Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Comforter

At the foot of a small hill, at the edge of a smaller village, stands a tiny house with only one room. The woman who lives there is kindly and dear and nearly as old as the rock that surrounds her. She sits on a stool and sits at a table both carved from the same fallen tree, and at her feet you'll find baskets overflowing with the tail ends of a tale, with scraps of thought and bits of string, various patches and fragmented phrases, and bobbles and buttons and conjunctions by pairs -- the woman was a Comforter, after all -- and nothing was to be wasted.

Early each morning a girl-child from the village would walk the cobbled path to her home and knock at the door. She would come, slowly, and greet the young lass with a smile and a nod and a mirror. She perched on her stool while the child ran nimble fingers through long white hair, weaving each beautiful strand into one perfect braid that fell over her shoulder and down almost to the floor. For her pains the girl-child received a tender kiss on the top of her head, and one precious word to carry with her for the day. When the task was complete the girl would go home and leave the old woman to sit, and to wait, and to sew. She was never alone very long.

As the story goes, a young businessman with a clean, handsome suit came to the village about two hundred years ago. His name was Edward Clark, and he worked with the famous Mr. Singer making machines designed to hasten the production of needlework. When the young Edward Clark heard stories of a woman who was able to quilt with words, he decided to seek her out. He put the heavy metal machine in a large wooden crate. Then he slid a narrow, burgundy box off a high shelf in his workroom. It was so slight you would never have seen it, and so covered in dust that it must have been there a long time. He put that box in the pocket of his greatcoat, and the crate on the wagon behind his horse. Two boxes, two riding companions, two weeks of travel over all variety of terrain, and a hundred untamable questions that evaporated as the door to the small cottage at the edge of the smaller village opened, and his eyes met hers.

She stood quite still, with one long braid of pure white hair draped over her shoulder. She was wearing the softest smile he had ever seen. He felt instantly welcome, inexplicably at peace. She asked him in and he filled a chair. Then he uncovered his gift and explained its purpose.

"This is a marvel," she smiled. "I have never seen a thing like it in all of my days, and my days have been many and my experience vast. What can I give to you in exchange for such a treasure?" He gently plied the box from his pocket and held it out across the palm of his hand, but she shook her head. "Read to me."

Like so many before, Edward Clark nervously opened the box and removed a folded pack of papers, yellow with age. He smoothed the creases open with trembling hands and quietly began to speak the words aloud. In his agitation he did not notice the old woman reach into the air and catch the first word, like a child might chase after a butterfly. She twirled the letters around in her fingers, pulling them gently and spreading them thin. Soon enough she had worked it into a fine thread, as crimson and bright as the blush as stealing over his face. The delicate threads were warm agains her skin. This will go North one day, she thought. 

His story was about a woman, of course. She was beautiful, he was kind. Their romance was full and fresh and wonderful and the old woman smiled as she used his unraveled tale to lace together patches of fire-coloured cloth. Phrase by phrase it came together, stitch by pause and breath by spool. When he came to the very end of the very last page, Edward Clark looked up. 

He wasn't the first to gasp in wonder at what he saw. Nearly everyone does. The woman looked like she was sitting in a sunset. She looked like an angel, or a fairy of magical days long past. The comforter that she had crafted while he shared his heart was radiating light and heat, melting away fear and loneliness just by the sight of it. She stood to her feet and wrapped the blanket around his body. It was the heat of a summer, the embrace of a lover and the smell of a wood-burning stove; it was strong tea on a cool morning and the country melody of crickets and fireflies. He sighed. 

"What will you do with it?" he asked. 

"I will send it away, to a place far off where moments like this rarely come. In that place it will rekindle lost loves and spark to new ideas. In that place it will bring hope and joy. It will bring comfort." 

"Thank you," he said.

"Thank you," she said.

And that was two hundred years ago. In the time between the Comforter has listened to thousands of stories, each producing a uniquely powerful quilt. Ice-cold blue and white covers fashioned from ghost stories, dangerous adventures and Christmas in foreign lands, sent off to Chilean and Peruvian villages; green blankets as soft as moss and as fresh as an early spring breeze, sent to the desert nations of Yemen and Egypt; beautiful comforters designed to inspire thoughts beyond the self, to cool the sun-beaten and warm the sun-starved. Though she lives a quiet and isolated life, her gifts have been carried by faithful hands to homes in remote mountain caverns and frostbitten plains. "Read to me," she says. Speak and your story will be heard. Open your heart so that another can share in your joys and sorrows, pleasures and fears. 

You never know what neighbouring soul may be sorely in need of a comforter.

1 comment:

elaine101 said...

Are you putting this onto your podcast? I would love to hear you read it aloud. Wonderful story, with so much heart!