Needles

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Marcelle

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Nana Maggie was a one-eyed, seven-fingered, one-footed woman who lived both down the street and a hundred miles away. Her gaze was distant (even before dementia) and her voice was hollow, save for the occasional Irish lilt creeping back in. She had been a seamstress and worked in the textile mills—the source of her amputations—so her rheumy knuckles were swollen into claws and her fingers constantly twitched.

By 2014, Nana Maggie was in bad shape. I couldn’t afford nurse care, so I simply popped in every day, supplied her with enough yarn or fabric to keep her busy, and kept her appliances unplugged. Maybe that’s not ethical, but I was already struggling to afford my own home and therapy.

Until July of 2015, I thought I’d struck a good balance. As far as I was concerned, my Nana could spend her final days happily making blankets and stuffed animals with her imaginary friends. I thought her delusions were limited to imagined childhood friends and fairies.

On the evening that ended it all, I came over with dinner like usual. Nana Maggie barely acknowledged me, continuing to knit in her dingy green armchair. A little nod, a quiet “Hullo, Sal,” and she was back to work, needles clicking together in a steady rhythm.

She had no television, and I had long taken away her many glass tchotchkes for her own safety, so the living room was barren aside from the armchair, its matching sofa, and a coffee table. Or, at least, it was usually empty.

That night, the floors, tables, chairs, every surface was littered with sewing, knitting, and crocheting projects in varying states of completion. I couldn’t fathom her finishing so much work in two days; hadn’t she slept? I nudged hats and scarves out of my path to the kitchen, which was dominated by a quilt made of her pajamas. The kitchen window was wide open, the screen torn, as if pushed in from the outside.

“Nana, what’s with the mess? Why aren’t these in your sewing room?” I asked, dropping my grocery bags onto the linoleum counter, then turning to plug in the stove. “Did you break the window screen?”

She didn’t respond, instead tying off a seam on whatever she was making. I decided to leave her until I could occupy her with dinner; I still wasn’t great at handling her meltdowns, responding more often with tears than a firm hand, and I thought disrupting this fugue state to clean would cause one.

It was only when I began boiling water for pasta that Nana spoke.

“Edmond is sorry for the mess, I’m sure,” she said, needles steadily clicking.

“Edmond did this, then, Nan?” I asked idly, continuing to stir.

“Him or one of the other fair folk,” she muttered, clicking away. “They’ve been tryin’ to visit for a while. They’ve missed me since I left the woods.”

Edmond was a close imaginary friend of hers, one of the “fair folk” as she called them. Her belief in fairies was, however, not what one unfamiliar with Irish folklore might expect. The fae of Nan’s mind were tricksters, fickle creatures who toyed with humans, sometimes oddly violent, blessing and cursing in equal measure. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if she thought she was a friend or a hostage to them.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Nan.”

“Well, they got what they wanted, didn’t they? They’ve come to visit tonight. Impatient lot.”

“Oh, have they, Nan?”

“O’course! Burst in through the window, not an hour ago.”

The sentence seeped into my bones. I struggled to remind myself that she was in a different reality. The unfamiliar certainty in her voice, though, did not help assuage my fears.

I left my post at the stove to turn on every light in the house: down the hall leading from the kitchen and in the bedroom, guest room, and sewing room. It didn’t help that every room was full of fabric, much of which was lumped up and twisted into vaguely humanoid shapes that I anxiously refused to investigate further. I locked the kitchen window tight, hoping ardently that we were the only two people in the house.

I finished dinner and set it out on the counter, quilt and other sundry projects cleared away into mounds of soft rubble. Nana Maggie ambled over when called, empty knitting needles in hand, then stood blinking down at the plates.

“Where’s the plate for Edmond?” she asked, genuinely confused. “He’s going to be ready for dinner soon....”

I shuddered and turned to look down the hall over my shoulder. The lights in the rest of the house were still on, but a part of me thought I heard the softest rustling from the guest bedroom. My skin prickled under unseen eyes when I turned away, but I couldn’t neglect Nana just to soothe my baseless paranoia.

“I’m sorry, Nan, Edmond called. He can’t come over tonight. Maybe tomorrow?” Distract and direct, short sentences, just like the websites said.

“But I made him a bear! He’s got to come, he promised to take me home!” Nan tearfully waved the bear in her three-fingered hand. Despite the depth of her delusions, she’d never insisted on their reality so fervently, and I was no longer sure if her “guest” was imaginary. My phone was by the oven; I only had to edge around Nan for it.

“Nan, I’m sorry you’re angry,” I began, circling her as she hyperventilated. I took the bear from her, hoping to get the needles next. “Why don’t we—”

I recoiled before I could finish. The bear was warm, wet, and went limp in my hands with a series of snaps. There was a smear of blood on my hands where I’d gripped it; viscera and small bits of bone seeped out of the fabric. A wave of nausea and disbelief swept over me, and I braced the counter, dropping the bloody lump to the ground.

“No! I’m not fallin’ for it, lass. Edmond told me that tonight he’d return everything I’ve given him. You can’t make me forget again! I won’t have it!”

Crying, Nana Maggie reeled back and forced a knitting needle through my hand.

The snap and tear of flesh and bone sent all the breath out of my lungs in a howl, and I toppled to the floor, curling into a ball. I was next to the bloody bear, and from my vantage point could now see many more swollen, dripping forms of fabric. It struck me that with her addled state of mind, Maggie could kill me without remorse, a thought that consumed me with terror and guilt.

When I looked up, though, I saw my grandmother hobbling to the guest bedroom. I watched her take the hand of an unnaturally thin arm, clad in sallow skin, and shut the door behind her, smiling.

I struggled for a long time to stand, wracked with agony and disbelief. Seeing what had become of my dominant hand, a sight I refuse to relive, made a swift response even harder. The house felt full, creaks and thumps from every darkened corner freezing me in place. I thought I saw a few lumps of fabric twitch, though I convinced myself otherwise.

Eventually I managed to call 911, but by the time police arrived, I had vomited all over the carpet and fainted.

They traced Nan to the woods behind her house and discovered the scene of her crime. Nana Maggie had been slowly dismembering one Eli Moore, a missing man from two counties over, for upwards of three months. They didn’t offer a motive, or an explanation of how a nearly 100-year-old woman had overpowered a 30-year-old coach.

As of 2020, I still can’t use my right hand, but I’ve adapted to the left. Maggie is presumed dead. Two details that chill me, though, were conspicuously left out of the report I managed to get my hands on. For one, though it lists an “extreme state of decomposition,” the report neglected to mention the clusters of mushrooms ringing the clearing where Maggie had done her work. There were also a few pieces of Eli left untouched in the clearing’s center: namely, three fingers, one foot, and one eyeball.

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Sharon Thomas · ago
Awesome story, wonderful writing!