Perilous Adventures
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Olvar Wood Writers Retreat


The Afghan Hook

Theresa Layton

Aida wakes early to ticks ticks on the window. A giant wood moth flutters against the glass.

George's indifference to their anniversary has bothered her all night.  She adds it to a long list. Her case against him has built, slowly, in sedimentary layers.  This morning, as she wakes to their fiftieth wedding anniversary, the evidence has finally formed into something solid. 

She has decided to leave.

Aida neatens her quilt, pads into the kitchen, and notices three lorikeets on the clothesline chattering expectantly in green, orange and purple. She wonders why George hasn't fed them. 

As she leans forward and opens the window, she spots him collapsed and wriggling under a camellia bush.  His hand is stretched out to a lorikeet that walks pigeon-toed up and down, up and down, on the grass.  It pecks at George's blend of whiskey-soaked sunflower seeds spilt in the fall.  George makes tsk tsk noises, holds his hand out to the bird, but it's more interested in the seeds.
George hoists himself onto one elbow, sways for a moment and falls back to the grass. Turing away Aida fills the kettle. She pours the water, jiggles, squeezes, stirs. Finally sips.  She makes toast—butters, spreads and cuts neat soldiers.  One by one she eats them. Only then does she walk down the steps of the old Queenslander to the garden.

Since the stroke he's prone to falling, where he stands, crumpled. She looks down at him, square on.  The grass smells warm, mossy.  The lorikeet looks up at her, squawks and flaps up, slightly drunk, to the clothesline. Only when he brings himself to look her in the eye, accept the humiliation, does she slowly offer her hand. As he reaches for her wrist she thinks of pulling away, letting him fall back again. 

The warmth of his hand is surprising.

George's mouth remains tight as he rights himself.  Always tight.

"That's alright, George," she says, "anytime. Really, it was no trouble."

"It’s a low form of wit," he replies. "Suits you."

She stares at him."I'm going to leave you." Her voice is slow and quiet.

"Better do it soon." George looks at her straight on, deadpan.

There must be something more to say but Aida's words seem all used up. She tilts her head to one side and fiddles with a pair of dressmaking scissors in her pocket.


By late afternoon parsley and left-over sandwiches dry out under the dining room fan and a red 50 candle lies discarded on a paper plate.  In the kitchen, the siblings wash and dry dishes while their husbands and some of the grandchildren play totem tennis on the front lawn. The youngest two lie on the sofa, playing with a collection of small toys.

While Aida crochets, George listens to a small transistor radio.  He sits frowning and slightly bent, with his bad arm resting on a pillow. 

"Caitlin, come and sit with Nanna," says Aida, as the newsreader begins the headlines.

George turns up the volume.

"Grumpy old man, isn't he?" she whispers to the grandchildren with a wink.

George lifts the radio to his ear.

A strand of wool wriggles from Aida's afghan hook into a wicker box.  Caitlin, the youngest, puts down her Nintendo and worms in next to Aida.

"I'm not really crocheting…I'm actually fishing," Aida whispers. "Inside this magic box is a whole ocean filled with fish, sea anemones, and giant squid."

Caitlin looks at her, eyes wider than wide." Can I look in there?"

"It's dangerous in there. Maybe when you're older."

Caitlin tilts her head to one side. "Not as old as you though."

"Gosh no, not that old," says Aida, laughing. "Maybe when you are three."

"That's only two weeks." Caitlin shows two plump fingers and runs back to the sofa to tell her cousin.

The family leaves in a flurry of Tupperware, quick kisses and the sing song see-yous of the children. 

At 5pm exactly, George fumbles open the lid of an old film canister labelled Sunday pm and pours out an assemblage of coloured pills. They fall into the creases of his palm.   They look pretty: a kaleidoscope of old age. With one swallow of his whiskey they are gone.

"You're still here," he says.


They were married during the war.  Lucky to have a man at all, her sister had said. Her mother hadn't been so sure. "That man was born under a miserable sky," she'd warned, but Aida knew best.

There was no honeymoon, George thought it a waste.  Aida had agreed; it was 1943. They moved into a new fibro and tile home on a rare, scorching day in September. It felt like the first day of something exciting. They drank lemon cordial on upturned boxes and Aida chattered about what she might do to the house. 

George handed Aida an envelope.  On it was written Housekeeping in neat, tight loops.

"There'll be the same every week," he said.

She fingered the envelope. Opened it.  Pulled out notes.  It had seemed a lot of money at the time, though she would have preferred flowers.

He was absent a lot in those first years. Somehow, she knew not to ask. George never spoke of it.  "Nothing I can talk of," he said, "war business".   It was a matter of family shame that he never left Australia, never saw active duty, never put his body on the line. And George never explained himself.

When the war ended, the unexplained trips grew less frequent until he took a job with a firm that made laundry detergent, something in accounts. "Those clothes are bright," he'd say over dinner.

"Yes," she'd reply and offer more gravy.

