Mrs. Corum stood there, blinking several times to be sure she was seeing what she thought she saw. There sitting before her was a woman, slightly older than herself, knitting. Well, she would have been knitting, if she had actually had yarn or knitting needles, but her fingers moved in concert as if they were present. The woman sat on the ground, legs crossed, hands busy with their imaginary handiwork. She wore a scarlet handmade sweater, and simple black slacks. House slippers adorned her feet. Her face showed the signs of age, with her wispy grey hair loosely framing features.
“I’m sorry if I startled you”, the old woman said. Mrs. Corum stood there, still not saying anything.
“Please, come sit down with me”, the woman continued.
Mrs. Corum sat down across from the woman, close enough to speak with her, but far enough to mount an escape if necessary. After however long she’d been wandering, she was skeptical that this woman wasn’t simply something her mind was making up. The old woman noticed the distance, and began to speak.
“I can imagine how you feel – I probably would have felt the same way before I had my first breakdown here. I remember back then – this place had me all worked up, and sometimes today, I still feel like that. But somehow I feel a bit of warmth here now, I suppose I’ve grown used to the place”.
Mrs. Corum decided it was time to speak. After all, she had found herself nodding as the woman spoke to her.
“Who are you?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“Well, I never really had friends to call me by my given name, and my grandkids just referred to me as G-ma, so I guess that’s the best I can give you. I’ve been here long enough without meeting anyone else that names don’t seem to have much meaning!”, she said with a wry smile.
“It’s nice to meet you, G-ma”, Mrs. Corum said slowly, “My students call me Mrs. Corum, and now that I think about it, so does everyone else, even my best friend, since we work together”.
“Nice to meet you as well, Mrs. Corum”, G-ma said. “How long have you been wandering here?”
“I suppose it’s been awhile… I don’t really know how to tell time here.”
“The dimming”, G-ma said, as she put down her imaginary knitting. “One day I counted the seconds between dims. Took me a few days to do it, actually, kept getting distracted. Somewhere between 57,000 and 58,000 seconds, I reckon. Doesn’t stay the same – some dims are longer than others. Based on what I’ve counted, looks like the light part is around 16 hours, the dimmer around 8. Day and Night, I suppose”
Mrs. Corum nodded. “I wondered if that would be the case, but it didn’t seem safe to make any assumptions here”, she said softly.
“You’re right about that, ma’am, I realized I had no idea what I could expect here. I think I’ve been here at least 7-8 years now. The dimming is pretty consistent. Sometimes the ground moves a little, or at least I think it does. Might be my old mind just rocking back and forth.” G-ma put her hands back together and started knitting again. “This relaxes me, although I’m sure I look like a loony”
“Not at all – after that long, I guess you need something to keep you from…”
“Keep me from what?”, G-ma asked.
Mrs. Corum didn’t really know what the end of her sentence would have been. G-ma, though, snapped out of her knitting relaxation abruptly.
“Keep me from ending it all?!?”, G-ma said roughly, “Truth is that I already thought of that years ago. Tried ending it all. Wrapped my own hands around my neck and squeezed. Felt the bones start to push inward. Didn’t feel any pain, although you probably guessed that already. But I knew if I wanted to, I could keep going. I seemed to have the strength. But I panicked – I had no idea what was going to happen, and my worst fear was that nothing would. I’d just wander around this world with a broken up neck and no relief. I let myself go, and haven’t gotten that desperate since.”
“I sorry”, Mrs. Corum said, “I had no ending to my sentence. I guess I haven’t been here long enough to really know what I’ve gotten myself into”.
“Don’t think you got yourself into anything, Mrs. Corum”, G-ma said inwardly, “I think someone put us here, no one would choose to come to this gray, lonely place.”
“Have you met anyone else?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“Besides you? No dear, no one else – of course that’s probably because I don’t travel as much as you! I’ve sat in this same spot for at least 5 years now. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine all of the projects I’ve completed – I see blankets, sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens, socks, and more, all over these gray grounds here. Even some more exotic things – my knit coat and dress”, she said as she gestured to her left.
“You’ve been alone so long”, Mrs. Corum said, partly to herself, partly to G-ma.
“Yes, I guess I’d given up all hope of meeting someone years ago. I’m sorry I wasn’t more excited to see you. I don’t really know what my reaction to seeing you was. I always thought I’d be happy to see another person, especially someone near my age – somehow I always feared it would be a child that would need me to look after him, and I worried, ‘How can I look after him when I can’t look after myself’?”
“To be honest, I’m actually pretty surprised that I’m not more excited to meet you”, Mrs. Corum said.
“I’ve spent most of my life nearer to children than adults, and you’re right, it is somewhat of a relief not to have a child to protect”.
“I remember when my grand babies were born”, G-ma began, “They were so little and helpless. I took such delight and joy in watching over them. Baking for them. Having them over to my place for supper.” G-ma stopped, and smiled a genuine large smile, the first that Mrs. Corum had really seen on her new friend.
