Clara's Quilt (NOVELLA)


In the secluded woods of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, lives Clara, a frail woman of forty-seven whom has been compiling a gigantic quilt (of sorts) for more than twenty years from the the most unlikely of materials. The townspeople gossip about what goes on behind Clara's cabin door, and they know all too well her tragic history of losing both parents before age eighteen. On the most brutally frigid evening of the year, a disaster erupts that will bring the town of Pagosa to a halt. It is on this evening that Clara finally emerges from her cabin to play an unexpected role. 

From the author of Michigan, Ten Cents comes a mountain-town story of oddities behind closed doors, an off-kilter family, thousands of yards of fabric, and the strangest night that Pagosa Springs has ever experienced.

Below is an excerpt taken from Doctor Gaines' 2014 novella Clara's Quilt. Should you enjoy it, the story can be purchased here.

One evening in November 1975, the infamously dangerous Wolf Creek Pass (normally Clarke's final stretch before arriving home and a road he had covered safely countless times) claimed his life. Clarke had been winding his way southwest down into Pagosa, excited to be back in his warm cabin, safe at home with his family after another long excursion. Snowfall was heavy and the grade was steep with visibility next-to-nothing. Clarke's anxiousness to be home had him pushing that old accelerator just a little firmer and more often than he knew was rightly safe, but he figured he knew the turns well enough. Practically have them memorized, he thought. The truck bed was vacant of timber so his carrying weight was very light. It was this small detail that encouraged his back end to swivel out gracefully when he nicked an ice patch at just the wrong angle. He fought the wheel, nursed the air-brakes, and did all he could to wrestle the truck back onto true. All eighteen wheels slithered and whipped, carving slushy snake-paths in the fresh powder. The long flatbed was almost completely perpendicular to the road as it slid at a horrific speed, tearing through the metal cliff-barrier like it was nothing more troublesome than tinfoil. The trailer and cab sailed silently into the snowfall, hovering for an impossible moment, until gravity took care of the rest. Clara was ten at the time.

Evelyn Francine was even quieter than her late husband had been, and if there was but one word to define her character (and one subject the ladies of Pagosa never failed to mention in their gossip circles), it would be: quilts. Evelyn was a master quilter; a master sewer really, but this skill was made manifest primarily through the crafting of ornate, intricate, impossibly beautiful quilts. Hardly one for social interaction, Evelyn chose to spend her long days indoors with her sewing machine, needles and thread, fabric scraps, and the fireplace lit no matter the season. This was her habit when her husband was away on trips, and changed not a bit once he was gone for good. It was merely as if Clarke had gone on The Big Trip, the last one, from which a person does not return. Evelyn had to fill her time somehow, so she may as well continue with the quilts.

Clara's mother was not what one might call a cold-spirited woman, it was merely as if the concept of warmth and motherly affection had never occurred to her (or perhaps had never been modeled for her). The townsfolk had rarely seen her smile, and not once since Clarke's passing. He seemed to have been about the only one who could crack away at her stone-like demeanor. Evelyn had a way of absorbing life-changes and new information with a calculated stoicism. When given the news of her husband's death, standing in the front doorway with a policeman on her porch on that cold November night, Evelyn merely closed her eyes and bowed her head. She held this position briefly, then lifted her eyes to face the policeman again and said, “Is that so.” No tears. Evelyn thanked the officer and closed the door, and simply stood there holding the doorknob for a moment.

Young Clara had been standing behind her mother and overheard the policeman's news, clapping her hands over her mouth when she understood what had happened to her Daddy. Immediately Clara began to whimper, low and devastated, and ran into her bedroom to collapse on the bed. Clara's tears ran through her hands and soaked the quilt her mother had made. It was the plainest quilt Evelyn had ever churned out; simple, diagonal diamonds in two-tone. She hadn't even made this quilt special for Clara, she had simply designed it to properly fit the size of bed that Clara happened to sleep in.

Still standing with her hand on the front doorknob, Evelyn listened to Clara's sobs from the other room. She felt confused and uncertain of how to approach her daughter in this time, so she simply let her be.

© Doctor Gaines 2015


Find out what happens next by purchasing Clara's Quilt here.