The Old Jumper
She reached down into the large box that lay near her feet and rummaged through the remnants of his clothing. The jumper was large, larger than she’d remembered, and slightly coarse to touch, defensive almost, fiercely protective of itself. She carefully laid it out on her lap, tenderly, straightening it all out, enjoying the old weight on her knee.
She sat like that for a while, looking at it closely; searching for the signs of life she knew it possessed. Despite twelve years in a dusty box, all she could find was its one imperfection, the pull where it had caught on the hook by the back door, as they’d run home from the beach, seeking shelter from a sudden summer storm.
Putting her mug back down, she picked up the jumper, caressing the material with her hands. It was thick and resolute, unyielding in a physicality that harboured the almost tangible smell of earth, of an ancient, infinite existence. The jumper was the same as it had always been, a perfectly preserved thing, unconscious of age or life’s progression.
He’d been wearing it that long awaited evening; she’d laughed at him in his thick, heavy jumper on such a balmy night. It had been handmade by his mother and she couldn’t remember ever seeing him without it. His maternal devotion.
It was cooler on the beach; the breeze coming in off the waves was punctuated with stinging drops of salty spray that caught themselves on the fuzzy, woollen strands. She watched them land, suspended for a moment before being absorbed into the folds. He’d taken pity on her eventually. The hairs on her bare arms raised in fierce indignation as he’d pulled the jumper off himself and then down over her own head, threading her arms through the sleeves, which fell down past her fingers.
He rubbed her warm, his touch seeping through the fibres to warm the skin. It was comforting; to be enveloped in something that belonged so entirely to someone else, his warmth became her own, trapped neatly in the insulating space between her and his jumper. Sitting there together on the beach, she felt a sudden sense of belonging, an instinctive devotion that was reassuring and utterly welcome.
She’d worn the jumper years later during the first bitter winter in the little house; strangely it had been the first thing she’d taken from the box as she stood unpacking their possessions barefoot on the floorboards. It had kept her so warm during those cold months, and the child inside her too. It encompassed them, creating an external, breathable layer, a pocket of protection around the two of them, a space to hold them both, and him, his jumper, his presence, surrounding them as her belly grew. She hadn’t got all that big, but big enough so the jumper grew with them, stretching to accommodate them, giving way to this new shape of togetherness.
One night, the baby had had its bath and was lying on the bed, thrusting out its sturdy little arms and tiny formed fists. Almost instinctively, she had gotten the jumper and put it over him, laughing suddenly to see his little face poking out the neck, his fragile body swathed in a grown man’s jumper. She had straightened out the sleeves and crossed them over, wrapping them snugly around his little frame and tucking them under again so that the jumper held him, he who came from them. This new life inhabiting their old shared space.
The weight of the jumper offered more than the photos, carefully arranged on the dresser, which were merely flat, forced memories stuck entirely in their own moment. The jumper existed still, real and ready. It had continued to be used and re-used, put away and retrieved, borrowed by guests, pilfered by the children who’d taken it to school, and later to University. But it always came back.
Occasionally she’d catch him wearing it again, on quiet solitary days. But when he was no longer there to be caught, it suddenly seemed quite alien to her, part of a life that was no longer; a former life that she had been forcefully, unwillingly extricated from. It had gone away in the box with so many other things, hidden but never quite forgotten.
She had had the idea soon after the phone call came with the news, a way of preserving and cherishing their past whilst fighting the urge to be consumed by it. Carefully she took the scissors, and stretched the jumper out again, snipping each strand as it came, severing the ties.
When she was finished she held up the square panels that would fill the two remaining spaces of the patchwork blanket. She picked up her needles and resumed the rhythmic motion, wool that was once his jumper binding into a new existence.
It would speak for her, and after her; passing on the past to this new baby that belonged to a separate generation, another generation of her, of them. They would be connected intrinsically by blood but now physically too, through the tangible, threaded bonds of wool. The baby would be wrapped in it’s own past, a fabric of nostalgia, protected by the warmth from a night sat together on the beach.
This text on Wool was written and submitted by Rachael Cooney for Round 2 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Check Rachael’s entry for Round 1: Sustainable fashion ethic aesthetic gap