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Yolanda Arrieta Malaxetxebarria > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2001 Needle and thread | Alberdania

Let us assume that I am your mother and that you are my daughter. Let us assume that you are about to be born and that you will be 18 in the year 2012. Let us assume that I am giving you this gift.

Let us assume exactly that.

What are we? What are we born with or what will we become in the course of our lives? A mixture of both, perhaps?

When writing "Needle and Thread" these were the two questions I was aiming to address; on the one hand, because we are a collection of history-stories that we sew together with needles and threads; but at the same time, because the seeds of these history-stories accompany us from the moment we are born, just as two eyes, two legs, two arms and one heart do.

So the essence of this story-history is this: the story-history a mother tells her daughter when she is about to be born. Why story? Because, although it has a real basis, "Needle and Thread" is 99% fiction. Why history? Because "Needle and Thread", despite being made up of a personal selection and despite having its beginnings in pre-history, deals mainly with the last century.

I am mother. Your Nanna from Bizkaia is my mother and Grandma from Gipuzkoa is my father's mother.

Mother will sew together the family trees of Nanna and Grandma and has knotted together the threads that go from her childhood to the birth of her child. She will tell you about when she lived at the Seamstress's house and what she heard from Nanna and Grandma. She will also tell you about your father. She will use the first person and even though she will speak in a way not unlike that of Nanna and Grandma, she will use shorter sentences than they do.

Nanna will unravel the threads from the time she got married and went to live at the Seamstress's house until now. These threads will give news of Great-Granddad and Granddad from Bizkaia. She will speak in the first person, but in the manner of the people of her village.

Grandma will spin the tales of her city. She will tell us about Great-Grandpa, Grandpa and Father from Gipuzkoa. She will speak in the first person, in her city accent that has a touch of her hometown.

You will hear a fourth voice besides those of the women. It will sew all the different parts together as if with a needle and the unending thread of time. He will speak in the third person, in a clipped, distinguished way.

Apart from that, all the events belonging to each moment in the story will be disguised by tools used for sewing. The leather, cloth or black dress that will appear transformed from time to time will mark the end of past eras and the beginning of new ones.

Even though everything will be like this, remember one thing: this story of fiction is not the whole history of our family.

In order to make this story-dress there are also countless snippets, threads, needles, tissue paper patterns, bits of dressmaker's chalk and other bits and pieces; they are also history.

.And also the pockets, patches, buttons, belt, collar and cuffs forgotten in a sewing basket to be added to some new dress.

.And the shirt, trousers and beret we put on the guy destined for the bonfire on St. John's Eve.

.And Nanna's sewing notes kept for the next time in the chest at the Seamstress's House .

.And the appearance of that red dress of her youth that Grandma gradually remembered as she was explaining sewing stories.

.And the brownish-blue suits that are seen in the photos of Granddad and Grandpa.

.And the stories about "The Little Buttonhole" and "The Big Button" that Father will tell you on his long walks.

.And the pattern we designed to make this story-dress.

.And the patches that remain in our hearts unsewn .

.And the strands inside one's head that await the corresponding seams.

.And right now, to get going on this story-dress, this word-stitch that I am writing-sewing with.

Because history and time are both cloths devoid of edges in the end.

Each has its end at the beginning and its beginning at the end.

Without ends.


In the beginning all was bare. Settlements resembled land without earth. Neighbourhoods, houses without walls. Streets, bodies without cloaks.

Someone invented earth, because a reason was needed to stay.

Someone else built walls, because a place was needed for keeping warm.

A third person invented the cloak, because a covering was needed in order not to frighten souls away.

And they all began to sew.

Then they used clothes to cover not only souls, but also shyness, sadness, joy and all kinds of passions.

And to keep out the cold.

And to protect.

And to adorn.

And to give as a present.

And to remember.

By the time anyone realised it, the wardrobe of humans was full of clothes.

.Yet they forgot how to sew.

Three Words

Let us assume.

