|Written by Lynette Mejía / Artwork by Marge Simon
|Pattern Piece Block Stitch
The doctors' faces were sober, their eyes full
of pity. "I'm sorry," said the first one, closing
the manila file folder that sat on the desk in
front of him. "There's really not much more we
can do." His eyes were bright blue, the color
of an autumn sky.
"I don't understand," said the girl. "Yesterday
they told me that his oxygen was just a little
low, that they was gonna put that mask on
him and he'd be fine."
"I know." The second doctor was younger than
his colleagues. Thin and lanky, he had the
bony angles of a man not quite grown into his
own skin. She saw his eyes glance sideways
at the folder, and she knew he was reading
her name. "Mrs. Sullivan."
"Miss," she corrected him, her chin high. She
wasn't ashamed that her boy didn't have a
daddy. She could take care of her baby just
fine on her own.
His eyes narrowed in disapproval and he
cleared his throat. "Excuse me. Miss. Acute
newborn cyanosis due to hypoxia was our
initial diagnosis, but further testing revealed
this far more serious underlying cause."
"Your son's heart is severely malformed," said the third. He was the oldest by far, and reminded
the girl of one of those wrinkly dogs. "To put it simply, it just isn't the right shape to pump his
"Tricuspid atresia with secondary ventricular septal defects is what we call it," the first continued.
The tag on his white lab coat said Jones. "It's a very complicated and serious condition, and the
severity of your son's case indicates that, short of a transplant..."
"But we could put him on that list, right?" the girl asked.
"We could," replied the second, "but the average wait time for an infant heart runs approximately
"And frankly, Miss, your son will be lucky to survive the week," added the third.
"Yes." He sat back in his chair. "I'm very sorry we have to give you this news, but I'm afraid that
giving you false hope would be far crueler in the end."
Jolene looked down, her eyes glazing as she stared at the stark, black-and-white checkerboard
pattern of the floor tiles. When she looked up again her eyes were red.
"Where is he?"
"At the moment he's in the NICU. We're monitoring his vital signs very carefully, and so far he's
stable. He's quite a strong little boy."
She stared at them for a moment, screwing up her courage, and then stood, wiping the tears with
the back of her hand. Her body still ached from the work of giving birth two days earlier.
"I want to take him home."
The first doctor, the one called Jones, held up his hand. "I don't think that's a good idea, Miss
Sullivan. Your son is in very poor health. Any activity might be more than his tiny heart can take."
"His name's Daniel," Jolene said. "I don't know if it's written on that paperwork of yours, but that's
his name. And if keeping him here don't do no good, then I'm taking him home." She picked up her
purse off the floor.
The three doctors looked at one another, and then, as if they had been anticipating this response
all along, silently passed the file between them, each signing his name at the bottom of a form
within. At the top it said "Patient Release" and, though it contained lots of other words Jolene
hadn't learned in school, she understood those two, and that was enough. When they were done
they showed her where to sign as well. Afterward she asked for directions to the NICU, thanked
them politely, and left to collect her son.
~ * ~
Back at home she carefully tucked him into his makeshift bassinet, which was nothing more than a
large drawer taken from the wooden chest in her bedroom. Where once it had been stuffed to
overflowing with skinny jeans, shorts, and spaghetti strapped t-shirts, it was now outfitted with a
thick flannel quilt which Jolene had folded over to soften the edges and cover the wood. As she
watched, he struggled to regain sleep, and the thing she had been holding inside her heart
released itself. Hot, angry tears left tracks across her cheeks. He was so small, she thought; a
tiny existence at war with the universe. She knew in the big scheme of things he didn't mean
much, and yet his little life had suddenly, somehow, given meaning to her own. She watched his
breaths grow more and more shallow until finally settling into a tenuous rhythm holding onto the
tiniest whisper of life. As the minutes passed his cheeks took on the bluish tint from before.
