War of the Needles by Claudia Nicholson

Flora Slipstitch had two grannies. This was not unusual, but, what was odd, was that they didn't seem to have aged at all - ever. As far back as she could remember - Flora had just turned 12 - Granny Dodo (Dorothy) Slipstitch and Grandma Margaret Purl looked the same age as always. Only this fact linked them; otherwise, they were very different. Granny Dodo was like a huggable fluffy blanket - Grandma Margaret, the icy air that made your hot chocolate go cold.

That was why she called one by her pet name - she couldn’t remember ever having called Granny Dodo anything else - and the other by her actual name, as Grandma Margaret had insisted on it - pet names were improper. Flora disagreed, and so did Granny Dodo; the two grandmothers never spoke to each other.

All these thoughts whirled around her little russet-coloured head as she sat now on the floor in her living room. Opposite her in the squishy patchwork armchair, Granny Dodo sat, silver-haired head bent over her embroidery. In front of Flora on the carpet, laid out - an array of buttons - from Granny’s button box - she was examining each one like a jeweller inspecting a rare diamond.

'Florrie, my love, time for bed.' Granny placed her work in the wicker basket that was nestled by the armchair, got up with ease - not like an old person at all - and bent down to help her granddaughter return the buttons to their wooden box.

‘Yes, Granny.' Flora smiled at her and, hopping up off the floor, gently placed the box into Granny’s soft, warm hands before bounding up the stairs. She was excited to go to bed as she knew this meant storytime. It was a ritual that came with Granny Dodo’s weekend visits. Despite Flora being almost too grown up now, they continued their routine regardless. They cherished it and the bond that it had created.

Grandma Margaret didn’t come for weekend visits or read to Flora. She came once a month for dinner and told Flora: ‘Little girls should be seen and not heard,’ then would sit knitting on the couch, stony-faced, for the rest of the evening.

‘Flora banished all thoughts of grumpy Grandma Margaret now as she snuggled beneath her quilt, letting out a little noise of contentment. Their identical, green eyes met as granny came into the room holding the old leather-bound book Flora knew so well. Granny Dodo sat on the bed next to her, purple framed glasses perched on her nose, and opened the well-worn book with care to the first page.

She cleared her throat and began reading, her soft voice creating a warm glow in Flora’s ears, who listened eagerly like she was hearing the story for the first time:

‘The War of the Needles, a history’

‘The Gods of Olympus, after the clash of the Titans, had become fat and bored. Any opportunity to amuse themselves and harass the mortals was most welcome. Such an occasion presented itself to Athena Goddess of Arts and Crafts, and Hestia of the hearth and home.

Hephaestus the Gods’ skilled Blacksmith created a small needle, one day whilst

working and he gifted it to Athena. He had created the first sewing needle. Athena

delighted with this, and after seeing its usefulness, asked Hephaestus to forge more. She distributed these to her favourites amongst the female mortals, instructing them in its use.

Hestia, who had watched this turn of events, was furious. She was fiercely jealous of Athena. She hated her brother Zeus' favourite daughter. So Hestia forced Hephaestus to make her a bigger needle - two - in fact, to outdo Athena. And, so the first knitting needles were created. Triumphantly, Hestia distributed her needles amongst her favourites, along with wool and instructed them in their use.

And so began the war with tournaments organised, the most skilled sewists and knitters battled it out to become Athena’s or Hestia’s champion. Those who failed were banished, transformed, or even, in some cases killed. All across the land families were torn apart. There was a clear divide between Sewist and Knitter.’

Flora’s attention faded a little, now, feeling a bit sleepy as granny read about the war raging on throughout history. She knew it all, had memorised it, having heard the tale at least a hundred times before. She remembered her favourite highlights now, how King Henry VIII had divorced Katherine of Aragon because she knitted and Anne Boleyn was an exquisite seamstress; Marie Antoinette cried out to the poor ‘Let them knit’ and promptly lost her head, and finally President John F. Kennedy was shot because his wife was an extreme sewist.

Her ears turned back in as Granny came to the end.

‘Where will it end, and who will win and reign supreme?

You must decide.

Knitting or Sewing?’

She finished with a flourish smiling at Flora over the rim of her glasses, the closed book nestled now in her lap.

‘Granny Dodo. Can I hold the book?’ Flora asked shyly, as she always did, knowing the book was a treasured possession.

‘Of course, my love.’ Granny placed the book into Flora’s small hands. Running her delicate little fingers over the front cover, she felt the leather, and the stories somehow called to her from within. She didn’t know why, but she had never looked at the spine of the book before, but she did so now. The faded golden lettering jumped out at her. ‘The War of the Needles - a history, by Dorothy Slipstitch and Margaret Purl.’

A small gasp escaped Flora’s lips and wide-eyed, she looked from the book into Granny Dodo’s knowing eyes. So many questions ran around her head that they crashed into

each other like bumper cars. Her twelve-year-old brain was on overload, but before she could find her voice, Granny gently took the book from her, and, kissing her forehead, simply whispered, ‘Yes,’ into her ear. Then she left the room, giving Flora a reassuring smile as she turned out the light.

‘I’ll never get to sleep now.’ Flora whispered into the darkness.

Selected: 24th Short Story
Published in Issue #30

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