“The Darning Needles” by Diane Hoover Bechtler

Darning Needles
Illustration by Morgan Maurer, 2011

When a marriage fails, people eventually begin saying, “It’s time for you to move on.”

Why do they say that? A marriage is not a building to be vacated. I don’t want to move on. Why would I? Does Nessie want to leave his loch? Was Dorothy really happy when she returned to Kansas or in her sleep did she mumble, “There’s no place like Oz, there’s no place like Oz”?


I don’t know how to mend things. A hole has appeared in my favorite cashmere sweater – the one he bought me from a boutique we discovered in Rome while we ambled through the warren of streets at the bottom of the Spanish steps. We were happily lost most of that day until we stumbled upon the familiar Trevi fountain.

We each made a wish and tossed coins into its water, thus assuring our return to Rome. I don’t know if the legend means we return together or apart. Perhaps the legend doesn’t know. I certainly don’t. After tossing the coins, we skipped away, laughing and holding our stuffed shopping bags, the sweater nestled in one.

I rummaged through a small sewing kit given to me years ago by a flight attendant–needles, some thread, and a couple of clear buttons. I didn’t remember sewing supplies in my condo. My subconscious must have packed it away. The job of mending the hole needed something more than a plain sewing needle. I thought of my vintage darning needles. I pulled them from the vitrine and tried to remember how to darn. I could not remember. I went back to my plain steel needle. I connected the ragged edges of the hole, but they didn’t fit neatly together. The result was an ugly knot.

A woman at the alteration shop clicked long blue fingernails on white speckled Formica and examined the garment.

She said, “Honey, that thing will have to be rewove. I imagine it will cost you a couple hundred bucks. Maybe more. If you don’t want it sewed like you got it, you best throw it away. Go buy a new one.”

I wanted to protest, “This is a piece of my history. It’s not from the local department store. It’s from Italy, a country I may never see again despite throwing coins in fountains.”

But I said nothing. I just left and took the sweater home, folded it sleeves-inward, wrapped it in tissue, and cradled it in the bag for Goodwill. Another woman may not care about the damage. For me the hole is so large that I fall through it into an alien and hostile world, where teapots break in poorly packed boxes, tiles drop from walls, and where I reach for a familiar cup and it isn’t there.

As we divided personal property, my last months with my husband blurred. Summer came and I signed papers giving him the New York apartment. Flowers faded. I sold my vintage Mercedes. Halloween happened. I gave him the airplane. Leaves turned red and gold. I gathered my personal things from the vacation house. Thanksgiving arrived. I shopped for condos. Christmas came. My husband ran off with the Ferrari and Tina. Isn’t there always a Tina or Dixie or Trixie? A snowstorm hit. I moved during it. I measured time by gas and frost. The act of packing my art collection has vanished from my mind. I can’t recall the first time I saw my new condo or picking out the counter tops and carpet. I talked to Mel, my therapist, because it was strange that I couldn’t remember the last weeks I spent with my husband, a man I adored.

Mel explained, “It’s called the ‘battered child syndrome.’ “A part of you knew whatever was coming was going to hurt really bad.” As he talked, his jaw clenched and he chewed his words. “For self-preservation, your mind went somewhere else. Your brain shut down.”

I shook my head, “But my brain shouldn’t have had to go away. He and I shouldn’t be apart.”

On the many trips between the house that now belonged to only my husband and the condo that belonged only to me, I passed the same woman.

She stood on a corner holding a cardboard sign that has become too common. In block letters, it said, homeless, hungry, need work, need food, have children. After a few days of passing time and time again, I stopped seeing her. She was just another landmark.

I remembered the sweater. I rolled down my window and handed her the sweater and a twenty.

The darning needles were from my grandmother and my childhood. She taught me how to darn, a skill that has fallen out of fashion. It is easier to throw things away and buy new ones.

I also have my grandmother’s pedal sewing machine. Because I could not mend the sweater I sewed a sackcloth robe to wear while I sit in ashes.



Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, Michael Gross who is a poet with a day job and with their cat, Call Me IshMeow. As well as writing short work, she is working on a novel about a likable character who strives against great odds to achieve a worthwhile goal. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Queens University where she graduated summa cum laude and subsequently earned her MFA. She has had short work published in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Thema Literary Journal, Everyday Fiction, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

Read an interview with Diane here.