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The Life Quilt

April 14, 2015

Here’s another short story for you. Hope you enjoy it.

The Life Quilt
By Rose Jones

We are the sum of our parts. We live in the present, our characters are formed by our past and we are sometimes fearful of the future. Our language has a tendency to place us in linear space. We are young, middle aged and old. We are born, we live and we die. We apparently walk a fixed path through time and it is easier to believe this because our physical senses like to simplify matters. It’s a survival thing. We only know what we need to know in order to breed and survive as a species. Included in our survival arsenal is the ability to think and this brings with it a whole squirming bag full of snakes to torment and tempt us.
With thought comes memory and memories can be tricksy things. Even written down in journals they can be selective and do not show the whole picture. We edit out the experiences we don’t want to share and remember the events we do. The people around us often remember things differently to us. Do they reflect reality, or just the reality we want to perceive? Do they hold us in their power? Can they be used against us?
Some people carry on down their life path not really concerned with the past; only living in the present and looking to the opportunities of the future. Some people record their lives in photographs, which are moments fixed in time. Some collect objects that have meaning and can act as memory joggers.
In my mother’s case, she was an avid seamstress and our house was full of the things she made. Sitting with a pattern book or a sewing machine, cutting fabric or sewing by hand, this was her refuge from the world. She wove magic into her cross stitch and meaning into her patchwork quilts. I did not understand this as a child. All I knew was that she gave more time to her needlework than she gave to me and I resented that.
She was a stay at home Mum, which meant that money was always short and my Father’s working day very long. I was dressed in hand me downs from older cousins or in clothes my mother made. When I was tiny, she sewed when I was napping or late into the night when everyone else was asleep, but as a toddler, she would get irritable if I demanded a story or a trip to the park. As soon as I was old enough, she enrolled me in playgroup and left me there for as many hours as she could afford. By this time she was making a little money making clothes for other people too and she excused her abandonment as a need to contribute something to the family coffers.
As I grew, she tried to get me interested in her obsession. I dabbled a bit and learned the basics, but it did not fire me up with enthusiasm as it did her. I enjoyed long walks in the countryside and making woodland dens. My creative canvas was the natural world, not the artifice of her fabricated imagination. She had a need to control, whereas I preferred to drift on the breeze of a warm summer’s day, lying on my back, watching the clouds, listening to the leaves rustling on the trees and the birds singing high above the wheat fields.
I didn’t know it early on, but from the time I was born my mother collected old clothes and toys and dissected them for another of her quilts. All my old clothes found themselves cut up and included in its intricate pattern, my toys and books represented by appliqué squares, sometimes using pages and pieces of the original.
I would go away for a weekend at Brownie or Guide camp and return to find my wardrobe and toy box gone through and treasured possessions missing from both. She just said it was time for a clear out, but the things that were important to me I wanted to keep, at least until I was ready to let them go. I never got the chance. Despite my protests, she did this all my life. She even cut up my wedding dress when I foolishly left it with her to go on honeymoon.
I had no idea what drove her to this obsession and I resented this vandalism of my childhood. When I left home I wallowed in keeping my stuff and even spent time scouring Ebay for replacements for my memories. I don’t think she realised the psychological impact it had and it drove a wedge between us. You could never call us close. When she died, I eventually found the reason for this vandalism and loss. She had constructed a quilt of my life, and I discovered it packaged lovingly in acid free tissue in a box on the top of her wardrobe when we went to clean out the house.
I laid the quilt out on her bed and burst into tears as the memories the patches triggered all came flooding back. I caressed the physical manifestation of my childhood and recalled each recollection as they lined up for attention in my mind. I thought it would be a happy reunion, but each story was tinged with the disappointment that came with the loss of each item. I spent hours with that quilt, took photos of it, analysed it and eventually came to the realisation that it was not my life my mother was recording, but hers. There was a patch for every year, and there were fabrics and items loose in an accompanying box waiting to be incorporated; items I had noticed missing after she came to visit and never found again. Until now. Not once had she indicated that this was her purpose. I might have forgiven her if she had shared her reasoning with me, but it seemed she wanted to possess my life and expressed this in her craft.
I do remember her suggesting that I should record the lives of my children in some way. I did nothing but take photos, keeping their favourite possessions until they were ready to look after and deal with them in whichever way they saw fit. This meant a lot of clutter and a full loft, but I could not do the same to my children as my mother did to me.
I had to admit that the quilt was a beautiful thing and obviously a labour of love, but I had no wish to keep it. Friends told me I should sell it, some offered to take it off my hands, but it was such a personal thing I decided that I would put it in my mother’s coffin and let it be cremated with her. I no longer had a need to manifest my life in anything more physical than myself and keeping the quilt was just too painful.
The funeral went off without a hitch. Mother had many friends and they all came up to shake my hand and commiserate and tell me what a talented woman she was. One friend in particular asked about the life quilt. She gave me a horrified look when I told her what I had done and rushed off to speak with the undertaker. I thought nothing more about it until I was greeting people at the wake. A hot flush swept through me as I shook hands with the mourners, my face flushed red and I felt as if I was burning from the outside in. I took it to be a menopausal flush but then my knees gave way and I collapsed on the floor. Everything went black and that was the last thing I remembered.
A final thought came to me in my mother’s voice as I began to fade away. ‘That was your life quilt, not mine.’ She said. ‘You would have lived as long as you added yearly patches to it. We nearly lost you as a newborn but a visitor advised me to make the quilt to keep you safe. You were connected to it by magic, both in life and in death.’
It was too late to ask her why she never told me, but apparently that was the deal. That’s magic for you.

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