What Would Madame Defarge Do?

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Melynda Sylvestre

Visiting Homespun, a Yarn Store
Photo Credit: Adam Kuban

In the chill air of an early spring night, a dozen members of the Guerrilla Grannies surrounded the backdoor of Missy’s Yarn Shop, large gauge metal knitting needles held at the ready. If any of the hands shook, it was only the tremors of age—not fear. Few of these women would ever admit to even a passing acquaintance with fear. They formed a loose semi-circle in front of the door; the four women appointed as guards for this break-in stationed towards the back, facing the alley, as the rest of the group contemplated the heavy metal lock in front of them.

At twenty-one, Aggie was the youngest member of the Grannies by at least four decades. She had only been included because she lived with her Great-Aunt Hester; Great-Aunt Hester hosted the meetings and allowed the members to assemble their larger creations in her studio. Of course, Aggie loved to knit and crochet just as much as the more experienced women did, which was the most important thing. She had felt honored to be accepted, and worked hard to earn the ladies’ respect. But there were times that they exhausted and overwhelmed her with their energy, inventiveness, and sheer bloody-mindedness.

When they had made their plans to break into the shop earlier that evening, she hadn’t questioned how they would get into the locked building. She’d rather assumed that one of the resourceful women had access to a key—everyone in the city’s fiber arts world seemed to know these grand dames of yarn. Aggie was growing used to the way they could pull strings she didn’t know existed. She was surprised when sweet, petite Mabel Robinson, the quintessential little grey-haired granny, pulled a shiny but obviously well-used set of lock picks out of her ever-present oversized knitting bag and approached the door with a grin of sheer mischief.

With a speed that bespoke long, and possibly recent, practice, Mabel fiddled with the lock and gave a rather unladylike snort when the mechanism yielded to her with ease. “Stupid git,” she said in her refined English accent. “When he changed the locks after Missy died and he took over, he put in the cheapest ones on the market. Somebody should have burgled him ages ago.” The gleam of scorn in Mabel’s eyes suggested to Aggie that she rather wished she’d thought of it before now.

“Hush, Mabel.” A tall, Junoesque woman whispered in the voice of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Miss Martha Ashford had been a teacher for almost fifty years, and there were few who would not still find themselves fearing for their recesses when she bent her stern look upon them. As the de facto leader of the Guerrilla Grannies she provided the perfect frontman; no one who met her would ever have suspected her of improper grammar, never mind illegal activities.

Walking carefully to avoid creaking floorboards, and to favor replaced hips, they slipped into the cavernous storage room at the back of the city’s largest yarn and fiber arts supply store. They all had experience with clandestine projects in the dark of night, but the mood tonight was not the usual one of cautious exhilaration. Tonight, they were looking to clear themselves of murder.

Early that morning a makeshift gallows had been found erected in the city’s central park. Dangling from its truncated arm was the portly body of Thomas Martin, current owner of Missy’s Yarn Shop. While this was unfortunate for the knitters of the area, it wasn’t what had caused such consternation amongst the members of the Guerilla Grannies. It was the image, flashing from the screens of every television in town, of the scaffold that the murdered man had been hung from—it appeared to be wearing mad, multi-colored woolen long undies. Yarnbombing had suddenly taken on a new, macabre, dimension.

The people of the city had developed a fondness for the weird yarnbombing that had started last fall: legwarmers appeared on statues, striped knitwear warmed the trunk and branches of venerable trees in the parks, lampposts sported jaunty mufflers and bike racks boasted bobble-covered covers. Through a dreary, wet winter the citizens of Gotham enjoyed the whimsy and color that the granny graffiti had provided. Bets were made about where the next installation would appear. City officials had to say, officially, that this was illegal and that perpetrators would be prosecuted if caught. But no one ever tried too hard to find the nutty knitters. The locals, who were loving the sheer silliness of it all, would never have stood for it, and the Chamber of Commerce had recently pointed out that the yarnbombing sites were becoming tourist attractions, ever since pictures of the sites had gone viral in early February.

