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A Freshly Set Table

By: Alba Rakacolli

Before the world crumbled in on itself, she sewed its history into her tablecloths. Each piece of cloth contained scenes of all she knew and some things she felt, etched in the vivid colors of embroidery thread. Sometimes, a tablecloth would have only a single scene that spanned its entirety, swallowing up anything she sat upon it. Other fabrics would contain thousands of tiny scenes that worked together to hold the weight of the dinner plates. She stitched everything imaginable onto the tablecloths, from centuries-old battles with mottled brown horses and glinting spears, to the previous day's market with shining red tomatoes and bright watermelons. Most of them would remain tucked away, folded neatly after she had finished them.

She embroidered tirelessly. The light in her little house at the top of the hill remained on throughout the night, as constant as the stars to the townspeople below. She kept a record of all their lives from birth to death, filling in family lines until no space remained on a tablecloth before pulling out another. Should someone be lucky enough to be invited to dinner, and should they decide to attend, she would ask them what, specifically, they wanted saved. Saved was the word she always used. Every dinner was accompanied by a tablecloth with the guest’s life featured in fine thread; as the meal came to an end, she would point to a blank spot amidst the imagery and say, Choose what you feel is most important for the center.

Some townspeople could answer immediately: they wanted their children's births recorded, or their wedding days, or the day they first tried cherry pie. To those, she smiled and began to pick out the threads she would need.

Others took longer, asking, Is it alright if I come back? To those, she nodded, told them that when they knew what they wanted they could whisper it in her direction and she would know too. Some took days to do so. Some took years. Others took until the end of their lives, when in their last moments they looked toward her little house and whispered that they wanted this, being surrounded by loved ones, to be saved.

Some called her a witch, said she was collecting the memories to cast a spell that would curse them all, trap them in her tablecloths. Others called her a seer, on account of her choice of words, said she must have known of a great calamity coming and wanted to preserve what she could. Others believed she was the goddess of time come to experience life on the mortal plane while recording all that she saw. All commented on the fact that she never seemed to age and that no one could remember a point when she didn't live on that hill.

She never confirmed nor denied the theories, allowing the townspeople to speculate all they wanted. Though no one could say that she kept to her own–somehow, she knew the goings-on of the town and the world without asking a soul–she never pried, and she never told anyone anything they didn't need to know. She attended every wedding, brought gifts to every birth, and regularly bought from the farmer's market, all with a gentle smile and a soft voice.

When asked why she was saving history in her tablecloths, she would simply reply, Do all things not deserve to be remembered?

Alba Rakacolli is a graduate of the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. During her time there, she worked as one of two Editors in Chief on UMN's undergraduate arts and literary magazine, The Tower. In her free time, you can find her knitting, baking, and spending time with her partner.


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