A Bazaar Sweaterbygwen_twenty_ten©
A small invisible creature with pointy ears, a long nose and very long fingers stalked the halls of the hospice where Mary Graham sat dying. She wasn't dying precisely at that moment. She was knitting a sweater for her son, but she had been given a diagnosis of terminal cancer from her doctor two months earlier. Now, she sat in a wheel chair in a sunny window working on the back of the neck of the last sweater she would ever knit for her son Alexander. It was a complicated pattern, full of cables and texture, just how she liked her patterns to be. She no longer needed to consult the pattern, though, as she had been working on the sweater for so long that she had the pattern fairly well memorized. Instead, she sat thinking of her son as she knit, knitting a mother's love into every stitch of the garment.
The small invisible creature stood silently next to the woman listening to her thoughts and watching the memories filter through her mind. He watched as she remembered her son as a small boy playing on a slide. He continued to watch with the woman as her son grew into an awkward teenager. He felt her pride and joy as she watched her son graduate from high school and then from college, grown into a handsome, confident young man. He felt her pain as she watched her son struggle in the world, not with work, for he was brilliant and personable, but rather with his relationships with woman. He watched as she remembered consoling him after each heartbreak and felt pain with the woman as her own heart broke a little each time her son's did. Finally, he felt her greatest desire. He felt her desire to see her son settled in a loving relationship with a woman who deserved him. The creature and the woman both knew that she would never live to see her desire realized, but he knew that there was something he could do.
The creature extended his long skinny fingers, uncurling them from his palm. He placed his hand palm up in front of his lips and blew gently, sending bits of magic into the sweater the woman was knitting so that, though she might not be there to see it, her heart's desire might be realized.
Noelle stumbled through the door into the church fellowship hall. She pushed the old door shut against the cold wind and snow flurries that had followed her in. As always, the wooden door squeaked and stuck, but Noelle leaned her 125 pound into it to get it shut.
Breathing deeply in an effort to regain her breath lost to the cold wind and the sticky door, she looked up at the older woman standing behind folding table piled high with children's clothes. The woman stood behind the table sorting the clothes into various piles.
"I'm so sorry I'm late, Susan," Noelle said, having caught her breath. "My car didn't want to start again today after work, so the cat was sulking and hiding because I was late feeding him. I searched all over the house only to find him waiting by his food bowl. I hate when he does that."
"I'm glad you made it ok," Susan, the older woman replied. "You should really get that car checked out."
"I know. I know," Noelle replied. "I just can't seem to find the time with the holidays coming up." Silently, Noelle amended the excuse to include the large bill that a repair would likely entail.
"What can I do to help you?" Noelle asked, hanging up her coat and scarf next to the door.
"You can start sorting that last bag of clothes," Susan replied. "Some one dropped it off today. It looks it is mostly men's clothing."
"Are we doing adult clothing this year?" Noelle asked.
"Yes," Susan answered, still sorting and folding. "There was such a demand for children's clothing last year that the pastor thought it would be a good idea to expand into adult clothing, since the economy is still so bad this year."
The women chatted amiably about church politics and about the items that had come in for the 'Last Minute before Christmas Bazaar and Tag sale'. The clothing was destined for the tag sale part of the event.
Noelle brought out another folding table from a stack by the wall and set it up. She found the black garbage bag that Susan had indicated and brought it over to her work space.
The scent of the man who had last worn the clothing wafted up from the opened bag which had been sitting near the heater. Noelle found herself momentarily stunned by the aroma. It was not a foul, sweaty or greasy odor like so much of the men's clothing they received. Instead, she found the clothes infused with the scents of wood smoke, fall leaves, and just a hint of sexy man. She found the scent intriguing, almost intoxicating. She caught herself just before she brought the first article, a white hand-knit sweater, up to her face. Touching it, she found that she could just about picture the man who might have worn the sweater. She saw him as tall, clearly indicated by the length of the torso and sleeves. He had dark hair, she thought, and rugged, outdoorsman good looks. He would be into camping and hiking, maybe fishing but not hunting.
