|Picture from Gainesville State School|
"On the Outside"
"No," the mother says, sliding the squirming boy off her lap, "come on, I have to finish this." She mumbles as she hunts down the lost loops. Very carefully, she pushes the tip of the needle through the loops, gathering the yarn behind, pulling it through. "You see?" she chides the child, "I almost lost two stitches because of you. Just let me be." She does not look up, but falls into the rhythm of the knitting, her needles clicking together to the beat of some manic song.
The boy settles on the floor, checking behind him to make sure he's not sitting on her yarn or her work. His long legs kick his father, lying on the floor and watching TV.
"Dadda?" the child asks, his lip already pouting, "will you love me even if you die?" His lower lids fill up with tears.
"Of course I'll love you, even after I die," the father says, without looking away from the glowing set. He puts his arm out, casting a shadow on the knitting and impatient cluck from his wife. But the shadow lasts only a moment as the little boy curls under his father's arm.
"It should be in about fifteen years, on the outside," the father guesses.
“What, hon?" the mother asks, still clicking her needles.
"I'd guess I've got about fifteen years left."
"Before what, hon?" the mother asks.
"Before I die."
The mother glances at the father, needles dancing, before resuming her vigil.
"At the outside?" she prompts.
"Yeah. Right about the time the kids are leaving home, I'd guess."
"I don't want you to die!" the little boy cries.
The father rubs his back briskly, "Everyone dies." He tries to comfort the little boy.
A lean tabby floats into the room, brushing her tail against the figures lying on the floor.
"Will Gabby die?" the boy asks, reaching out to hold her. She scoots backward, bonelessly bending in half to escape him.
"Yes," the mother murmurs as she flips the sweater around. She coils the yarn around her fingers, watching the cat sniff the boy's hair. "She's...what? three years old?" the mother asks herself. "So she's got about fifteen years, too, if I'm lucky."
For a moment, she stares at the child, nearly lost in his daddy's arms. The cat is grooming him, and his galloping giggles echo off of the walls as her rough tongue straightens his hair. Her husband strokes the cat's back, and she arches under his hand for more.
“Fifteen years, on the outside," she repeats to herself.
She leans over, gently placing the sweater and needles on the floor beside her chair, and then spoons up behind her husband, adding her arm to the blanket of hugs the boy is blissfully receiving. The cat seems to smile back at her as the mother scratches its chin.