RUGMAKING • by Chrissie Gittins

It wasn’t as if Zanti hadn’t made a rug before. She threaded her wide-eyed needle with orange wool and stitched the folded selvedge. Usually she would draw out a design on gridded paper before she began, but this time she went ahead and wrapped her latch hook with strands of wool, picking out the colours which suggested themselves.

An area of green and blue emerged, a dappled glade with black and white stripes, and a whorl of brown and grey. As she worked her way up the mesh the images became clearer. By the end of the week she could see a turquoise sea dancing with flying fish, a zebra looking over her shoulder, and the swirl of a giant African land snail.

Her partner Xavier gazed at her rug as he placed a cup of tea on her worktable.

“That looks good.”

“Thanks. I’m not sure where it came from.”

At first Zanti kept the rug on the floor next to their bed, so it was the first thing her toes touched when she swung her legs out of bed. But she was so fond of it that she didn’t want it to become marked or flattened so she hung it on the bedroom wall. They woke to the zebra’s brown eyes fringed with straight lashes, the flying fish’s webbed wings, the giant snail’s unlikely eye stalks.

All was well until the following week. Zanti and Xavier had sequestered Tuesday to celebrate the second anniversary of their first meeting. Zanti had tripped over a tree root growing through a path in the local park. Xavier was walking alongside in the opposite direction and caught her before she fell. The carrot cake at the café that day was the best they had ever tasted.

Xavier brought up a tray of tea and toasted bagels.

“Shall we make carrot cake today?” asked Zanti.

“We can do that.” The butter dribbled down his chin.

As he grabbed a tissue from the bedside table he noticed the rug. There were gaps in the threads – three areas were worn away where the fish, zebra and snail had been.

“What’s that barking noise outside?” said Zanti. “It’s very high pitched for a dog.” The insistent barking continued. Xavier looked out of the window.

“Zanti, you won’t believe this but there’s a zebra galloping up the street.” She jumped out of bed and saw her just as she rounded the corner at the end of their road. The barking and the clip of her hooves subsided.

“How can that be?” said Zanti.

Sweat was sliding down Xavier’s brow.

“Are you alright?” asked Zanti.

“I’m just a bit shaken. I think I’ll take a bath.”

In the bathroom the bath was already full to the brim with water. Skimming along its surface were five flying fish. They dipped and swooped and darted, flying several feet above the surface.

“Zanti, Zanti. Come and look at this!”

Zanti dashed into the bathroom. Her eyes widened.

“Quick. Open the window!”

One by one the fish escaped through the open window. The North Atlantic Ocean was beckoning.

“I just want a quiet bath,” said Xavier.

When he climbed in he could smell the saltiness of the water.

Zanti returned the breakfast tray to the kitchen. On the floor was a patch of green. At first she couldn’t quite make out what it was. Bending down she could hear licking and rasping sounds. It was a giant land snail eating a lettuce leaf. The fridge door was gaping open and the salad box had tipped onto the floor.

“At least I know it won’t fly or gallop off,” thought Zanti.

She went to her workroom and found a large plastic box. She picked up the snail and rested it on her hand, stroking the striped shell before carefully lifting it into the box and fastening the lid.

“Wasn’t my next-door neighbour talking about giant land snails the other day? Her son wants to keep one as a pet.” She would give it to him that evening.

Sightings of the zebra were reported in several parks in the area. She was cajoled into the local zoo where she gave birth to six babies and lived for thirty years.

Zanti’s next rug was a smaller affair. She stitched foxgloves and poppies and harebells. When the flowers had bloomed she collected their seed.

Chrissie Gittins lives in London. Her first short story collection is ‘Family Connections’ (Salt). Her second, ‘Between Here and Knitwear’ (Unthank Books), was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards and selected by Helen Dunmore as one of her top two 2015 collections. Her stories have been broadcast on BBCR4 and published in The Guardian, Fictive Dream, The London Magazine, Wales Arts Review, The Lampeter Review, Litro and Unthology 6.

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