December 5, 2019

KNITTING WINTER by Jason Lane

Something gleamed silver in the
light of the moon. From the bucket,
a thread of water rose...
The bucket fell down the well with a rattle like old bones. You could hear it while coming along the road that ran alongside the small cottage, where the trees grew thick and the leaves flamed with autumn’s blaze. The splash was so faint Kent barely heard it, but he slowed when he saw Christina begin to agonizingly work the winch. He lingered, glanced at his still half full mail bag, then sighed and walked up the path.

“Here.”

Christina looked at him. She was very pale. Thin with her gossamer dress and soft brown hair. She didn’t smile, but she did step back and let him work the winch.

At last the bucket came up and he hauled it out. Some water splashed over, and Kent winced as it hit his hand.

“It’s cold,” Christina said, her voice soft. “I can carry it.”

“I’ve got it,” Kent said, hefting the bucket down.

She didn’t say anything else, but walked ahead and to the porch of the lonely little home. Kent had never seen the interior of the small cabin. He doubted anyone had. Christina had a reputation in town for being a little touched. She’d lived there with her grandmother as long as anyone in town could remember. The old woman was dead, as far as he knew.

“Here,” she said, indicating a space beside a rocking chair. A pair of ivory knitting needles rested on the seat, but he noticed there wasn’t any yarn.

“Your grandmother used to knit, didn’t she?” he said as he put the bucket down.

“She did.”

Kent stood in the awkward silence for a moment. “Um,” he said at last. “It’s getting kind of late in the season. The frost on the path and all… I come by every morning. If you want, I could maybe draw you some water when I come by.”

She tilted her head, her expression still as ever. “Alright,” she finally said.

Kent sighed. “Well, see you tomorrow.”

She didn’t even say goodbye. But her stare pricked the hairs on the back of his neck until he was around the corner and walking down the bald hills.
“You know,” Kent said as he drew the bucket back up. “I never see you around town.”

“I don’t go into town,” Christina said as she watched him work.

“You don’t? But, what do you do for groceries?”

“I have everything I need here,” she said.

“Right. Silly me for asking,” Kent grunted as the bucket rose to the top. He unhooked it and swung it about, carrying it towards the waiting chair. Christina followed slowly, watching him intently as he set the bucket down.

“So… you knit, then?” he asked.

“Yes,” Christina said.

“Nice. Nice. This late in the season, I bet a lot of people are looking for winter things. Coats and mitts and whatnot.”

“They are.”

He scratched his ear. “If uh… do people come by your place to buy them?”

“No. I don’t sell what I make.”

“Oh.”

Conversations with Christina tended to end like that. She never knitted when he was there, but before he rounded the corner he saw her take a seat and pick up those ivory needles to get to work.
“Can I look at those?”

Christina glanced between him and her needles. He saw her pale hands tighten. Then, reluctantly, she passed them to him. Kent saw her unease, and took the needles delicately, looking them over. “Oh,” he said, running his thumb down one. “There’s something carved on them. You can’t even tell. It’s so faint.”

“Yes,” Christina said. Her hands fidgeted and when Kent offered the needles back, she snatched them up.

“They’re very nice,” he said.

Christina held them close to her chest. She eyed him carefully.

“My mother knits,” he said. “She’s very good at it. I tell her that often.”

He’d gotten used to her silences after he spoke, and glanced at the forest that bordered the cabin. The cold had stripped the trees of leaves, leaving them barren, the red and gold of autumn bunched around trunks and roots, gleaming with frost like the treasures of a dragon’s hoard. “You should really dress for winter. It’s getting cold out.”

“It doesn’t bother me.”

“I guess.”

“The water from the well is very deep,” she said suddenly. “It’s the coldest in the area.”

“Oh. I never knew.”

Christina was quiet, looking out across the grounds of her home. “Are you coming tomorrow?” she asked.

“Oh. Yeah. Of course.”

She nodded, as if to herself. “Come tonight.”

“Tonight? Why?”

“I want to show you something.”
Christina wasn’t waiting for him by the well that evening. As he walked up the path to the cabin, he saw her at work, the knitting needles clicking. Something gleamed, silver in the milky light of the moon. Kent’s breath steamed as he approached, but he slowed when he saw what she was knitting with. From the bucket at her side a thread of water rose to her needles. Every click of the pale ivory turned that water to whitest snow, threading them into a great blanket on her lap.

Kent stood still, watching in awe as she worked. When the last droplets had traced their way down those needles, along those hidden signs worked in the bone, she stopped, rose and gathered up the soft white.

“Come.”

He followed her wordlessly from her cabin and through the woods. Not a sound disturbed their walk. The birds had hunkered down in their nests, the squirrels gathered in their holds, leaving a silence like the world held its breath. At the forest edge they stopped, and he found himself looking down the rolling hills and to the peaked homes of town. Christina grasped the edge of the cloth she’d sewn, and hurled it forward.

Kent watched as snow billowed out. Out. Further than he could believe. It fluttered down and draped the fields. The forests. The town. It stretched out and out across the horizon, blanketing the country with downy white.

Christina released the edge and looked over a world of virgin snow.

“Wow,” Kent breathed.

She turned his way. “Do you like it?”

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

And for the first time, he saw her smile. A smile like the dawn that lit up that winter world. “Thank you,” Christina said softly.

Kent swallowed. “Um,” he said, rubbing his arm. “If you… you know. Need help next year, I’ll be happy to help out. Of course. My route goes right by your place. And… well…”

She didn’t say anything. But she took his hand and held it tight. And together, they walked back to the cabin, and through the fresh falling snow.
Jason Lane has lived in Whitehorse, Yukon, all his life except for occasional visits to the southern climes, always to gravitate back towards the pole when winter calls. Weird tales and fantasy are his lifelong loves but science fiction always has a special place in his heart. He is a huge fan of Ray Bradbury and Terry Pratchett, and when not writing, can be found perusing the local used bookshop or libraries. His works have appeared in several publications including Tesseracts 21.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

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