The laundry powder, of which Aida had an endless supply, was cheap, waxy and smelled slightly of fish.

It seemed there was money in detergent. George bought them bigger and bigger houses and they moved closer to the river, closer to the city. It was hard to complain.

With each child, the housekeeping envelope got slightly thicker, and as Lucy, Joan and then Francis left home, one by one, the envelope shrunk again. Every Friday it was there, on her dresser, always just enough. Just.


The next morning George is in from the garden by the time Aida gets up. His shoulders lean over the Courier Mail.  He moves a giant magnifying glass over the text; he's reduced to the headlines these days. The blindness creeps like a solar eclipse. It is surprising how quickly the shade comes.

Aida takes her tea and a scotch finger into the sunroom where she hooks on in 8ply.

She calls Betty.  The words tumble out fast. "I've had enough," Aida finally says. "I think I want to leave." The stiches fall off the afghan hook.

Betty says she understands, she knows. "You will come and stay with me," she says.

"That man", adds Betty, "always had a great talent for misery and small talent for marriage."

Aida fingers the tube that is becoming a giant woollen squid for Caitlin and wonders how many tentacles it will need.


After a restless night, Aida does 40 miles per hour on Fig Tree Pocket Road and hooks left into Clayton Ave. Her spotted hands grasp at the top of the wheel and her sun-browned face cranes to see over the bonnet despite a foam cushion. The speedometer on her 1957 Fiat hits 40mph for the first time in years.

She picks up Betty on the way. Betty lost her licence five years ago. So did Aida.

"Fifty years to that man!" Aida says, leaning forward and failing to slow down at a give-way sign, "fifty years."

"Fifty is a long time," says Betty.

"I hope he collapses in the cactus," says Aida."I just might not be there to pick him up," she adds. The speed feeds good.

"Not might not," says Betty, "will not!" And she nods and thumps her handbag to make the point.

After the supermarket, Aida and Betty emerge slightly bruised and blink, bewildered, into the car park.

A man is hovering around the Fiat, walking around it. He is middle aged and a bit tatty.

"Nice wheels," he says as they approach. "It's the condition I'm impressed by…I'm guessing one owner."

"Yes," replies Aida, "not a scratch.  And the inside…well…"

Aida, Betty and the man peer into the car where purple, cream and pink crochet squares cover the steering wheel, gear stick, rear mirror stem, floor mats, dashboard, indicator stick, headrests, front seats, back seats, parcel shelf.

"All your work?" he asks.

"She did every stitch," says Betty proudly.

"I'd give you good money," he says. "Call me if you're interested." He presses a business card into Aida's hand.  Aida's ears flush. 

"How thrilling," says Betty as they pull out of the car park.

Aida might do with a new zippy red car like her granddaughter.

As she drives Betty home she calculates how many housekeeping envelopes she’s received in fifty years of marriage.  The number is sobering.


Two days pass and the weekly envelope appears. It sits neatly on the dresser.  His handwriting is shaky and old but still mean.  
Loop, hook, drop.

A red tropical fish takes shape at the end of her hook.

She imagines herself walking out with nothing but the crochet box. Maybe the box and the photo albums.  Maybe the box and the photo albums and a small suitcase. Her life in the boot of the Fiat.  Or the new red car.

The idea of leaving George is moving into her muscles, into her bones.

She looks around the room. She will sell things.  All his things.  All the things that have meant nothing to her and something to him. His stamps first.

She grabs his stamp albums, puts them in the bottom of her bag and, as she walks past the dresser, she pushes at the envelope with her hand.  Makes sure it doesn't sit quite so parallel to the table. 


At Doug Sholl's Stamps and Coins, a man, who looks a bit like her son, peers over the stamps. "Where did you get these?" he asks, opening the first album.

Betty places her had over the plastic pages. "Firstly," she says, "are you Douglas Sholl?"  Betty pushes her glasses up with her ring finger.

"Present and accounted for."  He smiles.

"Right," says Betty. "They belonged to her late husband and we need a valuation."

"I'm sorry," he says, looking at Aida.

"Thank you," Aida replies. The gap between his front teeth seems honest.

"You'll need to leave them with me. A week. I'll give you a receipt."

Aida nods. A week. George's glaucoma is on her side. He mostly prefers television these days.

As they leave Betty squeezes Aida's arm. "How thrilling," says Betty.

"You're a good liar," says Aida.

"Of course I am; I was married 46 years."

Aida laughs.  Things always seem possible around Betty.


The valuation comes in.  The numbers are big.  Betty and Aida pore over Doug's neat columns at Liz's Diner. The albums sit between Aida and Betty, leaving nowhere to put the tea and carrot cake when it comes.

Aida scrapes back her chair.  The feeling of anger is not entirely unexpected but the sense of shame is so unsettling that she finds it hard to say anything.  She hears herself snapping. "Well. That is just impossible!" Wanting to get away from the humiliation of his wealth in the light of her weekly scrapings, of being his housekeeper, of being part of something so lowly.  She walks quickly towards the Fiat, leaving Betty starting after her.


