Reams of material stacked and categorized by color and pattern lined the floor-to-ceiling shelves that faced away from the sun. Glass jars filled with pins and needles and safety pins aligned shelf edges. Scores of scissors swung as the overhead fan struck a two beat tempo. The room engulfed Emily Rose. Her hands gripped the edge of her long patched skirt as she walked towards the middle of the room. She moved with the elegance of a dancer purposeful in her stride.
Her brown eyes focused on her grandmother’s prize quilt, which hung over the prayer bench to the left. The prayer bench was named the day Mary found out her daughter Lily was pregnant with Emily Rose; she had just walked in from her daily jaunt in the flower garden carrying a basket of white roses when Lily blurted out, “Mama, I’m pregnant.” Mary Gold fell to her knees before the bench as the roses tumbled to the floor; she prayed the good Lord would strike Emily Rose’s unwed father dead where he stood. Lily had sat at her mother’s side as Mary wrapped strand of cornflower blue, rosewater red, spring green, lemon drop yellow and orchid purple ribbons around her daughter’s wrists each color representing, health, love, growth, happiness and loyalty. Since then, when crisis arose, falling before the prayer bench in supplication to God happened regularly.
On Emily Rose’s 10th birthday, her grandmother had handed her a piece of brown paper crafted with rows of colored ribbon and handwritten descriptions. As she handed Emily the card Mary Gold had whispered in Emily’s ear, “Emily Rose, this is for you from me from God. We want you to remember the colors.” Emily Rose hadn’t told her Grandmother that her little mind was unable to understand what the color chart meant; nonetheless she assisted her with ribbon tying, mimicking her actions, and learning to tie perfect bows.
Emily Rose lifted her eyes to the dark quilt above the bench. The weight of the quilt bent the wooden rod in the center.
Emily’s mother, Lily Gold believed all things held truth; this quilt was a marker of truth. When Lily was 12 years old, her mother Mary had called her to the center of the room where an old wooden table stood. The quilt draped the entire table swallowing it whole. She had seen the quilt before; rolled up tightly in a box under the bed she had shared with her mother.
Mary Gold told her daughter, “Lily, it is time. This quilt is about history and the past. Remember old Mr. McGregor, who lives in the beetle house on the other side of the woods? He gave me this quilt. See this square with the four squares touching diagonally?” Her finger pointed to the middle square. “This is the beginning. It is a crossroad. This here is called the North Star. The path behind the flower gardens leads to the North Star. “
Lily had learned the patterns of quilts. Each patterned formed ‘secret messages.’ During the American Civil War, quilts were hung outside homes to air and aid slaves in escaping their bonds of captivity. These hidden symbols showed the way to freedom. A historical written path to freedom, a path Emily wished she knew.
Emily no longer made quilts. The tradition of quilt making stopped. Emily’s great grandmother taught Mary about quilt patterns and the tradition was passed to Lily, who, awestruck by the patterns, began creating beautiful pieces, and in turn taught her daughter Emily, but Emily had no one to teach. Her struggle to find peace was shaken; her mother was gone and she was alone; Emily kneeled before the prayer bench seeking her path to freedom.
The scissors bounced against her chest. The overhead fan slowed, skipped a beat. The quilt rod splintered and cracked as the symbol of freedom crashed down around. Emily ran her fingers over the quilt patterns trailing along each square, her thoughts returned to the day before her mother’s death.
Emily’s mom had whispered in her ear, “The quilt.” “The quilt is the key,” her breathing labored. Two days shy of Emily’s 25th birthday, her mother Lily died from pneumonia.
Emily’s fingers stopped at the center pattern of the North Star. Her eyes narrowed as her fingers swept over the shape of a key sewn into the bottom right seam of the middle square. Her mother’s words echoed in her mind. She retraced the key outline as she reached for the scissors around her neck, she snipped thread after thread from the center square. The brass key fell with a “ker plunk” to the planked floor; she leaned forward, scooped the key to her palm then held it to the light overhead. The words, “To thee I give the key to my heart,” were etched along its side. Emily reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out long red ribbons and threaded them through the brass end. She whispered, “True love, so young and free, seek it out and find me.” Emily folded the quilt and placed the brass key on top next to the North Star and laid it on the corner of the prayer bench.
During the hot season when the wind blew hard and whispers pass from family to friend about the healing powers of the Gold’s; the arrival of caged animals and wilted plants would line the Gold’s front stoop.
The sound of pitter-patter filled the air, the light shifted, and the shadows grew long. Each footstep tapped along the stone path to Emily’s oak front door. She peeked through the pane of glass in the front door as she watched a young child leave a small twigged cage. The child looked up, met her gaze and flew from the front stoop. The mew of a young owl escaped its makeshift cage. Leaning against the black front gate, a large pot of summer colors sat; the stalks hollow, the brown leaves dropping in showers forming a circle around the pansies below.
Emily opened the door and picked up the cage with two hands and carried it to her mending table; she put on her thin leather gloves and unlatched the top. She peeked inside.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Who” came the reply.
She slipped two strands of spring green ribbon around the owl’s left wing sliding the shuffled feathers apart, whispering, “Grow strong and fill with life, pass away all strife.” The barn owl hopped out and took to the air, circling to the right as it swept pass the fan and flew to the opened window sill and perched himself precariously on its edge, and stared at the hint of green around its folded left wing.
