It was on a Tuesday morning after Assembly in the Great Hall that I started to unravel. Not when you walked into the classroom; afterwards.
Miss Parker gave you the empty seat next to me for eleventh grade English.
“Tara, you can sit next to Rachel, here.”
I pretended not to notice how your blazer lapel was turned back on one side so that I could see the grey ticking underneath. It was so obviously new and unworn. We exchanged awkward smiles.
Dylan Thomas formed part of the syllabus, and the poem we were studying had something about a girl who was ‘mad as birds’. Miss Parker got really animated then. We looked at each other; you had a quizzical expression, and one of your perfectly arched eyebrows raised up a half-inch or so, which almost made me laugh.
Just then, a pigeon outside flew straight into one of the windows and all the girls jumped. It exploded into a cloud of grey feathers, then dropped from sight to the ground below. Several girls screamed. Pilar López started crying.
I’d always heard that birds could be a bad omen, so I thought that having one die right in front of you on your first day at a new school must be pretty awful.
“Don’t worry,” I said, through the general buzz and commotion that Miss Parker was trying to quell. “Things aren’t usually this interesting.” And I reached up to straighten your crooked lapel.
You grinned, and that’s when it happened.
The first fine threads in my chest spun loose like summer cobwebs in a breeze. They stirred under my blazer and tie, so that I clutched a hand to my heart in shame. Fortunately, you didn’t notice a thing.
That evening when I got home, I found an old darning needle and patched myself up. The loose threads were easily fixed so I told myself not to worry. I hunted through my scruffy knitting bag, all the half-finished and abandoned projects from the time my mother first taught me. I had an urge to make something for you. I knew it was crazy—it was nearly summer, after all—but I decided to knit you a scarf.
One week later, everyone was doing it! Some famous actress had gone on a chat show saying she’d discovered this ‘old-fashioned hobby’ which kept her sane between takes. Jenny Paxton and her cronies had been to the mall for the new designer bags and green yarn which was all the rage, so I had even more reason to hide my tatty stuff.
But I continued knitting your scarf in the evenings at home, watching it get longer and longer, and patching up any loose threads of my own at the same time. It was embarrassing: they were more and more unruly. I had to tuck them under my school uniform as the day went on, secreting any loose ends away until later, feeling awkward and unable to join in anything with the other girls.
You’d asked me if anything was wrong, several times now, and I’d shrugged you away.
Eventually, I knew it would happen.
“Uh, fine! Catch you later, Rachel.”
But it would have been too much to explain. How could I possibly tell you?
When you walked away from me, over to Jenny on the other side of the yard, something seemed to give, something deep inside me, and I slunk into the girls’ bathroom like a wounded animal. Nobody noticed when I crept home.
That night, I began using my very own thread in your scarf. I unravelled it from myself, knitting it in as I went, back and forth, across the clicking needles. My colours were crazy, mixed up, uneven, never the same two days running, but I just kept on going. Afterwards, I was exhausted, spent. The pain of it drove me into a delirious sleep, and I only woke to the sound of birds at dawn next morning.
The following week, you didn’t show up in class.
By the end of the day I learnt that you’d switched to Mrs Roper’s English group instead. Once the shock had passed, I decided to visit you after school.
When you opened your door, I felt a familiar flutter in my chest. You said nothing and I had the terrible feeling I shouldn’t have come. In the hallway, a large vase of flowers gave off a heady scent which drifted towards me. I took a deep breath:
“Hi, Tara. I just, erm, thought I’d say hello. You OK?”
“Fine. Just fine, thanks. I’d ask you in, but…”
Your words trailed off into an excuse that failed to materialise. I swallowed the sickly scented air and looked you in the eye, searching for something. But nothing reflected back at me.
As I dropped my gaze, I noticed a designer patchwork bag behind you near the staircase, with green knitting sticking out the top. The steel points of the needles felt like they had just pierced my heart.
That evening in the park as dusk quietly fell, I sat on the bench at the far side of the pond. Only a few curious ducks remained, their beady eyes on the scruffy bag at my feet, hopeful for crumbs or cake.
I opened the bag and gathered up the large, tangled mess of yarn inside it, holding it in my arms. Stepping to the water’s edge I dropped it in, watching as the wool bloomed and spread across the golden surface, how it rippled and bubbled briefly with life, then sank forever.
It was only then, with a tugging from my chest, that I realised a thread was still attached to me. A lengthening, slender line, which revealed itself from the water, and ended under my vest. It shimmered with the last rays of sun and pulled at me gently, insistently, so that my feet began to shift on the mud-worn bank.