Threads by Gilles Talarek

As the priest stands there, finishing his sermon, having extolled her mother’s fictional qualities for the best part of 19 minutes, Maud makes a mental note to grab a thread from his cassock, later. 

‘She was a good woman, your mother’ a crane-like woman in a bright red coat ventures, as she folds over Maud and forces her into a strong, intrusive hug. She shoots her one last I-knew-your-mother-better-than-to-wear-black-at-her-funeral look and is gone. Maud stares at the red strand of fabric in her palm, sampled at the hem of the cuff, in one fluid motion, with a pinch of the nail to stop the weave from haemorrhaging. 

So, here it is; the last family funeral she’ll ever have to go to. Her mother is dead. She was able to feign sorrow, distress even, during the service; tears flowing easily as the weight of the boulder she’d been carrying for years lifted. She felt thawed. The mass of dread that had been 

lying there, on her stomach, numb and heavy, melting. The tears gushing out. For the first time in 24 years, Maud feels a strange gravitational pull towards the house she grew up in, the stage of so many haunting memories. She only has 40 to 45 minutes before the casket is lowered into the ground. 

‘How uncouth to leave her own mother’s funeral’, some will say, those who notice her sneaking away. ‘Well, grief makes one do strange things’ others will retort, the well-wishers. But this is not grief, this is elation. Besides, she needs to go home; she has unfinished business there. As she leaves the funeral parlour, she lets her inner-GPS lead the way; eyes closed, she could still find it. 

As the front door scrapes open, Maud barely notices the smell of cabbage and oppression that still lingers in the hallway after all these years. She runs up the stairs, two by two, which wasn’t allowed under her mother’s reign. One by one, she storms the cupboards; living-room, hallway, bedroom…he has to be there somewhere. She kneels on her bedroom carpet like a feral hare digging a hole, pulls out old notebooks, marbles, matchboxes, a game of Mastermind, woolly jumpers that she can’t remember ever wearing; grey and sallow, like soggy sheep. But hidden behind one of these shapeless sheep…she finds him. In a cardboard shoebox, emptied of its shoes years ago to make room for its new owner. His name is still written in faded grey letters: Scruff. 

A little doodled doggy bone underlines it. 

She runs her fingers on the worn cardboard, hesitates for a few seconds, as if a nasty Jack in The box can pounce up and bite her nose. She lifts the lid with caution. Scruff is still there, resting on a pale-blue blanket. His fur frayed by years of love. His eyes aren’t as bright as she remembers them but it’s still the same old Scruff. She couldn’t take him with her all these years ago. She was young and frightened. Escaping. There was no time. She won’t leave him again. 

She grabs him, the size of his waist familiar in her hand and slides his back zipper down an inch, reluctant to expose too much of him; after all these years, their reunion deserves a little modesty. 

She peeks inside. Although he feels lighter in her hand, the multi-coloured threads are still there. A single thread for every wrong she’s ever suffered. Every blow, frustration, threat, wrongful accusation, act of malice, documented in Scruff’s belly: she would pluck a thread from her abusers’ clothes and store it in Scruff’s belly for safe-keeping. She didn’t have to deal with the anger, she entrusted it all to him; her saviour. And here it all is, perfectly preserved. An embalmed version of her childhood. 

She breathes in his fur, cradling her nose in the nook under his neck, where it still fits like a glove. The smell feels like a blow to the ribcage. 

In the mirror, she sees her legs folded on either side, like chicken-wings. The way little girls sit. The way she was sitting all these years ago when her mother came to have ‘the talk’ with her. She had walked in as Maud was hiding marbles inside Scruff’s tummy: it was windy out and she didn’t want him flying away. She tapped her bare thighs lightly. 

‘Do sit properly Maud. And leave this bear alone, for Pete’s sake. You’re nearly 11 now.’ Bear. 

‘How would you feel about skipping school this year?’ 

‘Like a holiday?’ Maud enquired, puzzled. 

‘Well, no, not exactly. So, I can school you here, at home, away from the distractions of the other pupils.’ 

‘But what about my friends?’ 

‘Life is not all about friends. It’s about learning. Would you say you’re a good pupil?’ Maud read the answer on her mother’s face. 

‘No, I guess not.’ 

‘Well, you’re right, and you know you’d be in my class this year anyway, don’t you?’ ‘Yes.’ 

‘Well then, I will just as easily provide you with the best education here, at home. We’d have more peace and quiet. What do you think?’ 

Maud squeezed Scruff’s paw under the duvet to suppress her tears. She could feel them coming. But now was not the time. 

Sensing her reluctance, her mother added. 

‘You don’t want the other pupils thinking you’re the teacher’s pet, believe me. Children can be so cruel.’ 

Maud knew better than to contradict her mother. She knew her stutter and her learning difficulties were an embarrassment to her. But she played along. 

‘I think you know best.’ 

‘Good girl’, her mother hissed more than whispered. 

Overwhelmingly present in Scruff’s belly are threads of her mother’s clothes. A washed out mish-mash of pastel colours, from pale yellow to sky blue; humble, soothing colours to balance her aggressive nature, to stun the eye before the assault, confuse the enemy. Although Maud had never really liked school or her school friends, she found herself wishing, daily, for witnesses, allies, anything to derail her mother’s wrath. She was a bad pupil, but at the time dyslexia was just a concept and the state of dazed stupor her mother plunged her in, not only made her mind blank, but worsened her stutter. 

Tangled up in her mother’s pastel threads are quite a few bits of maroon flannel, sampled from Raymond’s robe; each time he came to comfort her, apply an icepack to her red and swollen face, the smell of wine so close to her face that it made her sick. She preferred her mother’s volatile nature; the sudden outbursts, the uncontrolled blows, to her stepfather’s soft body pressing heavily against hers, as he held her close, too close, her body tensing up, dreading something that never came, some palpable line crossed that would dispel her doubts and give them a shape. 

A few fragments of her grandfather’s tweed jacket, a spineless old man who smelt of TCP, whose cataract-tinged eyes could never meet hers. 

A few more from her grandmother’s crisp navy coat. Few of those as she was a scary woman. So scary she could upset her mother, terrorise the terrorist. Still, blinkered enough to believe that Maud’s constant bruises were just the unfortunate marks of a clumsy girl. Some threads mean nothing to her. Too innocuous to remember. Too long ago. 

Catching her reflection in the mirror, Maud changes her posture at once. She is a woman now, a mother; she won’t sit like a victim, with her head encased, ears-deep in the shoulders. She has two beautiful daughters and an amazing partner. The best; the man who single-handedly restored her faith in human nature. They are her unit, her life: she just can’t call them family. Too many bad connotations. 

She looks down at the ball of threads in her hand and breathes in. 

Remembering her girls’ claim that ‘you can find anything on Youtube’, she pulls her phone out of her coat pocket. She types ‘how to make a yarn doll’ in the search engine. They were right. 

Threads smoothed, Scruff at her side, she hears herself humming as she folds them in 2 over her thumb, braids the arms, ties a knot around the neck and girdles the waist. This feels like a celebration; turning anger into love. For her daughters? Perhaps. 

Scruff and doll safely in her purse, she heads back to the cemetery. The burial will start soon. Soon a thick layer of soil will ensure that her mother can never come back. She closes the door and leaves the keys on the lock. 

A sea of black suits parts in front of her as she makes her way to the front of the line. She grabs the flower she was about to throw on her mother’s casket but holds back. She riffles through her purse and throws the yarn doll instead. 

A few guests greet her gesture with a patronising ‘aw’, unaware that what she’s just performed is nothing short of an exorcism. 

Published in Issue #19

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