Susan saw Noelle sway as she clutched the first article out of the bag and called out, "Are you alright, Noelle?"
Noelle started in surprise, surprised to find that she had been daydreaming.
"What? Oh! Yes, Susan," Noelle reassured her older companion.
"You were swaying," Susan said in the sort of tone a mother might use with a child who is trying to hide something. "Did you remember to eat today before you came over?"
"Um," Noelle replied, biting her lower lip in embarrassment. "No, I don't think so."
"Again?" Susan sighed. "You need to take better care of yourself, Noelle. Go on back to the kitchen. I think there is some cold coffee left over from the committee meeting earlier today. There should be some cookies or pastries left over, too."
Noelle went into the small galley style kitchen and found the food as indicated. She ate quickly and resumed sorting. Gratefully, she noted that though the clothes still carried their distinctive scent, it was not nearly as intense as it had been.
The two women carried on, sorting and folding, and finally, placing the items into the appropriate boxes for the tag sale.
Noelle had set aside the white sweater when she placed the other items into their boxes. Now she held it up to show the older woman.
"Would it be ok if I buy this one today, Susan?" Noelle asked.
"Yes, I guess so, seeing as the sale is tomorrow. Why do want a men's sweater, though? There were plenty of pretty ones in the women's boxes."
Noelle blushed, thinking of her earlier daydream, but she had come up with a likely excuse for wanting the sweater.
"I think it might fit my brother, Arthur," she said.
"Oh," Susan replied. "How is Arthur doing?"
"He is doing pretty well, but he said the nights in the Afghan mountains can be really cold. This sweater looks like it might be warm."
"I heard that they get lots of snow there in the winter," Susan said, conversationally, as she retrieved the cash box to collect the money for the sweater.
"Yes, that's what Arthur has said."
"That will be ten dollars."
Noelle counted out a five, four singles, and a collection of change to pay for the sweater. She wondered as she did so why she was spending her last cash to pay for a sweater that she was not actually planning on using. She justified the purchase to herself with the thought that she might end up actually sending it to her brother in Afghanistan. Maybe. Some day.
That evening Noelle fell asleep, exhausted, on the sofa in front of a fire in her brother's house curled up with her brother's cat and the sweater. She dreamed of a tall, strong dark-haired man. She saw him hiking in autumn, polychrome leave scattered as he walked trails in the brisk air. She saw him leaning in to prod an errant log back into a blazing campfire. She saw him chopping wood in the evening gloaming, a powerful torso swinging the axe high at every stroke. She saw him weeping by a casket. She woke in the early morning light of Christmas Eve day, chilled and cramped from sleeping on the sofa, weeping for the unknown dead in the casket of her dreams.
Alexander Graham slammed the phone down into the cradle. He didn't usually treat his belongings that way, but he was furious. The bitch had gone into his apartment, stolen his clothing and donated it to some church bazaar on the day before they were supposed to have a tag sale. Alexander had listened patiently to his ex-girlfriend's gloating in the hopes of find out which church bazaar, but he had come up empty. Sarah had wanted him to suffer, though God only knew why. It wasn't like he was the one who had cheated and then broken up. He would have forgiven her again, in time, but she had decided that since he was no longer a chief financial analyst that he was no longer good enough for her. She had walked and apparently blamed him for the break-up. Why did he always pick the psycho ones?
Alexander paced the kitchen in his parent's Greenwich home. He had inherited it ten month earlier when his mother had died, leaving him alone in the world. He had thought to sell it at the time as he had been living in New York and had been employed at a prestigious Wall Street bank. His plans had changed drastically when he lost his job during the downturn, and he realized that he would not be able to pay rent on his Manhattan apartment past the end of the year when his severance pay ran out. Even now, he found the cost of living in Manhattan to be extravagant, which is why he was spending most of the week in his childhood home in Connecticut rather than living in his Manhattan apartment.