The power of ribbon tying was discovered the day Johnny Thorndike had flung himself towards his future wife Sue; he had tripped and collided into the butt of Amy Weedill as she bent over to tie her shoe. He sprained his ankle and cried foul. Emily Rose tied a red ribbon around his left wrist and a green ribbon round his right. She had spoken in his ear, “You’re in love with Sue, and you know what to do, stop pretending go and pursue.” The words rang true.
The tradition of ribbon tying changed in that instance, when she spoke those words to Johnny.
The young barn owl Emily named “Who” hooted and swooped left circling across the room to Emily’s outstretched gloved hand. He stopped and stared into her eyes then leaped to the prayer bench. He grasped the brass key’s ribbon edge and whirled through the opened window to the front black gate, circled the large pot stirring up the fallen leaves and glided sideways above a row of yellow dragon lilies whose perky petals peaked through a line of mesh as bees buzzed and butterflies flew.
Emily grabbed her red felt cloak from beside the front door and skipped toward the buzzing bees and flowing butterflies. Her eyes followed Who’s twirling swirling flight through the lilies, pansies and roses; where he stopped upon a Sycamore tree branch teetering as it swayed to the ground and bounced back, then down.
At the edge of the garden and the beginning of the woods, clover sprang abundant and full, a path into the dark. Emily walked toward Who, as he bounced, turned sideways and nipped at the red ribbons, the brass key swinging in the breeze. As Emily stepped closer, Who took to the air and headed North through the woods.
Who slowed his flight when the path turned right and glided down to a stump surrounded by flowering clover; his left wing tied with spring green stretched out before him and the brass key beside. Who glanced at Emily, leaped into the air and darted left circling from afar. Emily grasped the brass key into her palm and plopped to the ground as the white clover buds surrounded her.
Emily awoke a few hours later to the sound of whistling and wings swooshing. A tall, blue eyed man leaned over and moved a tendril of hair from Emily’s eyes. Who sidestepped twice, clenched into the man’s shoulder and peeped.
“George, shush, she’s sleeping. We don’t want to awake the lass.”
Emily opened her eyes, “Who is that you?”
“And who are you?” said Emily, as she sat up and rubbed sleepy crumbs from her eyes.
“Good afternoon, I’m Patrick McGregor and you are?”
Emily stared at Patrick, amazed that ones eyes could be so blue, bluer than Blaue Blume, the big blue flowers that sat amongst her middle flower garden; surrounding her cherubim echoing a call for nature. He stood close to a foot taller than Emily with broad shoulders, his mannerisms gentle, and his smile formed dimples. As he knelt down before he, he lifted her chin with his left hand. “Are you the Emily Rose who ties ribbons on owls with hurt wings?”
Emily nodded, her eyes looked at Patrick eyes.
“My niece, Alena, found George here caught up in my fishing nets. She said she was going to take him to Emily Rose, that you would fix him up right new. That you had a way with ribbon tying and spoke words that rang true.” He placed her hand in his and lifted her up. “She never said you were fair as the midnight moon.”
He dropped his canvas knapsack to his side and pulled out a small brass box etched with the North Star on its lid. Patrick handed the box to Emily. The box was filled to the brim with twisted ribbons.
“This is beautiful,” said Emily.
She cracked opened the brass lid, a brilliant red ribbon fluttered and took flight leaving behind the smell of musk, reminding her of her grandmother. The red ribbon floated through the air and she whispered, “Ode to love lost, and who can it be, what is the cost, what wonderment to see.”
She turned her gaze to Patrick. “This etching reminds me of my mother’s quilt.” She raised her hand, the brass key swung to and fro. “And I found this sewn inside.”
Patrick eyed the key and turned the box around for Emily. She looked down and saw the tiny keyhole. She placed the key into the hole and turned as a thin sliver drawer slid open. Creamed aged pages rolled into small scrolls aligned the bottom of the drawer, each tied with a perfect colored strand of ribbon.
“Where did you find this?” Emily muttered to Patrick as she placed the box on the stump and pulled out each letter, laying them one by one beside the box.
Patrick knelt beside her. “My Uncle said that a close friend of his had given it to him for safekeeping and I would know to whom I needed to give it to when the time came.” He smiled at her. “When I saw George with the ribbon around his wing, I knew the box was to be yours.”
Emily looked at Patrick then George. “Who.” She laughed. “Are you George?”
She turned to Patrick. “I think these letters belonged to my mother.“
She untied the first letter and gave Patrick the red strand of ribbon. She started to read out loud. “My dearest Lily…”
“She loved him so much, didn’t she? I’m sad I didn’t get to know him.”
“Patrick. Is love for naught?”
“No, love is for the time it occupies, the memories it creates and the longing it desires for,” he said.
Emily turned to Patrick. “If one lives in the moment then memories aren’t real nor is longing.” He smiled and took her left wrist and encircled it with the ribbons she had given him as she unrolled each letter.
Patrick lifted Emily’s chin to his. “One lives in the moment, but forgets not the past lessons or future hope. It is a delicate balance.”