Her boss, Rose, drops us off at the corner of 20th and Connecticut. We go into the butcher's. The Rodriquez' live upstairs. The butcher is a can of pop dough, I seen on the tv, all white and spilling out of his shirt. His apron is splattered red and pink. His eyes are cotton candy. He has a lot of meat in the glass case and a few things hanging from hooks. We ask him for our usual. He slices one half pound.
She pays with dollars she folds into packs. This packet for dinner. We take it home. Two tops of blocks, past Daniel Webster, past Linda's, straight down Mississippi. When we get there it's dark, both inside and out. We go upstairs and wash up. She changes her clothes to house clothes. I don't have but one kind so I stay like I am and get the breakfast ready.
When we get to get meat we eat like this—breakfast for dinner.
She takes her time and I go fast. I get the box of milk from the counter and the box of flour from the drawer. Water we got plenty of, hot and cold. I leave that to her. I get the bowl, she gets the rest. Real eggs we got yesterday from Mamacita's new chickens. No powder. I hate those. Everything that we gotta mix by hand tastes okay but eggs are always a disappointment. Scramblers, yuck. That means Star King. Over easy means Mamacita's.
Not today. We got even better than that, we got pancakes and bacon.
Fresh. We like it fresh. So, meat, we just get on occasion. Whatever it is we walk it home to cook. No refrigeration needed.
She puts on the stove. We got a griddle in the middle. She sets it to start and gets her powders and her sugars. Butter we got in a little box, we collect it. She gets most of it at Tropical, the other ladies get them with their box food, but they never eat them. They give them to her.
Tonight is the night I learn the stitch you use for long and short texture.
One light. We use that. First for breakfast. I eat two pancakes as big as my face and three strips of bacon. Grandma eats her stack and we leave what's left for Norman. The grease we save for tortillas and beans. The rest we wash up. It goes fast. Cast iron don't need no scrubbing.
She cleans while I get my threads. My head don't even reach the doorknob so I sit on the sofa. My feet just reach the edge. The kitchen table is too big for me to sew on. I gotta see what I am doing.
We use thread that comes at the store. It appears when I'm not looking. I go through the basket and pick out my colors. No. 791 and No. 895. That's black and green for beginners. We have a pile of white cloth and I fish an old one out. Today is learning so I pick one that's used and put it in my hoop. She comes to sit down. We sit in an L. She's the long part and I'm the short one.
She takes her threads from the basket and grabs a cloth, the same size of mine. One needle. She takes four strands. I copy and split mine. She threads and I follow. No knots. I know that much. We leave our tails hanging out behind us.
She starts a stitch and I follow behind. She has her square. I have mine. She goes forward and backward. Her hands move on her lap and her eyes watch me as I try to do what she does. Looking back and forth like tennis.
We go like this for a long time and I try to remember two things. Don't sew down my cloth to my shirt. I do that a lot without thinking. The second thing is I'm making a shape. This is the stitch for setting out space, not for flowers. For flowers you gotta whole nother way. Making flowers is easy. You can use this stitch for petals, some people do, but I'm learning how to make lines and shapes.
She's got a pinwheel going around. The wind blowing it in circles. A north to south wind. She's pretty fast and she isn't even looking at hers, she's looking at mine.
My string is so long. The next stitch it gets short. I just keep on sewing. A few more in and a few more out. I need another thread. I start to get the scissors to cut two arms length. That's how you measure, an arm, two one knuckles, around the hand. It depends on what you're making. Sometimes we take our practice work out so it's better not to have a bunch of short pieces. I'm measuring a long one. Before I cut she says her first words.
"You need a new thread?"
Then she pulls up on hers. Never stop with your needle on the wrong side. 'Cause then when you start back up you might forget to sew up and start sewing around the hoop. Then you've got to take your needle out, remove the stitch, rethread and start over. It's better just to always stop with the needle on the right side. She pulls hers up and it's still about an elbow length long and she's got a complete piece. I just got an almost looks like half and a very short thread. Something's wrong I know.
She shows me her back. It looks like her front, except in reverse.
I show her mine. The problem is there. It looks like dibé before you cut their hair.
"What happened to mine?"
"You got knots."
I look at her like I'm dumb. I'm not, but I still don't understand. Hers is smooth. Mine is a mess.
At least it's not attached to my shirt. I haven't done that for at least three weeks. I keep looking. I now what comes next. Take the needle off and start pulling through. When I get to a knot, untangle it, never cut. I start. The first one comes out easy. The second, not so. I've got a pile as thick as a my uncle's hair.
She goes and makes a Red Rose tea which means I'm gonna be awhile. Patience. If you don't have it now, you will some day. The scissors sit in the basket. She drinks the whole cup. Finally my thread is one long piece of string, four strands. I put it back in the needle, careful not to split the thread. With all my pulling it's a bit of a mess. She tells me to roll it between my fingers. No spit. Spit is bad. I'm always sticking the threads into my mouth, especially when she's not looking. Use your eyes and use your hands. Mouths are for food and words. We don't need much of either.
She sits back down beside me. Our knees touch. She picks up her thread. Ready. Are you? I am. I pick up my thread and start making lines.
"You should know how much the thread is going to change with each stitch. If it's different then you have a problem."
She talks soft, past my ear. Right angles. We make them, with our bodies, with our threads. I understand.
"Mine goes from long to short real fast."
"Do you check your back?"
"You never flip yours."
"No. I can feel it." She doesn't flip, but I can see her fingers smooth out the back.
"When you get to the end it shouldn't be a surprise. You should know."
We keep sewing. I keep flipping mine over to make sure there's no knots. She finishes hers. I'm an almost done. Practicing takes work. I'm working mine through. My thread goes impossibly short. I'll never be able to weave it back. My Grandma just keeps sitting. I look at her and then I flip.
"I got a knot."
She smiles. Her face a perfect, her eyes black pearls. Her glasses hang on string around her neck. Her sweater open.
I take off my needle and pull the thread through, undo the knot and rethread my needle. I'm about to stop to talk but then I remember. Never stop on the wrong side. I pull the needle up and sit. Thinking it through.
"It's good to check for knots."
"But you never get them."
"I used to."
"When I was like you."
I smile, thinking, she was never like me.
She folds her cloth and puts it down. I follow behind like I do. The street lights our room and I change into pjs.
No stories tonight. I think of my threads going smooth. I don't know her secret. She lays there awake till I sleep. My night is full of circles and squares. The edges take all my parts and put them into a picture. I keep it inside my head. We're not allowed to use patterns. They have those in plastic bags at Woolworth's on Mission. We work on white fabric and we work from our minds. This is the dream. I am dreaming.