“Knit one, pearl two,” she mumbled through pursed lips. “Knit two, pearl one. Knit three, pearl three.”
Then she stopped.
“Wait a minute,” she told herself. “How did I do it on the last row.”
She ran her arthritis-twisted fingers over the edge of the red sweater.
“Damn it!” she said. “Missed a pearl. It’ll take me forever to get this done. I should’ve just picked up a gift card at Target for his birthday. They’ll probably never put it on him anyway.”
She began pulling out the stitches to get back to the mistaken stitch. Red yarn everywhere, dangling from the park bench, started twisting into knots in the breeze. “Damn these knots.”
She left off unravelling the sweater to untangle the mess, twisting up the spare yarn around her wrist.
That was when she noticed the couple walking toward her along the path.
They were holding hands. Neither said anything. Her long, dark brown hair blew across her face with the same breeze that had tangled her yarn. She tried to untangle it and hold it back with her delicate smooth fingers.
Blue nail polish. She could remember when her daughter used to wear blue nail polish. That was before she had Nicholas last year. After she’d had the baby, she stopped painting her nails. Stopped using make-up at all, really. Post-partum depression. Wouldn’t talk to anyone. Wouldn’t return her phone calls. Beatrice never did understand why her daughter couldn’t just get over it. She’d told her as much last Christmas. That was the last they’d spoken.
“Yes,” she remembered. “That’s why I started this damn sweater.” Maybe her daughter would see that she really did care after all.
She could see as they drew nearer that with this couple, it was the man who was sad. He wore a deep frown and his bottom lip was quivering as they passed by. He caught her looking at him and put his hand over his face.
She looked away as quickly as she could and pretended to go back to her knitting.
But she could hear him as they continued down the path. He was crying.
Beatrice shrugged. “You never know with people,” she muttered.
Then, looking back down at her work, “Where was I? Oh, yes, that’s supposed to be three pearls there.”
“If I’d know it was going to be this windy, I’d have worn a hat,” she thought to herself. “Damned if I’m not going to get my hair cut short next time. And if Ben doesn’t like it, well that’s too bad. Let him stand for hours in the bathroom with the hairdryer every morning.”
Why they were always taking these walks in the park was more than she knew. She hated these walks. They always ended up the same way. We get into a big argument and stop talking. But for some reason, Ben was always suggesting they “just go for a walk and talk things out.”
Well, they’d talked it out, alright. They’d beaten that dead horse into a fine pâté. And he was so obstinate. Why couldn’t he just get a regular job and work on his writing on evenings and weekends. Goddamn artists. So impractical. And such thin skin.
“You just don’t understand me,” he’d said.
“Bullshit,” she thought. “I understand him alright. What a baby.”
She pulled back her hair yet again.
There was an old woman sitting on the park bench. She’d dropped her knitting onto her lap and was winding knots of tangled red yarn around her wrist. She seemed to be muttering to herself. What was that she was knitting? A sweater, maybe. For a small boy.
“Why is she looking at me like that?” she wondered. “It’s as if she’s angry with me. Have I ever seen her before?”
She looked away and tried to recall. No. She’d never seen that face before. She was certain they’d never met.
“What’s the matter with her?” she thought.
She noticed the old woman looking at her hands. “What’s the matter with my hands?”
Then she saw the old woman’s arthritic fingers, and her heart softened a bit. “It must be terrible trying to knit with your fingers all twisted up that way. Too bad. Maybe she just doesn’t have anything else to do.”
They passed by the woman on the bench.
Ben started sobbing.
“Oh, just shut up,” she muttered.
“She’s going to leave me,” he thought.
She’d come home, and right off the bat started talking about how hard she had it at work all day.
“How many times do I have to ask you to please just go get a job and help out a little?” she said.
“I work all day, too,” he’d said. “I got 10 pages written today.”
She hadn’t been impressed. Why should she be? It was true. He was a failure. A total, miserable, stupid, inept, good-for-nothing failure.
“Let’s go for a walk in the park,” he’d said. “That always seems to help clear our heads after a long day.”
She agreed to come along. But she clearly wasn’t happy. He’d tried to explain how much he loved her, but he needed time to write. “These things take time,” he explained.
She wasn’t buying it. He could tell by the way she kept looking away and pulling at her hair. Her long, dark brown hair. He loved that hair. And to think she wanted to just cut it all off. She didn’t realize what a treasure it was.
They’d stopped talking now. She kept pulling it back and the wind kept blowing it across her face.
He’d tried to stop her pulling it, but she’d slapped his hand away. “Just leave me alone,” she said.
They walked on in silence. Eventually he worked up enough courage to take her hand again. Her fingers were cold. She didn’t grip back, but she didn’t pull away either.
Around the bend in the path, he saw an old woman sitting on a park bench. She had her crippled old hands full of red yarn and some kind of red thing hanging from her knitting needles.
“What is that?” he wondered.
“What an amazing woman,” he thought. “So dedicated to her art that despite her crippled hands she keeps at it. Even when the wind threatened to unravel all her work, she remains determined to see it to the end.”
“And I,” he thought again, “I am nothing but a failure. A failure whose only chance at love is slipping through my fingers, soon to be alone.”
He could tell he was going to lose his composure, and as they walked by he covered his face with his hand. He hoped she’d think he was maybe wiping his nose with his sleeve. Or something.
“I’m a damn-fool failure,” he thought.
His self-pity blew over him with the wind. He started to cry and hoped the old woman hadn’t noticed.
Rachael had noticed, though, and was muttering something he couldn’t quite make out over the wind.