Casting On. 1. Tying a specific number of stitches onto a needle as the first row of a knitted work. The first stitch is a slipknot and then one of the three following methods may be employed for binding on the balance of the stitches: the English method, the Continental method, or Mrs. Blake's method. The first two require the use of two needles; the third requires one needle and a free hand. 2. A beginning.
—R. Dirane, A Binding Love
Rebecca stood with her six-year-old daughter at the end of the pier, watching the crowd of tourists who had crossed with them on the ferry from Doolin make their way into town. With backpacks, strollers, and children on the shoulders or in the hand, the tourists laughed excitedly and called out to one another in various languages as they shuffled up the road. One- and two-storied buildings lined the street where the crowd meandered up to the bend. Upon reaching the curve, they disappeared with the road. It was then, after the crowd vanished, that Rebecca glanced up to the church's spire, which peeped over the rooftops before her. Its shiny cross winked at her brightly, reflecting the last of the day's sun. She breathed in the sea-salt air, holding on to this moment—her arrival on the island.
Sixteen years ago Rebecca had first met her best friend, Sharon. From the day they started UC-Berkeley together, Sharon had told her tales and histories of her island home and Rebecca had listened and dreamed of Ireland and of this tiny island off the west coast. There were fishing stories and tales of ancient forts, of families pulling sea-weed from the ocean to make soil. Then, from the great slabs of stone of which the island was made, smaller rocks were hewn and stacked one atop another as walls to keep the hard-won dirt from blowing back into the sea when the southern gales howled across the island. In that precious, salty soil grew crops to feed the people and grasses to feed the sheep that provided the wool from which they spun yarn. And it was from that yarn that the famous fisherman sweaters were knitted.
Rebecca was an archaeologist. Sharon's stories of the island sweaters had inspired her to specialize in textiles. When they finished their undergraduate degrees, Sharon left for home and Rebecca headed south to Los Angeles for five more years of school as she worked on her master's and then her doctorate. After achieving both, she began to teach, but always the island called to her; the beautiful sweaters and all the legends about them beckoned her. She wanted to record in pictures and in words the living history of the fisherfolk and their sweaters. As Rebecca saw it, the result would be more than an academic paper: it would be a book with photos and biographies of the women from the island. Three years of developing her proposal finally paid off. After receiving her small grant, Rebecca took the summer off to do the project, and now she stood on Sharon's island.
Lavender light sifted gently through the soft mist. Rebecca sighed, glancing once more up the street with hope. She and her daughter had begun this day in California, flying through connections in New York to Shannon, then on a bus to Doolin, and finally across Galway Bay on a ferry to the island. Having been in transit for twenty-two hours, they were unspeakably tired. Here they finally were, with mounds of luggage but no one to greet them.
"Where is that car?" Rebecca muttered.
"I have to go to the bathroom, Mama," Rowan said, sitting on the big black duffel bag and kicking her feet absently.
"I'm not sure where a bathroom is, sweetie. Can you hold it?" Rebecca replied, dialing Sharon on her cell phone. Sharon had arranged for Rebecca to spend the summer in a cottage that belonged to the parents of one of her best childhood friends.
Near the end of a difficult pregnancy, Sharon had had to stay home in Dublin rather than come to the island herself to greet Rebecca. She had, however, promised to send someone to pick Rebecca and Rowan up.
A voice answered on the crackling line. "Hello?"
"Sharon? Sharon, can you hear me?"
"Becky? Is that you?"
"Sharon, we've arrived and there's no car."
"No, no car."
"Huh. Wonder what happened to him. Why don't you go down to the pub—"
"Go to the pub? Sharon, I'm going to start crying. I've been in transit for twenty-two hours. I'm standing on an empty pier, with a six-year-old child who has to go potty. I've got a large duffel, five suitcases, two backpacks, a laptop, and a tripod. How am I supposed to go to the pub?"