Alexander pondered how he was going to get his clothes back. He figured he would probably have to buy them back from wherever Sarah had left them, but how was he supposed to figure that out? He thought and paced and finally booted up his laptop. He decided to try every church within a two hour drive of his apartment. He was a researcher by nature so the search for church phone numbers came easily to him. Speaking on the phone to every secretary who answered did not. He had struggled all through school with a lisp that came and went according his anxiety level. He had mostly avoided talking to people once out in the working world by sending email, but today, when he was stressed, he found his lisp was back.
Shortly past noon, Alexander discovered that the only church within two hours of his apartment that was having a tag sale that weekend was one in a town just one town over from his childhood home. He wondered if Sarah had done it on purpose. He hopped into his car and drove off, hoping that at least a few of his clothes had not yet been sold.
Noelle rose stiff and sore from her night on the couch. She showered and dressed carefully making herself ready for the Church bazaar and tag sale. She was pleased that it was Saturday morning, and she did not have to go in to work. She did not have to go in to the tag sale until later that morning either. So, after a plain oatmeal breakfast, she decided to finish decorating the artificial tree she had found in her brother's basement.
She had found some tinsel and a few ornaments in a box near the tree. Even after adding them, the tree still looked very bare to her eyes, so Noelle returned to the basement to look for more decorations. She found some mistletoe, a wreath, and a few more ornaments in a box that had been stashed in a back corner.
Noelle had just hung the mistletoe when she noticed that the cat was hacking, like he was trying to cough up a fur ball. She walked over to the cat, which was when she noticed two pertinent facts. There was no more tinsel on the lower branches of the tree, and there was a silvery thread hanging from the corner of the cat's mouth.
"Oh, no," Noelle said to the cat. "You didn't eat that, did you?"
She knew the answer to her own question even as she scooped up the cat and placed him in his carrier for the trip to the vet.
A short while later Noelle walked out of the vet's office with a large bill and no cat. The vet had wanted to keep the cat for further observation, just to be sure that all of the obstructions had been removed from the cat's digestive tract.
She got into her car, shivering with the cold and turned the key. Nothing happened. She tried again. Nothing happened. When the engine failed to start yet again, she got out, took her purse and decided that the car could just stay in the vat's parking lot for Christmas. She would walk. She failed to see the small invisible creature with a long nose and very long fingers dust off those very long fingers and grin triumphantly over a task well done.
So it was that Noelle arrived thirty minutes late, without a car, and half frozen for her shift at the baby clothes table at the tag sale end of the bazaar. Even so, the sight of so many mothers with little babies brought a smile to Noelle's lips and joy to her heart. She was holding a baby so that the mother could shop, rocking and cooing to it, when Alexander first saw her.
Alexander had reached the church shortly past one in the afternoon and had driven around for a while looking for parking. Eventually, he found his way inside and enquired about any men's clothing that had been donated. The helpful greeter had directed him to Susan.
"Yes, Mr. Graham," Susan replied to his question, "we did receive a donation of a bag of men's clothing yesterday. I did not unpack it myself, but I believe the person who did just arrived. Let me introduce you to her."
Susan took Alexander's elbow and directed him over to the baby table where Noelle was entertaining an infant.
"Well now isn't that just a picture?" Susan mused.
Alexander thought it a rhetorical question and did not answer, though he agreed with her in his head. The young woman with the infant was wearing a chunky purple sweater over a long grey fitted tweed skirt. The clothing clearly had not been chosen to flatter her body, but it did cause a man to look at the woman's face. Alexander, being a man, looked at her face and was stunned. Her pale features were those of a perfect porcelain doll. Pale clear skin, rosy cheeks, a button nose, perfectly arched brows over milk chocolate eyes, and a rose colored bow at the mouth were framed by light brown hair cut in a bob. Granted, the mouth was making strange shapes to amuse the baby, but Alexander did not think that or the infant detracted from the woman at all.
Susan looked up at the stunned man beside her and a small, private smile formed on her lips. She knew the man beside her was single, or would be shortly after what his girlfriend had done. She knew from the stunned look on his face that he was interested in Noelle, even in that super conservative church lady outfit she insisted on wearing to church functions. Susan also suspected that, despite his recent troubles, the man beside her was a good man. She had a sixth sense about such things. So, after a quick prayer that things between the two might go well, Susan introduced Alexander to Noelle.
