A child's gift and a Mother's gratitude on Christmas eve in the desert.
approximately 1800 words
The Graceful Knitter
Maggie fidgeted in her metal folding chair and tugged at her yarn. The Women's Knitting Circle toiled around a battered banquet table in the basement of the Full Gospel Church, the only church in Graceful, Nevada. When Maggie first arrived in the dusty little town, she wondered if there was a "Partial Gospel Church" down the road, but those thoughts long ago vanished. A single mother had other things to worry about in Graceful.
Christmas hovered just a week away and tawdry holiday decorations clung to the walls. A gray scarf cascaded from Maggie's knitting needles, its colors matching the crinkly curls knotted behind her head. Her son Bobby huddled at her feet and gripped knitting needles in his pudgy fists. His tongue protruded from one corner of pursed lips and furrows crumpled his young brow. Bobby's needles clacked and twisted in vain with the purple and yellow yarn he had chosen for his project.
Susan Knightly, whose husband owned the Bank of Graceful, shook out the crimson mohair hanging from her knitting needles and announced, "Pastor Dan says that the midnight Christmas Eve service this year will be just the best ever!" Her voice always paraded into a room like a marching band, full of sound and fury. She tugged at the brilliant skein of yarn in her knitting bag and her needles flashed. "Yes, indeed, the best ever!" She beamed at no one in particular.
Maggie strained to catch Mrs. Willy's soft, whispery voice. "I'm so looking forward to it. Pastor Dan says we're going to have a candlelit service this year." Her murmur trembled into the group, as if she feared someone would notice her. Maggie reflected that her manner was strange, since no one could miss Mrs. Willy, what with her ample girth oozing over the sides of her chair. When she was absent, Susan called her 'heavyset' and tsked over her weight.
"Mommy." Bobby tugged at her skirt.
Maggie patted his hand. "What is it, sweetheart?"
"Mommy, I gotta go!" Bobby whispered, but everyone heard him anyway.
Maggie smiled. "That's all right, honey. You know where it is. We'll be right here when you get back."
Bobby trotted off amidst the silence of tight lips and flashing needles. When the door to the church's sole restroom banged shut, Susan put down her knitting and glared over her reading glasses at Maggie. "I swear, Miss Jones." She always called Maggie 'Miss Jones,' with an extra little flourish on the 'Miss.' "I swear there's something wrong with that child of yours. A teenage boy shouldn't be like that." Her head bobbed up and down. On anyone else their hair would have bounced in rhythm, but hairspray held Susan's peroxided tresses in rigid alignment.
Maggie almost cringed at Karen Cook's saccharine soprano.
Karen's stentorian tones broke in, "Now, Susan. That's not very charitable, you know." As Pastor Dan's spouse, she took her church duties quite to heart. "Maggie can't help how her son is, and neither can he."
Heat rose from deep within Maggie's core and boiled out her face. "Bobby's just fine. He's loving and gentle and kind. There ain't nuthin' wrong with him. He's a good boy."
Karen smiled and patted her knee. "I know, dear. You must be so proud."
The sound of the toilet flushing flooded the basement and Bobby padded back to his place by Maggie. He picked up his bedraggled knitting. "Thee, Mommy?" He spoke with an unfortunate lisp that Maggie found endearing and the rest of the Knitting Circle found ominous. "I'm knittin' a blankie for the Baby Jethuth." The crooked tangle of purple and yellow yarn bore a slight resemblance to a blanket, if you used your imagination.
A chorus of murmurs met his pronouncement. "That's wonderful, Bobby. It's beautiful!"
Karen nodded. "Yes, indeed, Bobby! It's too beautiful to really use. We'll just have to save it in a special place." The other members of the Women's Knitting Circle nodded.
Maggie's eyes threw daggers at Karen.
"But Mommy! I'm knittin' it jutht for the Baby Jethuth, tho he won't be cold on Chrithmath Eve in the manger." Bobby's wide eyes pleaded with her.
Before she could answer, Pastor Dan's sunny smile and booming voice filled the room. "Well, well, Ladies! How goes the knitting?" On his arrival, the women put their needles down. Pastor Dan always commanded full attention and left no room for anything else.
He fingered the intricate weave of the baby blanket that hung from Susan's needles. "I say, I do believe that's the most beautiful blanket I've ever seen."
Susan glowed under his blessings. "Lookee here, Pastor. There's booties to go with it!"
"Aren't they just the most precious little things?" Karen's voice gushed into the drab little chamber like a sparkling spring stream.
"They are indeed just that." Pastor Dan picked up the booties. "You know, we should put these and your blanket on the Baby Jesus in our Nativity Scene. Do you think you can have them ready by Christmas Eve?"
"Oh yes, certainly Pastor Dan!" There it was again, that marching band voice parading amidst the fellowship.
