The night was cold and grim; the night had been cold and grim for some time. Wind howled between the eaves and under the door, sending great clouds of dust tumbling into the fireplace. It was a night of storms. A night of felled trees and clouds across the moon.
And I was huddled by the fire, watching my mother sew a blanket.
My mother sewed blankets of all shapes and kinds. Great heavy things they were, made of wool and sturdy stitching, adorned with every pattern imaginable. She’d sewn blankets for farmers and greengrocers, for the lord and lady up in their big house on the hill, for grieving widows and expectant mothers; it was said that everyone in town bought a blanket from my mother eventually, and she never refused a request.
This one was small and square, no larger than my baby brother’s bed upstairs, made of the richest, deepest indigo wool I had ever seen.
“What’s it going to be, Mama?” I asked, enraptured. For my brother’s birth, my mother had sewn herself a blanket of coarse emerald wool, zigzagged with grey thread fences and soft white sheep. I’d taken it out once, as she slept, and laid it carefully across the bedroom floor, watched an eternity of green roll out ahead of me, as if I were a bird floating above the fields outside town.
That was when I had fallen in love with my mother’s work.
“A very special blanket,” she replied.
I stared down at the deep blue wool, spotted with the first haphazard points of multicoloured thread.
“Who for?” I asked, wide eyed.
“A birth,” said my mother, and refused to be drawn on the subject. She never liked to speak of her creations before they were done, as if doing so might steal some vital spark of character.
The rest of that week I watched my mother sew her blanket, watched it sprout a cacophony of glistening needlepoint stars-- some red, some yellow, some twinkling baby blue-- laid out across the wool in great intricate swirls. I watched as she added buttons, added twinkling sequins, until, like magic, the entire night sky appeared beneath her deft fingers, rendered in perfect cotton miniature.
I ran my hands over the pattern, feeling each bump and lump of that tiny woolen galaxy, and waited with bated breath to see who it was for.
Usually the blanket’s new owner would arrive on our doorstep, flushed pink with cold and the long walk through the woods. My mother would unroll the blanket, and they would coo and whisper, wide-eyed at its fine stitches and swirls.
But this time there was no knock, the star-blanket’s new owner never arrived at our door. Instead, I awoke one night to the sound of someone moving about downstairs.
Quiet as a mouse, I crept to the landing and watched my mother slip out into the night, the galaxy blanket bundled carefully under her arm.
Seized with a fierce curiosity, I slipped on my shoes, ran to the door, and hurried after her. Down the garden path, out onto the lane, then a sudden swerve right, into the forests surrounding our cottage. The night was darkest here, threaded with sudden chills and whispering shadows. Things rustled in the undergrowth, and I wondered how my mother could possibly know where she was going; without a path, without a light. How she would ever find her way back.
Suddenly the trees ahead of us opened up, revealing a tiny woodland glade, deep within the forest. Moonlight lanced between the branches. The night sky circled overhead, dotted with stars.
My mother paused here, her hair whipped by the wind, the bundle tucked safely under her arm. She didn’t see me, crouched there in the shadows, my eyes wide, my heart pounding, but I saw every movement she made. Her breath steaming in the air.
The darkness shifted, and out of the night on the opposite side of the clearing stepped a woman. Tall and stern and handsome, she stood as insubstantial as shadow; her hair as black as night, her eyes the colour of constellations. The darkness pooled around her shoulders, trailing off between the trees in a great black cloak.
It was as if all the stars in the sky had conspired to reform themselves here, in this little glade, for the benefit of my mother.
Carefully, my mother set the bundle down on the grass at the woman’s feet and bowed her head. The woman returned the gesture; slowly, sedately, like a queen. There was no fear on my mother’s face, no expression at all on the woman’s, but it was as if an understanding had passed between them; a deep, wordless gratitude.
Something snapped in the dark behind me, my mother’s head turned in my direction, and I bolted for home. As I hurried through the woods, I realised what else had struck me about the night-woman, twinkling with stars and washed with swirling nebulas; she was very obviously pregnant.
Back in my bed, waiting for the gentle tread of my mother returning home, I stared at the ceiling and wondered what a child of the night would look like. If it would wail with the howling winds, or cause shooting stars to fall with its tantrums. If it would look small and pink and helpless, like my baby brother, or as gossamer-silver as a moonbeam; barely human at all.
I was certain, however, that it would surely be cold up there. Colder than snow, cold than the coldest night, even under the brightest moon.
A child more in need of a blanket than anyone.
My mother sewed blankets for everyone. Rich or poor, desperate or decadent, God or mortal. Whoever asked, she provided. And she never refused a birth.
© Georgia Cook
Winning Story: Contest #10
The following stories are the Outright Winning Entries for the Monthly Short Story Contest
March 2020 onwards