"Now, let's not have one of your moments, Becky."
"I'm not having a moment. I—"
"Mama, I gotta go."
"Just a minute, Rowan."
"Go to the pub, Becky."
"What do I do with all my baggage?"
"Leave it there," Sharon said.
"What?" Rebecca yelled.
"It's an island, Becky."
"I know it's an island, Sharon. What if someone takes my stuff? Then where will I be?"
"No one's gonna take your stuff. Where would they go? It's an island," Sharon repeated.
Rebecca froze, gritting her teeth as air hissed through them.
"Go to the pub and ask Tom for the keys to the house. He'll probably have the car, too."
"Who's Tom?" Rebecca asked in exasperation.
"Tom, Tom. You know Tom. He's the one I told you about who owns the pub."
"It'll all be fine—"
"Okay, okay. I know. Thanks," Rebecca said and hung up.
Though it was a dream for Rebecca to come to the island and study the textile art of its people, she still faced the coming months with trepidation. She knew this summer would lead to a book that would bolster her professional résumé and allow her to be more selective when choosing her teaching opportunities. That was why she had come to the island. That was what she had told herself anyway.
But truly she had a deeper motivation—a certain dark crevice—a wound inflicted six years before. From that blackness—the tragedy of her relationship with Rowan's father, Dennis—she had run, driven from place to place, devoid of any contentment or peace she might have built. Though she had never married him, Rebecca had spent the two years before Rowan's birth endeavoring to free herself from his hold on her. She finally succeeded when Rowan was just a month old.
But the abrupt end of their relationship had left Rebecca bound to him in a different way—with memories that haunted her and left her feeling as unsteady as she'd been when she lived with him. In some ways, she felt even more frightened than she'd been before leaving him. The end of that relationship had left her with a restless nervousness that kept her running, moving constantly, from one promising university appointment to another. With each move, Rebecca told herself the opportunity for professional growth was better in her new position. But it wasn't truly her career that drove her. It was fear.
Six years trapped in that odd prison of freedom and flight and insecurity wore away at Rebecca until Christmas Day last. On that day, Rowan had wept when her mother told her about yet another move, crying at the thought of leaving another very-best-friend. Rowan was finally old enough to show Rebecca what their nomadic life was doing to her. Rebecca had quieted long enough to hear her child's tears fall hollowly into her wounded heart. And she knew she had to find a way to stop. To make it stop. To hold still.
The news of the grant had followed soon after, and Rebecca realized the moment had come to make her dream come true. To stop running from her demons and face them. Sharon's stories told of a place of rock and sea and a people who held on to one another—where no one was blowing away on the wind like Rebecca had done these six years. As an only child whose parents were ten years dead, Rebecca had no one holding on to her but Sharon. Rowan needed the security of a home, but Rebecca had no idea how to make one. Thus, she made her way to the only place she knew home to be—Sharon's island home.
The ferry's engine engaged, startling Rebecca.
"Is the car coming, Mama? I have to go really bad."
"No, Rowan, the car will not be coming. But it'll be fine." Rebecca mimicked Sharon's accent.
"You sounded just like Sharon," Rowan said with a giggle.
"Come on." Rebecca grinned, offering her hand to her little girl. "We need to find Tom."
"Tom? The pub owner?" Rowan asked, reaching for her mother's hand. Gently, Rowan's small palm enveloped Rebecca's first finger.
"How do you know Tom?"
"Sharon told me about him."
Rowan's hair was disheveled and the straps of her overalls were twisted and crossed in the back. Though the shadows grew longer around the two of them, Rebecca knew the deep circles beneath her daughter's eyes had nothing to do with the failing light, for Rowan was slowly rubbing the edge of her mother's finger with her thumb like she always did when she was worried. Rebecca remembered that when she was a child herself, she'd found the same security in the satin binding of her favorite blanket. For Rowan, that comfort came from Rebecca's hands. The thought made her smile.