Issue 24 / Winter 2021 / Special Issue: Pleasure
“No,” says Tamara when she sees the yarn. “No, Cal, you’re not.”
“I am,” I say.
She shakes her head, exasperated, already exhausted with me even though she’s only just gotten home. I narrow my eyes at her, daring her to stop me as I purl a stitch without breaking my gaze.
“Lark!” Tamara yells into the other room, also without looking away. We’re playing chicken. “Lark, come see what Cal’s doing!”
Lark stumbles out of his room with his blanket wrapped around him. He looks like a pupating slug. “What?” he asks blearily.
Tamara points. I purl. It takes a second, and then Lark gets it.
“Aw, come on Cal!” he says. “I like this one! What happened?”
“Nothing,” I say.
Lark and Tamara look at each other. Tamara shakes her head again like she’s not going to be the one to deal with me. “Then why?” Lark asks.
I shrug. Another stitch. “He’s too nice.”
Tamara laughs like she can’t believe me. “Too nice?!”
“Cal,” Lark says, flopping onto the couch beside me, releasing a fine mist of Dorito dust from the cushion. “What the fuck.”
“The heart doesn’t want what the heart doesn’t want,” I say.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” says Tamara, who has sat down and is unlacing her boots. “That Cal is back on their bullshit.”
Lark brings a hand to his mouth and blows a fat raspberry.
“Did you just wake up?” I ask him.
“Hm?” he says. “Yeah.”
“Dude. It’s 8.”
“That might actually legit be a new record,” Lark says, pulling out his phone. “I’m gonna contact Guinness.”
“I thought they banned you,” Tamara says.
“They did,” Lark confirms. “But they haven’t banned Cal.”
“Stop using my email!” I say.
“Change your password!” he says.
Tamara pulls a pack of cloves out of her jacket pocket. Lark and I roll our eyes as she lights one, even though we’re both in disgrace and neither of us has any high ground.
“Long day?” I ask her.
“You know what your problem is, Cal?” Tamara says. “You don’t think you deserve a nice guy.”
“Well yeah,” I say.
“Duh,” says Lark. “Great insight, Tamara.”
“Speaking of insight,” she says. “Why is Cal’s project news to us, Lark?”
“What!” Lark squawks. “I don’t keep tabs on you guys.”
“Rude,” I say. “Why not?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, the goddamn world is ending out there,” Lark says. “Fuckin political apocalypse? The bees are dying? Don’t have time to cast my divination on your petty little love lives.”
“How’re things with Tom?” I ask.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he says, and he pulls a whole-ass bag of Smartfood popcorn out of the folds of the blanket.
“So when is this happening?” Tamara asks.
“When is what happening?”
“When are you giving it to Eli?”
“Tamara, I gave it to Eli just the other night.”
Lark makes finger guns at me. “Eyyyyy.”
“The sweater,” Tarama clarifies with practiced patience.
“I know,” I say. “I’m seeing him on Saturday. So probably then.”
Tamara puffs a long plume out the corner of her mouth. “And how long will it take to work?”
“Assuming he wears it? I dunno. Probably same as Reid — he’ll text me less and less and then eventually he’ll tell me we need to talk and that’ll be it. So…maybe 2 weeks?”
“Two weeks,” Tamara echoes, like she’s mulling it over. Her legs are dangling over the arm of the chair. “Why don’t you just break up with him the normal way?”
“Because that would require confrontation,” I explain.
“And knitting an entire sweater is easier than confrontation.”
Tamara turns to Lark for support, but he’s nodding solemnly. “Yeah, that holds up.”
I start on the next row, the needles clicking softly. Tamara’s face softens. “It’s a gorgeous color, though,” she says, pointing at the yarn.
A mossy forest green. A little bit yellow, a little bit grey. Medium weight for early autumn. “I thought it would look good with his eyes,” I say.
She sighs and heads for the kitchen. “Aw, poor Eli. I liked him. He’s a nice guy. Attentive.”
“That is exactly my thesis, Tamara.”
“Hey,” Lark calls to her. “Do we have any of those happy childhood memory scones left?”
“No!” she scolds through the pass-through. “Because you monsters ate them all! You know I only got to have one?”
Lark smiles a dreamy smile. “Going to the butterfly farm with my grandpa,” he says.
