A few weeks after my grandmother’s death, her quilt began crawling from her bed in the early hours and roaming downstairs. You’d hear the rustle as it went past the door, and in the morning find it curled somewhere, like a dog that had died of a broken heart in the night.

The quilt had been made by my great-aunt Mabel. It was a crazy quilt, and a fancy one too. While Mabel’s eye for color might have been a little off (the predominant shade was orange), her expert craftsmanship and the fabric she’d used made it exceptional. Bits of velvet were soft as mouse ears, laid between strips of satin ribbon, and embroidered flowers bloomed along every careful seam. Smaller than most quilts — Grandmother had been a diminutive woman, and Mabel had made it to fit her narrow widow’s bed.

Finally one morning I went down in the morning’s early hours. The quilt lay beside the window, spread out as though basking in the moonlight, while across the room its counterpart swam in the watery mirror under a cold white rectangle.

I felt I was intruding, but I was tired and the quilt had been keeping me awake.

Thus my words were not particularly kind.

“She’s dead,” I snapped.

The quality of the silence in the room changed. I realized that the quilt had not known this. She had died in the hospital, after all. To the quilt, it might have seemed that she had gone on a visit somewhere. Only when days had turned into weeks had it begun to worry.

“I’m sorry,” I said. The quilt remained quiet, unmoving.

Turning around, I went back upstairs.

When I came down in the morning, the quilt still lay there. But as I came closer, I saw that it was a layer of pieces of cloth on the floor, pieced together, but with every seam or stitch gone, undone.

The pieces fluttered as I opened the window. They rose up in a great swirling mass and poured out like a swarm of butterflies, leaving only bits of twisted thread behind.

Cat Rambo‘s latest collection, Near + Far, is now available from Hydra House.

Rate this story:
 average 4.3 stars • 12 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • It’s sad—the quilt died of grief—but it seems like there’s no story.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    There’s an illogic to this story that I find really perplexing. The narrator uses poetic description for everything, and refers to the quilt as like a dog that has died of a broken heart in the very first paragraph, and then speaks to it not with words “not particularly kind,” but absolutely brutal.

    The only noise the quilt makes is the rustle past the door–but it so disturbs the narrator’s sleep that she’s completely out of patience?

    Some stories just feel untruthful at heart–that they are intended to evoke certain emotions but the writer didn’t feel them herself.

  • I, for one, enjoyed packing so much emotion and family dynamics into such small space. And to objectify a quilt! I have half a dozen early 19th century pieces boxed up in the attic. Wonder if they know their makers are gone. Good job, Cat.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    Your story is completely lovely and loving as only someone with a strong connection to quilts can know. This was well-written and well-imagined, a joy to read.

  • Neat concept. . I love when inanimate objects take on somewhat human charachteristics… like politicians.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    What bothers me so much about this story is that the narrator is so perceptive ABOUT the quilt, but behaves so callously TOWARDS it. Someone who cherished it–and its dead owner–might adopt it, might want to wrap herself in it, might sit on the grandmother’s bed and caress it–but she lets it suffer in its bereftness alone.

    There’s no hint of something that might explain the narrator’s reactions–a sort of rivalry in grief, for example. So I am left perplexed.

  • Pete Wood

    i loved this story. I have no problem with the main character lashing out against the quilt. Grief is expressed in many ways and anger and unkind words during a time of loss is very real.
    Beautiful. Poetic.
    This will stick with me.

  • Rebecca

    Very evocative for me, of my grandmother, her old farmhouse, and the quilts that lived there. I needed no explanation as the actions and atmosphere “stitched” it all together so beautifully. Death, feelings and the majical are perplexing. For me this makes the differance between a fable and an adult story.
    Thanks Again Cat.

  • SarahT

    I found no problem with the “harsh” treatment of the quilt. The granddaughter (son?) Had, by that time, gotten over the initial shock of the death, and was settling into a routine of existence without grandma. To have some”one” in the house, wandering and waiting for the dead’s return would be most uncomfortable. The granddaughter thought the quilt knew granny was gone, making the pining behavior seem that much more annoying. The belated realization that the quilt hadn’t known elicited an embarrassed, humble apology.

