Strands of Hope

‘Like it?’ Anna asked, looking up at me through her dark fringe. She was showing me her latest cross-stitch piece: a sailor’s tattoo in crimson and black, a hand-sewn swallow. The design stood out crisply on the triangle of white fabric.

‘Perfect,’ I said, smiling and lifting it gently from her hands.

Ribbons of bunting lay around us, criss-crossing the floor of my living room and draped over the armchair in metre-long strands. Mismatched, handmade triangles of satin-trimmed gingham, country-style florals, rebel cross-stitch in jewel shades.

‘We’re nearly there then,’ Anna said, a glimmer in her eyes. ‘Only a few days to go.’

In a week our shop would be open, and today we were finishing off the decorations for the launch. Our products were ready to go – hand-printed cushions, tablecloths and curtains that we’d leaned over our sewing machines to make. Materials packed up neatly in plastic, stacked in my kitchen – for now, our store room. I’d got used to stepping around the bags to get to Callum’s highchair, a little buzz of excitement in my stomach each time.

‘Just these ones to do, then,’ Anna said, holding up the plain linen triangles that were left. ‘The pieces of our history.’ What material could I use for the panels Anna and I had set aside – one of Granny’s doilies, a bib of Callum’s…?

At my thought of him, my son gave a little snuffle, and turned over in his cot nearby, his cheeks pink with sleep. The temptation was there, to wake him, feel his warm arms around my neck and hear his addictive, room-filling giggle.

‘Seen Greg lately?’ Anna asked. She’d followed my gaze over to the cot.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘He was round on Saturday.’ I thought back to the awkward hellos, Greg hovering in the doorway. That strained look on his face he’d had since the day he left. ‘He brought her round this time, actually – Sarah.’

‘He did?’ Anna responded, her dark eyebrows arched.

‘It was the right time,’ I said. ‘Now that she’s going to be part of Callum’s life too.’

‘Right,’ Anna said, leaning back into the sofa, her forehead creased in concern. ‘And how was it, meeting her?’

‘It was OK,’ I said. Sarah, with her broad smile and well-meaning questions, had given Callum a present, a sturdy wooden caterpillar. A year on, from the bags packed, the slammed door, meeting her hadn’t been bad. It had, after everything, been OK.

‘So, look what I brought,’ Anna said, pulling a yellow bonnet out of her bag. The change of subject was welcome. ‘It’s Lola’s, from when she was a baby. Faded now, so I don’t mind cutting it up. The print’s still pretty.’

I nodded, ‘It is’, and touched the soft fabric.

‘And this,’ Anna continued, pulling out a grey band T-shirt. ‘Had my first kiss wearing it.’

When I saw it, I laughed in surprise, and put a hand on her arm. I remembered it: the gig, that boy, what Anna was wearing. As my giggles spread to her, our teenage years came back, in a heady rush. Then and right now – on my sofa – I felt happy, in the simplest of ways.

‘And you?’ she asked.

I thought of the delicate white lace upstairs. The dress I’d worn for just one day, still hanging in my wardrobe. A smile crept onto my lips.

Our party, our shop. My new beginning.

‘Just a minute,’ I said. Picking up the dressmakers’ scissors, with a new spring in my step, I went upstairs.

This short story was first published in the magazine The Simple Things.