A few moments later her mother opened the door and came into the room. "Watching him ain't
gonna make him breathe no better," she said in a low voice. She stopped by Jolene's side. "And
neither will crying," she added, when she saw her daughter's face. Daniel stirred, waving tiny arms
and screwing up his forehead before settling down once more. "Come on outside," she said,
pulling Jolene by the arm.
They walked out of the trailer and down the rickety wooden steps. The dirt yard was bare, the
ferric vermilion of Red River clay beaten to powder by drought and foot traffic. Overhead, sunlight
filtered through the dusty leaves of post oaks, tupelos, and black gum trees. Jolene put her hands
on her hips.
"What, Mama?" she said. "I need to stay by him, in case he stops breathing again."
"Honey we all gonna stop breathing someday," the woman answered. "Danny'll go when it's his
time, and not a minute sooner." She pulled a crumpled pack of Marlboro Reds from her nylon pants
pocket, taking exaggerated care to pull one out and smooth it between her fingertips before
lighting it and taking a long drag.
Jolene stood barefoot, swirling the dust with her big toe. "Is that what you brought me out here
for? To tell me he's gonna die? Cause the doctors already told me that." She squeezed her eyes
shut, rubbing them with the back of one hand, and turned to walk back up the stairs.
Her mother took another drag. "You need to take that boy to the Grannies," she said. "They can
tell you what to do."
Jolene stopped, scowling. "Them old women don't know nothing," she shot back. "They got
everybody in this town thinking they're some kind of fortune tellers, but deep down y'all know
they're just as full of shit as those doctors."
Her mother turned to her, pointing fingers still clutching the cigarette. "You don't know as much as
you think you know, girl. I told you when you turned sixteen to get on down there and talk to 'em
like everybody else does. Maybe if you'd a-listened to me then, things might be different now."
Jolene's face was red. "What some old ladies say don't make no difference, Mama! Daniel's gonna
die! There ain't nothing to do now but wait! Why do I need to take him over there just to sit and
hear it all over again?"
"You ain't in a position to refuse any opportunity the good Lord gives you," her mother said,
dropping the cigarette and crushing it under her worn flip-flop. The filter lay smoking in the dirt.
"The Grannies have been around a long time. A long time. Longer than I can remember, or
anybody else in this town who's living. They've seen just about everything there is to see, and
they know just about everything there is to know. A damn sight more than a bunch of doctors in
some hospital looking up stuff in books, that's for sure."
Jolene looked down, undecided. "What if they're mad cause I didn't go see them when I was
Her mother turned and took her daughter's hands, turning them over as if to study the lines
criss-crossing the girl's palms. "They don't care about that kind of thing, child. They're not
concerned with the same kinds of things you and I are concerned with. Go on over there. See what
they have to say. Maybe they know something you can do, some remedy the medical profession's
done forgot, or maybe never knew. Doctors don't know everything, Jolene. They can be wrong like
anybody else." She turned and started back up the stairs. "Come on," she said, "I know the
perfect thing to bring them."
~ * ~
The cold air inside the trailer made Jolene shiver, chilling the sweat beaded on the back of her
neck. Her mother was only partially visible behind the stacks of Limited Edition dolls, bags of
cast-off stuffed animals, and piles of old magazines and newspapers.
"When are you gonna get rid of this stuff, Mama?" Jolene asked. "Some of these dolls were mine
when I was a little girl."
"All the more reason to keep 'em," came the muffled voice. Jolene could hear her moving boxes
and bags, stopping occasionally to sift through their contents. "You might have other kids
someday, a daughter, maybe, and she might want to play with 'em."
In a corner behind the couch her mother finally stopped. "Ha!" she said. "Here it is. This is what I
been looking for." From the floor she pulled up a wrinkled paper bag stuffed nearly to bursting
with mismatched pieces of fabric. She brought it over to Jolene and shoved it into her arms.
"Here," she said. "Take this to 'em."
Jolene looked in the bag, unimpressed. "Why? What is this?"