"Yes, Mr. Graham, I did unpack a bag that might be the one with your belongings," Noelle told man who might easily have stepped out of her dreams from the night before.
"Susan," Noelle said, "If you don't mind taking Melissa's baby and minding the table, I think I might be able to help Mr. Graham find what he is looking for."
"Of course, my dear," Susan said with a bright smile, taking the baby from Noelle.
Noelle walked with the handsome Mr. Graham over to the men's clothing table where she quickly identified the boxes she had used the night before. She had a photographic memory, which she found quite useful in her secretarial job, as well as in tasks like this one.
"Why don't you come around the table, Mr. Graham," Noelle suggested. "I think these might be the right boxes and it will be more comfortable sorting through them back here."
"Unfortunately, it looks like a few of the items may already have been sold, though," she added sadly, noting that several boxes were only partially full.
"I will be happy to retrieve whatever I can," Alexander replied. He noted the sorrow in her voice and wondered if it was for him. He also noted the way her long skirt molded around her backside as she bent over the first box. He wondered just how long he could watch those luscious curves without drawing attention. He longed to reach out and touch them, but being a gentleman, he held back.
Finally, he sighed and knelt down beside her to start on a second box.
"Is this one of your items," Noelle asked, holding up a grey button down shirt.
"Yes," Alexander replied.
"Good," Noelle said, "now I know which bag was yours."
Noelle decided not to mention the sweater just yet. She was not entirely sure why, but she thought he might find it weird that she had bought the sweater before the tag sale even began. She was also extremely reluctant to part with it.
Together they made short work of the boxes. Some items had already been sold, but Alexander had been able to find most of his favorite items. It appeared that his ex-girlfriend, Sarah, had only taken the items he wore most often. It was just like her to notice and to use the information spitefully. There was really only one item he truly cared about, only one item that was truly irreplaceable; that was his white sweater.
Alexander thought his heart might break as he gathered up his items and still did not see the sweater among them. Slowly, he rose to his feet and arranged payment with the woman behind the table.
Noelle remained by Alexander's side as he paid for the items. She saw the weariness in his form. She thought she saw a touch of sadness as well. Suddenly, an image of the sweater flashed in her mind. She knew she had to tell him.
"Mr. Graham," Noelle said, once he had paid and gathered up his purchases.
"Yes," he replied slowly turning his head.
"I do know where one other item from that bag has gone."
"Yes," Noelle said, color rising up her pale neck. "I bought it myself."
"You did?" Alexander asked, genuinely baffled.
"Yes," Noelle said, "I bought a white sweater for my brother."
Noelle saw joy gleam brightly in his eyes only to fade again. She could not stand to see the sorrow return to such lovely blue eyes.
"It seems the sweater means a lot to you," she said slowly.
"Yes," he said, "it does. My mother made it for me when she was dying of cancer last year."
"Oh," Noelle said, her own eyes misting, the vision of the dream casket suddenly returning.
"Oh," she repeated, "I am so sorry for your loss. I would be happy to return the sweater to you, but it is not here."
"Thank you," he said, somewhat gruffly, his throat constricting with sorrow. "I would appreciate it."
Alexander swallowed and let the moment pass.
"I have not had lunch yet and something over there smells divine. Would you care to join me?" He asked finally.
Noelle smiled. Alexander's heart nearly stopped. She was just so beautiful.
"I would love to. Let me just let Susan know that I will be taking a break."
Alexander bought Noelle lunch and they sat chatting amiably. Each found they greatly enjoyed the other's company and that they had much in common despite having different backgrounds.
"Oh my," Noelle said, glancing at the clock on the wall. "I've been sitting here an hour. Poor Susan."
"An hour?" Alexander asked, incredulous that so much time had flowed by without his notice. Glancing at the clock, himself, he could see that they had sat and talked for an hour.
"I have to get back to the table," Noelle said, distressed. "I was late coming in as it was, and, now, I have just taken an hour for a twenty minute break."
"I'll walk back with you," Alexander said, clearing up the lunch dishes. "We should discuss how I am to retrieve the sweater."