The town is thirsty. Autumn colours the horizon despite the onset of spring. The old women enter in single file. They take their seats and rummage through bags for knitting needles and crotchet hooks.
Not a word is spoken until she takes her place. She is the one who must be respected. As the saying goes, ‘she’ is the cat’s mother. That is her, a cat who eyes her prey through the bespectacled appearance of a doting grandmother. She will not fall victim to her age.
“Good morning ladies,” is her curt welcome to the Country Knitters Club, or CKC.
Murmurs are her answer, and she gazes disdainfully at the meagre response. “Respect”, she mutters under her breath. Taking her place, she looks at the tasks in hands – an admirable quilt, a passable purse and… a green sweater.
Her gaze pauses on the woollen jumper and taunts her in its audacity. Had she not used that precise colour the previous year?
Eyes lift to view the face, and squint in displeasure and disgust.
“And what, dear Josephine, is that?”, she purrs at the trembling lady clasping her emerald yarn.
“Well, Phyllis, it’s a jumper – it’s for my grandson…”
“You have chosen an interesting colour, Josephine.”
Phyllis rasps her question through pursed lips.
“He chose it, Phyllis. It’s his favourite.” Josephine’s fingers trembled, betrayed by her needles, as Phyllis shifted her gaze to the door.
Light murmurs answered; whispered shock and gasps. Josephine only recently moved to the small town. She had not been a member of the group for long, and this move was a first. No one had been outcast from the group before inauguration day. No one.
Josephine gathered up her belongings before shuffling towards the exit.
Regret was lost on Phyllis, who resumed her craft with eyes downcast.
It was the sound of the door shaking from Josephine’s hurried exit that caught the caretaker’s attention. George lifted his gaze from his dustpan to that creaking port before turning back to the cluster of hens.
No, he thought. Hens were too kind. They were jackals who fed on the weak while seeming harmless to passers-by. Yet he knew their true colours. And a beast led this pack.
He coughed at a faux itch in his throat to attract the group’s attention. George felt old eyes burning holes into his skin.
“George… I seem to forget you’re here sometimes. How are you?” Phyllis purred.
George grew tall – this was his battle. He would not flinch.
His response boomed across the empty hall as if to shake the very foundations.
“Tell me, how is the farm these days?”
The red flag had fallen in the eyes of the bull. George shook off hiscaretaker image and grew into his full six feet.
“The farm is lost, Phyllis, as you well know. Tell me, any scones today? You know how I enjoy your recipe.”
Each syllable slipped from George’s mouth as though off a serpent’s tongue. Phyllis flinched at the reminder of her one fall from grace. None of the other ladies knew, but George knew. He was not supposed to have been at the fair that year, mere months after his wife had passed. Yet he attended, and he had recognised that recipe.
“Tell me again, Phyllis, what possessed you to change your scones after so many years?”
She shuddered at the lie she was about to tell. It was difficult to remember sifting through a dead woman’s boxes stored in hall for a secret ingredient.
“Oh George, inspiration comes in so many forms.”
Her words aimed to slice his heart, but he remained seemingly unaffected.
“It reminded so much of my wife’s recipe. Milandia always admired you. In fact, she said to me she wished she had your direct nature, but I told her she was too easy to get along with.”
Phyllis’ eyes narrowed.
“You are an uncommon example of strength, George. It’s such a pity you could not find more meaningful work.”
“Work? Oh Phyllis, you’ve never done a real day’s work in your life – only on your back…”
She turned a shade of puce before indigo, as her eyes bulged with rage. He had lain the final straw.
“You.. How dare… What…”, she stumbled to find coherence.
He giggled at her. The gloves were off and she was against the ropes.
“I am simple, but not blind. A second run is not always a bad thing, as was the case with Josephine’s jumper. After all, redoing a jumper is a damn sight better than doing someone else’s husband.”
A deathly silence took hold in the hall. Needles sounded against lino floors when they fell.
Women inched their chairs apart to create multiple exits. Phyllis was standing alone. Her secrets were out and the long walk to the carpark now called for her.