This blanket would be unmemorable except you recognize this as your favorite pattern and remember where, still new to knitting needles, you used to drop stitches and clumsily fix them up. Your fingertips know this sturdy, not-soft yarn without touching it. You know this color (“Blue Gravel”), remember having chosen it for both its less childish hue and the potential to hide lesser stains.
Yes, this blanket is your handiwork, you confirm as the detective drapes it across the table, but not saying that you’ve done this pattern many times since, improving and embellishing each time, sometimes with better quality yarn, certainly with better skill. This one, here, was one of your first — might have been the first — of many you’d made for foster kids, children in need and trouble and trauma, children you knew you’d never meet but might appreciate your handmade and heartfelt donation. A blanket would be among their few possessions, something small and warm that they could carry from home to home.
Spread out under the lights, the color has clearly faded after six years. There are pulls and scorch marks. When you see one silly yellow knit flower at one corner, you remember that you’d added silly yellow flowers to all the corners. A smiling teddy bear fabric patch is sewn into the upper quadrant. On the other side, the teddy bear clings to a ladder of unraveling stitches. You did not add the teddy bear, you feel compelled to mention.
The blanket overall is not as worn as you thought it might be — a bit thin at the edges, but acrylic holds up (that’s the point of acrylic). There’s a momentary pull of pride in your craft before you realize by the smell that lack of washing contributed to its durability. And likely not washed at all, the detective mentions, since its owner aged out of foster care and turned, with nowhere else to go, to the shelters and streets.
The detective mentions a few items found near the blanket at the scene: a couple tampons, a couple cigarettes, a romance novel with a torn condom wrapper inside, a damp sock. You picture the inventory, think about what wasn’t mentioned: condoms, matches, the other damp sock.
Next to the yellow flower, the blanket has a tag with the name of your volunteer knitting group. That tag was one of their few leads — the only thing with a name — the detective explains, and why you were contacted. As chapter leader, you naturally wanted to help. It is purely by chance that you are also the creator of this cold pile of soiled acrylic.
“Blue Gravel” is indeed dark enough to hide some stains, but not all.
You explain that this is the way your group works: produce stitch by stitch, deliver in anonymity, start again.
What you cannot explain: the years, the money, the incipient arthritis, all in service of knitting and purling belief into every pattern, because belief is a tougher, shinier façade than hope. Because belief, more than hope, bears the weight of your generosity, your sense of purpose, past the urban street corners, the under-freeways, the scorched earth lots where the transient camps grow season by season.
You’ve let many blankets go. But, no, you never meet the children.
The detective thanks you and folds up the blanket with an expression that echoes as you say one last time, one last time, one last time, sorry, you don’t know the blanket’s owner; sorry, you’ve wasted their valuable time; sorry, but you can’t help after all.
A.K. Cotham has published in Black Fox Literary Magazine, ByLine, Slink Chunk Press, and Sacramento News & Review, among others, and has had two stories selected for performance by Sacramento Stories on Stage. She lives in Northern California.