BY JOYCE BINGHAM
I sat at my loom, waiting for them. I felt the warp and weft merge beneath my fingers, writing the lives of the people, the wool soft and wholesome, their stories sometimes cruel and troubled.
Threads of the sea and land find their way into my work, blades of grass, dried petals, bladderwrack and shell dust interlace and become part of their lives.
A spasm radiated along my hand, I paused to stretch my fingers, each joint stiff and unyielding. Age spots vied with the silver scars criss-crossing my hands. I’ve been here for many lifetimes; I saw and understood each person, touching them with my weave. My old bones felt a shift, a pattern change was due, my time was weaving to a close.
As I grew tired, the world I wove could be dull and troubled. I had to find joy and pleasure to ensure I was consistent in my work and give light to the darkest lives. This island was my home and my delight, giving me inspiration but it was also my prison.
I heard them arrive, the splashing of the clumsy landing in the small coracle, their first steps on the new-washed sand. Their voices were piping and tender on the breeze. I sang them to my home as they walked along the shore. They followed my song, mesmerised and unable to resist.
My home studio was large with wide windows out to the bay, daylight is a blessing to a weaver. I had comfort and safety here, all that I needed to live. But no company, unless they came, as they did that day, in a quest for answers.
The girl was about nine, pale and thin, her long brown hair dripped seawater onto the floor. She had an unusual face, one that would become handsome as she aged. The boy was a toddler. He had dark curls of shining hair, with brown eyes that would break many hearts, and lips that would speak words that would nourish his culture.
“Where are we?” she asked. I knew she had more questions; they shimmered in her, leaked out of her pores.
“Please sit and have some soup.” I ladled generous bowls and sat them at my kitchen table. He ate hungrily, she tried to be dainty, but I could see the famine fingers in her eyes, the need for sustenance in her belly.
“There is more, but you should eat a bowl now and have more later.” I offered them water, clear and sparkling, drawn from my well and chilled by the stones of the earth.
I sat beside them, relishing their youth, the smell of the sea on their breath. I inhaled the lingering dark tendrils of magic that had brought them here. Once I longed to travel as they did, but now I am content.
“My name is Grandmother Arachne.” I whispered to them.
The girl fell to the floor at my feet.
“Grandmother Arachne, who wove our world, and gave us our souls. You taught us to weave. We beg you to help us, teach us more.”
“Child, rise up and tell me your name.”
“I am Phoebe, the healer of our village. I am old, but here, I am young again,” she smiled, holding up her soft unlined hands, “and he is Magnus the oldest and wisest person in our village.”
Magnus looked up, then turned back to his bowl of soup. His dreaming would be full of food, he would remember nothing more of this journey. They take such risks to travel here and yet most would return to their village with little more than the memory of a full belly.
“Here on this island, you are the age of your knowledge and understanding. You my dear Phoebe, are the oldest child I’ve seen.” I took Phoebe’s hand and we walked to the loom. I sat and she stood to watch me.
“You must be the wisest of them all,” Phoebe said as she placed her hand on my furrowed brow.
I smiled; my wrinkles deepened.
“You have questions for me?” I asked, as she leant forward to look at the cloth on the loom.
“There is a great storm coming, how can we prevent the floods we know will come after,” she said as she played with a wisp of wool, twisting it. I saw the wool thrum to her lifeline, her fingertips delicate on the fibres.
“I have already woven the story, those who are wise will not build on the shore of the river.” I pulled out a dark brown cloth woven with orange suns and silver moons. “Here are the lives and deaths, feel them in the weave, you cannot alter them now. I know you and Magnus have come a long way. I am sorry I cannot help.”
Phoebe played her hand across the weave, her intuitive fingertips read the cloth, I knew her heartbeat raced, the vein in her neck throbbed, she gasped and raised her shining eyes to mine.
“If you return to the village you will die in the flood. Magnus will survive. You have nimble fingers and you come to me almost a woman. Stay with me, become my apprentice.” I said. The island and my loom held their breath, they knew I needed her.
Her eyes brimmed with tears. She was weighing up all that she would lose and what she would gain. I could feel the eyes in her feet flicker open and look down into the island, the bones of the world reached up to touch her toes. She was a true weaver.
“Yes Grandmother,” she said, drawing in the air of the island, tasting its herbal scents. She took my hand.
Together we walked to the shore with Magnus, I placed a package of bread and a bottle of water in the coracle. Phoebe lifted Magnus and hugged him close.
“Tell my family I have a new life here and I will be a weaver,” Phoebe whispered into Magnus’s ear. He laughed and tugged her hair as she placed him in the coracle. We waded out into the sea guided him past the rocks and let him float away into the horizon.
“Now, my dear, we have tea to drink and scones to eat.” I led her back to the studio which had already expanded to incorporate a second loom, waiting for her first lesson.
“I think today we will start with plankton and the story of a pod of whales. The beginning of a new world,” I said as I taught her how to set up the loom.
She nodded and chewed her lip.
“What are whales and plankton, Grandmother?”
“What a joy you will find in this work, my dear,” I said, “and what pleasure I will have in teaching you.
Joyce Bingham is a Scottish writer who enjoys writing short fiction with pieces published by Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, VirtualZine, Funny Pearls and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in the North of England where she makes up stories and tells tall tales. @JoyceBingham10
© A Quest for Answers, 2023, Joyce Bingham