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Original artwork by Ella Jensen


Nikita Andester

The first time I lied to Leah was pure accident. She sat in the living room, romance novel covering her face, when I walked in with no intention of hiding a damn thing. I stood there like a tower, a lighthouse, shining over everything Leah swore she loved in a man – and I was fixing to confess that last week I’d joined a knitting circle. 

But then Leah raised her eyebrows in that way she has and set the book face-up on the couch and joined me, wrapping one arm around my waist. The highlander on the cover was glaring at us; I buried my nose in her hair. 

“Hey, baby. Where you going with that purse of yours?” She poked one finger into my gut, her voice muffled under the blinding coconut of her shampoo. 

After a thing like that, how could I have told her – Leah, love of my life, master of the potato salad, and the woman who’d once leaned over at the movies while Nicolas Cage sobbed on screen to tell me nothing turned her off more than a crying man – that I was about to go sit with a bunch of grandmas in a church basement and learn to purl? 

I was Terry, for God’s sake. Hot wing connoisseur and assistant project manager for Lowell & Sons Aluminum Siding. Not a knitter. 

Instead, I kissed her, shifting my briefcase stuffed with yarn behind my back. “It’s a briefcase, baby. And nowhere, not really. Just that Dion asked me to watch the game at Pockets tonight.” 

“You gonna be gone long?” 

“Not more than two, three hours.” 

“OK. Tell him I said hi.” As she retreated back onto the couch, she looked at me one more time. “Love you.” 

“Love you, too.”

The shirtless highlander stared me down the whole way out the door. 

Outside at the bus stop, sweat worked its way through to my overshirt. Whenever folks talk about Florida, they like to pretend every day is either sunny as the license plates claim or that a hurricane’s fixing to rattle your teeth straight from your head any minute. Never anything in between. Today though, outside was plain ugly, that shade of gray that committed to nothing in particular, not a single damn flamingo flying off into a hot pink sunset. Not that any even came this near the Georgia border anyway. Did flamingos even fly? And what did they do with their babies whose legs were too short for the water? Lately, knitting had me asking questions like that. Things I’d never given a lick of attention to before suddenly had a way of chewing me up. 

Maybe that was why I’d gotten into knitting in the first place. So many questions looping in my head.

Sitting on the bus, I rolled an old gum wrapper from my pocket into a skein of silver and tried to ignore the stream of things I couldn’t quit wondering about. Flat blocks of strip malls speckled with live oaks whirred by. 

At a stop facing yet another grocery store abutting a laundromat and takeout Chinese, the doors hissed open and she hobbled on. Now, I don’t consider myself a man who falls for dramatics, but I swear I knew it even then, that she’d change my life. Every step went so slow she must’ve been moving on momentum alone, like she’d gone for a run ten years back and hadn’t quite managed to stop yet and one day her joints would freeze up, turning her into a lawn ornament right wherever she stood. But her hair – sweet Lord, her hair got me good. It did the macarena all the way down to her waist, more alive than the rest of her combined. As she dragged herself down the aisle, gripping each seat as she went, her curls bounced behind her. She sank down into the seat in front of me, trembling with effort. Her hair quaked too, peeking at me around the back of her seat. 

I’d only been knitting for a week, but even then I ached. That hair was made to be knit, whipped into scarves, mittens with cables winding up Leah’s arms like snakes, silver thigh highs I’d unroll down Leah’s legs, one by one – 

“Monroe and Homewood.” 

Ten stops had whizzed by, just like that. Stumbling off the bus, I made my way to the basement of Our Father’s Hands and began to knit. The grandmas and I, we hardly spoke to each other while we knitted. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say they hardly spoke to me. They didn’t want to ask what got me started. But I wasn’t there to make friends, anyway. What I loved – love – about knitting is how it has a way of busying your hands and freeing up your mind. But that day, practicing seed stitch, all I could think about was Leah. Lying to her, mostly. The feeling had sprouted in my belly, welcome as kudzu and curling twice as fast around my gut. 

On the bus ride home, the game’s highlights flickered on my phone. Maybe I should’ve gone with Dion like I’d told Leah. Next week. Next week I’d sit her down and come clean. It was that or quit altogether. 

Except I didn’t do either of those things. Not that week or in the ones that followed. Instead, I kept taking the bus, Yarn Woman’s hair bouncing as the traffic lurched along. To be honest, that was the hardest part. Each time I thought I’d quit, throw out the knitting needles I’d hidden in the toolbox, there her hair would go, springing behind my eyelids every time I blinked. It made me hungry to make things, all kinds of things, things that had no patterns. Now, I was never a creative guy before, but when I saw her hair, my brain went haywire: knitted Spanish moss dripping along the inside of the bus, hair-yarn jacuzzi steam, hair-yarn tin cups to drink a whiskey from while camping. 

