Mary Knits Alone

Prose By Danny Bultitude

If Mary forgot how to knit, she would surely die. Sudden heart attack, stroke, unexplained

aneurism which splits through her and leaves the two halves unrecognisable. Maybe it

would be by her own hand: some momentary decision to hold her breath too long, to

launch herself through the window, to lock the doors and burn down the house, taking the

kids with her.

The thoughts repulse Mary, absurd and graphic, but they carry a grim legitimacy.

So, she keeps knitting.

Knitting follows rules, makes definitive sense, keeps the chaotic world palatable. A

necessity, an antidote. Something about the beautiful action itself: the monotony of

drawing the needles together and apart, counting the loops and rows, watching the slow

progression. Magic, almost. An alchemical process turning old yarn into clothing with Mary

becoming both machine and goddess, a builder like her dad.

Soft click and near-frictionless rub between each needle, the not-quite-silence of yarn being

dragged into place or dangling fruitlessly beneath the elbow. Fibrous tugging, growth of

something once non-existent, complete solipsism. Every aspect of knitting feels like the

antithesis to mothering, to existing in a world like ours. Meditation in the purest form.
 

Alarm set for thirty-five minutes, phone on airplane mode face-down on the carpet, door

locked tight. As if alive, the old biscuit tin slides out from under the bookshelf and the

needles and yarn float free, arranging themselves with unnecessary precision upon the

desktop. Mary takes ten measured breaths before tenderly stroking the front and back of

each hand, readying them. Eyes open at first, slowly fluttering, closing altogether. Entering

the trance comes naturally to her now, like keying your credit card PIN or writing a

signature.

You could never pinpoint what first inspired Mary to knit and neither could she. The yarn

itself seemed to audibly call out to her after being left spooled and useless in the airing

cupboard for so long. A gift from her mother some fifteen years before, housing a power

which pushed, entangled her in itself, made its desire known. Transformation is its sole

wish, an urgent yearning to be used.

One clear Wednesday last year, barely aware of her own motions, Mary began knitting.

Tired of the yarn’s demands, she gave in. Ritualistic from that very first attempt, carrying an

instant feeling of predetermination, as if she were born to knit.

Cheesecloth recollections of being taught as a child, beneath the guiding hand of some

enormous grown-up who knew more than she. Mary’s childvoice mirroring the adultish

boom as they counted out stitches and worked in unison. Together, they organised the

aimless thread into collectives; crafting socks, hats, scarves, sweaters. To knit is to make

whole, to unify.

 

Between thumb and forefinger, the yarn spits forth these long-forgot memories, undersea

volcanoes once dormant. How an adopted child must feel when meeting their birth parents

– some misty knowledge of shared history, punctuated by absence. Mary did not need the

internet or a library book to re-learn, only her own past, her own life.

That clear Wednesday left Mary elated, gifted with newfound purpose. After four too-short

hours of frantic knitting, she leant back in her chair and exhaled. With that exhalation, the

tension that had been winding around her lungs for the past decade blew away too,

travelling as a vaporous oyster across the pavement into the air, painting the wind itself as

the memory of a firework does.

A snaking scarf lay on her desk after those four hours, something which did not exist before,

dangling and soft. Mary lifted it to her nose, her face, buried herself between its stitches.

Perfect and inarguably hers. Something born from within, a second son.

Overpowered by the experience, Mary travels to a far-off world of numbers and wool

whenever she knits. A trance state in which fingers grow long and pointed and become the

needles themselves; in which the garments you’re knitting already adorn your body and

grow cocoon-like around you. No light comes from behind the threads comprising this

world. All is defined by texture and dark. Rent, back-pain, bills, children, work, cleaning: all

swallowed by writhing yarn.

Maths had been her favourite class until they entered the imaginary landscape of algebra

and calculus, leaving behind the reliability she’d first fallen for. During tests, Mary entered

trances akin to those brought on by knitting, shifting into a world free of distraction, defined

by certainty. Both topics carry that same objectivity, that same unwavering truth. For every

motion, you are either right or wrong. Little else is so reliable.

