Sunday, October 08, 2006

Incredible how this smell of “clean” now pierces my nostrils and makes me want to retch.

I run my fingers over the delicate lace border my wife had so painstakingly sewed onto the main square of fabric. Often she would practice her craft in front of the television during “prime time” - especially during the Thursday night sitcom mega-lineup. She was somewhat philosophical about her handkerchiefs; she said intense concentration was the enemy of truly inspired work. Perfect stitch work was done while properly half-distracted during episodes of “The Jeffersons” or “All in the Family”. Something about canned laughter reached deep into her soul to unlock her vast stores of creativity.

Now, this hulk of a woman before me, unapologetic, offers to clean my next item for free. As if I would let her callous, bulbous fingers touch anything I cared about. Can she not see that each careless bleach hole has left a corresponding void in my heart?

I squint my eyes - the dim fluorescent lighting is no friend to us sufferers of farsightedness. I pick up the cloth and am thankful that I can still make out the tiny but discernible dot of black ink on one of the corners.

This indelible ink dot was my wife’s trademark. For the untrained eye- her work is perfectly symmetrical on all planes. Each corner has the same embroidered rose, each side the same 32 equally spaced stitches, each edge the same quantity of lace.

But true symmetry was unsettling for my wife.

“Nothing in nature is that perfect,” she would say, “to try to emulate perfection is ungodly.”

And so for every work she did, she would place a single black ink dot in one corner that would offset the symmetry- but would restore balance to her little world.

That she learned the craft of needlework from the nuns likely contributed to the deeply religious overtone that her handkerchiefs took on. When she would kneel beside the bed for her prayers (before her knees gave out from years of speed walking in old penny loafers) she would often hold one of her handkerchiefs with her hands and methodically run her fingers along the border stitches - as if she was counting her rosary beads.

The monster before me now offers me two free dry cleaning services. Her eyes are pleading and bewildered. Every inch of her body seems to scream, “what’s the big deal, it’s only a cloth.”

But I can tell by looking at her that her inner machinery is just not put together to comprehend such things. Stains, she understands. Ironing, she gets. Fabric softener, she remembers. But love? Love she knows not.

I can’t help but sense that what has come to pass is the will of my wife – still making her points from beyond the grave. I see her hand reaching up out of the ground, finger pointed, wagging, and her ghost is mouthing the words “see- why can’t you just let things *be* Richard?”

She is right.

Had I not been so pig headed, I could have kept this precious cloth at my bedside for the rest of my days- her lipstick stain there to rub against my cheek on the cold winter nights when my bed felt most empty.


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