"Quilt scraps," her mother said, triumphant. "The Grannies are always working on quilts. Been at it
every time anybody I know ever seen 'em. Normally people might take a pie, or some chewing
tobacco, but I bet you anything they would love this better."
"What about Daniel?"
"I'll watch over him. He ain't going nowhere." She snickered, amused by her own joke.
Jolene ignored it. "You have to watch him real close, Mama. And you can't smoke."
"This ain't my first time at the dance, Jolene. Now get on over there."
"No better time," said her mother. "Your baby don't have that long, so the sooner the better." She
looked up at the green plastic clock on the wall. "It's three o'clock now. If you hurry you can be
there by half past. That should give you plenty of time before dark."
"What happens at dark?"
The look on her mother's face made Jolene shiver, but this time it wasn't from the cold.
"You don't want to get caught over there after dark."
~ * ~
The walk was a couple of miles, leading across railroad tracks that separated the part of town
where mobile homes were the norm from the part where they were not. Even in late afternoon the
heat and humidity were oppressive, and sweat soon dripped into Jolene's eyes and down the small
of her back. Once she crossed over she found relief, however, as the streets in the older part of
town were lined with broad sidewalks shaded by ancient live oaks and graceful willows.
The paper bag was soft and worn with age, making it hard to hold on to. She shifted its weight to
her other arm, compressing the contents and sending up a puff of air that smelled like dust and
old cigarettes. On its side the words "Piggly Wiggly" were printed in faded red ink. Jolene sighed.
That store had closed down fifteen years ago, and yet there was probably something in her
Mama's freezer with those same words printed on the price label.
Halfway down Main Street she turned onto Third. The light was different here, shaded by Paulson's
Drug Store on one side and The Chicken Shack on the other. Even after she'd passed out of their
shadows, however, the light remained muted, almost like the dark, greenish false-twilight before
a storm. There were no houses on this street save the Grannies'; just empty lots full of tall trees
standing sentinel, an avenue, almost an entrance hall, Jolene thought, to the gigantic house at
the end of the street.
It was Greek Revival, huge and intimidating like the parish courthouse in Alexandria. As she
approached she was dwarfed by the massive whitewashed columns rising up into the sky. The
house was well-kept, freshly painted, the yard landscaped by volunteers from the town. Everyone
took care of the Grannies, Jolene knew, bringing them food, offering their services for free
whenever anything needed repair. It was as if the whole town existed solely to care for them; as
if Marathon, Louisiana had come to the Grannies, instead of the other way around.
She stepped up onto the brick porch that wrapped around the structure, slipping off her shoes as
she had been instructed by her mother. The front door was open to the inside, leaving the
entrance covered only by an old fashioned screen door. Jolene leaned forward, peering through it
into the cool darkness, and could see its twin at the end of the hallway which bisected the house.
Low voices could be heard back there, beyond that second door, coming from the screened-in back
porch. That was where they quilted, her mother said. That was where she needed to go.
Suddenly Jolene realized those low voices were the onl_ sound. The birds, which had been
twittering incessantly on her walk over, had suddenly fallen silent. Not even a breeze stirred the
leaves of the trees. It was a deathly stillness; hollow. It reminded Jolene of the inside of a church.
A feeling of fear began to creep up from her stomach, though she wasn't quite sure why. She
didn't believe the Grannies had the Sight, or any other powers for that matter. She was only here
because her Mama had insisted. Still, there was something about this place, about its silence and
its size, something about those low voices she could hear coming from the back porch that rattled
her deep down in the oldest part of her animal brain. She felt her chest tightening and her breath
growing short, and the bag she had been carrying suddenly felt much, much heavier. Fuck this, she
thought to herself, and turned to walk away.
The sound was like the crack of a rifle shot. Jolene froze.
"Girl! You there!"
The voice came from the porch at the other end of the hallway. Jolene turned, slowly, to see a
figure standing silhouetted in the distance.
"Open the door and come on in!" said the voice.
