A Quilt-Like Maze
Kayla Rae Candrilli
The white noise of a Singer sewing machine put me to sleep for all the nights it took my mother to quilt together patterns of maple leaves, trees, log cabins and white-tailed deer--the patterns I chose. I would fall asleep that way, with hums in my ears and the sight of her taut forearm tendons pushing fabric. Every morning she woke and walked the same path over ourproperty--up and around. She started uphill so she could coast down before the start of her day. She’d come into my sister and mine’s room and shake us each gently. Her arms always had fresh bramble scratches and even though I knew her path and knew it was well trodden, I still imagined her running wildly through the woods, letting her loose fitting t-shirts snag, rip in willful indifference--threads left waving on the sharpest pickers.
My sister and I were homeschooled and I, four grades ahead, had started in on the history of architecture. Athena’s Parthenon taught me about Doric columns, their heads stable and smart in their construction. Above the columns, carved figures tell the story of Athena birthed from Zeus’s split skull. It was in the tangles of those myths that I envisioned my mother every morning--amidst marble--something grandiose.
One morning she didn’t wake us. Instead she, on her walk, met one of the neighbor’s bulls. Its horns uninterrupted and sharp--the bell around its neck comical like a baby’s rattle in a
grown man’s hand. When she tells the story now, she says the bell called her like it was some fairies proving the magic of her woods. She left her path, feet guided by the ringing in her ears. The pickers were unrelenting in her quest, trying to hold her in warning, but their fingers were thin and green in the newness of spring. So she met the bull despite their attempts. He shook his head and growled (bulls do growl).
She thought to the Running of the Bulls and how this year the streets of Pamplona had been particularly bloody. The cobblestoned roads held blood on their surface like wine spilled on granite counters. But here, in the woods, all waters disappear for the good of the trees and thebushes--soon to bear thick black berries. She escaped, walking backward, sliding behind one tree at a time--the bull left alone in a meadow of the earliest dandelions.
Remembering that meadow she made her way back to the house, the dining room table still cluttered with the sewing project of the previous night. She woke my father from his book and called him outside. The stained oak laminate of the .30-06 was cool under his fingers after the book’s pages but he took it from her hands and followed her back through the maze of blooming woods--buds everywhere, split from sun streaming through the canopy.
They followed my mother’s footsteps that rustled last fall’s leaves and bell chimes still bouncing off trees. In the clearing, the bull with a yellow mouth full of dandelion pollen, took three hollow tipped bullets to the head; one of his horns fell, broken from the base of his ruined,
split skull. Attaching ropes to the hulk of him they pulled through the bramble one strong step after the other--horses leading loads of marble to the Parthenon.
When I walked into the kitchen that morning--awake on my own accord--the counters and floor were lined with black, 44-gallon trash bags. The exposed ribcage of the bull sitting onthe kitchen island looked like a dark tunnel, and the hind legs like the clubs of ogres, giants. In the wrinkles of plastic, blood pooled into wells of bright red. My mother stood to the left of my father, shrink wrapping every cut sliced. She labeled each with permanent marker: chuck-potroast, flank-kabobs, round-rump roast, ribs, short loin-porterhouse, tenderloin, filet mignon. The meat grinder had already cranked pounds of ground beef, little bits of pink left hanging from the grinding plate. They worked well this way, in unison and rare peace--steam still rising from warm flesh.
Imagine the contrast, blood and bones, a freezer quickly filling, next to a quilting project--animism, domesticity. Each patch of fabric was a meticulous five by five square, cut by my mother. Now they aligned beside a floor littered with the tenuous web-like scraps of white fat. There is nothing like that smell, the smell of death so new it heats the room instead of cooling it, the smell of iron and blood and coins and plastic and a filet mignon already seasonedin a pan of lemon zest and bacon, the smell of a fire burning evidence outside, the smell of a day off school, the smell of sacrifice and celebration and guilt.
The fire burnt the fur and entrails--black smoke rising from the dead. This was not the first time we burned the leftovers, the evidence that we, for all intents and purposes were just like the poachers I learned about, the ones killing elephants in Africa. I was reminded of their ivory, while the bull’s horns turned to black sticks of charcoal. And the bell that had once sounded fanciful, stood red like molten lava, the sticky residue of burnt hair gathered around where a neck had just been.The day passed; the neighbor never found his bull; we ate like kings; my mother kept walking, waking, and teaching me all things Greek. When the quilt was finished she must havefelt like Athenians who rebuilt the Parthenon--again and again. Finally she must have thought--some rest for the weary, arms tired of pushing and threading through the maple trees patterned on fabric. I never told her that specks of the bull’s blood had flown, colored squares of fabric--imagine me, the spared Athenian child under a blanket touched by the minotaur’s blood.
About the author:
Kayla Rae Candrilli received a Bachelors and Masters in Creative Writing from Penn State University and is a current MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. Candrilli was awarded first place in Vela Magazine's non-fiction contest for women, and is published or forthcoming in the Chattahoochee Review, Dogwood, Wilde Magazine, and Driftwood Press. You can read more of her work here.