Making Amends

For those outside the UK who asked, here is my story recently published in The People’s Friend.

These knitting needles had an agenda of their own. They were of a length my gran would have branded “pickle-stabbers” and Sandy used to say my ten thumbs weren’t safe in charge of a cocktail stick.

The memory of Sandy brought that hollow feeling at the base of my throat and a whisper of the old desolation at the thought of carrying on alone. But now I had something to carry on for. The past weeks had opened my eyes to things that still made life worthwhile.

I thought I was getting the hang of this knitting lark. The last row had grown smoothly and the stitches were more regular. I crammed them as far up the knitting needle as they would go and lifted it for inspection.

There seemed to be a line… running halfway down my work. Like a ladder in a nylon stocking. Investigating further, I found a dropped stitch that had been quietly working its way down.

Defeated, I pulled the stitches off the needle. It would be difficult to pick them up again, but I wasn’t equal to re-threading the dropped stich up through the rows. Either repair would be visible; I would have to begin again.


I tried to look on the bright side. Maybe this time the first few rows would match my later rows.

The doorbell rang and the dogs barked. I left the whole sorry mess on the chair and closed the lid of my laptop. On the doorstep was my neighbour, come to pick up her dog.

I’d offered to take Jake while Ellie was away at her daughter’s, helping with a new baby. I was sure the little fellow would be happier with the full attention of me and my old terrier, Pickle. And I was glad of the extra company. Dogs are less demanding than people.

“Ellie – how did it go? How’s the new grandson… come in and tell me all about it. Cup of tea? Or maybe a glass of wine?”

I was about ready for a glass of wine myself, or something stronger after my latest failure. Ellie followed me into the kitchen in and almost sat on my knitting needles.

“I didn’t know you could knit!”

She thought she was joking, and another visitor had left it.

“I don’t knit. I knot. You know I’m useless at anything handy.”

When it comes to any kind of DIY, I have trouble opening the toolbox. It was Ellie who had helped tame the wilderness that my garden was without Sandy. Any suggestion of green on my fingers would be mould rather than gardening skills.

So I expected mirth when I declared, “I’m learning to knit off the internet – another triump of hope over experience.”

She inspected the pattern print-out. “What brought this on?”

In spite of myself, I felt my grin widen. “Ah, well… Little did we know, when you went to your daughter’s, that you weren’t the only one expecting a grandson.” Ellie’s eyebrows rose. “Or granddaughter – they don’t know yet.”

“When’s it due?”

“November. I thought I’d have time to perhaps make something easy – like a little cot blanket. Just as a gesture, you know?”

Ellie knew that Sandy and I had fallen out with Mike, our son, and his partner, Laurel. At Sandy’s funeral, Mike had been devastated and blamed himself for staying away. But I could as easily have worked on Sandy as he could have persuaded Laurel to make up and mend. Neither of us expected the rift to last as long as it had, and we’d both opted for a quiet life, hoping hostilities would fade with time.

But not before a lurking blood clot found its way to Sandy’s brain when I wasn’t there to call 999.

Laurel didn’t come to the funeral, so I had no idea if she still sported the tongue stud and nose rings that had made Sandy shudder.

Ellie still sang in the choir that brought half the congregation to tears at the funeral. Sandy had sung with the same choir. Living next door, they had given each other lifts to rehearsals and become friends. Sandy helped Ellie to cope with her husband’s final months of cancer and the aftermath. I suppose Ellie wanted to return the favour.

Despite of my lack of encouragement – descending sometimes to downright rudeness – she dropped in regularly after Sandy’s death to remind me to eat and check that I’d fed Pickle. She tidied up when I couldn’t see the point of bothering, which shamed me, eventually, into doing it myself.

She was now reading the printed instructions. “This may call itself beginner level, but it looks ambitious for a first project.”

I was grateful for her tact.

“But I haven’t even got as far as the pattern. This is the most I’ve managed in three attempts. Either I drop stitches, or they escape from the end of the needle when I put it down.”

I didn’t mention Jake and Pickle’s contribution when I’d left it on the sofa.

“I might as well face reality and give up.”

What would I do with all this wool? Would they take it in the charity shop where we’d eventually taken Sandy’s clothes?

Ellie touched the lid of my laptop. “May I?”

I shrugged. “Go ahead. It’s logged in.”

She clattered away on the keyboard without looking at the keys. “Have you tried crochet?”

“Isn’t that harder?”

“Not at all. For a start, you only need one crochet hook. and you deal with one stitch at a time, so it’s easy to pick up again if you drop it. Or even if Pickle gets hold of it.”

