Jessamyn 12

Duncan hesitated before his next comment. “In your last letter you said that you were going to see the bishop about your rules and your community. Did he say that Marielle had no authority? Is that why you finally came?”

“I think I wrote another letter after we went to the bishop. I guess you didn’t get it yet.” I paused for a moment. It seemed a little odd but I was having trouble remembering how long ago the letter had been written. “Anyway the bishop didn’t like our rules or set-up though he was nice about the way he said it — and Marielle didn’t like the bishop, or being criticized.”

“Like most people,” said Duncan.

“I didn’t know what to do. Marielle didn’t know why the bishop was interested. I thought that was silly. Of course he cares if we are in his territory — but I think she really meant — how did he hear about us. And she wanted to ignore everything he said.”

“Well,’ said Duncan, “you are right, he should hear about you if you are in his diocese and acting as some sort of Catholic organization.”

“I guess that’s one of the real questions,” I said. “We didn’t say Catholic in the name and we didn’t wear habits and I personally didn’t make promises. We just claimed we were trying to help mothers and others.”  That came out a little emphatically. Duncan smiled at me seraphically. He was the wrong person to fuss at over that. He had spent years nurturing the idea that promises made privately were not properly binding vows.

“In fact,” I suddenly wondered, “did you call the bishop?”

“No,” he said. “Most probably Mary Eleanor. After you helped her to leave.”

“I wrote to you about that, didn’t I.” He nodded. “So I just don’t know what is supposed to happen. And Duncan, I don’t know how long you really will want me here, seeing that you are badly off now but you won’t be in a week or two.”

“Because it seems that I’m not dying? Same boat for me. I don’t know what you will want to do.”

“I don’t know if I can go back. I didn’t ask for permission to come.” I was anguished.

“Do you want to? Go back?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know. But it is hard to accept what happened.”

“To me?” He was shaking his head.

“Well, that’s hard too. Why would someone do a hit and run on you? But I mean the whole community thing. I dreamed it for so long and all of a sudden the dream is becoming something different. I gave up a lot to be part of what I thought was community, and I thought I was doing the right thing. And bit by bit it turned into something ugly. I don’t know what to do.” I looked at him. “Duncan, you’re not dying but you are in pain and you have done too much today for someone who was just in the hospital. I’m not going anywhere or deciding anything now except that you need to take it easy. Do you want to go lie down? You can just rest for a while.”

Duncan said, “Resting is a good idea. Lying down sounds really nice. But Jess, gone is a very final word.”

“I’ll explain more later. I don’t want to cry.”

“Crying’s not the worst thing.”


He laughed at me and pulled himself out of his chair. I limped down the hall with him to his room and left him lying down. I suspected that he’d be asleep in no time. I went back to the sock knitting. I needed some relief for my feet pretty badly.

Duncan slept for a long time and in the end I fell asleep too sitting on the couch with my needles in hand. When he woke up and came out of his room I recognized a certain frustration in him. He had lived alone for a long time; he was in pain again but he didn’t really want anyone around. He just wanted to medicate it in his own way and not think too hard. I recommended a bowl of soup and some crackers and more ibuprofen. I also said I wanted to go play with the spinning wheels if he didn’t mind. Did he want to watch TV or something? Read a book?

He wanted to go stand outside for a bit and then listen to music and, with a smile, I should do as I liked about the spinning wheels. There was lots of fiber in the room if I hunted.

So I went down the hall to the workroom. He wasn’t going anywhere very far; I could see that, and he needed a bit of privacy.

There were three wheels. One was a large classic looking Sleeping Beauty wheel and two seemed to have been turned on their sides. From somewhere the name floated into my head. They were castle wheels, designed to take up less room, easier to transport. All three were beautiful. I sat down at one of them and played with the treadles a bit remembering nine-year-old Jess doing the same.  There was something very hypnotic, very soothing about the alternating feet, and the whirling flyer above the wheel. I looked for a leader thread on the bobbin and then for some material to spin. I found quite a bit of beautiful black prepped fiber in a box marked roving from Rambeaux. I took some out and looked at the inch thick, springy, ropy material. It was soft and smooth, ready to spin. Slowly I pulled at it to thin it out into just a few fibers in my hand and tied a bit of it to the leader on the wheel. Annalise had taught me to spin long ago and her lessons came back little by little. For a moment I couldn’t remember how to create tension.Then as I stared at the wheel it came back and I twisted the right peg.

As I started treadling the flyer whirled and twist ran up the fiber in my hand. All of a sudden I was holding a big useless lump of wool.  I pulled the whole thing apart and started again. After that long ago visit, Jess the little girl had watched women all over Central Asia with drop spindles, spinning as they walked. I had done a little, maybe enough to keep me in practice, but I had been drunk on the spinning wheel not on what it produced. Now I was back with the wheel and I still loved it. My spinning was dreadful but getting better minute by minute. And crucially, the spinning undid a certain tight feeling in my brain. Every time I started thinking about anything except what I was doing, the thread I was spinning broke or thickened into an impossible knot forcing me to stop the wheel and solve the problem. I had been afraid that if I stopped fixing up the house or checking on Duncan or cooking, I would start thinking; and I didn’t want to think. Yet. The wheel kept all extraneous thought at bay.

After some time I began to find a rhythm. The thread was randomly thick and thin but it stopped breaking every two minutes and I was able to keep the wheel moving more steadily. I adjusted the tension every now and then, trying to remember what I was doing, and watching to see what happened with each adjustment. There were books on the shelves that would have helped but I didn’t want them right then. I filled a bobbin and had no idea what came next. But as I started fumbling around a sound in the doorway made me look up. Duncan was standing watching me. I had no idea how long he had been there.

“You look like a nine-year old I knew once.”

“You look like a great uncle.”

He came forward, loosened the tension and showed me how to change the bobbin. He showed me where extra bobbins were.

“When you fill another bobbin we’ll ply it together.”

“This stuff? It’s terrible.”

“Ummm.” He studied my thread for a bit. It had smoothed out but I had also done a poor job of filling the bobbin evenly.  “Usually if you just ply it together it gets to looking quite good. We’ll try it.”

“Okay.” I was just happy to see him looking calm and in charge. “Are you hungry? Is there anything to eat? I guess I’d better check my laundry while I’m at it.” The evening passed easily. Duncan did seem to be improving though he was desperately tired and went to bed early. I could faintly remember being in a minor car accident once and how, even though nothing really bad happened to me, I was still shaken up and in pain the next few days. Duncan who was older was going to have a longer recovery period than he himself was ready to admit.

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