“The Knitted Child” by Simon Kurt Unsworth

This short story from #15 marked the first appearance of Simon Kurt Unsworth in Black Static, and he was back again in #18 with “A Man of Ice and Sorrow”.

None of the characters have names. Instead they are identified by the familial relations that define them – the grandmother, the daughter, the granddaughter, her husband – so that, rather than a dramatis personae per se, what we get is a series of interlocking relationships. It’s tempting to conjecture that, in this way, the family itself is a construct, a thing knitted together, connected by strands of blood and sinew, and containing sadness within itself.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

A young woman has a miscarriage. Her grandmother is reminded of children she too has lost, and finds the grief almost insupportable. She fashions a knitted child (a wool doll in all but name) and gives it to her granddaughter as a source of comfort, something on which she can focus her grief and feelings of loss. But the young woman becomes addicted to this ‘worry doll’, losing sight of the fact that, whatever she might have lost, life has to go on, and the family must break her of this newfound dependence.

There’s no grand drama here, no monsters, just the quiet horror that comes from living every day and enduring the small victories and losses that make up human existence. It’s a tale that deals with grief and depression, showing an assured touch in portraying the nuances of emotion, the subtle shades of meaning in words that are not spoken aloud and feelings that remain internalised.

We are told that the grandmother herself lost children. We can wonder how she coped, and if perhaps in some sense the daughter was her own ‘knitted child’, a replacement for that which was lost.

Parts of the story are told from the perspective of the doll itself, as if by filling it with so much grief the members of the family have conferred on this inanimate object a degree of sentience. It takes comfort in the attention focused on it by the granddaughter, is given a purpose to its existence, and then feels a pain and isolation every bit as keen as that of its owner when, finally, the woman abandons it.

Not only is pain overcome and forgotten with time, but also on occasion the things that help us to deal with our traumas. The ‘surrogate’ knitted child is tossed aside by a woman unaware of its feelings, as if to say that things are important only when we need them, that we may be the most caring people in the world and still cause hurt through simple ignorance. Having lost one child, she is entirely oblivious to the sacrifice of another.

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