Square Knot

Rebecca Gummere


Right over left, left over right.

That’s how you make a square knot, my mother told me when I was ten. I studied her nimble flickering fingers, but when it was my turn I couldn’t remember how.

“Right over left. Left over right.” She stood next to me, her delicate chin at my shoulder, and used her hands to guide mine.

“Remember,” she said. “The harder you pull, the tighter the knot.”


When I was twelve, I ducked, but her open hand caught my face anyway. I ran to my room, crying.

“I hate you! I hate you!” Holding my cheek where the imprint burned.

When I was seventeen, I caught the wrist of her raised arm, iron in my fingers.

“Don’t ever hit me again,” I said. And she never did.


“A Daughter By Chance, A Friend By Choice.”

My mother surprised me with this gift of hand-stitched words on linen fabric held in a small round frame. Did I thank her? I don’t remember now.

I don’t remember where I first put it. On the bathroom wall in a far corner? Or the sewing room alcove, lost in a field of flowered wallpaper?

When had she given it to me? Maybe after my daughter was born, a third child just like me.

In the middle of a move, I took it down and packed it away in a box and forgot all about it. I found it again when my mother was two years dead. I cried, reading the words over and over. I placed it on a spare nail on my kitchen wall, sad for how I never knew her, sad for how I never would.


I was born with a cardiac murmur. I’ve never heard it; doctors have told me it is there. I imagine it as a whispered question, or an interrupted thought.

As the pause before a slow incoming tide.

I imagine it as the time between time where I would sit with my mother if only she would come back, her returned breath quickening at my shoulder. 

I see the two of us, foreheads touching, fingers intertwined. We don’t speak, not just yet.

Instead, we sit in the quiet, holding space, till our tangled hands fashion the familiar knot of a beating heart.


Rebecca Gummere’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, the New South Journal, The Rumpus, O, The Oprah MagazineThe Masters Review Anthology, Vol. VII, and elsewhere. Two of her essays have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. She is the recipient of a North Carolina Artist Fellowship and lives there in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is working on a memoir about her 9-month solo cross-country journey in a small RV with her two dogs, Chasing Light. More at www.rebeccagummere.com.