Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Language of Quilts

This is the first of five tales to do with quilts. The works are by Kerrin Pratt an Australian quilter and were sent to me of course, by The Snapper.

When I was a very young lad, my mother told me that she had faerie blood. Naturally, I did not believe her. I thought she was teasing me as she often did. But she looked at me with very serious eyes and held my face in her warm hands so that I almost cried for the love of her. She told me that her father had married a faerie woman who had, after his death, vanished never to be seen again.

They are a strange lot the faerie folk. Older than most of the evolved things in the world, some have wondered if they came from another world, but they are not alien beings in that sense. They come out of a trinity of things: water, earth and air. They have become part of all still things that live. Plants, stones, waters and the very air itself is full of them. Cobwebs, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed are both part of and in themselves faerie. That bookcase made of old wood in your parlour has faerie in it as do the books themselves. For, as my mother told me with her wise green eyes fixed on mine, books are living things even if they do not move or breathe.

I pondered on this as a boy, wondering through life careful with everything not wishing to offend the faeries. I remember coming across some boys in the library having taken a girl's bag at school. They were laughing cruelly and throwing her bag to each other to keep it from her while she tried desperately to get it back. I inhaled sharply and whispered to myself,

"What about the faeries?"

As if I had invoked them, I was suddenly aware of their presence a sharp, brilliant, intensely colourful presence like that of gemstones. They seemed to reach out of the bag and suddenly, very suddenly, the boys were running from the library in horror, clasping at their bloody noses and pulled hair and poked eyes, while the bag fell gently as if it had defied gravity, to the floor. I picked it up cautiously and handed it carefully to the girl who was breathless and red-faced and on the edge of tears. She thanked me and I told her,

"Treat it carefully, the faeries live in it," but she clearly thought me mad, so I sighed and left her.

Some time in my childhood I became very ill and I was put to bed with a raging fever. I heated up the bed and tried to shrug the bedclothes to the floor, for they felt heavy and crushing and far too hot. Every time my anxious mother would come and put them back on and kiss my burning brow with her cool lips. One morning, she came in with a tall thin woman who looked almost like her daughter, if I'd had a sister. The woman had green eyes that flashed as if they were lit with a flame. Her hair was bright coppery red and a mass that almost seemed alive to me. She wore a long green dress with a sash of red fabric at what might well have been her waist had she had any hips to speak of. My mother told me that this was my grandmother and that she looked so young because -

"Because she's a faerie," I answered.

Grandma smiled and sat beside me. She caressed my hot face with a hand that smelled of herbs, of summer days, of cool streams and the flight of dragonflies. Does the flight of dragonflies have a smell? I had not thought so until then. A bright buzzy, almost dusty, trembling scent. Her hand felt soft and cool against my face, soothing me. She reached into the bag she carried with her and brought out a quilt. Whipping off my bedclothes with one hand into the corner of the room, she placed this one quilt over me. I felt a deep, gentle, soothing warmth and that dry, soft scent of herbs before I felt my eyes go heavy and I slept. She murmured softly,

"Celebrate the Language of Quilts. Royal Persian Manuscripts, April dots, Reflections of Plum Creek in patchwork, Country Threads, Hear, O do you hear?"

I seemed to hear her through my sleep and much later when I awoke to find her sitting beside me, she had a glass of water and some soup with bread. I yawned and stretched like a cat. She put her hands under my arms and lifted me up onto her lap and fed me soup and water.

"How does it feel to be better again?" she asked gently.

Her voice was like a sparrow's wing, soft, quick and warm. I rested my head on her shoulder and held her close with my arms about her neck. She smiled and embraced me too. The bright, intense brilliance of things, the scents and sounds of stillness, the memories of things; of books, plants, clouds and a billion raindrops filled me and I wanted to stay like that and never grow up. But Grandma stroked my hair and fed me more soup before putting me back in bed. I asked her then about the words she had spoken as I had fallen asleep.

"Everything has it's language my dear, even quilts have a language to be celebrated and spoken. For the faerie those words can be given meanings they did not originally hold, but the quilts hear and understand," she told me.