Her eyes searched the screen as her fingers continued across the keyboard. I’d once taught myself to touch-type – almost. Even in retirement, there was never enough time to practice until my fingers remembered where to go.

She turned the laptop to face me. “How about one of these?”

Babies smiled from the screen, swaddled in fluffy blankets – some white, others multicoloured, and some in subtly graduated blends.

“These look complicated.”

“They’re really easy,” she said. “Especially if you only use one colour.” My wool was white, apart from the bit I’d re-wound three times. “You make up squares and sew them together. All you have to worry about is getting the squares the same size. Decide which you want to make, and I’ll give you a lesson. I have crochet hooks in most sizes.”

I was, understandably, sceptical. But she was right. Crochet was easier than knitting. The hardest part was starting off a square, but even that became easier after the first few. Ellie monitored progress and helped me join the squares, showing me the best way to catch the wool so the stitches would be invisible.


She was showing me how to add a border to the finished blanket when Mike rang again. Laurel was expecting a girl. They didn’t plan to find out before the birth, but a nurse let slip a “she” during the last scan and he was so keen to share the news.

I wished, yet again, that I’d done more to overcome Sandy’s objections to our darling boy throwing himself away on a “tattooed dropout”.

I could have tried harder to defuse the hostility to Laurel’s facial hardware and outspoken support of her causes. I should at least have kept in touch myself after Mike braved the storm of our opposition to move in with Laurel.

He assured me that Laurel had mellowed. They both regretted harbouring a grudge for so long.

“After all,” he said, “you’re the only grandparent this little girl will have,” and I realised he was worried I could pop my clogs as unexpectedly as Sandy had.

Suddenly, I felt old.

“We’ve more to tell you,” he said, “and we’d like to take you out for Sunday lunch if you’re free this weekend.”

“Perhaps next time,” I said. “Come here instead. Let’s get to know each other again. The three of us.”

“Are you sure?”

Mike clearly recalled the limits of my cookery repertoire, but when I insisted, he agreed. He didn’t consult Laurel.

What had I done?

I put down my phone and turned to Ellie.

“This is an almighty cheek, I know. Can I ask you to help me get a proper Sunday roast together without asking you to join us to eat it?”

“Of course.”

She understood perfectly, bless her.


The joint was in the oven when my phone rang. Mike’s name was on the screen.

“They aren’t coming,” I said to Ellie. “He didn’t tell her where they were going, and now she knows she doesn’t want to come.”

“Answer the phone,” said Ellie.

Mike was calling to ask if I’d prefer red or white wine and did I still like a glass of port with my blue cheese?

Cheese? I hadn’t thought of cheese.

“I don’t have any blue cheese. Only mousetrap.”

“We have,” he said, “and some gooey brie.”

When he rang off, I stood gazing through the kitchen window into the past. “I’d forgotten how Mike and Sandy used to enjoy a cheese board after a proper dinner.”

Ellie didn’t reply. I turned, and she wasn’t there.


She returned with a pack of water biscuits and some oaty ones.

The joint was resting when a car pulled up outside the house. Before I could confirm it was them, Ellie slipped out of the back door.

Around me, gravy was prepared, vegetables were ready to steam, and rhubarb crumble was warming in the oven under the roast potatoes.

In the kerfuffle of handing over coats and bottles and making a fuss of Pickle, I forgot to notice that Laurel’s studs and rings had gone – apart from the ones in her ears. I’d always found her tattoos attractive anyway; a stem of leaves inside one ankle, as if sprouting from the heel of her shoe, and a daisy chain circling an arm.

“Something smells good,” said Mike, and I remembered to light the gas under the veg. Laurel offered to help, so I asked her to open the wine and arrange the cheeses they’d brought.

Mike carved; I would have sliced off a thumb with the knife Ellie had sharpened.

“This meat is perfect. When did you learn to cook?”

I admitted I’d had some help and went to take the roast potatoes from the oven before he probed further.

In the pause between the roast and the rhubarb crumble I left them clearing the table and went to fetch the baby blanket, the last ends of which we’d sewn in the evening before.

“Here’s something I made for the baby.”


I busied myself finding bowls and putting the rhubarb crumble on the table with a jug of cream while Laurel unwrapped the tissue paper. When I finally raised my eyes from the table, Mike was staring as if I’d suddenly sprouted hair.

“Did you really make this, Dad? It’s… amazing.”

“That’s crochet, isn’t it?” said Laurel. “Can you teach me?”