There was no choice. There had never been a choice. Her hand shaking, Jolene opened the screen
door and took a step inside. The figure disappeared and the far door slammed shut with a thwack,
pulling her toward what was on the other side.
The walls of the hallway were high, stretching up at least three stories, and they were covered in
quilts. Like tapestries they hung, floor to ceiling, overlapping and even layered in some places,
held up with large, rusty spikes. It looked like a giant, twisted version of the exhibits at the
county fair, but these were unlike any quilts Jolene had ever seen. Some were covered in weird
symbols, while others had been appliqued with grotesque, deformed-looking monsters and pieces
of monsters. Still others had hundreds of names and dates sewn haphazardly across their surface,
or what looked like three-dimensional appendages protruding from them. Jolene stopped,
transfixed, and reached with her free hand to touch one hanging near eye level. She jerked it
away, however, when the fabric crawled like flesh under her fingertips, rippling and twisting like a
living thing impaled. Terrified, she put her head down and ran toward the promise of daylight.
When she reached it she plowed through the door without knocking, stumbling and almost falling
to her knees down the bank of short brick steps. The paper bag flew out of her arms and landed
on the ground, bursting and scattering scraps of fabric in a cloud onto the concrete floor.
Hurriedly, frantically, she bent down and began scraping them toward her in a pile. Tears welled in
the corners of her eyes.
A voice like crackling fire stopped her cold. "Are those for us?"
Jolene looked up. At the other side of the room a giant quilt rack hung suspended by lengths of
bailing wire from hooks in the ceiling, and around it stood the Grannies. The one who had spoken
looked to be the youngest, though her face was still covered with tiny lines that criss-crossed her
pale skin like purple webbing.
"Pretty," she said, pointing to a piece Jolene recognized as coming from one of her childhood
dresses. "Though I always did have a fondness for paisley."
As best she could, Jolene stuffed the remaining pieces of fabric into the bag and stood. Her heart
was beating so loudly she was sure the old women could hear it.
"You've come about the baby," said the one to the right. She was the oldest by far, a shrunken,
wizened thing with a long, silver braid that hung over one shoulder. Her skin was pulled tight
against her skull and all her teeth were missing, giving her a look more akin to a dusty corpse
than a living person. In her right hand she held an enormous pair of shears.
"Now, now, sister," said the middle Granny. She was round and plump, with cheerful red cheeks
and twinkling eyes. She looked like what Jolene imagined grandmothers should look like. "The
child is terrified. You two," she looked right and left, "are too much about the business. Let the
girl sit down." She turned to Jolene. "Would you like some lemonade, honey? Or some iced tea?"
Jolene didn't dare say no. "Yes ma'am," she said. "Some lemonade would be fine."
"Oh, good, good," said the middle Granny. She came around the side of the quilt frame, now
somehow carrying a tray full of drinks. Setting it down on a table, she picked up one of the
glasses. "Sit, child," she said, indicating a chair next to her. Jolene sat, and she put the glass on
the table. "From our own lemons," she said, smiling sweetly. "We have some trees in the back
yard." She watched intently as Jolene took a sip.
"It's delicious," Jolene pronounced, and the Granny's smile grew. "Oh, wonderful!" she said,
clapping her hands together in delight. "I'm so tickled you like it. It's my favorite thing to cook in
the whole world!" She tottered back to her place between the others, and, taking up her needle,
immediately began to push it into the fabric. Her smile faded as she concentrated on the rising
and falling thread.
"Making lemonade isn't cooking," said the youngest, rolling her eyes.
Jolene cleared her throat. "I'm sorry I didn't come when I was supposed to," she said.
The oldest Granny smiled, her eyes kind. "It's not a requirement, Jolene Sullivan," she said. "Not
everyone wants to know."
"Or needs to know," added the youngest Granny as she worked to thread a needle.
Jolene's heart had begun to slow down a bit. She took a sip of the lemonade. It tasted bitter, but
she didn't care. It gave her something to do with her hands. "Can you help my little boy?" she
asked. "Mama told me you might be able to help him."
