Daisychains of Silence by Catherine MacLeod
I have been waiting for Catherine to publish her exquisitely crafted novel and I'm delighted to announce that, for a limited period, it is obtainable on Amazon Kindle UK and Amazon Kindle U.S.
This genre-crossing tale is astonishingly captivating – but don't just take my word for it. In July 2011, HarperCollins wrote:
"The narrative of ‘Daisychains’ is rich with imagery of the Scottish Highlands and the motif of needlework, both of which give it a fresh and unique feel: this did not feel like a novel I have read before, which is a great start as far as grabbing an editor’s attention goes..."
So, why not treat yourself or a loved one to a copy while it's at an introductory price; I promise you this; you'll be hearing more from this bright new novelist.
Below, is a sample of the story, which explores the bonds of friendship and the ties between mother and daughter, father and lover. Mostly though, Daisy’s story is about trust.
Memory lifts its protective folds when the unexpected happens.
The bits you can’t see, they’re the bits that made her beautiful.
Memories rush in, turn her brain to slush.
A snowflake, landing …
Daisy is laying out embroidery threads in systematic rows according to colour, shade and depth, cloaking the table with gleaming silks. An inch of pale oak separates each block of colour. The table’s now a luminous patchwork, vivid in the shabby room.
Her mother, still agile, is kneeling on the floor under the standard lamp. She has an enormous pair of pinking shears clutched in one hand, the other supports her hunched body. She’s trying to smooth ripples from a swathe of fabric spread out across the rug. Soft cotton-lawn pyjamas, faded now; crisp floral skirts long since outgrown; the fronts and backs and sleeves of her dead husband’s well-worn shirts. She’s going to cut triangles, rectangles, squares and diamonds, all by eye.
Ellen does not cut curves. She was, it was said, a very sharp woman. The overall design and pattern of her cloth is achieved by the precise arrangement of geometric shapes. If a curve is required, she overlaps the sliced material (which only adds substance to the quilting) to create the clever illusion of a gradual arc. She can’t draw a likeness with pencil or paint but works coloured threads and fabric expertly by hand, connecting off-cuts from long-discarded garments, re-writing history with tiny stitches, weaving their story into something to be cherished. Something that is both decorative and unique: an heirloom.
They work silently, concentrating on their tasks. Daisy, the daughter, wants to be only that – her mother’s daughter – at this moment, on this day. Today she’s seeking a return to something she has lost. The stillness is comforting to them both, the only sounds the steady, familiar rasp of the scissors’ rhythmic action, the soothing hiss and crackle of the Rayburn stove. Its humid warmth envelops them as it permeates the room.
Daisy sits back to gaze at the array of threads, bright blocks of colour spread across the table. Lulled by the gentle sounds and the tweedy scent of apple-smoke hanging in the air, she’s mesmerised by the canvas before her, all conscious thought suspended. Prisms of colour bend her focus; her fingers play over the skeins, drawn to them in a way she had not anticipated. A log settles in the Rayburn, jolts her out of her trance. She settles on three toning shades of crimson, tucks them swiftly up her sleeve.
She casts a fleeting glance towards her mother, rises and pads across the worn flagstones to the door at the far corner of the room. With a finger on the snib to silence it, she shuts the door behind her and tiptoes up to her bedroom. It’s not really her room. She’s never thought of it as her room, just the place where she used to stay, here, at her mother’s house. Now, because it alone feels unchanged in her life, it seems more familiar to her than any other room, anywhere.
The bed could remind her of school, but the quilt – chequered with brilliant azure and blues from duck-egg to clear turquoise, trellis-stitched with hundreds of deep blue diamond-shaped pillows – removes any association the bed’s cold iron frame might have. She wonders if her mother knows how fashionable the room is now, its walls lined with overblown roses, the original time-darkened boards scattered with well-worn rugs.