“It is, but you don’t want me teaching you. I can put you on to a much better teacher.”

And suddenly I wanted to tell them about Ellie: her friendship with Sandy; her refusal to give up on me; her help with the crochet and the roast and the rhubarb crumble.

Then Mike wanted me to call and invite her in to thank her for looking after his dad.

“But before you invite her to share our cheese board, we have more news. We’ve decided to get married before the baby arrives. It will be a low-key affair, but we’d like you to be there.”

I said, “Try and keep me away. Your mum would have been pleased, you know. Eventually.”

Laurel said, “It’s my fault Mike didn’t get to see his mum again. I feel so guilty…”

I stopped her there. “No, we were the ones old enough to know better. Anyone for rhubarb crumble?”

“Not Mum’s rhubarb from the garden?”

“Yes, rhubarb from the garden. We have Ellie to thank for that too.”

“Then we must thank her now.” I reckoned he was just being nosy, but he insisted. “Give her a call, Dad. Bribe her with wine and port and good company. Would she like to come to our wedding, do you think?”


The People’s Friend made a few edits to the story for publication. Some were in the interests of fitting into the pages while others improved the flow, and have been incorporated into this version. Two of their changes I haven’t adopted.

One change was in the first paragraph, which read…

These knitting needles had an agenda of their own. They were of a length my gran would have branded “pickle-stabbers” and my wife used to say my ten thumbs weren’t safe in charge of a cocktail stick.

The second change I haven’t adopted was near the end.

When I finally raised my eyes from the table, Mike was staring in stunned silence as if I was someone he didn’t know.

I understand why this was changed, and I’m happy with it; People’s Friend know their readers better than I do. But – as, possibly, a different genre of reader – what do you think?

Did you find my original version confusing?

Do you prefer the story with the People’s Friend first paragraph as reproduced under the bottom pic?

Votes please…

16 thoughts on “Making Amends

  1. I’m sorry I didn’t buy the mag, Cathy but although I could have smuggled it out of the shop in a brown envelope, my wife would have asked awkward questions, when I got it home. A great story, you are a very talented writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I preferred your first paragraph, it kept the gender of the character in question throughout rather than revealing to the reader the gender immediately which I think made it more interesting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for coming to read it and for commentingl. I haven’t had time to contribute much to AOFFWC lately, but I still keep up with posts. It’s the busiest group I’m a member of.


      1. Mine too. I belong to a lot of groups and this one is the most active. It’s incredible! I had been a member of AOFFWC for over a year before I finally started getting involved. The admin really do go out of their way, don’t they?
        When Michael Rumsey asked if I wanted to host Monday Word for the month of June, I was so honored! I hope you participate this coming Monday. I’ll give you a sneak preview. The word will be ‘door’. Exciting, huh? You didn’t believe that, did you? 🤪

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved your version, Cathy, because I thought this was about a widow rather than a widower. I hate to say this, but I was stereotyping as I read the story. Of course, their version gives the games away straight away.

    I don’t read The People’s Friend, but your story captivated me. It’s not the kind of story I thought would interest me, but it seems I may be wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It was cosier than my usual, which is, I suppose, why I felt the need for a twist. But it’s reassuring to find that the magazine was happy with it without that (dare I say it ?) gimmick. Glad you liked it 🙂


  5. At first, as I read, I didn’t realize the story had started and since I don’t know your husband’s name, I thought, “Wow, this is super sad. Why didn’t she tell me?” In my defense, I just got up. But as I read, I realized it was the story of a widow. Then I realized it was not a widow. Either way, it’s a great story, Cathy. I think a little puzzle and surprise like that are okay, even fun, in a short story. I just finished The Bleak House, and it was confusing enough without trying to surprise the reader with gender changes. 🙂 BTW, a teen-aged boy taught me to knit when I was about 16. He broke his leg and couldn’t skate so he spent a lot of time knitting and he taught me to as well. I made my grandma some really awful mustard-colored slippers with no ties or anything to keep them on.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I bet she loved them anyway. People’s Friend obviously agreed with you, and I’m not complaining (since they bought it anyway). They know their readers better than I do.
    I can’t knit, for the reasons in the story; at some point I will drop a stitch and it’s ALWAYS visible, however I try to retrieve it. I learned to crochet when I was around 16, from a friend at school, but because I was watching her from an opposite chair, I do it kinda left-handedly. I find it soothing when watching TV and it stops my hand reaching too often for the Scotch at my side.
    But there are only so many throws and scarves you can find room for in your life… and the lives of your loved ones.


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