Knit, Purl

EVAN WILLIAMS

Late in the morning, Jessie and Michael made love. Jessie didn’t mind. Lying on her back, she watched the apartment ceiling, the cracks in the plaster, the deepening lines. Afterward she showered, put on her bathrobe—Michael’s bathrobe—and went down to the mailboxes. A letter had come for Michael. Jessie opened it. Michael had won the fellowship in Alaska. Finish his thesis, and the fellowship would be his. Jessie finger-combed her wet hair and carried the letter up to the apartment. The cat rubbed her calf and followed her in. Michael was singing in the shower. The letter forced a question on Jessie: would she go too? Quit her master’s program and go to Alaska? It had been Jesse’s idea that Michael apply, and she had helped him craft the words, but she hadn’t thought about herself. Maybe she would go. Finish her degree online. Maybe they would marry. It could happen. They were the right kind of happy for it. Past sweeping-books-off-the-bed-for-sex happy. Past kissing-beside-the-stove-and-letting-the-eggs-burn happy. What came next? Rest-of-their-lives happy? Baby-makes-three happy? Jessie set the letter on the counter. “I suppose I will go,” she said. Her voice sounded happy.

Jessie opened the window and let the cat climb out to the fire escape. The cat bounded down the iron stairs to the vacant lot. The Ukrainian girls were in the lot again, walking circles in the grass, talking closely, arms brushing. Jessie always wondered what they were saying. The cat ran up to them.

 

Michael came up behind her, wrapped in a towel. He caressed her shoulders and kissed her hair. He said, “Look at you in the light.”

 

Jessie said, “Oh, brother.”

 

Michael saw the letter. Jessie listened to his breathing as he read the words over her shoulder. He didn’t say anything. Jessie wriggled out of his arms and got on with toast and eggs. Outside, one of the Ukrainian girls picked up the cat and snuggled it. The girls laughed, speaking words Jessie did not understand.

* * *

Alaska was sure to be colder than Missoula, so Jessie decided to knit Michael a sweater. She had knitted sweaters for boyfriends before. Michael deserved a sweater. They were practically married. They were girlfriend-knits-sweater-for-boyfriend happy. Usually Jessie worked on her texts and notes for hours, but now she took breaks to climb onto the fire escape and knit. She was knitting a brown sweater in the Icelandic style. She pictured Michael in the sweater, on the tundra, recording data on his clipboard as snowflakes settled on the thick Lopi wool. Then she pictured herself putting on the sweater when she got up in the morning, the nearest thing in the heap of clothes beside the bed. Jessie would be naked underneath, the wool scratchy on her skin. Michael would come up behind her and hold her. He’d tug her back to bed for sex, making them late. Jessie knitted on the fire escape, while down in the lot the Ukrainian girls chased each other around the fairy rings in the grass. Jessie thought they were too old for make-believe. The cat, who had been sunning in the grass, got up and ran.

 

The next morning, Jessie was supposed to meet Michael on campus for lunch. She showered and put on a cotton print dress. She was leaning out the window, setting a bowl of cat food on the fire escape, when a man climbed out of the upstairs window. Jessie did not recognize him. A new tenant? Something was wrong. He looked dazed, and he white-knuckled the handrail. Behind him, a little girl had climbed out, too. She was tugging at his shirt.

 

Jessie climbed out her window and up the stairs. 

 

“Sir?”

 

The man sat on the landing. The girl sat in his lap. The man said, “We were baking cookies." He took another breath and said, "But the old stove gave me a heck of a jolt. 220 volts down the arm.”

 

Jessie said, “Oh dear.”

 

He said, “I’m Tim. This is Hallie.” He gazed at Jessie. He took a deep breath.

Jessie was aware of her dress sticking to her damp skin. She watched the man's gaze glide down her body. She did not flinch. Michael’s eyes did this all the time.

 

The man, Tim, turned his gaze to the Ukrainian girls in the lot. The girls knelt by a fairy ring. Each girl held a fist of flowers and tucked them into the other’s hair.

 

Jessie said, “They just showed up one day. I think they’re Ukrainian.”