George is out at the Club. Aida lays out the albums and hunts for the stamps.  Doug has marked pages with post-it notes, little yellow flags flap beside the most valuable stamps. She pulls them out, one by one, with her bathroom tweezers, and places them on a piece of blue airmail paper.

She scrutinises them, pauses to take in their colours and shapes.  Such strange little paintings. Presently, she takes out her small scissors.

She opens and closes them in the air, finds their snip satisfying. Then she cuts a vague replica, matching rough colours from the pile of junk mail next to her.  She cuts each forgery to size and places it in the little empty space in the album.

In the heat, her upper lip beads and she turns on the overhead fan.

The stamps flutter off the table and float to the carpet. Butterflies out of the net. It takes her half an hour to find the final stamp pressed up against the foot of a lamp.  She examines it; a small, faded kangaroo marked two pounds. It's worth more than a year's housekeeping.  She replaces it with a replica cut from a local tradesman advertising gutter cleaning at best mates rates.  The match is good. Good enough.

She cuts and replaces. After two hours she stares at her handiwork. 

She places the real stamps into an envelope in the crochet box, under the squid and half-finished tropical fish.  The albums sit back on the shelf and look down at her as though nothing has happened.

By the time George comes home from the clubhouse, his mood dark and drunk, Aida is in bed. She stares at the ceiling and feels as though she has stepped into another world.


Every few days Betty and Aida visit Doug Scholl after the shopping.  Finally, the first stamp sells. 

"We got a great price," Doug says.  "There was an American bidding on the phone.  Pushed the price right up. Did us a great favour! Ta da.” He puts a cheque on the counter with a flourish.

"But I wanted cash," Aida says. She has no bank account for the cheque. She knows she sounds ungrateful.

"I can cash it," soothes Betty. 

Aida smiles apologetically at Doug. 

"Next instalments in cash," says Doug. He gives her a wink.

All the way home she can't shake the feeling that she is making a mess of it all. 


As she comes up the stairs, George is at the dining room table leaning over his stamp albums. She freezes.  What were the chances? The cash-filled handbag swings on the crook of her arm. Her breathing is fast, shallow, she watches and races with what ifs….

He leafs through the albums but isn't really looking; his fingertips tease memories from the familiarity of the pages.  The magnifying glass lies on the table next to him. He stares into the distance, sighs, and tenderly and places his good hand on top of the albums.  Just like Doug Sholl did.

Her breathing slows.Aida takes the final two stairs, walks past him into the kitchen. "Cuppa, George?"

"Too bloody hot," he grumbles.

He's right but Aida boils the kettle anyway.


Blue sea anemones tangle across her lap in the afternoon sun as she sips her tea.  She is out of wool. 
Late in the afternoon she joins George in the sitting room and settles into the well-worn green corduroy of her chair.  George watches the TV while Aida flicks through Crochet! magazine.

She expects to feel plump with revenge, warm at the thrill of the cash and the idea of escaping. but in the late afternoon her decision to leave, which feels so solid during the day, becomes fragile. 

George gets up, pours two whiskeys and feeds the parrots. As the early news begins he places Aida's whiskey on a blue crocheted coaster and, with a shaky hand, places her pill box next to it.  

"Down the hatch," he says.

Outside, parrots flutter slightly drunk into the windows. Aida begins to feel a little warm.  Perhaps it's just the Whisky.
She begins to knit a starting chain. Inside the wicker box at her feet, sea creatures float beside balls of wool and remnants in snap-lock bags.  Underneath that are old copies of Crochet! and below them fat envelopes, each filled with cash from the sale of the first stamp. Each envelope is marked in Aida's hand and reads Housekeeping.

While George drops into sleep open mouthed and wet lipped, Aida closes her eyes and begins to crochet. She imagines a tropical sea where seaweed drifts weightless and fish dart between corals. Stiches fall off the afghan hook in blue-green seaweed strands.
After a while she pauses, opens her eyes, looks down.  The stiches are flawed, dropped, uneven and the seaweed pulses wide then thin then wide again.  She should pull out the hook and let the stiches unravel, start again. But it's late and she is tired.  Instead she ties off, pulls the knot tight and cuts the wool.  George stirs and settles again.

As she fingers the seaweed a single thread comes loose, goes its own way. She takes out a yarn needle and weaves it back into the seaweed invisibly binding it to the hundreds of stitches that went before. Then she places it in the wicker box.

About the Author

Theresa LaytonTheresa Layton's writing reflects her fascination with people's dark places and the grey world between right and wrong.

She began her creative writing journey six years ago with Kathy Kituai, an Australian poet and author, and has twice attended the Taos Writer's Conference where she studied with writers including Sean Murphy, Daniel Mueller and Jesse Lee Kercheval.

She is a compulsive observer of people who constantly scribbles conversations and gestures on scraps of paper.



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