A Short Story About a Long Scarf
One particular man loved one particular woman. They went to sleep in the same bed — and were even vigilant, night after night, to watch the same black-and-white television together. For some people this would be enough. Not for this particular man.
His heart was teeming with love, and apprehension. Love for his wife and apprehension that perhaps she didn’t know it. A few times he was about to tell her, but always at the last minute he flinched. He believed that it is not fitting to formulate such a complicated emotion with telegram-like simplicity; on the other hand, too many words create an acoustic wall that keeps the stirrings of the heart from being heard.
The fact was, as a gifted trombone player, he could have, truly, for next to nothing, offered her a celebratory bellow from the depths of his instrument. And then as if it was the height of brilliant practical male ideas, it was actually during this time that one of his friends hired a sky-writing plane to fly along the coast of our land writing in fire: “Aliza, I burn for you, Itzik.”
This aerial pomposity was not the particular man’s cup of tea. Yes, he too wished to warm the heart of his wife to a little warmer than room temperature, but there are ways and there are ways. There is no doubt his instinct was healthy: he knew there were things even more important than color TV. He knew that thought precedes action and that how is no less essential than what. Influenced by the achievements of modern science, and mainly by Archimedes, he decided to devote to this thinking 45 minutes daily in a hot soapy bath.
And sure enough, after a few months the physical characteristics of the object crystallized: long, continuous, warm and fitting to her body. Now, with all the criteria in hand, what could be simpler than turning this abstraction into particularity? He need only engineer the object and apply himself to manufacturing it.
The particular man didn’t want to endanger their precious conjugal hours opposite the television, and so he kept the entire project secret, as is customary with surprises. He drafted his designs in the dead of night and only after confirming that his wife was safely dozing.
The work progressed at a satisfying rate. The planning stages did not take longer than three months, the gathering of materials even less. A year after the first notion had occurred to him the first stitch had been cast on the knitting needle; the color, of course, was the azure blue of his wife’s eyes.
Crafting the scarf comprised all the colors of the spectrum and took a lot of time, yet it passed in a flash. There is no doubt the man had vision, and that rare type of perseverance essential to projects measured in indefinite mathematical values, such as scarves and diets. He could have fudged it; his burning friend advised him more than once — a few stitches more or less, she will never notice.
The particular man stood up to the temptation. In his short life he had already managed to learn something about scarves—for example, that if you weave impure intentions into them, they shrink the instant you wear them for the first time. The thought that the magnificent and long scarf that he himself knitted might shrink around the neck of his wife suffocated in him even the slightest suggestion of sinful thoughts.
When the festive day came, the particular man burst forth from his workroom, holding the scarf in one hand, champagne in the other. It was twilight and the last rays of the sun danced on the designated curved neck that sat in shining isolation opposite the television eating chips. She didn’t notice him. The particular man approached her, his heart pounding, and tried to wrap the scarf around her neck in a fluttering motion. His wife jumped like a cobra bitten by a flute. What’s with him? He’s not normal, where did he think he was all these years, in his workroom? A scarf? Seven years to knit a scarf? A divorce he should give her, not a scarf!
The man pleaded, it will feel pleasant and warm…
“Pleasant and warm, hah!” the woman laughed a bitter laugh he didn’t recognize. “Some invention, with these heat waves that even a super-size air conditioner can’t break.”
Now that she said it, he actually noticed the drops of perspiration and a certain flush to her face… . well, anyway, “Just to measure… .”
Nothing helped. His wife resolutely refused to receive the gift. She explained to him that during the time he’d been in seclusion knitting the ways of the world had changed drastically. It was already three and a half years since the last elections which had canceled winter.
The man protested. How could that be? Isn’t it a democracy? Behind his back they went and cancelled an entire season and all the culture that derives from it?
He looked at his wife. He looked at the television. At least these two had not changed much.
He sat down and began unraveling the wintry offering of his love, one stitch after another, it vanished like melting tears, until it was one long long, filament which perhaps could encompass the planet Earth, but certainly not his love.
If it depended on the particular man, the story would have ended here, in the most shameful and melancholy way.
Fortunately, women are more concrete creatures than even the most particular of men. Luckily, after all those years with the trombone, his wife had developed extraordinary auditory acuity. Over the clatter of the chips and the TV, the melody of his fluttering heart broke through and rose up. She rested her heart on his and whispered: “What do you say we’ll get rid of the black-and-white TV? You’ll knit me a series of colorful bikinis, we’ll take the trombone and a picnic basket, and we’ll go live by the edge of the sea?”
Author Shoham Smith has published two story collections: Libi Omer Ki Zikhroni Boged Bi (My Heart Tells Me That My Memory is Betraying Me), (Keter, 1996)- where these two stories appeared- and HomeCenter(Yedioth Ahronoth, 2002). She is also the author of a graphic novel and seven children’s books. Born in Jerusalem, she now lives in Tel Aviv. Published by arrangement with The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. Copyright © by Shoham Smith and Keter Publishing House Ltd. Translated by Naomi Danis.