My mother taught me the old arts—canning, painting, sewing, healing—but it was the tatting that spoke to me. Because of my name, people say, and maybe that is true. Maybe Mama knew who I would be before I was born.
Tatting is not tattoos. Folks come to my fair booth—Tatting by Tatiana—seeking a Cupid’s heart for a love that won’t last or a Semper Fi to remind them they once wanted to be a hero. Every now and then, some disappointed joker takes a doily and flips it like a pancake, then laughs like they are the very first person to disrespect my art this way. I don’t engage. You can’t unfool a fool.
Tatting is a useless craft in these modern times, but tell that to my fingers when they find a rhythm with a needle and a length of twine. There’s already plenty of broken hearts and sad heroes in this world. Not enough patience and delicacy.
My sister married a tattooed man: roses, stars and the moon, a mermaid on his bicep and a scorpion on his shoulder. None of his tats are about love or war; that would require thought, and I believe he is allergic to thinking. When he tries it, his face scrunches up like this is a hard, unaccustomed task.
It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to punch a person, and he does that to my sister regularly. What he doesn’t do so regularly is pay his electric bill, so Sister calls me—again—because they need a little help this month. The way her voice wobbles makes my insides go cold.
“Come down here, we can go to the bank together,” I say.
“I can’t. Stupid me, I locked my keys in the car,” she says.
He did this before, locked her keys in the car so she could not get away. The cold turns to ice. The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she decides to leave.
“I’ll drive right up,” I say.
I grab my medicine bag. There is dew on the ground, and the sun catches spiderwebs over my grass. I pick up a stick and gather some, poking the middle and twirling to catch all the strands. If there is a spider in the web, I leave it alone. We’re both weavers, and I try not to harm those like me.
I drive up the mountain and find Sister on the porch with Runner at her feet, and my body loosens with relief. The worst times are when the house is eerie quiet and the dog is cowering in the shade. Runner raises his head, but he doesn’t leave Sister’s side.
We hug. I am gentle. One of his tricks is to wallop her across the back, so her shirt will hide any mark.
“We’ll pay you back,” she says. “He’s got a line on a construction job near Raleigh.”
“Good,” I say. Maybe I have misjudged. Maybe they are simply short on cash. Maybe she really did stupidly lock her keys in her car.
The screen door opens, and he walks out. He glances at her car first thing.
“Morning,” I say.
“I told her not to bother you,” he says.
“It’s no bother!” I cry. “You know I got nothing important to do.”
He calls tatting my little hobby. He introduces me as his spinster sister-in-law. It irks me, but I will allow him to deprecate me—will do it to myself—if it saves my sister one beating.
He walks across the porch. Runner whines. He puts an arm around my sister. She stiffens, and he winces. Shoves her away so she stumbles onto the grass.
I want to jam one of my tatting needles in his eye.
He raises his arm. I see ink on his forearm. A heart.
“That’s new?” I ask. I don’t say, you can’t find money to pay your light bill but you can scrape it up to mark your body with some lie about true love?
I scrunch my face the way he does when he thinks. “That right edge is oozy. Could be infected. Let me get my bag.”
I walk to my car. My sister stays on the ground.
My stick of spider webs would heal that infection but the thing about learning to heal is you find out what is harmful, too.
I call up to them, “I need more webs. Let me look around back.”
It takes me a minute to find the funnel. They’re not rare, but you got to know what to look for. I speak to the spider as I gently wind its funnel into the webs on my stick. “Do me this favor,” I whisper. He’s fat, like he’s just eaten, and doesn’t move.
I get my tatting needles out of my bag and make a square out of the webs.
“He’s inside,” Sister tells me when I get back up front.
“Get in my car,” I tell her.
She does it.
Inside, I bless the darkness. He’s sitting in a recliner facing a silent TV. I pull out a bottle of whiskey from my bag. In the square of webs, the spider’s legs start to move.
I say, “This’ll sting, then it’ll go numb. That means the poultice is working. If that infection takes hold, you could lose your arm. You got to power through the pain. That whiskey should help. Okay?”
He says okay. I place the web square on his arm, and wrap a loose bandage of gauze around it. He’s already picking up the whiskey.
I am on the second step of the porch when I hear him yelp.
I say, “Come on, Runner,” and the dog bounces up and lopes to the car. Sister opens her door for him. We head down the mountain, and I thank Mama every mile we drive away.
Ramona DeFelice Long writes short fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, and personal essays about women, family and culture, and the foibles and quirks of everyday life. Her work has appeared in numerous literary and regional publications, and she is happiest on retreat, at a residency, or sharing stories at open mics. She is a transplanted Southerner living in Delaware.