 

Tim said, “Why don’t you ask them.”

 

“They don't speak Eng—”

 

Hallie said, “They’re pretty, Daddy.”

 

Tim climbed back in to examine the stove. He handed out a mixing bowl of cookie dough and asked Jessie if they could use her oven. Jessie and Hallie took the bowl down the fire escape to her apartment. They dropped balls of dough on a sheet and put it in the oven. Jessie did the work, while the girl, saying nothing, studied her. Jessie did not know what to say to a child. She helped Hallie climb the fire escape to her window. She promised to bring the cookies when they were ready. She looked at her watch.

 

She was taking the sheet out of the oven when Michael came home. He made straight for the kitchen, and he reached for a cookie. He said, “If this is why you stood me up, I forgive you.”

 

Jessie batted his hand with the spatula. “I didn’t make these for you.”

 

Michael took one and said, “Yes, you did.” He kissed her. The kiss left crumbs on her cheek. Michael went to the bedroom. He called, “I’m going to take a nap.”

 

Jessie called back, “Okay.”

 

Michael called, “Wrong answer.”

 

Jessie put the cookies on a plate and took them up the fire escape. She called in the kitchen window. She climbed in. She smoothed her dress.

 

Tim came into the kitchen. His hair was messy.

 

Jessie said, “Cookies.”

 

Tim smiled and yawned.

 

Jessie said, “So are you studying at the U?”

 

Tim held up his hand. “Oh no. My major is parenting.”

 

Jessie said, “But where’s Hallie?”

 

Tim pointed to the vacant lot. “Hallie and those girls, they’re thick as thieves now.”

 

“I didn’t see them.”

 

“Of course not. They’re fairies. You’re not supposed to see them.”

 

“I never played fairies.”

 

“Speaking of which,” Tim touched Jessie’s arm. “Do you babysit? Hallie’s crazy about you.”

 

“I don’t believe that.”

 

He said, “Pretty girl like you?” He inched closer.

 

She said, “I’m not some teenie-bopper.”

 

“Teenie-bopper?” Closer.

 

Tim kissed her.

 

Jessie said, “I’m married, almost. I mean, I’m spoken for.”

 

Tim kissed her again, deeper, their mouths together so long that Jessie felt breathless. Tim pressed her to the kitchen wall. She let him. They stripped their clothes and slid to the floor. They fucked on the linoleum, and the hard floor was not so bad, and Jessie stared at the ceiling and thought, This ceiling is just like mine.

 

Afterward, Tim leaned against the cupboards. Jessie leaned against his shoulder. She took his hand. She found his wedding ring. 

 

He said, “The thing is, we were so damn happy.”

 

Jessie snuggled closer. Her hips felt worn out. She closed her eyes. She thought, “What am I doing?” Then she thought, “I know what I’m doing.”

 

Someone knocked on the front door. Tim got up. He put on his clothes.

 

Jessie covered her breasts with crossed arms and said, “Wait, don’t answer that.”

 

“I have to get this. It’s my ex. But don’t go. Seriously. Cookies.”

 

“Omigosh.” Jessie stood and picked up her dress.

 

Tim said, “You don’t regret doing this. You know you don’t.”

 

He was gone. Jessie slid into the dress and smoothed it over her hips.

 

A woman entered the kitchen. She was pushing back her long hair. She saw Jessie. “Oh my. A pretty thing. And cookies.” She took one. “Tim, you didn’t mention any co-eds.”

 

Tim said, “You were once a co-ed too, Anna.”

 

The woman elbowed him.

 

“A beautiful co-ed.”

 

The woman laughed and rolled her eyes. She took another cookie.

 

“I’m Jessie.” Jessie held out her hand. What else could she do?

 

“Oh, don’t tell me your name, sweetie. Now where’s Hallie?”

 

Tim took the plate out of Anna’s reach. “She’s in the side lot with some girls.”

 

Anna said, “‘Some girls?’ Just ‘some girls?’” She shoved her hair back and turned for the door.

