I knit like I am picking a scab.

It takes me four hours, after several misbegotten gauge polygons, just to cast on the stitches. Every time I count, the number is different. Or, I accidentally knit half of the first row with the tail that I left too long. I change patterns and then change my mind back. I quit half a dozen times and leave the room, but am back in my chair starting again within minutes. I knit like I am picking a scab. It is painful but I can’t leave it alone.
There is a store in downtown Hallim with lovely knit and crocheted things in the window, yarn inside, and there are always women sitting all over the floor crafting. I go in, finally, prepared to say the word “모자” –hat. And if necessary, “사물” –gift. I want to make a quick decision before someone tries to talk to me. But I agonize. It should be the right color; I picture the shape of her face, her complexion, the colors in the clothes she usually wears. What would be best? Settle on a sport weight chocolate brown.

But, oh dear, the lady wants to find a pattern for me. I hand her the print out from the internet of what I haven’t decided to do yet. I must not look like a knitter, she is trying to explain that the guage will be wrong, computes the stitches she thinks I ought to do, pulls out a binder of stitch charts trying to figure out from the picture what is going on there, says that this is a difficult pattern. I know. I just want her to sell me the yarn. There are always people inside because she will give you the needles and help you through your project. “If you have any trouble, come back,” she says in Korean. One other woman is there, making a pink bolero while her toddler wanders in and out of the store.

I worry at this hat from six to midnight while my hosts are in the living room watching TV and being somewhat quarrelsome. I worry that the one pattern is too much like an outside winter hat. The exact difference between an outside winter hat and an inside-outside chemo cap I cannot exatly articulate. I worry that the gauge is too big, that it will be baggy on her head –which matters! She’ll have no hair to fill it out. I finger the inch of ribbing that I finally get through, worry that it is not as soft as it should be, that it will itch. But I can’t go read or do a crossword puzzle or plan a lesson because this might take me all of the time between now and Christmas, and I have to go back to the lady at the store and have something to show her. See. Well, it’s not the same hat that I told you I would make, but I can cable.

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