Cynthia Brown’s son William was a detective on the city police department, and up until today he had resolutely refused to know anything of his mother’s more dubious activities. This afternoon, when they had gathered in Great-Aunt Hester’s studio to discuss the implications of the murder and the rib-knit gibbet, Detective Brown called his aged mother on her cell phone. She drifted away to listen to him, and spoke sharply before snapping her phone shut again. She came back and reported to the other women: “He says that he can’t pretend he doesn’t know that we’re the yarnbombers anymore, and that we must come down to the station to make statements so he doesn’t have to come and arrest us as suspects. ”

Voices rose in consternation. Cries of anger mingled with indignant protests of innocence and a couple extremely rude and anatomically impossible suggestions of what Cynthia’s William could do with his detective’s badge—the loudest and crudest one coming from the poor man’s own mother. Aggie had always felt rather sorry for the much put-upon Detective Brown. Martha called them back to order, and the meeting moved on to plan what they would have to do to clear their names, unknown though those names may be to the rest of the city.

And so, Aggie found herself in a deserted yarn shop at midnight with a bunch of geriatric housebreakers. Not certain what they were looking for, they had decided ahead of time that they would break up into two groups; the first would search the storage area for anything suspicious that could give them a clue as to why someone would want to kill Sissy Borkowski’s rather slimy nephew. The other cadre would head upstairs to the office and try to look for any records that could help. Aggie had always wondered which of the ladies had brought this organizational expertise to the group, but was too afraid of the answer to actually ask.

It didn’t take long for the warehouse search to reveal at least part of the story—the first box of imported yarn that Aggie plunged her hands into cushioned a dozen very deadly-looking guns. She shakily held one in the air and waved it to get her compatriots’ attention. Before anyone could comment, the sound of the key in the re-locked back door had them all ducking for cover with the practiced ease of experienced yarnbombers. Young Elizabeth (at only sixty-two, she was so-called to distinguish her from 83-year-old Elizabeth) was closest to the stairs, so she flitted up to warn the other half of the invasion party.

Aggie cowered behind the box of weapons and prayed that no one would be too badly hurt. She had a feeling that things were about to get very strange. When the yelling began she closed her eyes and covered her ears…


And the breaking news this morning is that the killers of yarn store owner Thomas Martin have been captured. Police received an anonymous tip in the early hours of the morning that the miscreants would be found in the storeroom of Missy’s Yarn Shop on Main Street. Police found the back door unlocked and three men wanted for international weapons trafficking bound and gagged, surrounded by almost a million dollars worth of stolen armaments, apparently smuggled into the country by the late Thomas Martin. Preliminary investigations suggest that Mr. Martin may have been trying to cheat his partners and was killed in retaliation. More details should be known later today when authorities go through the records found in a hidden safe in Martin’s office.

The city will rejoice to hear that while the newly captured criminals refuse to say anything about their arms dealing, they have repeatedly stated that they used store-bought legwarmers to approximate the look of our unknown yarnbomber in hopes of framing the yarnbomber for the murder. The police department has released an official statement that the yarnbomber is no longer a suspect in this case, and that they believe the yarnbomber may have been of assistance in solving this case so quickly… Wait. Just in, a WXTF exclusive… we have received a photo of the captured criminals as they were found this morning… coming up onto the screen, now…

All around the city, people laughed over their morning coffee as their television and computer screens filled with an image of three burly men bound hand and foot by duct tape, gagged by more of the same, and cocooned in artistically chosen layers of colorful yarn. Each man had a custom-made cozy on his head—not unlike the strange creations so common in the seventies which had covered toilet paper rolls and Kleenex boxes in bathrooms throughout the country. Thick skeins of wool had been twisted together into a rope and crocheted into a chain that wrapped the three together. And embroidered across their chests, in glittering fuzzy metallic yarn, were the words “ART IS POWER.”


At the age of 8, Melynda learned to type on an antique cast iron typewriter, and began to write poems and stories for her family and friends. They told her that they liked what she wrote, and she chose to believe it. Tales of teen-aged angst followed, then a long hiatus while she put off writing for more important things—like staring into space and playing with the cat. Thanks to the magic of the digital age, she is back at it and having a great time. Email: melynda[at]tibetanprayerwheels.com

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