The middle Granny looked up suddenly. "We can't help anyone, honey. That's just not how it
"Then what is it that you do?"
"You mean your Mama didn't tell you?" asked the youngest. She held the needle up in the
direction of the fading sunlight, working again and again to get the thread through its eye.
"You need glasses," said the middle Granny, looking over.
"Would you like me to do that?" Jolene asked.
The youngest Granny stopped. "Bless your heart," she said. "But this is for me to do, and me
alone." She turned to the oldest Granny. "Isn't she the sweetest thing?"
"I do like to see young people display proper manners."
"A rarity, these days."
"Yes, indeed." The youngest Granny finally managed to get the thread through the eye of the
needle, and as soon as she did, the second Granny stopped her sewing and pulled taut the piece
she had been using. Without missing a beat, Granny #3 leaned over and neatly snipped the line
with her shears, tying it with deft fingers and passing the needle over to the left.
Jolene suddenly felt cold, and was aware the sun had almost set. She stood up.
"I'm sorry for wasting your time," she said, turning to leave.
The youngest Granny passed the now-threaded needle to her sister on the right. "Oh my word,
honey, you didn't waste anything. We love for young people to come visit us." She stopped,
furrowing her brow. "Now, what was it you came to ask about?"
"My baby," Jolene said.
"Oh, yes, that precious little boy." She turned to her sisters. "She is a polite girl, isn't she?"
"You're too tender-hearted," said the oldest. She sighed, looking over the tops of her spectacles
at Jolene. Her eyes were sharpened knives Jolene knew, just knew, could cut through anything.
"You know, honey," she said, "there's a possibility he could grow to do evil in the world. Great
"That's only one possible stitch," said the youngest. "There are plenty of others."
The middle Granny looked up from her work. She smiled at Jolene, but her eyes were sad. "He
might think on his mother," she said. "And that might set things right."
There was silence in the room, a deep silence full of many things Jolene didn't understand. She
looked from one Granny to the next, and they looked back, though it felt like they were looking
into her rather than at her.
"Go ahead," the oldest one said, finally. "I guess it's alright, as long as it all still balances in the
The youngest Granny smiled a big, wide smile. "Wonderful," she said. "I love special days!" She
turned to Jolene. "Where there's a will, there's a way," she said. Her voice had changed somehow;
it was deeper now, and hollow, an echoing sound like wind scratching against the walls of a cave.
The middle Granny tugged on the thread she was holding, pulling it tight, and the youngest
Granny reached over, pulling up a separate thread so Jolene could see its much shorter length.
The two were tangled together in one section, but were now separated by a sliver of fabric. The
youngest Granny smiled, but it was a sad smile, and Jolene felt her mouth go dry and papery as
she realized the truth. It came washing over her like water, or a cool breeze on an especially hot
summer day. She looked at the Grannies, looked into each of their eyes, and nodded.
"Thank you," she said, her voice ragged, nearly a whisper now. "Thank you all so very much."
~ * ~
Later on, after darkness had truly fallen, Jolene sat in the room at the back of the mobile home as
her son slept, his breaths deep, even and peaceful. Minding her movements so as not to wake
him, she slipped the two rings of her mother's old quilting hoop apart, sliding a section of fabric
between them before pushing them together again and clamping the fabric taut. It had come from
the dollar store, a cheap kit promising a fine blue baby quilt to even the most novice of
Jolene sat, pulling the thread rhythmically, feeling it tighten in concert with her heart. In the
silence her breaths became noticeably shallower, the wheeze a little louder. Still, she continued to
sew—stitch, after stitch, after stitch.
Lynette Mejía writes science fiction, fantasy, and
horror prose and poetry. Her work has appeared
in Redstone Science Fiction, Everyday Weirdness,
Daily Science Fiction, and the anthologies
Children of the Moon and Penny Dread Tales. She
lives in Carencro, Louisiana with her husband,
three children, six cats, and one dog.
You can find her online at www.lynettemejia.com.