“Beachcombing with my mom in Cape Cod.” I reminisce.
“Make them again?” Lark pleads.
“Maybe,” Tamara says, pulling a large mixing bowl down from the cabinet. “But I gotta do these first.”
“What’re you making?” I ask.
“Can I have one?”
“Nope. Courage muffins only work if the eater has intrinsic courage.”
Lark watches me work with mild fascination. “How come it looks easy when you do it?” he asks.
“Practice,” I say.
I knit. Tamara bakes, the gentle scrape of the whisk and the warm scent of spiced vanilla floating in from the kitchen as Lark tells us about the time he accidentally predicted a power outage by dropping a can of Chef Boyardee and reading the patterns in the spill. As we talk and laugh, I finish the body of the sweater.
It’s almost evening when Lark stumbles out of his room again the next day. He yawns in the doorway then curls up beside me, watching my progress.
I measure the sweater’s left sleeve against my arm. Eli and I are nearly the same height — he’s a little bit taller so that when we kiss, I have to tilt my head up to reach. So my arm is a fine reference for his.
“How does it work?” Lark asks.
“How do you mean?” Something looks off. I’ve missed a stitch.
Lark stretches out along the length of the couch like a cat and puts his head on my leg. “Like what’s the spell? How does it make him break up with you?”
I sigh and frog the row. “It doesn’t. It’s not like it puts the idea in his head or anything, I don’t fuck with those, I think that’s messed up. It’ll just make him…not feel the way he feels about me now. Like, it’ll rearrange what’s already there. It’ll take the dominant feelings, the love feelings, the ones at the top, and sort of dull them so that the beneath feelings, all the stuff he doesn’t like so much about me, those feelings can come to the surface. And then he won’t want to be with me anymore.”
“So what would happen if I put it on?” Lark asks.
“I dunno,” I say. “What are your underlying feelings about me?”
Lark smiles like he’s sort of sad. “The same as the top layer,” he says. “I love you and I wish you loved yourself more.”
I start the row again. “Then it would just be a regular sweater.”
Lark still looks kind of sad, so I put the needles down. “Hey,” I say. “Did something happen? Did you see something bad?”
He sits up and grimaces. “Yeah,” he says. “But you know. It’s almost all bad these days.”
“I know,” I say as he leans his head on my shoulder. “Dark times.”
“Super dark,” he says.
We sit there quietly for a moment. Then a car blasting some bachata beat blares past outside and we both laugh because now the moment feels melodramatic.
“Okay,” he says as he stands. “Enough of this! I’m gonna do your reading.”
“What if it’s bad!” I say at his retreating back.
“It won’t be!” he calls from his room. “I’m getting my nice deck.”
When he comes back, we move the candles and ashtrays off the coffee table and he lays the cards out as I pick them, their ornate faces looking up at the chipped ceiling. I recognize Lark’s thin, square handwriting in the capital letters. He must have painted them himself.
“Oooh,” he says as he looks at my selection.
“What?” I ask.
He looks up at me from where he’s sitting on the floor. He’s frowning. “You’re going to marry a mediocre white guy named Bradley” he says seriously.
“Asshole,” I say, throwing the skein of yarn at him. He grins and throws it back. “What does it actually say?”
He shakes his head, still smiling. “Nope.”
“What! Come on.”
“Nope, I’m not telling you.”
“Don’t want to spoil the surprise,” he says cheerily, before adding, “Plus, you’ll self-sabotage if I tell you.”
“Fine,” I say, and I return to the sweater. That night, on Lark’s messed-up sleep schedule, I finish the arms.
I wake up late the next morning to the patter of rain on my air conditioner and a comforting smell seeping in from underneath my door. I pull on a sweatshirt and go out into the living room to see Tamara, eyelinerless, measuring out cocoa powder under the soft light of the kitchen.
“Hey,” she says brightly by way of greeting when she sees me.
“I forgot you had the day off,” I say.
“Yeah!” she says. “Wanna help?”
“Definitely,” I say, coming around the wall to join her. Tamara gestures at the aprons and I put one on, rolling up my sleeves. “What are we making?”
“What kind of weed?”
“No, like weed weed.”