So I didn’t quit. And as the weeks piled on, the yarns I spun for Leah spiraled into cock-and-bull like this: 

“Hey, Sugar. Lee texted asking me to look over his laptop. You know, I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, the machines at work are a mess. I’m gonna take care of it now, make that overtime. Every extra dollar gets us that much closer to finally fixing the car.” 

“That was Dion on the phone. Wants me to come over for the game tonight.” 

Today it was, “Gotta go. James says we’re wrestling alligators in the forest to find our manhood. Fix yourself that SoCo and Coke, Baby, and I’ll tell you about it when I get home.” She raised her eyebrows at me over her book again – this time it had a woman fainting in the arms of some half-naked firefighter. Her reading so much was part of the trouble; Leah was smart. She read almost constantly, flipping pages behind the sandwich counter at Publix between customers, and five nights a week she’d holler answers at the TV during Jeopardy!, slapping her knees whenever she got questions the contestants missed. With my latest excuse, her needle eyes drove through me until I looked down and focused on my zipped briefcase, heavy with the makings of my first hat. 

“If you’re really fixin’ to play basketball,” that’s what I’d actually told her, not the thing about alligators, “then why the hell are you bringing that stupid purse of yours? You just got off work, Terry.” 

Leah never said my name. I swallowed. “Briefcase, honey. But I – I hear you.” I swallowed. “I’m helping him with taxes, too?” 

“It’s October.”

Shit. “Yeah. But, honey, you know James. He’s – he wants to be a step ahead.” 

Her book was already up, dividing her face from mine; she didn’t say shit after that. The whole ride to Our Father’s Hands, I lost myself in Yarn Woman’s hair and tried to smother thoughts of Leah with it. Had her hair always been so thick or did that come with age? And had anyone ever knitted a blanket out of hair? Wool was hair, if you thought about it, so most folks actually were knitting hair blankets every day. Just not long strings of it. How sheep felt about hats was a mystery. Before I knew it, my mind was whipping an afghan from Yarn Woman’s hair while I sat; one Leah and I held hands under as I spilled the beans. 

It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried. I really had. But each time I started to come clean, there she’d go calling my bag a purse or laughing about some man trying to corral his children like a mama duck, and suddenly I’d hear myself asking her to grab wings with me instead. 

Yarn Woman glanced back at me and smiled, then turned back to face the front.

“Tuesdays I lie to my wife.” The words popped out of my mouth before I could stop them. “I think she’s worried I’m cheating on her.” 

Every muscle knotting my shoulders loosened up as soon as I said it, even if Yarn Woman didn’t react. Maybe she couldn’t hear so well anymore. 

“I’d never – I’m not –” I sighed. “All I’m doing is knitting over at Our Father’s Hands. Working on a hat right now.” I patted my bag. 

Still nothing. Until after two stops when she turned to face me, slow as slow can be, her cotton thread wrinkles all tangled into a frown. “That secret ain’t worth a marriage, Baby. You gotta tell her sometime.” 

My fingers fiddled with that old gum wrapper again. “I don’t think she’d understand, ma’am.” 

Reaching over to pat my arm just the once, Yarn Woman turned back to face the front.

Tuesdays got worse. After one night where Leah asked point-blank if I was cheating, she’d gone and taken to avoiding home altogether on Tuesdays. Instead of being home, she’d pop off texts like she was wielding a BB gun to announce her absence. As if I hadn’t noticed. She’d taken to staying out later than me, armed with some story about “the girls,” and on those nights I came home to nothing but frozen burritos and reruns, breathless each time I thought I heard the door open until she finally came home, retreating to our bedroom to read without so much as a “Hi, Baby.” 

Funny thing was, so long as Leah and I pretended there were only six days in a week, Wednesdays we were happyish. On a Tuesday when Leah had gotten up early to read on the back porch instead of having to see me off to work, her silence was pressing into my gut. By the time I’d finished my first cup of breakroom coffee, thinking about her had kicked off my heartburn something awful. What was I doing? Leah was my woman, the one I once jumped into a lake for, gators and everything, to rescue her favorite shoe after it fell off the dock, the woman I would always let peel the pickles off my burgers because I knew she loved to eat them straight. She deserved better, even if that meant telling her the truth, that knitting had cracked open this haunted house casket of questions about flamingos’ lives or sheeps’ thoughts. Sure, Leah was the kind of woman who worshipped Janet Evanovich, flea markets, and Jesus Christ – probably in that order, although she’d deny it – but I had to say something. It had been one thing to leave Leah at home Tuesdays; it was a whole other now that she was going off without me. Yarn Woman had it right: some lies ain’t worth a marriage. 