 

“Wait,” said Tim. “Use the fire escape. Everyone does.”

 

“What the fuck is this place?” Anna yelled. She barged past Jessie and climbed out to the fire escape.

 

Jessie said, “Oh my gosh.” 

 

She heard Anna’s voice. “Hallie, sweetie. Let’s go. Mommy is leaving. Say goodbye to your friends, Hallie. Good girl. Don’t come up. I’m coming down. Where’s your sweater?”

 

A fainter voice said, “I lost it, Mommy.”

 

Anna climbed out the window and was gone.

 

Jessie gazed at the old stove. Porcelain and chrome.

 

Tim said, “Well, that was Anna. Look, I’m awfully sorry about this. It’s very complicated, and it shouldn’t be your business.”

 

“No, I’m sorry. I mean, I’m really sorry I did this. I should go.”

 

“I’ll bring back the plate.”

 

“Don’t bother.” Jessie climbed through the window and down the fire escape. Her bare feet sidestepped the dish of cat food on the landing. She climbed in her window.

 

Michael was in the kitchen. He was grabbing a beer. He stared at her. He didn’t even blink, a fact that Jessie noted only because she didn’t blink either.

 

Michael said, “You’re up to something.”

 

She said, “It’s nothing.”

 

“You're knitting a sweater, aren’t you.”

 

“Sure.”

* * *

Jessie leaned over the fire escape rail. She scanned the vacant lot for her cat, who had not come home last night. Hadn’t even touched the food. Michael was at the U to see his advisor. Jessie needed to see her advisor too, and soon. Jessie’s bare feet dug into the cold iron.

Upstairs, Tim climbed out his window, Hallie in tow. No plate. He asked whether Jessie could watch Hallie. Jessie said no. Tim said it was urgent. Jessie sighed and said okay.

 

He said, “I am so damn sorry about yesterday. My ex and I are, well, it really is complicated. And I am very sorry.”

 

Jessie let the little girl play in the vacant lot. She sat on her fire escape and knitted while Hallie explored the bushes for the cat. Jessie didn’t know what else to do.

 

Above her, in the apartments, Tim was fucking Anna. This was urgent? Jessie could hear them through the open windows. To keep Hallie distracted, Jessie said, “The cat’s name is Oscar. Try calling his name.”

 

The girl tried this. She called, “Oscar!”

 

Anna’s voice cried out.

 

Jessie mumbled, “Jesus Christ.” She found a drop in her knitting, and she ripped out five courses to get to it. She said, “I am so stupid.”

 

Michael came out of their kitchen. He was holding a beer. He sat next to Jessie. He tipped his bottle upward. “Well, they sure sound happy up there.”

 

“That’s one word for it.”

 

“Still knitting, I see.”

 

“Shut up. I’m making this for you, you know.”

 

“Some women get headaches, some women knit.”

 

“That’s not nice. I have a ton to think about, that’s all. So do you.”

 

“Where’s your cat?”

 

“His name is Oscar. Two years, I think you should know my cat’s name.”

 

Hallie trudged around the bushes, bored with the search. The cars zoomed by. The Ukrainian girls came, thank god, and they played fairies with Hallie. They kneeled and made tiny houses from sticks and leaves. Jessie sat on the landing with Michael and knitted. She asked Michael about their stove. It was just like Tim's, right? Was there a danger? Michael said it was fine.

 

Above them, Anna climbed out to the fire escape and sat on Tim’s landing. She dangled her legs over the iron. She yelled in the window to Tim, “Are you sure this thing is safe? It’s so rusty.”

 

“We all use it.”

 

“We? I didn’t know you had so many friends.”

 

“Knock it off, Anna.”

 

The little girl came over to the fire escape and called up to Jessie. “They said his name is Rudy.”

 

“Well, that’s not right. His name is Oscar.”

 

Above, Tim came out and sat with Anna. “Look at all the pretty girls.”

 

Anna said, “Who is Oscar? Who is Rudy?”

 

Jessie kept her head down, but she spoke loud enough for Anna to hear, “Oscar is my kitty.”

