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Grandfather's Cardigan

Chip Tolson

2022 Short Story Competition Short List

corpse pose

Grandfather's Cardigan

It was cold out in the dark. Clutching her grandfather’s hand, Flora walked across the lawn into the field, the late October evening heralding the first winter frost.

In the house, Flora’s mother asked her husband where his father had gone.

‘He and Flora are outside.’

‘It’s pitch-dark.’

‘That’s the point.’

’It’s supper in five minutes. What on earth are they doing?’

‘Nothing on earth; they’re out there to see the International Space Station going over.’

‘Their supper will spoil and I don’t want Flora catching cold.’

‘Flora wants to be an astronaut. They’ve been reading about the Space Station in father’s magazine.

‘She wanted to be a doctor last week.’

‘Maybe she’ll be a Doctor of Space Sciences.’


Flora’s grandfather looked at his wrist watch’s luminous dial. ‘Nine minutes past seven. We’ll see the space station coming over the horizon in three minutes.’

‘Grandpa, I’m shivering.’

Her grandfather unbuttoned his thick woollen cardigan and wrapped it round his granddaughter. She pushed her arms as far as they could reach into the sleeves, but two woollen arms were left flapping like elephants’ trunks.

‘Let me turn up the sleeves.’ Her grandfather doubled the sleeves back on themselves. ‘Now you’ve got a knitted woollen overcoat with double thickness sleeves.

Flora’s grandfather looked up to the west. ‘There it is, the Space Station, it’s coming above the horizon, see its reflected light rising in the sky, like a bright star?’

Feeling warm in her woollen overcoat, Flora watched the Space Station rising above the horizon until it was almost over them. She held onto her grandfather’s hand watching the bright light pass to the east. She knew there were people in the space station looking down at the world below.


‘Do take that woolly thing off, Flora.’

‘It’s my new coat.’

‘You don’t need to wear it indoors.’

‘It’s my lucky coat. Grandpa says his mother knitted it for him when he was a young man. It’s got a special pattern with lumpy bits on its front so you can recognise it in the dark feeling the wool with your fingers.’

Her grandfather smiled. ‘The cardigan will keep you warm, young Flora. That’s a cable stitch pattern knitted on the front.’ 

‘That’s enough, now get on with your supper you two.’ But Flora’s mother knew how much her daughter enjoyed her grandfather’s visits, but she hoped he would take his tatty old cardigan home with him. Flora made certain the cardigan stayed, hiding it away when her grandfather went home.

‘We must give that old cardigan back to your grandfather, Flora, or send it to a jumble sale.’

‘Grandpa gave it to me for keeps, it’s my lucky woolly overcoat.


Over her school years, junior and senior the doubled sleeves were let down inch by inch. Allowed to not wear uniform for their exams, she wore her lucky cardigan with its ‘bobbles’ down its front. She wrote her answers her free hand taking inspiration from the feel of the pattern her great grandmother had knitted years before.

Flora got the exam grades she needed to earn a place at university to study Astronomy. She wore the cardigan in lectures and exams getting grades good enough to stay on for her Masters in Astrophysics. With her Masters achieved, she applied to study for a Doctorate at San Francisco University.

Her parents brought her grandfather to her Master’s Graduation. She wore the cardigan under her gown, to her mother’s consternation, her father’s amusement and her grandfather’s delight. 


On a day of English summer rain, a man driving fast through the town, lost control of his car. There was a screech of brakes, a metallic impact and the vehicle mounted the pavement knocking down pedestrians.

Ambulances were at the scene in minutes, two people, a woman and an elderly man, were taken to hospital with life threatening injuries.

That evening her parents rang Flora in California.

Through the long sleepless flight Flora pressed her head against the airplane window staring into the star-studded skies. Met by her father at the airport, they drove to the hospital; there was no improvement. The surgeon took her father aside while Flora sat with her comatose grandfather, hearing the life support machines working their rhythms.

Flora held her grandfather’s hand, squeezing on his unresponsive fingers. Gently she placed his hand against the knitted fabric of the old woolly cardigan, pressing his fingers onto the bobbled surface of the cable stitched pattern. After his talk with the surgeon, her father placed his hand on Flora’s shoulder, the room was silent apart from the hum of the machines.

‘Look!’ Flora let go her grandfather’s hand. His fingers moved, feeling the pattern of her cardigan.

The surgeon looked back from the door. ‘A memory is stirring.’

Flora looked round. ‘It’s getting stronger, his fingers are pressing on the pattern.’

The old man’s eyelids flickered.


It was two months before he was discharged from hospital, but not able to go back to his own flat.

One Sunday evening they set up the laptop in the summer house and waited for Flora to connect over the internet. From the flickering screen, the picture cleared to see Flora, wearing grandfather’s cardigan. The old man smiled and waved.

‘Is the sky clear with you over in England?’

‘It’s a fine evening, Flora,’ her mother told her. ‘The sun will soon be setting for us here, through crimson and gold skies.’

 ‘Let’s all look toward the sun. You three can watch it setting in England and I can see it high in the Californian sky. Can you see it, Grandpa?’

‘I can, I’m wearing dark glasses and watching it now. In about five minutes it will sink below our horizon.’

‘I’m wearing special viewing glasses and looking at the sun high overhead San Francisco.’

‘How can you wear that heavy woollen cardigan with all your Californian heat, dear?’

‘It’s OK, Mum. There is air conditioning. I’m wearing it for Grandpa.’

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