Claudia was late. Claudia was always late. Sally always saved the seat next to her, and Claudia always pretended to look around for another chair before she lowered herself into it. Doris, who was by far (maybe five years) the oldest, chuckled every single time. Everybody else ignored this ritual, as part of the background as the skeins of yarn spilling from the shelves or the sample sweaters, draped over manikins with notes pinned to the shoulders. Claudia settled in and pulled the yarn from her bag – the bright turquoise tote her granddaughter had given her for Christmas. It was a dep rich burgundy, and it was soft but not fuzzy, just like she liked her yarn.
They were all in the middle of something. Anita was halfway through the baby hat she was making, the pastel colors spilling from the fabric and into the skein. She was beaming and proud of her first grandchild. There was a new round of photos, and everybody cooed dutifully, as they had for the past four Fridays.
Anthony, the only man in the group, was making a cabled scarf, and talking about his girlfriend. At his age, several women thought simultaneously, he really shouldn’t be gadding about with some younger woman anymore. It wasn’t quite decent. He seemed happy though, and he thought she would like the pattern a lot. He could see Sally rolling her eyes, but he was busy managing an extra knitting needle and really didn’t care she thought. She’d probably understand if she met Cynthia – as improbable as that was, since Cynthia wouldn’t be caught dead at a knitting circle.
Sally was working on a hat for her son, whom she’d scolded enough times for a bare head that it would be a good joke as well as a good present. He was awfully busy lately, though she wished he could just pick a nice girl and settle down. He was getting on really, and while he was a very good-looking boy he really didn’t have that much time to fool around anymore. She thought wistfully of that girl he’d dated in college, the quiet one. Sometimes she ached when she heard the others chattering about weddings and grandbabies and their grandchildren already growing up enough to date – though Martha was very firm about her granddaughter staying away from boys for another few years.
Rae was the reserved one at the circle. She liked to sit and listen to the conversations all scrambling along at the same time. The movement of all those fingers, pulling and looping and turning, was always hypnotizing to her. It was so peaceful to sit with her friends, watching all those wrinkled veiny hands turning yarn into something real. Every once in a while, she would venture a comment. They sometimes didn’t hear her, but she didn’t mind. Whenever anyone had a question about something, they usually asked her. Anthony was confused about blocking, and she explained it to him a couple of times. She liked being helpful, and once a week she got to feel useful.
There was a conversation stretched over the table now about kids’ names. Anita’s new grandchild was called Sarah. While Anita denounced boring biblical names several of the others came to the defense of the traditional-sounding ones. In the meantime, the others talked about little things. The weather, grocery shopping, the patterns they were working on. It was somehow comforting to have conversations about the trivial normal things they did in between seeing each other.
Claudia was making a sweater for herself. She’d made things for every family member she had, twice over, and she wanted another sweater in that pattern she’d tried a few years ago. It hadn’t come out quite right, and she’d given it to her daughter-in-law. This one should turn out just fine. Garter stitch was so simple, Claudia thought. You kept up the same movement, over and over, until neat rows of it spilled from your fingers. At the end you had something you could be proud of, in bright colors or soft wool. Or something that was the same as the last thing you’d knitted. That could be good too, even though it was so simple. Sometimes the familiarity of a sweater was the best thing about it. She slipped her needles and half-finished sleeve back into the turquoise bag and stuffed the pattern back on top, ignoring the crinkling paper. She’d done it so many times she didn’t even need the chart anymore, her fingers just moved like they knew what they were doing.