 

The Ukrainian girls came over. The taller one said, “The cat is ours. He—”

 

Jessie said, “No he’s not. He’s mine!”

 

The Ukrainian girls looked at each other and said, together, “Oh my gosh.”

 

Hallie said, “My mommy is knitting me a sweater too.”

 

Anna called down, “I am not knitting you a sweater, honey.”

 

Jessie stuffed her knitting in the bag. She glared at Michael.

 

Michael looked back at her. “Um, I’m supposed to say something, but I don’t know what it is.”

 

* * *

 

Jessie set the kettle for morning tea. The cotton dress stuck to her damp skin. She hesitated, then leaned her legs against the warm stove. The Ukrainian girls were outside, calling “Rudy!” Jessie finger-combed the tangles from her wet hair. Michael came into the kitchen. Jessie waited. Last night they had made love. She had let him. Cracks in the ceiling. Michael went for the fridge. He grabbed an apple, mumbled “clutch time” through a mouthful of food, kissed Jessie on the cheek, and was gone.

 

This happy.

 

Jessie went for a walk. She put a sign on a pole for her missing cat. Oscar. She thought about Tim and Anna. Tim had said they had been “so happy.” What were they know? She returned to the vacant lot. She bent down and put flowers in her hair. She shook her head, and the flowers tumbled loose. She let them fall. They were stupid.

 

Tim came down the fire escape. He said, “I can totally explain.”

 

Jessie said, “Do you still love her?”

 

“I’m telling you, Jessie, it’s very complicated.”

 

“Not an answer. Where’s Hallie?”

 

“At her mom’s.”

 

“Come with me then.” Jessie took Tim’s hand and led him up the fire escape stairs. The iron rungs pinged under their feet.

 

“You see, Jessie—”

 

“Shut up, Tim.” She climbed through her window.

 

They swept off the books, swept off the knitting, and they fucked on Jessie and Michael’s bed. Tim thrust hard, and Jessie’s hips and back grew sore, and she did not find any bliss in it. When they were done, she snuggled against his shoulder. She asked about happy, and he told her, and it didn’t sound complicated at all.

 

They had been fixing up a rough-timber house on five acres along the Clark Fork. Half the property was flooded in the spring, but the house was above the water line. Swallows nested in the eaves, and at night they circled over the water. Tim would drink wine in the kitchen, and through the window he watched the swallows fly their wide circles. The low sunlight turned the fog pink, and the window became a box of color, and Tim vowed to replace that window with something big, French doors maybe, to a deck over the water. Anna came back from her shift at the hospital. They sat in the kitchen and gazed at that window. They fought about the cost. Anna stormed off. Tim sat in the slow Montana dusk. When the darkness was so complete that the window shrank to nothing, Tim wandered into the bedroom. It was light. Anna busied herself with a book. Tim dreamed of a happier time. He closed his eyes in the light and dreamed of it hard. There wasn’t supposed to be a happier time.

 

Jessie said, “You must have been happier than that.”

 

Tim said, “Well, there was Taos. We met in Taos. That was happy. We were as happy as me and you right now.”

 

“Don’t even say that, Tim.”

 

Tim put on his clothes and went out. Jessie took her knitting to the fire escape. The Ukrainian girls were sitting on the bottom landing. They had never come this close before. They were kicking each other’s feet. They looked up at Jessie. One of them was about to speak, but a man’s voice yelled from a block away. The girls jumped down, and they walked the worn path, hand in hand. They got to the sidewalk. The man’s voice called again, harsher now. The girls rushed a hug and kiss. One girl ran toward the voice, her hair lifting back. The other girl ran the other way, her fingers clenched around her hair.

 

A car zoomed down the avenue.

 

Jessie knitted. The tiredness in her hips would not go away.

* * *

It was the night before Michael’s thesis defense. Michael was clearing his notes off the bedspread and undressing for bed. Jessie was knitting. Michael straddled Jessie’s hips and leaned forward to kiss her neck.

 

“Michael, please. Not tonight.”

 

“How about just me.”

 

“Fine, Michael.” She set the knitting aside.