“How many grandchildren do you have?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“2, at least that I know about now, Julie and Jamie. I suppose they’d be about 11 or 12 now. I only had one child, and he and his wife split up right after Jamie was born. I doubt I have any others, unless my son remarried. I kinda hope he didn’t though. I don’t know where I went wrong with that boy, but he was never really father material. Still he seemed to keep it together with the girls, whenever he saw them. Of course most of that meant dumping them off on G-ma, which I didn’t mind in the least.”
“12 is an age I’m pretty familiar with”, Mrs. Corum said in reply. “I teach 6th grade”.
“Ah, then you’ve had your fill of kids over the years”, G-ma said with a small laugh. “How’s your last few days of vacation been, here in this place?”.
“I wish I was back in the classroom!”, Mrs. Corum said with a laugh, “Never thought I’d say that during May. Usually I’d do anything to be out of it.”
The women both shared a smile. By this point, Mrs. Corum had moved a bit closer to G-ma, and they both faced off toward the gray horizon. G-ma knitting, Mrs. Corum sitting quietly. One perk of this world, and it’s absence of pain, was the fact that these two older ladies could sit, on the ground, with no back support, without tiring or feeling the slightest bit of pain in their spine. Mrs. Corum thought of this for awhile while they sat. They watched the sky turn dim, and later undim itself. Mrs. Corum was amazed that such a long amount of time had gone by while they sat, silent. She supposed they’d both been more used to silence than discussion anyway.
“I’m going for a walk”, G-ma said. She broke the silence that next morning. Mrs. Corum figured they might as well think of it as day and night, morning, afternoon, and evening, despite the strange surroundings. At least it felt like home in a tiny, minuscule, way.
“I thought you didn’t leave this spot”, Mrs. Corum said.
“Honey, I’ve sat in that spot for months at a time, I’ve tried laying there, although sleep never came. I’ve stood on that spot on one foot just to see how long I could hold it – my record is the dim to dim – I’m pretty sure if I want to return, I’ll be drawn to it like a magnet. But today is a new day, I’ve got a new friend, and if you’ve found me by walking around this barren place, than I might as well see if something else is out there.”
“I guess I’ll go with you”, Mrs. Corum said.
“You’re right you will – I’ve been thinking about that last night while we sat awhile. I realized that even without us talking, it still felt different to have someone nearby. It’s nice to have, in addition to the small amount of emotional warmth I’ve grown to have in this place”, G-ma explained.
“What do you mean by ‘emotional warmth’? I thought you hated this place”, Mrs. Corum said.
“You would think that”, G-ma said as she got up and stretched out of habit, “I suppose I’ve felt it almost since I arrived. You know how you feel that you’ve been to a spot before in this place?”. Mrs. Corum nodded as G-ma continued “Its kind of like that. Except instead of feeling drawn, you sort of feel warm. The kind of feeling you get when someone you love smiles at you. Sounds sappy and emotional, but for an old woman like me, it’s one of the only things that gets me by”.
“You’re not much older than I am”, Mrs. Corum started, “And I don’t have any emotional safety blanket feeling at all. From time to time I feel a slight warm wave that doesn’t feel like the breeze, but I also feel a bit of sharp stabbing, as if a pin is pricking my skin. Of course an actual pin prick here wouldn’t likely feel the same way – I’ve scraped myself with my nails until I thought I would bleed and yet felt no pain here. Why do you think it is that we can feel some sort of inner pain or happiness, but outside we feeling nothing?”
“Just because I’ve been here longer than you, dear, doesn’t mean that I’ve got this place any more figured out!”, G-ma said.
They’d been moving away from the spot G-ma had sat in for 7 years for about, as Mrs. Corum estimated, 3 or 4 hours. Aside from the small hills and valleys, nothing much changed.
“How long are we going to keep walking?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“Why, you getting tired?”, G-ma jokingly replied.
“No, of course not”, Mrs. Corum said. She reflected on this for a few minutes. How something that would normally have seen flippant and sarcastic all of her life was now just the way things were. She didn’t get tired anymore. She didn’t get hungry anymore. She didn’t seem to need to shower anymore – her clothing was as clean as it was the first moment she opened her eyes here. She didn’t even need to breathe anymore.
“What were you doing, before you got here”, G-ma asked, breaking Mrs. Corum out of her momentary haze.
“I think I was asleep”, Mrs. Corum replied. “It seemed like I woke up here.”
“That’s what I thought for a long time”, G-ma said in reply, “Just seemed like that’s the way it should work. That I should wake up here. But then I remembered something.”
“What was that?”, Mrs. Corum asked as they stopped walking.
“See this sweater?”, G-ma asked, pointing toward her upper torso.
“Yeah, it’s really nice – did you make it?”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“Yes, a long time ago. I hardly wore it before I came here. It was the first sweater I ever made. Folks said I was a natural to be able to knit something like this as my first sweater. After I finished it, I stored it away in my hope chest, hardly ever saw it except on rare occasions”
“So why do you think you showed up here wearing it?”, asked Mrs. Corum.
