Friday, December 5, 2008

A Gift for Andy

Around this time last year my next door neighbor died. For several weeks beforehand I'd been frantically trying to put together an afgan for him, as he was desperately sick. Unfortunately I didn't get the gift done in time. He died shortly after Christmas. When I did finally finish the afghan I took it to his widow on the same day as their wedding anniversary.

Out of this experience I was able to write a short story, one which I'd like to share. Things didn't happen exactly this way, but therein lies the magic of creating something beautiful. At the end are (badly taken) pictures of the finished product.

A Gift for Andy

The teal strand of supple yarn twisted between my fingers. Just one last row. It felt like a fool’s errand. He was already dead. Already dead. But I couldn’t stop. It had to be finished.

Double crochet, chain one, double crochet five times. By the tenth row I’d memorized the pattern. By the fifteenth my thoughts no longer dwelled on my task. Now the blue metalic hook flew on its’ own, a forgotten extension of my hand.

Each approaching row haunted me. Each completed row taunted me. Too late, they said. Too late for seventy-nine teal and plum colored rows.

It had started as a work of love. My sweet neighbor had been ill for some time. I recall the morning I awoke to an ambulance in front of his house. That time he almost hadn’t come home.

Double crochet, chain three and double crochet in the same stitch. His wife was devastated, as she should be. I sometimes heard her crying through the screen door as I worked in my yard. She needed someone, I knew that. But we hardly knew one another and I didn’t know what to say. I never knew what to say when it came to death.

Five more double crochets, end. I took out my tiny lime green-handled scissors and snipped. It was done. But it was too late.

I sat in back at the church. It was my first Catholic funeral. I didn’t understand most of what went on, just stood when they stood and sat when they sat. The priest kept referring to my friend as Andrew. Only he wasn’t Andrew. He was Andy. My friend Andy.

We began talking over the bushes that separated our yards over a year ago. He was always so warm and friendly, like a favorite uncle. I could always make him laugh. The sound of it made my heart light. I was never a fan of moustaches, but loved the way the ends of his would turn up every time he smiled.

Fold it once, twice, and three times. He was only fifty-five, though the ravages of alcohol made him look sixty. “Don’t you go down the same path,” he’d tell his grandsons. “This is what will happen.” He was always straight like that, telling it like it is. I always respected his honesty.

About two months ago he started to get really sick, you could see it in his yellowed eyes. He needed a liver transplant. The doctors all said even if one had come he’d never have made it through the surgery. That’s when I started the blanket. I wanted to make something special for my friend. He needed to know that I cared. But life got in the way. I had to put the blanket aside, just for a short while. By the time I got back to it a whole month had passed. I never thought my fingers wouldn’t go fast enough.

My feet barely made a noise as I passed through the bushes. She was crying again, but I couldn’t leave. Not yet. That other-world-like feeling is too strong. I needed to finish my task. Taking a deep breath, I sent up a silent prayer and knocked on the door.

“Evelyn, it’s me.”

She sniffled once or twice before opening the door, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, but I wanted to bring you something.”

“Come in, please,” she said, ever the lady.

Evelyn sat down on the couch, so I perched next to her before handing over my little package.

The words choked in my throat. I blinked back many tears before I could talk.

“I started making this for Andy, back when he got so sick. I wanted him to have something I made, but I didn’t get it done fast enough.”

As she unwrapped the tissue paper I watched her eyes flood with tears once more.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “I didn’t get it done in time. But I thought maybe you could have it instead.”

She took the blanket and wrapped it around her, brushing her face against the silky stitches.

“It’s so soft." Her gray eyes, magnified by tears, focused on me. “I was just praying…I’ve been feeling so alone since he died. I needed this.”

She reached out and took me in a tight embrace. Perhaps it wasn’t too late. Perhaps I’d been able to give Andy my gift after all.

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