 

“What, you don’t like doing it?”

 

“It’s fine. If it makes you happy.” She turned Michael on his back and went down. She thought, My mouth on your dick makes you happy. The more she thought about this, the slower she went. She stopped. Michael went soft.

 

Michael said, “What’s wrong?”

 

Jessie grabbed her knitting and hurried from the room. She heard Michael’s voice behind her, but she didn’t turn. She climbed outside. It was cold, and she wished she had a blanket, but she didn’t dare go back for one. She tried to knit. Her fingers ached.

 

Above her, Anna and Tim came out to their landing. The fire escape rang with their steps. They hadn’t noticed her. Jessie heard two cups being poured. Anna and Tim were talking. They were getting drunk. Getting happy.

 

Anna’s voice said, “I should go.”

 

“Stay.”

 

“I hate that damn house, Tim. Did Hallie tell you we saw a cougar the other day? Your little girl saw a cougar. I didn’t believe it until I saw the tracks by the swing set.”

 

A cup being filled.

 

“Maybe you should get a gun.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“Just be civil, Anna. This is good wine. Like in Taos. Remember?”

 

“Yeah.” Another cup.

 

“So that stove is turning out to be a real bitch. I tell you—”

 

Anna said, “What the hell are you doing here, Tim?”

 

“You know what I’m doing. This is me. This is what I do.”

 

“And it’s fucked.”

 

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

 

“Fuck you. Fuck your stove. Fuck your hippie chick girlfriend. Fuck all of it.”

 

The purple sky of a summer evening held out.

 

Jessie heard them kissing.

 

“Tim, no. I can’t keep doing this.”

 

“Don’t say anything.”

 

They went inside.

 

Jessie knew how it was. Fucking was something Anna and Time still had. They knew how to please each other. Jessie wrapped her arms around herself to keep warm. The right touches down the muscles along the spine. Finding the contours of the hip bones and pressing down. They each must have known there would be a new girl someday, and maybe Jessie was becoming that girl, but they would never have this again, and they fucked, and Jessie listened to the work of it. Jessie sat in the cold and knitted, but a Montana summer night did not last long, and dawn was already seeping into the sky. Jessie’s hair was tangled, and she pushed it back with the heel of her palm and squinted at the blue of the dawning sky.

 

Michael came out with a blanket. “I’m sorry, Jessie.”

 

“Just tell me one thing, Michael. Are we happy? Will we remember Missoula and how happy we were?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“And we will be forever like that?”

 

“Yeah. Sure.”

 

“And so happy.”

 

“Sure baby.”

 

“Happy or just happy? You can’t just keep saying ‘sure.’”

 

“What?”

 

“Never mind.” Jessie began to cry. Michael went in. The air against Jessie’s skin felt cold. In spite of the cold, she knitted, because that’s what she did. Some women got headaches... On the fire escape, in the cold, beside Oscar’s bowl of untouched food, her hips aching, Jessie knitted, and the cars hissed by, and she understood why her kitty was not coming home.

* * *

The next day was the thesis defense. Michael and Jessie ate breakfast. Tim and Anna were fucking again. You could hear them through the ceiling. Jessie thought, How could I have been so... happy. She put the milk in the fridge. She took out the last of the cat food and threw it away.

 

She put on a blue blouse and a pencil skirt. Michael put on his one suit. Jessie tied a blue ribbon in her hair. Some hippie chick. As she fixed Michael’s tie, she thought, I own all of this if I want it. I iron his suit, I cut his hair, I pick out his soap. His thesis defense will go fine because I edited that beast. They kissed, they spoke no words, and Michael’s hands on Jessie’s shoulders pressed her down, kneeling in her tight skirt, but it wasn’t forced, because she owned this too. She undid his pants. A quickie before an event. They’d done this before, back when they were... Michael’s fingers undid the bow from Jessie’s hair.