Let us assume Txomin is the first.

And Mari is his wife.

Let us assume that we are in early prehistoric times. Humans work with stone, hunt and gather fruits.

Txomin is young and tall. And he is sturdy. Mari is exactly the same.

Txomin is proud and happy. He has risen early and gone hunting. Mari has stayed in the cave.

Mari moved in with Txomin the day before yesterday. For this purpose Mari's mother gave Txomin the cloak that belonged to her dead husband and Txomin became Mari's husband from that moment onwards.

That is why Txomin is happy today. Because Txomin is already a man, because he wears the hide of the most handsome boar in the forest, and because that hide will not only gives him the boar's strength, but also the spirit of the previous wearer. The boar's tusks have been passed down to Mari. Her mother has given them to her in memory of her father, so that the shadows of the black storm will not harm her. Mari wants to hang them round her neck now, like a collar. She cannot know that she is about to invent a piece of jewellery, which will be worn as an adornment in a thousand years' time. For Mari the pendant made out of the boar's tusks and tendons is simply a form of protection, a lucky charm or talisman.

Mari's thoughts are occupied with just these things as Txomin comes into the cave. The young man comes in with a cut on his left cheek and his cloak torn from top to bottom:

-Atorra tarrat teink! 1 -he pants as he utters the three words and shows his wife the torn boar's hide.

--Atorra tarrat teink?! -Mari repeats the three words once again, half enquiring, half shouting, holding her head with her hands as her heart pounds.

Txomin drops the freshly-killed boar he has been carrying onto the floor. Then after wiping his wet cheek with his hand, he starts to act out to Mari how he caught the beast, somehow intent on earning the woman's forgiveness. The dark frown that was on Mari's brow at first gradually melts away.

Txomin takes off his cloak as he comes to the end of his explanation. Mari picks up the cloak that once belonged to her deceased father and looks into the man's face. Taking three steps she goes up to him. She licks his wound and at the same time wipes away the dried blood which has dripped down his neck.

The licking turns into a caress, the caress into fondling, the fondling into shouts of pleasure, and all the pain is forgotten.

When everything is over, Txomin gets up off the floor and starts to skin and cut up the freshly caught boar with an axe. As if death was not enough, he wants to punish the culprit again with each swish of his axe. His cheek hurts again. There is pain in the shadow of the cloak, too.

Mari is quiet. The owl hoots. The wind howls. The young woman goes to light a fire.
A stick and two hands. Mari rubs and rubs the stick between her two hands. And the stick makes a spark. And the spark, a flame. A flame, fire. A fire, light. It is like daylight inside the cave.

Mari looks at the two hides, the old and the new one. She puts them next to each other. If only they could be joined together!

She looks around the cave. She is searching for something. She wants to find something but she does not yet know exactly what it is. Her husband has fallen asleep, as a result of the work with the axe (and the other kind). After looking around her, Mari lifts her right hand to her neck. The charm. Where is it?

Ah! She realises immediately. When Txomin came home, she was about to thread a tendon through the tusks; the fact is each one has a hole, because its fearsome owner had rottenness or something like that in its roots. So it is easy for her to thread the tendon through one tusk. And the same through the other one.

Mari picks up a torch and makes her way outside, a pendant round her neck and another one in her hand. She is off to her neighbour. To another Mari who lives close by.

By and by she reaches the neighbourhood.

At her neighbour's the first Mari shows the charm she has in her hand to the second Mari. By means of signs the first Mari asks the second Mari for the fishbone lying around on the floor in exchange. The second Mari understands her neighbour's proposal immediately. And agrees to it, too.

So the first Mari goes to her cave once again with a fishbone in her hand.

When she arrives, she picks up the torn hide with her two hands. She is going to cut holes in the edges or something like that with her husband's axe. She does the same with the new hide. She places them next to each other, and with the fishbone and long piece of tendon she starts to thread it through the holes opposite each other.

In other words, sewing.

1 My shirt's torn!
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