Poppy is a master weaver. Her eyesight is dimming and her fingers are gnarled but they still ferry beauty into the warp and weft. For twenty years she’s worked on this wall-hanging to conceal the crack on the bedroom wall, above where Odin briefly lay in the marital bed he’d carved for her. He’d made it from olive wood because it was beautiful, solid, and long-lasting. She never let on that it was also susceptible to rot and twisting. She’d begun the weaving when her hands were strong and the crack hadn’t yet been a scar. She points to a pirn. Her housekeeper, Mel, picks up another. Poppy shakes her head, betrayed by her now-curved fingers. She adjusts their trajectory, closes her eyes, knows from the pirn’s weight and the wool’s oiliness that Mel’s handed her the gold yarn she wants. She weaves in unrestrained purples, golds, and reds, and grasps the shuttle as if it were a surgeon’s knife, thrusting it back and forth along the shed.
In the early years, Mel argued the wall-hanging should be white, like a burial shroud. Poppy slapped her. Once she’d grown accustomed to Odin’s absence, Poppy gifted Mel with vibrant gemstones and carvings of foxes and owls—despite her ill manners—much as a daughter. She does so not of love, rather in exchange for Mel’s fidelity; Mel guards her secret like precious pearls. Guards it, coaxes Poppy, acts as accomplice. All day, Poppy thrusts, bubbles, inlays; the wall-hanging grows like a weed. Mel tidies and scrubs the garden apartment, assists with the weaving, leaves for a two-hour lunch and returns, cheeks abloom.
When darkness descends the women huddle at the loom and dismantle the day’s work, careful to leave several of the day’s rows intact, buttressing the illusion the project marches ever forward toward its natural end while traveling in reverse, and whisper of a tangled immortality. One spying on them through the apartment window might see their faces in a flicker of moonlight and imagine them as thick as thieves. And each of the women would think that were so. Of the other.
For Poppy believes Mel will take her secret to the grave (even an early one). And Mel believes that if ever Odin returns, her freedom is certain. Both believe that Odin’s far-flung return would not break their delicate alliance. Even if Mel’s trysts with the men eager to date Poppy were discovered. For weren’t her lunch time romps protecting Odin’s dominion? And for her part, Poppy understood her dependence on Mel’s allegiance—something that could tear more quickly than coarse, dyed wool.
Each of the women had these thoughts in mind as they used their fingers like combs to loosen and carefully unweave the wall-hanging, only to repeat these actions again and again. They took no notice of the bearded man in the torn jacket hovering at the window, staring quizzically as they loosened row after row of red and gold yarn.
The man rapped on the window, startling the women. Go away, I’m calling 911, Mel shouted, and flashed her cell phone. Wait, said Poppy. Maybe he needs help. You know how the cops are.
Poppy picks up the scissors and approaches the window. What do you want? she says, scissors aloft.
A place to sleep. He scratches his head.
There’s a motel up the road. Go there, Mel says.
The man presses his cheek against at the window. I’d prefer an olive wood bed, he says.
Poppy’s heart jerks and grows cold. She cranks open the window, scissors still in her hand.