As she strains the butter, I bring over my knitting and get to work on the neckband trim, taking care to keep the seam tidy and hidden. Tamara watches with amusement.
“This is a lot of effort to put into a breakup,” she teases.
“Didn’t you bake Lily a cake when you broke up with them?” I ask.
“Yeah. But it wasn’t a very good cake.”
“Consolation cake,” I say.
We pour the batter into the pan and Tamara slides it into the oven as I hold the door open. Then we brew strong mugs of tea and sip them by the window as the rain comes down outside. The smell of chocolate fills the room while I sew the hem of the sleeves. And then, after nearly three days of hard work, I hold up the finished sweater for Tamara to see.
“Damn,” she whispers. “It’s really gorgeous.”
“It sort of is, isn’t it?” I say, holding it up against my body to try and see the full effect.
“It actually is,” she says. “I can’t believe how good you are at this.”
“Yeah,” I say wryly. “Really excellent use of my gifts.”
“You use them for good too!” Tamara insists. “That hat you made me for my birthday? I haven’t forgotten my keys since.”
“No, see, that was a selfish present,” I say. “I just didn’t want to come home to rescue you anymore.”
She laughs, then reaches out to touch the sweater. I hand it to her and watch her softly thumb the loops.
“Where does the spell live?” she asks.
“It’s woven into the whole thing,” I explain. “I weave it in as I go.”
Tamara runs her fingers along the grooves of the fisherman stitches. “I hate being broken up with,” she says. “Even if I don’t really want to be with the person, I hate it. Why would you choose to be dumped?”
“I just really hate being in a position where I could be the bad guy,” I say. “Because then it’s like confirmation that I actually am a bad guy.”
Tamara scoffs. “You? Come on. You don’t have it in you to be bad.”
I look at the sweater. “This feels a little bad,” I say. “You know some people call it the sweater curse? Curse — like it’s a dark art.”
“Nah, it’s not dark,” Tamara says. “You don’t have it in you to do something dark, either.”
“You ever made anything else for Eli?” she asks.
“A pair of gloves that would always keep his hands warm, for when he works outside. A blanket that would give him good dreams. He gets nightmares, sometimes.”
Tamara reaches across the table and takes my hand. Hers is warm from the tea. “Did you love him?” she asks.
I close my eyes. “I think I did, at one point,” I say. “But he loves me more than I ever loved him, and it’s like the more he’s into me, the less I’m into him because it’s like…a flaw for him to be into me or something.”
“Aw, Cal,” Tamara says. “Wish you loved you.”
“I do. I think. Deep down. Maybe it’s just buried in all that I-am-not-worthy bullshit.”
“I gotta figure out how to get that self-love potion to work,” Tamara says, and I smile because she’s been saying that for years.
The next morning is brisk and cold and I lie in bed for a while, deliciously cozy while the air outside my blanket rustles and crackles with the year’s first frost. I look at my phone, steel myself, then slide out of bed, shivering as my feet hit the floor. Saturday.
What do you wear to a breakup? Nothing memorable, I decide, because then, forever, that’s your breakup shirt, your breakup socks. Easier if it’s nondescript. White shirt. Blue socks. Backpack. Coat.
My coat’s in the hall closet. I go out into the living room and see the sweater draped over the back of the couch, just where I’d left it the previous night, its arms hanging loosely onto the cushions like it’s sleeping sprawled out.
I fold it up as neatly as I can. It sits on the coffee table, waiting patiently for me as I tie my shoes.
Still waiting as I grab my coat and pack my bag.
Just begging to be worn.
Impulsively, I unfold the sleeves and put the sweater on.
And there, in the center of my chest, the beginnings of a sweet, contented something. A tight knot loosening just a bit. A kindness. The lightness of it shocks me.
I grab my bag and leave my coat behind.
Through the window, the sun is grey and bright. The bachata trumpet sings out high and strong.
I grab a courage muffin from the fridge, and with a brave and honeyed bite, I go.
Anna Stacy (they/she) is a writer, actor, medical student, and multi-tasker from New York. She loves a good story and hates being bored. Anna’s writing has been published in Passengers Journal, The Apothecary, and Academic Emergency Medicine, and can also be found on-screen in the award-winning web series Dead-Enders. For more on what else Anna’s been doing when they should be studying, check out their website.