A pine chest sits under the sloping planes of the window recess, the same pine chest that stood in her bedroom through all the years of her childhood. On it stands an old French mirror framed by ornate gilding, now chipped and flaking. Beneath it is an embroidered linen cloth.
Daisy opens one of the small drawers, pulls it fully out until it meets the stop. She bends her wrist upwards, stretches her fingers towards the back; feels for the tapestry needle and the small pair of needlework scissors stuck to the underside of the top of the chest with sticky tape, hidden years before. They’re still there, as she knew they would be.
With the scissors dangling from her pinkie and the needle clamped between her teeth, Daisy lifts the mirror onto the rug where a slice of daylight hits the floor. She lays the scissors and the three skeins of silk in front of the central frame. The crimson portal, reflected in the mirror’s three enclosing sides, flickers darkly at the edge of her awareness.
She goes to the bed, tugs at the quilt; drags it across the boards to the brightest spot in the room and sits down in the middle of the shimmering silk. She stretches her arms across its width to smooth its crumpled folds, reaches for the farthest corners of the quilt and pulls them towards her, draping herself in comfort. Then she pats down the sides till she’s inside a cosy envelope.
She loosens her grip on the needle, slides it from her mouth and lays it carefully on the platform of silk tenting across her knees. She tucks her hair behind her ears in a swift unconscious movement and shifts forward to the mirror. She peers at her image; sighs, deeply.
And one by one she begins to remove her piercings.
A tiny diamond stud to the right above her top lip slips out easily, glitters bright against the azure sea. From the centre just beneath her bottom lip she removes a sky-blue Ceylon sapphire and places it within a trellised pillow next to the diamond on the quilted table-top.
She selects the darkest shade of crimson thread from the silks on the floor at her side and, taking care not to unravel the skein from its paper enclosure, separates a single strand about ten inches long (six diamond shapes). She cuts it cleanly with the scissors, ties a knot at its end with a flick of one practised hand before passing the silk between her lips, to moisten it. Her face, pale and grave in the mottled silvering, looks out as she guides the filament through the needle’s tiny eye. She glances at her image, sees that she is ready.
Twenty-five years ago it required persistence – a certain reflexive stopping of breath – and intense concentration. It took three months to pass through the stages of pain and misplaced punctures as she tried out patterns learned through years of stitching tray-cloths. She had her mother’s eye though, and the same dextrous fingers.
She is at first hesitant – decades have passed – and her chest’s already in knots. There’s a trace of indentation at each forgotten puncture to guide her but as she nudges the needle against her skin she’s disturbed to discover her scar seems to have little memory of the ritual; does not at first reveal the ghost-smile on her face, is not yielding to the needle despite her determined prodding.
Back then she’d started with French knots as a foundation for the decoration to come, now she’s impatient, ignores pinpricks of blood; determinedly pokes until the needle breaks through where the skin has closed over.
The truth is she can’t remember exactly how to do the lazy-daisy stitches and the effect won’t be the same without the French knots, but as she weaves the thread through the tiny holes her blood starts to prickle, begins to sparkle lightly in her veins. She sits for a moment, waiting.
Then it comes … tingles flood her body … blankness fills her mind, her breath stops and suddenly she’s away, weaving the needle in and out: rhythm and rhyme, counting time; eyes shut, stitch and cut. Shut up. The pattern has vanished from her memory but it no longer matters.
When it’s done she hunkers back, breath calm, stillness close. Her eyes lift to the mottled glass, to the sad reminder of another self; see nothing to admire in handiwork that wobbles like uneven blanket stitch over the dry skin of her lips. Her tired face doesn’t help – she’d been young then, her skin plump and bouncy. And it had been a sort of creative expression to sew up her mouth with flowers.
She stretches her lip to cut the thread inside her mouth but her image taunts her. Memories rush in, tears begin to slide; longed-for feeling floods her body and she cannot cry out.
She shuts her eyes and burrows under the quilt. Wrapped up by legs and arms and threads grazing knees, she curls inside herself in the dark, trembling, until it feels at last like she remembers.