“Oh, would you look at that. Another loose one.”
The old woman in the living room sighed as she reached for the scissors. Her wrinkled hand grasped the handle and carefully lifted the pair out of the basket. She quickly snipped the dangling string and reclined back into her rocking chair with an exhausted sigh.
Her loom was finally in order. Not a misplaced string to be found. Finally, she was done for the night.
What to do now? Perhaps have a cup of tea? Listen to some music? Or maybe just get a head start on tomorrow’s cloths? She didn’t think her sister would mind having them a day earlier.
The woman barely had time to consider her options before she heard a knock at the door. Moving as fast as she was able, the old woman got up from her chair and turned the doorknob of her small apartment.
Standing at the door was a burly man, with brown hair and a five-o-clock shadow. He was carrying a few bags of groceries and looking down at the woman with a beaming smile.
“Good evening, Ms. Atro! Sorry to visit so late, but I had some trouble finding your groceries. I certainly hope I didn’t startle you.”
The old woman grinned and shook her head. “Not at all, Michael dearie. This old woman has seen enough in her time to know when to be startled. I was just about to have some tea- would you like to join me once you’re through putting the groceries away?”
Michael didn’t particularly enjoy his job at the delivery service, but it put food on the table. He couldn’t care less about many of the noisy tenants he brought groceries to, as many of them were ungrateful or simply impatient- but he had a soft spot for the old woman. She was always quiet, always kind, and more importantly, always had a tip ready. Keeping her company was the least he could do.
“Of course, Ma’am. You were my last delivery today anyways.”
“Wonderful. It’s been so long since I’ve had company. I’ll start brewing the tea while you’re putting everything in the pantry.”
Michael began putting the groceries where they belonged. It was sort of odd, Michael thought. This woman had ordered the same groceries every week for the two years. Rotisserie chicken, bread, cheese, biscuits, and of course her tea. She loved her tea. Once everything was away, he sat down next to the old woman, who had returned to her chair behind the loom after placing down a teapot and two steaming hot cups of tea. Earl Grey. Her favorite.
“Turn on the radio, darling. Nothing as calming as a well-brewed cup of tea and a good, soft song.”
Michael obliged, turning the knobs on her antique radio to a classical station. A jaunty song soon wafted through the air. The old woman’s eyes lit up and she started moving her head to the tune.
“Ah, Sinatra. That brings me back to those times. Back then an old woman could leave her door open and nobody would think twice about it.”
After a few sips, he turned to observe the old woman, still bobbing her head to the music. She had hung up a new cloth- this one filled with loose ends and threads. It looked like there were at least one hundred of them.
“What a disaster,” she mumbled to herself. “Like a hurricane hit it. I really should tell her to be a little more refined with the weaving….” Her rants were cut short once she remembered that someone else was in the room.
“Excuse me if I work while we speak, child. A weaver’s work is never done.”
Michael watched her produce her scissors. It was impressive, Michael thought, just how fast she could snip the threads. Her wizened hands glided across the edges of the cloth, speedily cutting string after string. Once she was finished, she took the cloth off the loom and gently placed it in a small closet near the kitchen.
“Every time I see it, I’m amazed by just how fast you are.”Michael said in awe. “But I’m curious: what exactly do you do with all these cloths? And where do you get them?”
Ms. Atro smiled. “Oh, I do a little work refurbishing cloth. My sisters and I help each other out. It’s a bit of a silly cycle. My younger sister weaves the most beautiful cloth, but it always comes out frayed. It’s my job to snip all the loose strings so that the cloth’s real beauty can be appreciated.Then, I put it all in a box and send it to another of my younger sisters, who can sell it in her shop. Then I get my share to pay for my needs. It’s a lovely little system, do you not think so?”
“You have sisters? Then why are you living alone?”
“You sound like you don’t have much experience with siblings. The three of us would end up bickering so much that no work would be done. No, I’m happy here without them. I don’t need company every day. I have my tea, my biscuits, my radio, and my chair...what else does an old woman like me need?”
Suddenly, the classical music playing throughout the tiny apartment stopped. A booming voice could be heard over urgent-sounding tones.
“We interrupt your regularly scheduled airtime to bring you an urgent news bulletin. We’re getting reports that hurricane Howard, which recently touched down over the Galapagos, has caused massive damage in the time since it touched down. The storm is over, but the destruction is just being observed now. We’re reporting flooded cities, and the death toll is rising. We’ve confirmed at least 100 dead…..”
“Oh, my. How dreadful. Would you kindly turn the radio off, Michael? I can’t stand to listen to that sort of news.”
Michael did as he was told, then took a quick look at his watch. Had it been thirty minutes already? He needed to go clock out soon. His wife would start to get worried if he stayed much longer. He began to finish his tea and stood up from the chair.
“Excuse me, Ms. Atro. I hate to say it, but it’s about time for me to leave. It’s actually the end of my shift, and I should be back before my boss thinks I was slacking off….”
She silenced him with a finger to her lips. “You don’t need to explain it to me, dear. I understand. This old woman knows more than you think. But, before you go...I have something for you.”
Ms. Atro stood up and hobbled to her closet. Reaching her hands in, she pulled out a long cloth blanket. Beckoning for Michael to come near, she softly placed it in his hands. Michael felt the warm blue cloth across his hands as he looked at the old woman in confusion.
“You’ve been delivering this old coot her food, listening to her gripes, and giving her something to look forward to. Helping someone nobody else would care for. And you have my thanks for that. I made this for you, Michael, as a show of this thanks. “
“But Ma’am, I’m not supposed to accept gifts...”
“Don’t worry,” she grinned, “If you don’t tell, I won’t either. It should be good to at least keep the kiddies warm. A warm cradle makes for a warm heart.”
“In that case, thank you. I really appreciate it. I’m sure this’ll make them very happy. I’d best be going now…”
“Take care. I’ll see you next week.”
Confused, Michael closed the door, leaving the woman alone.
As he stood in the hall, a thought came to him. He had never told Ms. Atro about his kids…
Oh, well. It probably slipped out sometime. Time to go clock out.
Ms. Atro walked back to the living room after waving Michael goodbye. She turned her radio on again and sat down in her rocking chair.
“Such a good boy that Michael is.”
She sighed to herself.
“I’m going to hate cutting his string.”