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The flat square knot

We begin with a flat square knot.

But that’s not right, is it? We begin with the cloth – a small cloth, a square cloth, a cloth worn so thin that I have to guard it carefully. That old rag? Yes, I do need this old rag. I’ve got thicker cloths and more absorbent, better cloths in every way … but today I need this old rag.

Drape it over the pudding bowl, pull the fabric tight, and now, the twine. Let me tell you a secret about the twine. I used to put it on so carefully, right up under the rim of the bowl, snug under the overhang, enlisting my husband’s finger on the knot to be sure it could not slip, always wondering slightly that my mother could tie the knot alone. One year it clicked into place. The bowl tapers. Of course it does, any fool can see that, it’s a bowl. What that taper means, though, is that if you loop the twine around a little lower down, you don’t need to keep any tension on it whilst you tie the knot. It’s going to tension itself, in just a moment, so – tie the knot now, and pull the cloth taut.

And now the folds. No chaotic topknot, not now. I used to do that, once, almost in defiance. I’m calmer now, almost meditative as I fold the cloth. One corner all the way over, and now its opposite, all the way back. No need to tie this one, let it hang. Two corners left. Take them both and cross them over, a simple knot. Now bring back that corner you left to hang, draping it over your half tied knot, and finish tying the double knot – there. Neat and square and flat. As tidy as a hospital corner or as my mother’s laundry pile. It’s calming just to look at it, somehow.

But that’s not the end. I told you, we begin with the knot. Now we add our own touch. Two more lengths of twine, a single knot in their middle … a cross of twine … a cradle for the pudding, to lower it in to the water, to fish it out. No curses in this household, my household, no balancing the pudding on ladles, no scalding ourselves on cloths. The knot, that’s my mother’s, and it’s soothing and proper and right. But the cradle, that’s ours – and that matters too.

So I got this little notebook for Christmas, and decided it was strictly for flash. Started rather promisingly on Boxing Day with this, um, whatever it is. Not quite a story. Not quite the truth. But after all, flash for me is always all about exploring places I never meant to go.

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