 

They went out the front door, skipping the fire escape because Jessie was wearing heels. They walked hand in hand. Around the corner of the building, they saw Tim playing with Hallie in the lot. Hallie pointed at Jessie and said, “She’s pretty, Daddy.” Hallie was wearing the sweater Jessie had knitted for her. Brown wool, Icelandic style, and dang if Jessie hadn’t gotten the girl’s size just right. Maybe she understood children after all. She had finished it at dawn, climbed the fire escape, and stuck it through Tim’s window. She hadn’t worked on Michael’s sweater in a long while.

 

Michael said, “That looks just like—” 

 

Jessie looked at Michael and said, “I did it. I made it for her.” 

 

She waited for Michael to say something. Then she couldn't wait, because Michael wasn’t saying a single word. She said, “Michael...”

 

Hallie ran up and gave her a hug. She ran back to her dad.

 

Michael resumed walking.

 

Jessie said, “I’m not going."

 

“Um, okay. It’s going to be a boring lecture, I know.” He kept walking.

 

“To Alaska. I’m not going to Alaska.”

 

Jessie heard him say, “I didn’t expect that.”

 

She caught up and said, “I’ll still be your girl.” She took his hand.

 

“We both know what that means.”

 

Jessie knew better than he. Passing the vacant lot, she turned and looked for her cat. She couldn’t help herself. Michael's hand tugged her along. Jessie’s heels made rapid clicks on the pavement. She said, “God fucking damn, I’ll always be your girl. And we’ll be so happy.”

 

* * *

 

Saying goodbye was harder than Jessie thought. They stood by the car loaded with Michael’s things, and Michael held her, and Jessie cried. She made a mess with her tears, and she had no tissue to wipe her face. She used Michael’s shirt.

 

Michael said, “You were knitting me a sweater.”

 

“Yeah, about that...”

 

“One more thing I took for granted, I guess.”

“Me too.”

 

“You know, I was going to ask you to marry me.”

 

“No, Michael, I did not know that. That’s the whole fucking point. I emphatically did not fucking know.”

 

“Just out of curiosity, would you have said yes?”

 

“Oh Jesus, Michael. Not like this. I mean sure, but it doesn’t mean a thing like this.” She sobbed.

 

Michael held her. He said, “You should visit. Bring the sweater. You should come.”

 

Jessie said, “So we can fuck, Michael?”

 

“Oh, cutting to the chase, I see.”

 

“I’ll mail you the god-damned sweater.”

 

“Some women get headaches...”

 

“Shut up.” She cried.

 

Michael got in the car. He rolled down the window. “I just want to know one thing. Why? Come on, Jess. You’re the word person. Why?”

 

Jessie was backing away from the car. Her wet hair stuck to her cheeks. She said, “It’s complicated.” Tim’s word. Such an easy word. It could make anything go away.

 

* * *

She went to Tim’s apartment in the morning. She wore her cotton print dress, nothing underneath. Hippy girl. Her bare feet picked spots on the iron grate, cold and damp with dew. She kneeled and peeked in the window, her fingers folding around the sash.

 

Tim was in the kitchen. He was packing dishes into a box. Jessie stepped in, her dress skimming the sill. Her feet left small wet prints on the floor. She finger-combed her damp hair.

 

“Hey. Jessie! I’ve got your plate.”

 

She smiled. She looked down, but only for a moment. She looked at Tim. She stepped closer.

 

“Jessie, I don’t know what to say. Anna and me, we’re going to try again. I gave notice and everything.”

 

“Oh.” Jessie folded her arms. That didn’t work. She tucked back her hair. No. She folded her arms again. She unfolded them.

 

“Maybe I’ll put in those French doors after all. Look, I told you it was complicated. I shouldn’t have involved you. You had no idea.”

 

Jessie gazed at the floor. She said, “I knew what I was doing.”

 

“You couldn’t possibly have known. And I’m so sorry.”

 

She said, “I knew exactly what I was doing.” And, knowing exactly, she reached out to that old stove and wrapped her damp fingers around the handle of the oven door.

 

The electricity, 220 volts, was hard and sharp. It seized her muscles and shook her. The jolt ran up her arm and down her leg, and it hurt badly. She sunk down, her back arched, her cotton dress sticking to her damp legs. As her grip tore loose, she was trembling from her fingertips to her spine.