Inevitably, the timer on her phone sounds and earth filters back into sight. Identical roofing

of state homes repeating to the horizon, piglet sky with brush-stroke clouds, sunset and life

solemnly returning. She looks down and surveys her work, the piece she hadn’t been able to

see while entranced. It always looks perfect. Stretch, rumple, wrap yourself in it. Tangibility

of time well spent.

Time has always been the greatest threat to Mary’s knitting. As sure as her morning

multivitamins, she needs to knit daily lest she unravel herself. At first, there were no set

times or limits and Mary would knit whenever she had the chance to free herself from the

endless duties of a working mother. But after accounting for part-time work, Brock’s

slowness at getting to bed, and Jess’s teething pains; Mere only found time during the night

hours. Hours when she was less alert, less willing to be carried off.

Those first few weeks were untamed, with knitting sessions lasting eons, often only starting

after ten p.m. As it became more important to her, she began instilling rules and following

guidelines, aware of its addictive potential. Mary eventually settled on knitting at 4:30 p.m.

only, after both school and work ended, looking westward to the lowering sun as it unfurled

shadows in offering.

With this strict rule, Brock got a full ninety minutes of her attention after school, relishing it

before letting Mary have her ‘mum time’ upstairs while he looked after Jess. Brock endlessly

questioned what she was doing and Mary endlessly rebuffed.

           “Wouldn’t you like to know, dweeb?” she’d laugh, bounding up the stairs as Brock

sighed and went back to whatever book or TV show currently held him captive.

One afternoon, Brock crept sockfoot up the stairs and tried listening in through the thin

door. Hearing nothing, he knocked quietly and called a fearful “Mum?” against the wood.

No answer came so he began rattling the doorknob, his calls to Mary becoming more

panicked and uncertain until they finally woke her.

His mother’s cast-iron footsteps and caustic voice answered with a splitting: “What?!” She

unlocked the door and swung it open, doorknob hitting the wall, all strain and sinews and

angled lines.

            “Is the house on fire? Has your leg fallen off?” she asked, near-yelling

            “No, but-”

            “But nothing, Brock. This is the only time I ever get to myself and you know that! Can

you please go back downstairs and leave me alone for ten more minutes? Christ!”

Tears streamed down Brock’s face, wrinkled with abject guilt. Mary slammed the door and

returned to her knitting, tension having invaded and ruined the atmosphere.

             “I’m sorry, mum,” snivelled Brock from the corridor, receiving no response.

Of course she apologised once the timer sounded. Kissed him and hugged him and spoilt

him for the rest of the night.

             “I’m really sorry, sweetie, but I told you that’s the one thing you can’t interfere with.

I didn’t mean to get nasty with you.”

Other mothers would respond with much more anger, she convinced herself. Some would

hit their sons, ground them, open their eyelids and spit in their eyes. Brock forgave her and

never disrupted her knitting time again.

Around the playground, Brock’s schoolfriends built fantastical explanations for Mary’s 4:30

disappearances. She was a secret reptilian who had to reapply her skin, a devout Satanist

performing daily sacrifices, mother to a second baby sister kept locked away upstairs, fed

entirely on chickenbones. Around the carpark, parents had more grounded explanations,

imagining raunchy video calls to some long-distance boyfriend, obscene erotica filling up a

word document, some heinous drug habit she barely kept under control.

The father of one of Brock’s friends actively berated Mary over the phone after hearing

about the half-hour his son spent unsupervised while visiting for a playdate. As she listened

to his cursing and disgust, Mary got distracted imagining the polo shirt tight around his

crimson throat. The endless threads woven together by factory workers in Taiwan, his wife

ironing it in the morning, his spittle leaving freckles on its collar.

Akin to heartburn, this feeling of guilt sometimes blooms inside Mary. An implacable sense

that she is a bad mother for ever allowing something to outshadow her relationship with

her children, especially something as silly and slight as knitting. Thirty-five minutes didn’t

seem like much to ask, but she finds herself less convinced with each passing day.

Crying on the couch, Mary would wonder if all the other parents were right, if their

abhorrence was justified. Selfish horrible woman, wretched parent, unappreciative of such

well-behaved lil’ angels. Not blind to their scornful gazes, Mary began waiting far down the

street for Brock after school, fearful that another parent may find the courage to reproach

her publicly, right there by the gate.

