I turn off the evening news and reach for my half-solved crossword puzzle. Opera tenor Schipa…The Saturday puzzle is notoriously difficult, but I am determined to finish it. Millie—my bride of sixty-seven years—teases me about my insistence that each puzzle be solved completely, in ink. She finds me silly, but there is something pleasing about the glide of ink on newsprint and a neatly completed black-and-white grid.
I look away from my puzzle when I hear a small noise from Millie’s chair. She pushes herself slowly upward with an oof and shuffles to her sewing room, one hand on her troublesome hip. When she returns, she is carrying her sewing basket.
I cherish these quiet evening moments. From outside there is only the sound of amorous tree frogs; inside, the house holds only echoes of memories. I return to my puzzle, with an occasional glance at Millie, whose shapely legs can still make my breath catch in my throat.
She is sewing a button on a shirt that I have not worn in a decade. Her reading glasses perch low on her nose; nevertheless, she holds the shirt close to her face and squints with each jab of the needle. Sometimes she puts the shirt down and flexes her fingers. They must ache—the evening is humid.
I find myself peeved. Why should Millie spend her time in this unnecessary pursuit? I have more shirts than I need, and I certainly have not missed this one.
Our eyes meet—she smiles—and I return to my puzzle. Sultanate in Borneo…
There are only a dozen blank squares remaining when I’m distracted again by a soft grunt from Millie’s direction. She has finished the shirt and is reaching into her basket for the darning egg and a holey sock. I watch as she begins to mend the damage, and I feel my guilt and annoyance rise. I should not walk about the house in stocking feet, but surely we can afford to replace worn socks.
Medial meniscus site…
When Millie sighs and massages her neck, I finally decide to speak. Chagrined, I sound like a crabby old man. “Why are you doing that?”
Millie smiles, her cheeks plump and pink. “Doing what, dear?”
I cross over to her and rummage through the basket. “Millie, there are things in here that I haven’t worn in years. And this handkerchief—you don’t need to mend this! I’ll buy you a new one! Your hands hurt, your neck hurts, you can’t see without your glasses…”
Millie puts her hand on my arm and shushes me. “I’ve been mending on Saturday evenings for over sixty years. Do you want to know why?” She closes her eyes, and I know that she is composing a little speech. I wait, certain that I’m about to be lectured for my slovenly habits.
“I was so young when we married, Jack, and then you were gone for so long, in the war…I’d join the other Army wives sometimes in the evenings, just for something to do. But you know how shy I am—I took some mending along so I’d have something to look at.”
I’m a foolish old man. I believe that’s the end of Millie’s story. I pick up the newspaper and study the last clue. But Millie’s voice interrupts me again.
“You old poop, I’m not done. Do you remember Gloria Bain?”
I nod, remembering Charlie Bain’s flame-red hair, and the medics loading his shattered body into their jeep…
“She was so mean to me, Jack! She criticized every stitch, and mocked me for mending items that she would have thrown away. I kept sewing just to spite her, and then when she lost Charlie, I kept sewing out of contrition.” Millie hesitated, her eyes glistening. “I repented years ago, but by that time, Saturday sewing was just a habit. I guess I’m too old to change, now. But—you know what? I hated it when I was young, and I still hate it today. Isn’t that ridiculous?”
I stand and take the darning egg from her hand, then kiss her wrinkled cheek. “Sweetheart, it’s time to stop. Let me put the basket away for you.”
When I return from the sewing room, I see that Millie’s expression is bemused. “But Jack—what will I do on Saturday nights?”
I take Millie’s hand and lead her to the davenport. “Sit here with me. Do you know a five-letter word for fabulist?”
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