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A Patchwork of Puddles by Lynden Wade

Editor’s note: Lynden’s story is unexpected, twisty, and stitched together very well. You’ve not read a tale like this one before. The idea is magical. I’d actually like to learn more.

At the funeral, every memory shared was of Grandma Susie's kettle. It was always on, ready for anyone to drop in with their woes—gardens that wouldn't flourish, marriages that struggled, babies slow to come. Things always got better after a visit to Susie, they said. No one mentioned sewing. So why had Grandma, in her will, left Lizzie a sewing box? The truth was, though she'd worshipped Grandma as a child, when the depression of her teenage years clung on into her adulthood she stopped visiting, ashamed of the way her own life had gone nowhere. Now she realised she hadn’t known Grandma at all. Lizzie lifted the lid and rummaged round half-heartedly. Needles pierced the cushioning, arranged from smallest eye to largest. Shiny beads and bright embroidery threads packed the trays. She’d never had the stamina for crafts herself, despite Grandma’s urges: “I think you’ll find you have the gift for it.” Odd she should try so hard to persuade Lizzie when it seemed Grandma didn’t have the patience either. At the bottom of the box was a layer of patchwork squares, joined only in twos or threes. She glanced at the clock and sighed. Her manager had grudgingly given her the morning off for the funeral, but she had to go in for the afternoon. It wasn't just the greasy washing up and the smelly mop, it was the running commentary. There was still egg at the bottom of this pan, the customers were waiting, why on earth was she so slow? Lizzie grabbed her coat. It had been raining all week. Grandma always told her to look up at the sky, that things always felt better that way. But Lizzie preferred to look into the puddles. There was one section of road with a myriad of potholes, and after rain they made a patchwork of reflections. While the traffic honked and spewed out fumes, in the puddles it was all sky and trees. # Hours later, Lizzie trudged home and crawled straight into bed. Dreams began to flicker through her brain. "Lizzie! Lizzie. The sewing box. Have you used it yet?" It was Grandma, but the one Lizzie used to know as a child, lithe and active. Her hair floated round her head, the silver only streaks. I don't know anything about patchwork, Grandma." "Never mind that, Lizzie. The puddles! Make a patchwork of the puddles." Lizzie sat up in confusion. It was just a dream, wasn't it? And dreams never made sense. She got up and opened the sewing box again. Maybe she should try to finish Grandma’s patchwork. She spread out the fragments. Really, they were beautiful. Each square had a different pattern, and the pairs were joined in a range of stitches, embroidered over with extra designs. This one had red hearts on white, joined to a square of white hearts on red. Here, a blanket stitch joined a Russian doll to a perambulator. Next, two squares of different greens were bound with herring-bone, itself studded with beads, a long forget-me-not embroidered across both. A memory slowly sharpened in her mind. A quarrel with her best friend, tears. Grandma saying she could mend it with her needle. Lizzie had said through her tears: "Don't be silly, Grandma." Yet, what if it was true? Could Grandma really mend things with her needle? On hands and knees, Lizzie studied each fragment again. Hearts—a restored marriage? Flowers—a flourishing garden? Perambulator—a baby at last? And could Grandma's tools work magic without her presence? I need my spirit to be healed, thought Lizzie. But how? Sleep eluded her for the rest of the night. Sewing...patchwork...mend...puddles: round and round in her head. The hours on the alarm clock flicked onward. Only five hours, then back to the cafe. Steam and grease and vitriol. No. She’d take no more. Into her pocket she slipped a capsule sewing kit: one needle, a fistful of thread, and the little scissors. In the predawn light she ran down the road to the stretch with the best potholes. She threaded her needle and selected two puddles from the road. They slithered in her hands like satin, but the needle glided through them. Now two more. Tiny stitches, so the water wouldn't run out. It lay rippling across her lap as she made the last join. Knot the thread, snip! Lay the puddle patchwork on the sidewalk. The potholes they'd come from were a foot deep at most. The patchwork puddle was miles deep. Lizzie stared into it. A face formed, smiling, nodding. A hand stretched towards her. A man? In a suit, made of leaves. She took a breath and stepped in. "Lizzie Simmons? We've been expecting you. Admitted at...05:25 Tuesday 28th. How long do you plan to stay?" Lizzie looked around her. They stood in a colonnade, open at either side to grass threaded with wild flowers, watched over by majestic trees. She could glimpse a lake further up. Wandering the winding paths, made small by distance, were men and women and children. A girl drifted round the corner and nodded her head. Serenity lit her face. "Forever!" Lizzie breathed. "Not possible, I'm afraid. But it will aid your recovery to know you can return whenever you need it." "Recovery? Is this a hospital?" "If you like. A sanctuary, to build up your strength for the outside world." A thought hit Lizzie. “You said you were expecting me?” The man nodded and checked his clipboard. “You were booked in by Cunning Susie." "Grandma?" "A regular guest when she was younger." The man smiled to himself. "Now make yourself at home." "Where should I go?" “Anywhere you like. Excuse me, another admission to log." Lizzie walked slowly down the path and into a cluster of trees. Fine rain made beads on leaves, but on her skin it only felt cool and fresh. She titled back her head and spun, and all around was leaves and sky and air.

Lynden Wade spends as much time as possible in other worlds to avoid the dirty dishes in her home in eastern England. She has stories in several publications, including The Forgotten and the Fantastical series. She’s still hoping for a house elf. Photo by Pixabay

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