Sofie loved the scarf. Ever since she was little-little, but big enough to open the cedar chest at the foot of the bed, she’d steal it out, drape herself in it, and slip down the hall to Grandpa’s room while Mom was watching TV or making dinner.
“What’s this day,” she’d say, and point to a bright line of color.
Grandpa would look at the knitting, holding it in hands more gnarled and arthritic than the ones he’d held the needles in, back in what he always called “those days,” referring to a mental chart.
“Well, that was in the middle of a run of cold weather,” he’d say, showing her the graduated blues and greys. He’d knit a line a day back then, or sometimes three or four lines, if he’d been guiding a particularly long trip, referring to the thermometer to decide what color to knit that day. “So that must have been February. We had a group in from Kentucky, and they’d never seen temperatures like that. Wasted the first day of the trip going back into Moab to get them all socks and mittens; they never would have made it through the canyons without losing a toe or two. But they held up all right once we got their gear set. There was a girl not much younger than you…” and he’d be off on a story, scarf forgotten, dangling from his fingertips to wrap around Sofie’s waist, neck, arms, the way his words wrapped her up.
Grandpa had knitted her baby blanket, of course, and her school sweater, before his hands stopped working well enough to hold the needles. But Sofie loved the scarf the best. Grandpa hadn’t been knitting for long when he made it, and it showed: the edges weren’t quite straight, and the stitches were loose and fragile. Except in one color.
“What are the black rows?” Sofie would ask, and “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Grandpa would reply, and the story would be over, and Sofie would take the scarf back to her room, puzzling over the neat stitches knitted so tightly they were nearly hard to the touch.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Grandpa said when she was ten, double-digits and surely old enough to know the secret. Sofie took the scarf back to the chest, curling it around the teddy bear she had definitely outgrown last year.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Grandpa laughed, as Sofie brandished her driver’s permit at him. She sat on the corner of the bed, digging her fingers into the lace of an afghan he’d made when he was twice her age, for the grandmother she’d never met.
“You’re looking good today,” Sofie said, sitting at the edge of his hospital bed. She’d been crying, and trying not to, and blotting her eyes with the scarf. It was too rough for handkerchief duty, and her cheeks were raw and red. Grandpa reached for her hand, got a handful of garter stitch instead.
“You still have that old scarf, huh?” His laugh was rusty. “Did I tell you about the year I made it? I was working at Canyonlands, half park ranger and half tour guide, in the best park in the States.”
“Once or twice,” Sofie said. She was never sure anymore how much to remind him he’d already said.
“I used to knit a row a day,” he told her. “Every night I’d look at the weather report at the station, and I’d know what color to knit. Except on days when it stormed. I wouldn’t go out of my cabin, those days, I was so scared. I’d just hold onto that old scarf and knit a prayer for safety into every stitch. Couldn’t even drag myself out to look at the thermometer, so I’d knit those days in black. Always meant to go back and replace em, but I guess I won’t get the chance now, huh?”
“I’ll take care of it, Grandpa.” Sofie held his hand. In the bag between her ankles her own first scarf lay coiled, its uneven edges like lightning. “I’m old enough.”