From left to right, and from top to bottom, the badges on Samantha’s sash will represent: Athletics, Bugling, Camping, Canoeing, Citizenship in the Community, Communications, Crime Prevention, Cycling, Family Life, Farm Mechanics, Hiking, Indian Lore, Journalism, Life Saving, Oceanography, Small-Boat Sailing, Swimming, and Woodwork. Each small cloth circle is brightly illustrated with terribly symbolic clip art of exactly the same size, regardless how difficult each had been to obtain. The will hand across her small ribs on a background of nauseous green for a couple years, then be discarded in one of a thousand brown boxes marked with felt tipped pen. There are no badges for the skills which David believes to be truly essential to survival. If his own life has been of any indication, he fears his daughter will face challenges which cannot be overcome through shrewd sailing and a sharp bugle blast.
He pricks himself again, and another bloom of red rises to fill the whorl of his index finger. It is stained iron brown from the constant barrage. Instinctively, he buries the finger between his gums and the inside of his cheek and nurses the sting. The tang of blood registers briefly, but is washed away with spit and profanity. David surveys his work – ten patches haphazardly affixed with jagged stitches and woebegone knots. On the table, eight more and the tangled mess of a sewing kit. The hour burns behind his eyes.
Sewing is not a particularly difficult concept, but now seems paramount to his success or failure as a father. He understands the mechanics of needle and thread, and their importance in his daily life. Still, the gulf between understanding and practice has never been wider. His hands are too thick, and his fingers too rigid. The thread snaps, time and time again, from his impatient yanks and tugs. Until now, this duty had been subsidized within his life. It had passed seamlessly from his mother, through a progression of girlfriends, and finally to Cyn, whose fingers are a wonder. Almost all his daughter’s clothes carry Cyn’s stitches in places, although she is growing and the handiwork will soon disappear and be replaced by factory seams pulled together by machines or children in Asia.
David picks up Farm Mechanics and threads the needle once more before plunging it into the sash. His hands move slowly now, with the intentional caution of a beaten dog. Up and down, he anchors the patch, stopping only once to wipe another drop of blood on his pants. Upstairs, the floors creak – she is awake. Small padding footsteps trace her movement from her bedroom to his, then again to the stairs where he feels her large green eyes through the banister.
In the eight months since Cyn took off, his life has felt like a mixture between a reality television show and a fish bowl. He is always being watched, appraised, and questioned. Samantha – who in the past had been more interested in bugs, and outer space, and colorful documentaries about dinosaurs – had turned her full attention to David. His daily routines have become subject to intense scrutiny. His trips the grocery store hold secretive insight into the workings of his mind. Even their time together at Scout meetings have become a performance for her – her with the green eyes who believes her father can do no wrong, but has perhaps been wronged by the world. He chooses his words carefully, smiles when necessary, and takes up sewing for the first time in his life.
His back to her, David continues to sew. Each stitch is at odds with the one before it, creating a series of uneven caesuras around the border of the green tractor and industrious farmer. It is a silent symphony in thread – a sad soundtrack of reluctant bachelorhood and partial orphanry. The thread available to him dwindles until at last, the last stitch reaches the first and the circle is closed. He secures one knot, then another, and cuts loose the needle. He envies her curiosity; like him, she does not know where or how this grand experiment in domesticity will end, yet she is confident he may hold the answers she seeks. So, she will continue to watch, and he will cook. He will clean. He will wrap his calloused (now bloody) hand around hers and lead her into the unknown. But for now, he must sew.
Without looking, he knows Sam has returned to bed, her observations completed and logged for the night. He reaches for another patch and hopes she doesn’t notice the blood-stained farmer or the missing buttons on his shirt.