Bobby tugged at Pastor Dan's sleeve. "Pathtor Dan, Pathtor Dan. Look at the blankie I'm knittin' for the Baby Jethuth." He held up his sad little tangle of yarn.
Karen arose and hooked her arm through her husband's. "Pastor Dan, we were just saying, that's such a special blanket that it's too pretty to use. Don't you agree?"
Pastor Dan fingered Bobby's knitting and looked grave. "Yes, indeed I do. That is one very special blanket, Bobby. When you finish it, you give it to me and I'll put it in a very, very special place." He winked at the ladies. Maggie said nothing.
Pastor Dan beamed again. "Say, ladies, I got great news to report. Forrest Cheever called from Henderson and said he'd drive down for our midnight Christmas Eve service. He's gonna sing 'O, Holy Night.' Isn't that grand?"
Susan's hands fluttered to her breasts while her voice strutted through the basement. "Praise the Lord! That's my favorite Christmas hymn!"
A salvo of goodbyes from Pastor Dan generated a chorus of "Bless you's" and "Praise the Lords" from the Knitting Circle.
Maggie held her peace and Bobby's hand. She knew what she must do.
The next week passed in a flurry of yarn and knitting. On the afternoon before Christmas Eve, Maggie and Bobby strode through the dusty streets of Graceful to the Full Gospel Church. Pastor Dan supervised a busy crowd of women making ready for the services that night.
"Well, well, look who's here!" He beamed at Maggie and Bobby. "If it isn't Miss Jones and Bobby!" He brushed his hair out of his eyes. "What can I do for you this fine Christmas Eve?"
"I finithed the Baby Jethuth'th blankie, Pathtor Dan." Bobby gazed up at him and held out his scrabbled, pathetic little square of knitting. Yellow and purple strands oozed out of it and the edges were ragged.
Maggie wouldn't have believed Pastor Dan's smile could get broader and brighter, but it did. "Well, now isn't that just the most beautiful blanket you've ever seen?" He held it up for everyone to see, but only Maggie and Bobby bothered to look. "Yes sir, that is really special, Bobby. I'll put it in a special place, just like I promised." He folded it up, as best the rumpled fabric permitted, and placed it in a pew.
"But Pathter Dan, the Baby Jethuth will get cold tonight. That'th why I made the blankie for Him."
"I know you did, son. Don't you worry, we'll take care of the Baby Jesus." He looked at Maggie, who glared back. "Is there anything else, Miss Jones?"
"No, that's quite enough, thank you."
The service that night fulfilled all the hopes and prayers of the good people of Graceful, Nevada. Pastor Dan gazed with pride on the sanctuary and reflected that even Maggie Jones would have to admit the church was beautiful. The town folk filed through the doors and ushers handed everyone individual candles to light at midnight. The scent of pine needles blended with the coffee brewing in the kitchen downstairs. Poinsettias and holly adorned the nave, while a life-sized nativity scene glowed in front of the altar, the figures a gift from the Bank of Graceful. In case anyone didn't remember the benefactor, a note in the bulletin reminded them.
The congregation sang glad hymns of holiday tidings. They sang "Away in a Manger" to remind them of the Savior's humility. They sang "The Little Drummer Boy" to remind them that the Savior came for all. They sang "Silent Night" to remind them of the Savior's promise of peace. Then, finally, the climax of Graceful's holiday season arrived. The lights dimmed and a single candle burned. That solitary flame, passed in slow progression from one person to the next, ignited the individual candles that everyone held ready.
At last, when the candlelight flickered in divine peace, a spotlight beamed on Forrest Cheever's corpulent face. All eyes riveted upon him as his a capella tenor filled the church with glory and filled their hearts with joy.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
That was when Pastor Dan saw it, there in the manger, covering the Baby Jesus. A twisted, ugly web of yellow and purple replaced the luxurious scarlet blanket crafted by Susan Knightly. Bobby's awful excuse for knitting swaddled the Baby Jesus.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
Pastor Dan flushed. He longed to tear Bobby's hideous rag from the manger, but instead he scanned the congregation with a hawk's eye, looking for that dreadful woman, that Maggie Jones. She sat there, with her son, hiding among the Righteous. She must have slipped that terrible blanket into the nativity scene when no one was looking. There she was, unrepentant, even proud. He looked back in disgust at the Baby Jesus.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
That was when She stirred. No one else saw it: not the town folk, not Maggie, not Bobby, just Pastor Dan. There in the nativity scene, Mary, the Mother of God, came to life at that moment. With gentle hands, She caressed the ratty coverlet that Bobby had crafted in love and devotion. Her fingers left a golden trail where they stroked the blanket that cradled Her Child, the Son of God. Her eyes glowed in thanksgiving as her gaze sought out Maggie and Bobby. Then she fell still once more.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
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