knitting instructions for war work
I went through puberty twice. Late each time, each time assisted by medically prescribed hormones of various quantities and various kinds. Just as my doctors were finally satisfied that my voice was low enough, we set upon the task of raising it again. And again, like the first time, I found myself unwillingly, unpleasantly subjected to the endocrinal whims of the teenaged body.
By the time it was all done, I was nineteen and feeling twice my age, my breasts finally ripe for the picking after two years of university, my bones still aching from the first set of growth spurts. I needed a hobby, a distraction from the void in my life where puberty had twice come and now gone; I started looking at flyers around campus, around the city, picking them off bulletin boards, a bouquet of multicolored petals gathering in my backpack.
And like the old woman I imagined myself to be, I decided to join a knitting group.
I didn’t know how to knit, didn’t even know what a purl was past something white and shiny on a necklace, but the knitting group was not so much a knitting group as it was a radical, alcoholic book club adorned with the occasional tangle of yarn or half-formed sock. “A knitting group for the new generation,” one of them explained. “The millennial evolution to a storied history of queer female activism, veiled beneath something no man would ever dare to investigate.”
Knitting group changed week to week as people invited friends or enemies or lovers or roommates. But there was a core group, the real knitters, the ones like me who’d never touched a pair of needles in their lives: purple-haired Rigel; Melania, who always wore heels; Katrina, called Kazza (Scottish and irascible); and a drag queen who introduced herself as Danger Prone.
It was, first and foremost, a girl’s group. That was the rule—visitors can be whatever they like, but the regulars, they have to be girls. Not women, not ladies. Girls. Whatever that means. They welcomed me with open arms, the first time I came in, and the second time Melania looked me up and down and said, yeah, she’s all right, and the night continued uninterrupted. Rigel pretended to knit, Danger told us all about a new essay she’d been writing about the gendered double standards of digital activism, and Kazza pulled a six-pack of cider from her bag and told us we needed to find a way to infiltrate the football team before term’s end.
I never saw anyone else come to knitting group a second time.
First time, sure—there was always someone new stopping in, and it wouldn’t have been very interesting otherwise. The constant in and out of people—some there to gossip, most there just to see the infamous girls of knitting group—kept us on our toes. But after their first time, no one ever tried coming back. That was just how it went. How we liked it.
See: It’s the second time that’s the problem.
The first time he shows up, it’s all right. He is, after all, a lover or maybe an enemy of one of the girls (probably Rigel), though none of us can quite remember after he’s left with a newly knitted yellow coffee cozy secured with a button around his cold-pressed juice.
But the second time, Kazza balks. Rigel shrugs like she has no idea what he’s doing there, and maybe she wasn’t the one who invited him the first time. Melania looks like she might correct him—until he speaks.
His name’s Lane, he says, and then he says, you know, like a car. Which is, when you think about it, probably not the most effective way to explain his name, but he says it with such confidence that Kazza nods along, and Melania nods along, and Rigel rolls her eyes, and Danger, who has taken it upon herself to be the one who pretends to knit today, keeps pretending to knit as if he hasn’t said anything at all.
And then Lane picks up a pair of needles, a ball of yarn the pale pink of rosewater, and he begins to knit. And the girls, exchanging glances like he’s just mortally insulted them, or said something horrifically inappropriate, or brought something awful-smelling with him into the room . . . the girls don’t do anything.
Except that they all look at me.
Maybe, I think, this is my role as the newest member. Maybe this is the role that has been delegated to me by the unspoken contract of knitting group. As if the unspoken contract of knitting group itself has turned to look at me and, for once in my few months here, finally spoken.
So, I lower my voice, lower my lips to his ears such that our hushed conversation won’t interrupt the story Rigel’s begun to tell the others about her weekend trip home, and I set down to get the job done.
“I don’t think you understand,” I say.
Lane continues to knit, the yarn in his hands coming together into some kind of lumpy mass, some thus far shapeless monster taunting me from his fingertips.
“It’s just, there are rules, right?” I say.
“Only here to knit,” Lane responds, holding up the needles like they’re proof he belongs.
There must be a sensitive way to put this, I think. There must be something to say other than you need to get out, you’re not welcome here. What would they have said to me, the second time, if they hadn’t nodded slowly and said she’s all right, she can stay?
But it turns out I don’t need to delicately string the words together, because he speaks instead.
“You advertised,” he says, and finally puts his knitting down. For a moment I think he’s going to get up and leave the neat rows of knits and purls behind and go, but instead he reaches into his pocket and unfolds a piece of paper, worn almost clear through at the folds.
Like to knit? the flyer asks me as I stare at it, agape.
“But we don’t,” I say, looking back to the others in support, looking back at the flyer in my hand. Like to knit? “We don’t even knit.”
He’s gone back to knitting while I’ve been staring. Gone back to neatly shaping the creature in his hands. I feel myself flinch with each beat of the even clack of the needles as he purls and knits a perfect stockinette. I flounder for a second, tongue-tied, as Rigel and Kazza and Melania and Danger Prone shrug and turn back to their conversation, leaving me alone, leaving me defenseless to protect the honor of knitting group and everything it stands for.
Everything it means to me.
“First rule—girls only, right?” he says, casting off the final row of the rosewater beast he’s been putting together this whole time, and then he holds it up: a bow, three inches wide, some kind of clip looped into the back of it. He reaches out and before I realize what’s happening, he clips the bow into my hair and smiles, a knowing smile, unpredatory, something familiar in it that makes my breath catch in shame.