Gloria is surrounded by dozens of crochet rabbits and ducks. In fact, sitting like she is, slumped squashily on the sofa, a tote bag of wool at her feet, tangles of yarn on her lap, a pair of needles all-angles in her hands, it’s hard to resist the idea I’ve just walked in on a woman who’s busy crocheting herself.
The rabbits and ducks all have the same malevolent, lopsided expression. In fact, the only difference between them is that the rabbits have ears and the ducks have beaks; the rabbits have waistcoats and the ducks a bonnet and pinny. There are rows and rows and rows of these things, in little polythene body bags, ready to go (who knows where); piles of them waiting to be dressed; piles of crochet skins waiting to be stuffed.
The rest of the room is subordinated to the manufacture of the rabbits and ducks, everything pushed to the side, piled-up, on the table and shelves and the arms of the sofa and chairs. And whilst it was obvious the place represented a significant trip-hazard, at least you’d have to admit you’d be guaranteed a soft landing.
‘Wha’d’ya think?’ says Gloria, waggling the current rabbit in the air.
‘He’s so cute!’ I say.
‘I like to keep busy,’ she says, jabbing it through the heart with a needle. ‘Now, then. How can I help?’
I’m finishing writing up my notes.
‘Do you have any children?’ says Gloria.
‘Two girls. Both grown up now. One’s away at university. The other’s just about to do her GCSEs’
‘We’re very lucky.’
‘Here…’ she says, reaching to her side. She pulls out a bagged duck and rabbit.
‘Oh…no! That’s very kind of you, Gloria, but I couldn’t possibly…’
‘Go on! As a little thankyou. I’m sure your girls would love them…’
I wonder if she’s misunderstood how old the girls are – but I hesitate to put her straight. She looks so happy to be giving away the dolls. The thing is, the dolls aren’t that great. I lied when I said they were cute. Whilst the rabbit looks furious with the world, the duck looks positively vengeful. Even as an ironic knitwear animal they just don’t make the cut. Also, they have the same musty smell as the room. You’d have to run them through a vat of cleaning products to get them anywhere near to the point where you could safely handle them without surgical gloves, which wouldn’t improve their expression. So it’s not as if I could pass them on to anyone else. Charity shops aren’t accepting donations. And even if they were, the rabbit and the duck would sit on the shelves for months quietly hating the customers before discreetly disappearing one morning. So all in all, I’d rather not take them.
‘I’m sorry, Gloria, but we’re strictly forbidden to accept gifts,’ I say, shrugging and smiling as if this is the worst thing that ever happened to me, because ordinarily, of course, I’d leap at the chance of taking these crochet horrors home.
‘I insist!’ says Gloria, reaching forwards and dropping them in my lap. ‘You’ll offend me if you don’t.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Well. That’s so kind of you.’
‘For your girls,’ she says, squeezing her eyes shut and folding her face into a broad smile. ‘From Auntie Gloria.’