Staring off into the distance, Mary understands that she has no other recourse. No other

comfort lies within reach, no other attainable desires exist, nothing else truly hers. Without

knitting, she would become nothing more than Mum, never again Mary.

 

Whenever Brock would fold origami or draw or measure out the paper for the little three-

dimensional houses he made, she felt an intense desire to teach him knitting too, to

become that unclear adult-shape which showed her ecstasy back when. Guiding his hands

on the needles, choosing out yarn with him at the store, the gradual change in his eyebrows

as what was once unknowable became known.

Imagine her pride swelling once he presented the first thing he’d ever knitted solo, wearing

it and acting like a runway model. He would gift it to her, a thank you for being the best

mum ever, an act of forgiveness for the time she spent knitting and not focused on him.

Quietly smiling at the thought, her once-guilty tears would change their context and

become positive, self-satisfied.

The images fade and decay after time, leaving Mary to again become rational. Not yet, she

thought. Perhaps after he had moved out of home – maybe then she’d teach him. At this

stage, she couldn’t even admit what she did each day, so fearful that it may taint the

experience.

“Enjoy your knitting,” Brock might call after her, dismantling the allure, exiling her from the

meditative woollen world. What if he demanded to see her work? Pestered her with

requests, for beanies or gloves or jumpers? What if it became just another aspect of

mothering?

These questions stopped Mere from giving the finished products to her children, even

though they were often made perfectly to their fit. So exclusively focused on the knitting

itself, she struggled to deal with that already knitted. For a while she seriously considered

donating them to children in need or to shelters, but this struck her as an overly selfless end

to her deliberately selfish act. Other ideas came: to sling them over trees in the park for

faeries to find and adorn, to leave them in the school’s lost and found box to never be

collected, to burn them on the beachsand and inhale the smoke.

Yet the solution is much simpler. Whenever a piece is finished, Mary holds it up to the

window and inspects the stitches, light leaking between the gaps. Sometimes she would

attempt to wear it, or just hold it up to her body and pose before the mirror. Then, she

carefully begins unravelling.

Every stitch counted backwards, every motion unmotioned, a deconstruction on her own

terms. Instant awareness of the material which made up this item before you. Further

understanding that every tiny movement of Mary’s hand had contributed to the creation of

this undeniable thing. With every action undone, it seems like the perfect ending to its

lifespan.

Mere unravels the booties she’d carefully knitted over the past week, watching as the toe

slowly disappears. They would have fit Jess perfectly, a quiet voice calls, lamenting. She

takes the kinky yarn and stretches it taut between her hands before respooling it, thankful

for the second opportunity to create while also mourning the loss of each bootie. The spool

is returned to its biscuit tin, which is pushed back beneath the bookshelf. Raising her arms in

a groaning stretch, Mary plods to the door and pockets her phone.

Opening the door has an effect not unlike a vacuum seal, an airlock: uninvited responsibility

rushing in. Downstairs she walks, past the old juice stain on the carpet, crayon marks on the

wall, magazine clippings pasted to Brock’s door. Mary sighs. Greeted by sounds of

childbreath, ever-present smell of cheap biscuits and whitebread, the touch of an uneven

rug underfoot – she enters.

Brock sits on the couch reading, one hand on the little paperback book and the other

towards Jess, giving her something to hold.

             “Heya honey. What’d I miss?” Mary asks, tousling his hair.

Dropping the book to the cushion and leaping to his feet, Brock excitedly summarises the

past chapter and hugs his smiling mum. As they embrace, she buries her chin into his

shoulder, feeling the threads of his sweater brush back. Warmth envelops them,

interweaving the two, closely and safely.

‘A beautiful thing,’ Mary thinks to herself, ‘how the sweater hugs him as tightly as I do.’

Danny Bultitude holds an MA in English Literature and has previously been published in Landfall, Newsroom, and The Spinoff. He was one of the recipients of the 2019 Surrey Hotel Writer's Residency and hopes to have a lovely view when he fades away into compost.