The Skein

(Object is an essay series exploring the meaning of clothes, jewelry, make-up, and accessories.)

W e—my fiancé and I— were tracing calligraphy onto one hundred vintage postcards. Our fingers grew shaky with caffeine and rebellious at the repetition, as we hunched over our coffee table.  But we had to hurry. Our wedding invitations were overdue.

Merely choosing a font had taken us months. In the spirit of prenuptial indulgence, we had tested many. The pages and pages of options, in hundreds of permutations of size and typeface, might have been a novella. An aimlessly written, belabored, unreadable novella.

After cutting our novella up line by line and testing the cutouts next to one another, and then mocking up the snippets to create a template that would fit a standard postcard, we had a finalist: a combination of two typefaces in three sizes. But each hand-picked postcard came with its own spatial restrictions: lengthy captions in the left hand corners; large boxes to guide stamp placement; a line or no line to separate message space from address space. The template we had labored over was useless. 

(In fact, there were many such time-consuming pursuits. Our far-flung collecting sprees for the postcards [eBay, garage sales, gift shops, childhood drawers]. Our maniacal selection of a vintage stamp for each card, and the personal selection of a postcard for each guest. Our deliberation, in the aisles of assorted and increasingly upscale craft stores, over pen tip and color, scribbling our names, date, and venue all over sample papers until it appeared the store shelves themselves were invited. Or, most intensively, the hundred hand drawn maps my fiancé composed, a cross section of a dozen beautifully-named Brooklyn streets, color-coded to mark the location of parking garages and metro stations, not to mention the venue itself. And all of this notwithstanding the universal rigors of wedding invitations: address collection, obsessive spell checks, never-ending wording and guest list refinements.)

But then came the moment—then did come the moment— when it was all complete: tidy stacks of postcards, maps, and expectant envelopes. We stretched our backs, uncrippled our pen-indented fingers. A gentle growl, the thunder of a September storm, marked the moment. The cool it would bring, the autumn it promised—our wedding season—tantalized. 

And then there was a flash of lightning.

He gestured a high five. I wanted to share in his celebration, but my hand had been stayed. I fought the urge to mention the vision that had presented itself in the flash. But looking into his eyes, the eyes of my soon-to-be husband, and seeing him poised to receive the clap of my hand — to take my hand in his, to take this woman’s hand in marriage— I knew I could not keep this secret-of-secrets from him. 

"They need ribbons," I announced. 
"Ribbons?" he asked, with a hesitant smile. 
“Yes. Ribbons.”
“What ribbons?”
"To tie the maps to the postcards, like little presents." 
It dawned on him. 
"Oh— oh no. We just finished."
“I know, I know." 
"And they’re fine." 
"Yes, they’re fine. They’re beautiful. But like I said – well, the ribbon is missing. They need it. You can just tell."
And reader, he could tell.
"Okay. But. There's a storm, we have no ribbon, and we need to mail these today."
 “There are three fabric stores in the neighborhood..."
"Okay. Will they have what you want?"
"Black, thin, feather-edged."
The lightning struck closer, and the thunder, booming, rattled the ground. 
"Feather-edged?"
"You know. The little loops of thread on either side."
"And you are sure the stores have this?"
"How would I know? We’ll just have to look."
"No—No. I will go and look. You’ll do the tying."
"Alright," I gave in, "you go. Go!" 

He left, and I watched the sky grow impossibly gray, and then flash, and then open up. 

He returned fifty minutes later, soaked, nestling a bounty of ribbon, dry and warm, in a plastic bag. An entire skein, which had been offered to him for ten dollars by an eager shop owner. "Nobody comes in for ribbon," he'd said. "Wholesale price. For the happy couple."

I tied a postcard to a map and held back tears. Quickly, despite our kitten’s playful pawing at every piece of ribbon between my scissors, I tied all the cards to maps. Little presents. It seemed a pity to dress them in envelopes but I plundered on, tongue one with the adhesive, a sustaining, gluey fuel, propelling me onwards, faster, towards a hundred. 

The thunder calmed, the day smoothed into a pink evening. We took our invitations to the mailbox and twinged, almost parentally, as we sent them on their way.  To be sorted by machines, flown in gray planes, and carried in warm messenger bags. To be handled by postal carriers, to wait in hard mail boxes, to be torn by the hands of our guests. The ribbons untied, the message read, the cards placed on refrigerators and bulletins, in scrapbooks and garbage cans. 

Fast forward. Our first anniversary. The skein of black ribbon now sits in our closet. We've taken small snips from it— to hold back our fire-escape tomato plants, as an impromptu cat toy— here and there, but it remains largely intact. 
 
We love each other's cooking; the ribbon is there. Evening walks are a mainstay; the ribbon is there. Our kitten’s a cat now; the ribbon is there. It’s a firm, full palm of satin,  dense in its deep black and unknown length. It could cocoon us, and looking down at us from its shelf in the closet, it seems almost inclined to; it seems to know the role it played in our wedding, as fastener, embellishment, crowning touch. An unlikely relic of our wedding, the ribbon radiates from its shelf in our closet.

(Elisabeth McAvoy lives in Jackson Heights, New York, with her husband, cat, and 133,000+ other people. A recent graduate of Barnard College, she spends her working life in the publicity department at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and much of her non-work life observing people on subways, squirrels on fire escapes, and pigeons everywhere.)