I had not thought that quilts had a language of their own. I sat up in my bed and examined the quilt and there I found the words she had spoken. Beginning with 'Celebrate the language of Quilts'. I asked her if each of the squares had different meanings and she took my face in her cool soft hands and told me that they did if she required them to.

"This quilt for instance was made with faerie magicks and was created to protect you. When you are asleep the quilt will look after you and keep you warm and safe," she said tenderly.

I thanked her and got back under the quilt, wrapping it close about me. It was true that when I was under that quilt I felt afraid of nothing. I don't mean that I was brave, only that I felt I had nothing to be afraid of. I fell asleep and when I awoke she had gone.

That quilt stayed with me throughout my life and whenever I was having trouble at work or in my life generally, I had only to get under that quilt and I felt protected and strong. Every day following a night beneath that quilt the world seemed to have righted itself where I was concerned.

Then one morning as I was heading to work, a car hit me and I was taken to hospital. For days I was unconscious and when I awoke I was weak and failing. My mother was at my bedside and felt concerned.

"As you love me," I managed to murmur, "Go to my home and fetch the quilt my grandma gave me."

She patted my hand and made consoling noises and said that I didn't need it. I knew then that I should die without it and I begged her urgently. Told her that if she loved me she would do it. She frowned then, but went away. For two days she did not come and I got worse. Then on the third day, she appeared as if she were a dream and crossly placed the quilt on top of the bedclothes. Then she looked at me and went out, her face full of tears.

I fell in and out of sleep for a while. In one of what I believe were my waking moments, I felt my grandma tearing the bedclothes off of me and then placing the quilt on top of me. Almost instantly I felt my strength returning and was sure that I heard, almost like a memory, her soft voice speaking,

"Celebrate the Language of Quilts. Royal Persian Manuscripts, April dots, Reflections of Plum Creek in patchwork, Country Threads, Hear, O do you hear?"

I fell into a deep sleep then full of kind and welcome dreams. When I awoke, I heard grandma and mother talking. Mother was arguing with grandma, but grandma stood firm.

"You never believed in the Languages of Things that Live in Silences. Because of your refusal to accept them your own son almost died. Just stop for a moment and listen. I gave him that quilt to protect him and to keep him safe. I told you this the day I brought it and you ignored me. You are my daughter but I am of faerie and I warn you now, as I fought for you, so will I fight for him and from now on he only has to be in any trouble and I will protect him. You will come with me and you will learn again the Languages that all faerie folk know. I am not asking you my child, I am telling you! You have lived too long away from faerie and you have been persuading yourself that we are not real. You must learn as your son just accepted that we are not only as old as the world is, we are more than real," grandma told her.

I saw my mother about to argue and then both of them just shimmered in the air and vanished. I remember sitting up and finding that my body did not hurt and the bruises and breaks were healed. I called for the nurse who came in and looked shocked.

"You must lie back and rest love, you're not healed yet," she said.

But I knew that I was and that the quilt had healed me. Still, I lay back and told the nurse I was hungry and would she bring me some soup and bread. She fussed and said she would see. Then she left me and I snuggled up under the quilt. Immediately all my fears went and I felt a deep sense of comfort and safety. The nurse returned a little later with the doctor who examined me and shook his head in amazement. He asked if I was not too hot under that homely quilt and would I not prefer the hospital bedclothes. I refused them telling him that this quilt was what I needed most of all.

I did not see my mother again until my wedding day nine years later. She seemed calmer somehow and yet as young as she had been when she left me. She came with grandma and they gave me their faerie version of a blessing on the wedding. Grandma asked me to call her when my first child was born and I thanked her and said that I should do.

We have good luck in our family. We are protected by our quilts. I still have mine and my wife and I sleep under it. When my daughter was born I called my grandma who brought her a quilt. But that is another story altogether. My daughter's story.


3 comments:

bad penny said...

A warming tale thank you.

xx

Selina said...

ohhh, I just loved this! can't wait to read the other four.

madameshawshank said...

Languages of Things that Live in Silences

oh I'm a great believer in them!!!

Once I had a conversation with a woman who knows stuff..:-) I asked her what where the dashes of silver that, at times, every so often times, seem to be when my eyes are closed...

faeries, she said..

there's wonderment all around..here there everywhere...in all...

more stories..oh goodie

Kennin will be tickled pink methinks..