his hands. He pulled off the bow and ripped the paper, letting everything drop onto the table. His hands were full of marine blue wool.
“Oh. Wow. I didn’t expect this at all.”
I looked at the scarf and the cap in his hands, and then I looked at him.
“You made these yourself, right?” he asked.
“Bee,” said Ben. “These are really nice. I’ll wear them next fall and winter, and whenever I put them on I’ll think of you.”
He pulled the cap on and wound the scarf around his neck. He looked unbearably cute. “Thanks a lot,” he said, and he reached across the table and patted my hand, which was holding a forkful of brownie with mocha butter-cream icing.
“You’re a great friend, Bee,” Ben said. “I don’t know anyone else who knits like you.”