Even though it was Tuesday – our Holy Day of Ignorance – I called Leah. To my surprise, she actually picked up.

“You okay? What’s wrong?” 

“Wrong? No, Baby, I – wanna grab lunch at our spot?” 

Only her breathing let me know she was still on the line. “Yeah. Alright. My shift doesn’t start til three.” 

“We can meet at one?” 


“Alright, Baby. See you then. Love you.” 

“Yeah. You too.” 

About three hours later, Leah sat across from me at the Panera, mutilating her Cobb salad and watching the broccoli cheddar soup dribble off my plastic spoon. 

“Why’d you want to see me?” 

“Can’t a man have lunch with his wife?” 

Her hand wilted to the side of her bowl and the right corner of her mouth tugged downward, like she might cry. Like she missed me, too. That was as good an invitation as I’d get. “I missed you.” 

She let me squeeze her hand once before jerking it away to attack her salad again, stabbing without ever taking a bite. “So what’s the excuse today, Terry?” All she’d had to do – the only thing – was say she missed me too. I’d have come clean then and there. But she didn’t, and that was that. “Flag football?” 

Do you know what I mean when I say there’s a feeling someone gets in their eyes? You can look at the woman you love and see when she’s drawn the blinds, decided to pretend nobody’s home?

And suddenly you’re sure that no matter what you say, she’ll never hear it because she turned the TV on full blast even though you were mid-sentence?

Maybe it’s just the yarn talking through me again, but right then her eyes looked exactly like that. I looked away first. 

“And you’ll be bringing that stupid purse.” It wasn’t a question. 


There wasn’t much to say after that. When I got home, Leah was already gone. She hadn’t even bothered to say where this time, even though I texted. I guess she was so used to pretending Tuesdays didn’t exist, and I’d gone and punctured that myth once already, that she didn’t feel too pressed to answer. 

Outside, the sky was that blue that’s made for the movies, a postcard of winter, sixty degrees and only a few fat clouds. I swear, few things are worse than a beautiful day when your heart’s splintered up. Before Yarn Woman even boarded, I already knew I’d be knitting a hand towel to sop up my grief. 

But when her stop came, the only person who boarded was some tiny old guy in a beanie, all bundled in layers and an oversized windbreaker. He fumbled with his cash so bad the driver had to help. My breathing came in short and I closed my eyes. It wasn’t possible. She had to come. Yarn Woman had to board. There wasn’t any other option. The guy sat down in front of me, trembling. As the bus careened back into traffic, I stood up, heart pounding in my ears, heat rising in my face, all to sit across from this stranger – to yell or shake him or scream about Yarn Woman, I couldn’t say, but that man had to know he was wrong, wrong to take her stop and her seat and keep me from the one thing holding me together. 

But then the stranger turned to me and smiled, breaking and restitching wrinkles I realized then I knew so well. “You told your wife yet, Baby?” 

“Your hair – how? You – it’s gone.”

Reaching beneath the beanie, those old hands tremored over whatever hair was left. “I wanted to feel the winter on my neck.” 

The bus stopped and I stumbled off without looking back. Gone. Her million pounds of hair, gone and dead and all I could do was choke on its memory. After who knows how long, I started walking nowhere in particular. My mind cycled from flamingos to Leah to Yarn Woman’s hair and the thousand questions I’d never asked and back to Leah again, over and over until all of it knotted together and I couldn’t tease my thoughts apart from the sweat clinging to my buttondown. 

Eventually I found myself standing at the edge of a strip mall with, among other things, a Winn Dixie, a wine bar, and a coffee shop. For the first time in my adult life, I bought a hot chocolate, I guess hoping it would quiet my head. All it did was burn my tongue. The real solution here was to buy a six pack, split it with Leah when she got home, and show her the half-finished hat in my bag. Tonight. Tonight we’d talk it out. Crossing the wine bar on the way into Winn Dixie, I glanced through the window – and the tin roof of my heart caved in. Because there Leah sat, a wine glass in one hand as she reached the other across a bistro table to smother the knuckles of somebody in a lavender sweater. The stranger’s shoulders were round and soft, like the eyeliner around his eyes, and that soft, soft man leaned over and kissed the woman I loved square on the mouth. 

Everything I’d ever meant to say died right there next to Yarn Woman’s hair. Dropping onto the concrete bench outside the bar, I pulled my hat from my briefcase and started to knit.

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