The Dead-Harry Quilt
by Sherry Cassells
When we sold the cottage all I wanted was the Dead-Harry quilt.
You can have all the roosters I told my sister Kelly who would have taken them anyway. If I protested, she would have said, sort of joking, that I should take the one on the wall, the one with swaths of colour lapping its edges from every time the kitchen had been painted. Our father owned a fastening company and what he attached to the walls was forever.
He was a fisherman, an afterthought, a floating blip here and there on the river.
The front room still boasted dusty curves of the fish he’d caught, including the astonished-looking muskie he pulled from the river like lore. Kelly wrestled with one of the smaller pretty-coloured trout, for posterity I suppose, but I only took what my mother valued most.
The Dead-Harry quilt was exquisite.
My mother started on it soon after our neighbour Harry died, its fabric cut from the clothing his widow gave her because those girls were pioneers and didn’t waste a thing. Gert's eyes were bad and she couldn't quilt. Instead, she knit by feel which was interesting to watch but nothing compared to the way she sculpted pastry.
I loved to watch. She hollered my name through the screen door and I went running because if you didn’t catch it from the beginning it wasn’t the same. She liked it when I flew out of the hammock, my Nancy Drew in the air like a bird, or when I showed up wet in my swim suit, or still chewing my left-behind lunch.
My father’s the one who started calling the initially scrappy thing, always on my mother’s lap, the Dead-Harry quilt and it stuck forever like he’d put in on the wall.
Kelly ran in my wake to Gurt's sometimes because she was worried she might miss treats which seldom happened, but I got to wet my finger and dab sweet brown flakes, and the occasional flurry of icing sugar. Sometimes after she whipped something, she would hand me one of the beaters to lick while she licked the other, and we sparkled our eyes at one another.
Gert wrapped pastry around everything including the wild asparagus she plucked from the edges of the river. She tucked them inside curved ribs of rhubarb, added a spoke of honey, and rolled them up similar to how me and Kelly made weiner windups. She called them sourpusses and they were divine.
But this story isn’t about her. It’s about her husband, Harry, and the quilt I have on my red chair in my red room, gate-folded behind my head like a pillow, my periphery lending me the river, the birch forest, shingles of northern lights.
It is 7:15 am and there was freezing rain last night and I guess instead of falling down it went sideways because half of everything out there is glass and the other half is like any other day. The sunlight is orange and sticks to the glass. It’s beautiful and chaotic, words I chose for the weather, but they’re the right ones for the quilt, too.
The quilt behind my head is beautiful and chaotic, much like Harry was. He was bright and funny and he blew us kisses he pressed dramatically onto his fingers before he splayed them our way. He wore bright floral shirts my dad made fun of. He did cannonballs that splashed the willow twenty feet away, but from the Rabbit lake cliffs, he dove straight down with barely a ripple. He taught us the Cha Cha, the Tango, the Viennese Waltz. He explained the night sky, umped at our baseball games, played flamenco guitar which I took up after he died. He made my mother howl with laughter and once or twice, when he played guitar and sang, he made her cry.
I caught them dancing in the kitchen once – clutching one another – while my father was out fishing. She’d been doing the dishes – the tap was still running – and bubbles spilled down the cupboards onto the floor, big reams of them. When I went in, they looked at me as if they were trying to remember who on earth I was.
So yeah. I got the Dead-Harry quilt, with its well-considered stitches, satin birch forests, brown corduroy earth, fluttering clouds above quilted ripples of ongoing blue, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t September leaves, the single-stitched wink of stars, a sequined stretch I couldn’t make out for decades until the light hit it just right one day revealing the northern lights as they appeared above our river.
It is a living thing, never idle, and it shimmers with love.