“I couldn’t figure that out for years”, G-ma replied, “Then I realized that I didn’t just show up here with it on. I could remember putting it on, the last day before I came here”.
“You put it on and slept in it?”, Mrs. Corum said, incredulously.
“No dear – you don’t get it – I wasn’t asleep when I got here. More like I was snatched out of the moment. Took me awhile to piece it all together, but here is what I know.”
By this point, both G-ma and Mrs. Corum had stopped and decided to sit up against a little hill. They didn’t need the support, of course, but it felt normal and natural to do. G-ma began her story.
“Julie had come over. I’m not sure where Jamie was – Julie was only about 5 at the time. I think she was home sick from kindergarten. Jamie may have been in pre-school. It was sometime in the fall, and Julie was asking me about my knitting. I’d just finished making her a bowl of soup. She told me that it warmed her up inside, and I joked that sweaters warm you up from the outside. She asked me how I made a sweater, and so I pulled this one out of the hope chest and showed it to her. She was amazed and asked me to put it on for her. The last thing I remember was her staring up at me, with her big eyes beaming in amazement. It was as if she just realized that the little pieces of yarn her G-ma always was playing with could become a real thing you could wear. It was such a sweet moment, and then, I was here”
Mrs. Corum didn’t know what to say. She thought to say she was so sorry to G-ma for what happened, but that sounded sort of off. She found herself blurting out a question.
“So what did Julie see?” Mrs. Corum realized the lunacy of such a question almost immediately. If G-ma had been snatched away, how should G-ma know what Julie saw. G-ma, for her part, realized that Mrs. Corum would be grasping at straws at what to say, and paid it no mind.
“You know, I’ve always wondered that”, G-ma replied. “I suppose it’s possible that whatever swept me away just left her there staring, wondering where her grandmother went. I pray that someone came and found her quickly, so she wasn’t in my house long without me. I’ve also considered the idea that maybe whatever swept me up also got her – and that maybe she’s somewhere in this big expansive area.”
“Did you ever look for her here?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
G-ma quietly looked down, stood up and walked a distance away. Mrs. Corum was unsure if she should follow. As G-ma approached the horizon, Mrs. Corum jumped up and followed from a distance. She didn’t want to see her only friend wander off and leave her alone, as she may have left her own granddaughter so many years back. Finally G-ma turned around.
“I was depressed”, she said with a sigh. “I broke down and cried so much those first few days”.
G-ma sat down on the ground again, but this time there was nothing to prop oneself up against. It was in a mostly flat ‘valley’ of the gray world.
“By the time I realized that I had not been asleep, that I had been with Julie, that she might be here… well, by then so much time had passed” G-ma said, looking at Mrs. Corum.
“I guess I felt guilty… I’d left my grand baby all alone. I hadn’t searched. I hadn’t called out… I hadn’t done anything to try to find her. I kept thinking, if she was here, how she must hate me. How she must have been so scared. I looked for a year, but never found her. Finally the guilt got the best of me, and I stopped looking, telling myself that she wasn’t here. But sometimes during the dim, I wonder if perhaps she is. I wonder if perhaps she wishes she could find me. Or I wonder if she’s so utterly tormented by now, that she wouldn’t want to find me even if she could. Sometimes I even wonder if she has found me, but has stayed hidden, to punish me of not looking harder.”
Mrs. Corum moved closer to G-ma, and wrapped her arm around her. The two women sat there, neither saying a word. G-ma wept from time to time, and Mrs. Corum thought about the world they found themselves in. It grew dim, when finally they started speaking once more.
“I’m sorry I threw all of that on you, dear”, G-ma said.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t know what to say”, Mrs. Corum replied. “I’ve never been one to know how to comfort someone else”.
“I’m just an emotional old wreck sometimes”, G-ma said with a small laugh. “So if you didn’t know what to say to me, what did you sit there doing all this time?”
“I’ve been thinking about my own life. I still think I was asleep when I came here. I was trying to remember everything that had happened in my classes the days before I came here, but I’m finding it hard to even remember my student’s names. Maybe more time has passed than I thought”. Mrs. Corum hung her head, dejected at the fact she couldn’t recall her students.
“That might not be your fault, dear. This place, it not only dulls the senses, it clouds the mind too. Just last year I remembered my late husband’s existence. Plum forgot about the man I was married to for 30 years before he passed. It was as if I just hadn’t thought hard enough about that part of my life. Wasn’t until I sat here for a few days thinking just about my distant past that it came rushing back to me.”
“Do you want to keep walking?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“I think you want some time to think”, G-ma replied.
“Maybe I do… Maybe I’ve been so preoccupied with finding someone, or something, or someway out, that I haven’t sat and thought for awhile.”.
“Well then, lets do that. I’ve got some knitting to do – left all my stuff back at my old spot”, G-ma said with a wry smile. “Think I’ll start on a new sweater. It’ll take awhile”.
“Then I think I should have enough time to figure this all out”, Mrs. Corum said, as she sat back and watched the gray horizon.