Leonard by Adrienne M. Frater
Women often knit gifts for their families. Wives knit socks or scarves for their husbands; grandmothers knit little jackets for their children’s babies.
Buying a gift is quick and easy, but making a gift with your own hands takes longer. And if, like Leonard’s wife, your hands are old and stiff and crooked with arthritis, perhaps knitting is not the best thing to do…
I’ll knit him a scarf. Yes. I’ll knit him a scarf the same colour as his eyes.
I wait until my niece takes me shopping. ‘I want to buy some wool,’ I tell her. ‘I want to knit Leonard a scarf.’
‘But you don’t knit,’ she says. She looks at my crooked hands and quickly looks away again. ‘And Leonard doesn’t go out any more.’
But Petra takes me to the wool shop anyway.
‘I want to buy some blue wool,’ I say to the woman in the shop. ‘The colour of my husband’s eyes.’ I touch a ball of blue wool that feels as soft as a bird’s feathers.
‘Isn’t this a little too fine?’ asks the woman in the shop.
‘No, it’s just right.’
Later, tired after my shopping, I lie back in my armchair and have a little sleep.
When the car stops outside, I am still half-asleep, and in my mind, I see a younger Leonard standing at the door. His back is as straight as a piece of wood, and his blue eyes smile.
‘Is anyone home?’ Dan calls.
I wake with a jump.
‘Here we are, Mr Phipps,’ Dan says to Leonard. Holding Leonard’s arm, Dan walks him into the house.
‘Thank you, Dan.’ I take off Leonard’s coat and push some hair away from his eyes.
We eat dinner in a silence that aches. I drink red wine and Leonard eats with a spoon. Then, after I’ve washed him and put him to bed, I sit down to knit.
The needles are silver. The needles are cold. I take the paper cover off the wool, find one end of it, and try again and again to make the first stitch. I am listening to music by Beethoven, and it is nearly halfway through before I have finished the first row of stitches. My fingers hurt, and they won’t do what I tell them. But I have begun.
Leonard and I met at a concert in Auckland. He was tall, with blond hair then. I can still see him walking towards my seat. He took off the soft blue scarf that was the same colour as his eyes, and my heart gave a little jump. We talked over supper, and I found out where he lived and what he did.
‘I’m an eye doctor,’ he said, ‘just beginning. No money, but I never miss concerts.’
I made our first date while we were walking out of the concert building. In those days, men always did the asking, not girls. I don’t know if Leonard was surprised at my asking him or not. He never said anything.
On the days when Leonard goes to the day-care centre, I knit. I plan to finish the scarf for our fifty-third wedding anniversary. The scarf is almost finished, and when I hold it to the light, diamonds shine through. I shake the wool, drop a stitch, try to find it again. Was I more in love with Leonard than he was with me? I have so many questions… and I cannot ask any of them now.
‘It’s finished,’ I tell my niece, putting the scarf round my neck.
‘It looks good,’ she said, ‘if you don’t look too closely. Is it a gift?’
‘Yes. My last.’
On the morning of our anniversary, I kiss Leonard and give him the scarf. I know he will not speak, but while I am putting the scarf round his neck, I find that I am still hoping.
The scarf is as crooked as my fingers. It’s full of holes – long thin holes, little round holes. Leonard puts his hand up and touches the wool, and for one short moment, his eyes come alive again.
‘Yes,’ he wants to tell me. ‘Yes,’ he wants to say.
‘The scarf is soft.
The scarf is blue.
The scarf is us.’