    I love the title, and the use of the word “undone”. The last paragraph is great, making me think of a soul’s departure out a window.

  • A bit too out there for my taste.

  • Jana Ramada

    Excellent! This is how it’s done. Economical, affecting, and classic.

  • Chelsea

    Lovely piece. I especially appreciate that it takes some imaginative and evocative creative risks.

  • Wow. I almost passed by this one because I’m not usually a fan of surreal or fantasy, but wow. Amazing story, amazing image, and I agree with Pete (#7) regarding the unpredictability of grief. 5 stars.

  • All the evocative stuff is neither here nor there for me. And as I consider the story more, if it’s only about a cute idea of a quilt being like a dog, then there’s no story, or at least no unique story. However, if one goes the other direction, if one thinks about how Grandmother’s beloved quilt, and not only her quilt, but her photographs, her old fashioned china, her handmade doilies, and the hundreds of artifacts that she surrounded herself in life—things that she used and enjoyed and which gave her life meaning—if you think about how all of those things can be a burden to the following generations and if not cared for will disintegrate or be thrown away as trash, then the story has meaning for me. The story isn’t about the quilt. It’s about Grandma and Grandchild.

  • … and the sorrowful problems of passing along and receiving heirlooms.

  • @Meredith, I agree! Someone is only immportal until the last memory of them passes away.

  • Moyra

    There is love in every thing ..

  • Jana Ramada

    @Meredith Yikes! You’re talking about a short story, dear, and this is a flash. A flash needs to evoke minimalistically.

    Judge it for what it is, and not for what it is not. 🙂

  • Wonderfully weird, strangely touching. Loved it.

  • Joanne

    Not everyone has a sweet grandmother, and not everyone is sentimental about inanimate objects. How sentimental you might be about someone’s old stuff is probably in direct proportion to how much you loved them. Maybe the grandma was a b. Magical realism doesn’t always work for me, but this did, and I loved it.

  • Good writing. I enjoyed it, but I wanted a little more emotional involvement by the narrator. Grief brings out jealousies and all sorts of repressed feelings. I can buy the harsh attitude, but wanted a little more insight into why, even if there were only hints.
    Did the narrator feel guilty for neglecting her grandmother?

  • Inspired. Wrenching. Sublime. I don’t think I’ve read a short story that moved me more emotionally. Beautifully done.

  • This was so visual and wrenching. Bravo.

    Maybe there are things to tweak in this to clarify or define the “story”, but frankly I was too choked up to care. For me, it was simply a poignant moment in time. I could almost visualize it as a “flash fiction sympathy card”.

    I liked it. 😀

  • Jonette Stabbert

    A lovely story and perfectly rendered flash. Hats off to you, Cat!

  • For me, this story promised so much with the opening sentence, which read rather like Kafka. I was truly expecting a much more surreal piece of fiction, which appeals to me anyway. Therefore, the story didn’t deliver on this assumed promise. Also, the quilt acts like a dog with a broken heart, but we then learn that it wasn’t aware its owner had died. This inconsistency grated a little. I did, however, like the imagery at the end, with the sections of quilt fluttering away.

  • JenM

    A very nice story! Thank you, Kat!

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  • I saw this as the granddaughter’s story – she’s the one who hasn’t come to terms with her grandmother’s death and the quilt is just a fantastical representation of that. She isn’t sleeping because she’s dragging the quilt around at night and in the end, she’s the one who shreds it and liberates it. Well – that worked for me anyway!

  • Matilda Woodhouse

    Unusual story- liked the descriptions of the quilt.

  • Jana@18. Well, maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I evaluated the story not on evocative words, but on what the words evoked, and that was for me an understanding of the difficulty of heirlooms, which to the credit of this flash story, was not minimal. I missed seeing this on my first consideration, as at comment #1.

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  • What a great story. It gives me a bit of a chill each time I read it. Great job, Cat.

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  • Carina Lawson-Williams

    What a great metaphor for mother was a quilt maker- I understand this story