 

She thought, Ceiling just like mine.

 

Tim kneeled and held her. Hallie must have come in, because Tim yelled, “Stay back.” He stroked Jessie’s face. He propped her against the wall and said, “I’m calling 911.” He ran to the other room.

 

Anna came in. She picked up Hallie. She eyed Jessie on the floor. She said, “He knows what I like, I suppose. And vice versa. And all his parts are in good working order.” She nodded at Jessie. “But you already know that, don’t you.”

 

Jessie whispered, “Why were you ever separated? Weren’t you happy?”

 

“I don’t think that’s your business. I mean that’s really not your business. God damn you.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s all right. Love is equally joy and sorrow. Someday you’ll understand.”

 

Jessie began to cry.

 

“Oh, honey. Don’t cry. You’re the one who brought us back together. Maybe you were playing a similar card in your relationship, but I don’t know what’s up with you and your man. He seems a clueless fellow, and you lost the bet. Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge now. Semen under the bridge, I suppose.”

“That’s crude.” Jessie curled into a corner of the kitchen and wrapped her arms tight. Her heart thumped a fast funny beat.

* * *

Jessie knitted on the fire escape. With her shaky hands, the knitting needles rattled. The cars hissed by. From an apartment window she heard dishwater splashing.

 

The Ukrainian girls came into the lot. They stood against a tree, shoulders touching. They wore church clothes, gauzy yellow frocks, and they must have been cold. They saw Jessie, and they made for the fire escape. They sat on the bottom landing and took turns French-braiding each other’s hair. They said words Jessie did not understand. After a while, the taller girl looked up and said, “Hey, where’s your boyfriend?” She ran a palm over her fresh braid.

 

Jessie said, “We sort of broke up.”

 

“Sort of?”

 

“I don’t know. It’s difficult to define for you.”

 

The taller girl said, “Oh my gosh, we speak perfect English, okay?”

 

The shorter girl said, “Wait, which one was her boyfriend?”

 

The girls climbed the stairs. “Can you teach us? We want to learn.”

 

They sat close to Jessie, one on each side. Jessie felt the warmth of their legs and arms through their gauzy dresses. Their hair smelled like conditioner.

 

“Can we make sweaters?”

 

Jessie thought, They have no idea about anything. Not sweaters. Not boys. Not fucking. Not even how to be happy. Well, maybe they knew a little about that. She and Michael had been happy. She was happy now. Merely happy.

 

She got out two more needles. “We’ll start with a basic scarf.”

 

The smaller girl reached for them.

 

The taller girl yelled something harsh in Ukrainian and grabbed the needles.

 

Jessie said, “So if I teach you to knit, you have to teach me Ukrainian.”

 

“Um, we don’t speak Ukrainian.”

 

“Oh. I thought—so what are you then?”

 

The girls looked at each other and rolled their eyes. “Oh my gosh.”

 

Their names were Yulia and Diana. They were Romanian, but not exactly, as they really were from Ukraine, but they said it was very complicated. That word was enough to stop Jessie from asking. She showed them everything to do.

 

“This is knit. This is purl. Knit. Purl. Knit. Purl. Back and forth. It’s easy and fast.”

 

Diana said, “If it’s so easy, why are your hands shaking?”

 

Yulia said, “Yeah. This looks kind of complicated.”

 

Jessie said, “It’s easy, I’m telling you! Knit. Purl. Knit. Purl.” She showed them how to do it, how easy it was, as if she had any idea.

Evan Morgan Williams' collection of stories, "Thorn," won the 2013 Chandra Prize at BkMk Press (University of Missouri--Kansas City) and later won the gold medal in the IPPY Awards. A second collection, "Canyons," won the gold medal in the Next Generation Independent Book Awards. A third collection is forthcoming in 2021 from Main Street Rag. Williams has published over fifty short stories in journals famous and obscure, including The Kenyon Review, Antioch Review, Witness, Zyzzyva, and Alaska Quarterly Review. 

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