Self-Striping

Julia lounged on a lime-green couch with white pillows emroidered with little pink flowers. She hummed and knitted. Her self-striping hat was coming along nicely. She was pleased and figured she’d have it done in time for Christmas.

Her husband John was always complaining he was last on her list to receive a knitted gift. “Where’s my hat and socks? I swear, Julia, I’m forever forgotten by you.”

Of course, they laughed and the conversation moved on, but he was right. She did forget him, and regularly at that. Not this Christmas though.

She stopped knitting, realizing she had dropped a stitch and took a moment to snatch the renegade stitch with her needle.

What time was it? The other ladies should be here by now. Where were they? She shifted in her seat and spied Cally from the corner of her eye. Cally made her nervous. She didn’t like being alone with her.

Cally was the owner of Cally’s Knit and Stitch, and an odd lady for sure. Even with all the Thursdays that Julia had been showing up, she had never warmed to Cally’s demeanor.

Even her tea tasted funny, similar to how Cally might taste if she were a beverage, or so Julia assumed. Cally always got everyone to drink her tea, which was weird to say the least, almost like they all lost their senses and couldn’t say no.

Why did she keep drinking it if she didn’t like it? She’d have to make sure she refused tonight, no matter what. No giving in, Julia reprimanded herself. But she knew she probably would. No one said no to Cally.

Julia studied Cally and wondered what was wrong with the woman. She wasn’t necessairly friendly, and, yet, she wasn’t necessarily not friendly. There was always a niggle of unease at the base of Julia’s spine, as if she was missing something.

She cracked it up to some people just being off a little. Even her friend Josie, who was running late tonight, felt the same thing—Cally was a discolored-jam, not necessarily rotten but not quite right.

And there was the little thing about her temper—similar to a roaring lion being set on fire. Though, really, didn’t everyone have a temper at some point in time? Not that she knew anyone who acted like Cally, but still…

Julia froze, catching Cally staring at her. Could she hear her thoughts? Had she spoken out loud without knowing it? Julia cringed at the idea. God, I hope not.

“What are you reading?” Julia said, in hopes of disguising her spying into an innocent question. Her heart pounded in her chest and a cold sweat sprouted between her fingers. Cally rattled her nerves.

“Accessory catalogue,” Cally said without adding anything else, but her eyes never left Julia’s, and, for a moment, they remained locked, staring at one another.

Julia dropped her eyes first. A shiver ran down her spine. She fidgeted with her knitting, unable to insert her needle in the stitch.

Her eyes blurred with hot tears, as she struggled with a surge of trembling emotion that engulfed her. She took turns wiping her hands on her jeans, trying to rid herself of the ever increasing clamminess of her skin…of her mind.

What was going on? Why was she acting like this? She snuck a peek at Cally and hoped she wasn’t still staring at her. She was though. Her black-brown eyes open and wide, never blinking, just staring with that stupid little grin.

Julia lowered her eyes again, fumbled and shook, and cursed herself for annoying Cally. That was never a good idea. Annoying Cally was like striking the backside of a wild tiger with a cane.

Just two weeks ago a customer had walked in, during their Thursday night knit, but since the customer wasn’t there to join in, just there to shop, Cally practically threw her out. Technically, the store was closed.

All the ladies had stopped knitting and talking and stared, at first thinking it was funny because it was so out of the realm of normal that it didn’t make any sense, but when Cally turned her glare on them, a frightened silence zipped everyones lips.

Cally yelled at the woman, telling her she could take her damn money and shove it where no sun would ever shine, and then when the woman growled back Cally shoved her. The poor woman landed hard on her large, cushioned bum.

Tears sprang, along with demoralizing shame and embarrassment that pronounced themselves in red all over the poor woman’s face. To have an audience with Cally roaring profanities at her, towering and snarling, kicking her with her boot must have felt awful.

Finally, the woman scrambled on all fours out the door, shouting over her shoulder that she would tell everyone how awful Cally was and no one would ever shop there again.

Cally laughed and sneered as the woman scrambled out of hitting distance. “Where would all the yarn-whores go, huh?” Cally yelled at the woman. “I’m the only brothel in town, baby!”

When Cally turned back to Julia and her friends, she had smiled and asked if anyone would like more tea, which, of course, they all said they would, because the fact was they didn’t want to upset her, not after that show of force.

Julia cringed at the recall of the disturbing situation, and the fact that Cally had referred to them all as yarn-whores. That was just uncalled for.

She remembered daring herself to get up and tell Cally to stick it, but she hadn’t. She hadn’t even moved. None of them had. They just watched and waited and then were dumbfounded when it ended with the casual offer of tea and the mannerisms that implied that nothing was amiss whatsoever.

Of course, they all made excuses for Cally’s behavior and their’s afterward. If there had been another yarn shop in town, they never would have come back, they said.

They conveniently skipped over the yarn-whore reference, which, when Julia got honest about it, there was some truth to it, considering what they were wiling to put up with.

But Cally’s Knit and Stitch was it. The one and only, and when they were all so attached to their yarn and needles and hooks, how could they leave? Cally would just have to be dealt with.

Amanda McPhee had whispered in a harsh way that she would for sure deal with Cally next time. She wasn’t going to sit by and let such an atrocious act of bullying take place in front of her. No way.

Lilly Stillman, Donna Michaels, and Nelli Cameron joined in too, assuring Amanda that they would stand with her.

Josie and Julia didn’t say much, nodded, sure-sured their way through the conversation, as if they would stand too, but they both knew, without saying it out loud, that they were too afraid. They didn’t know if they could stand.

Julia cleared her throat and set her needles and yarn in her lap to smooth her mid-length hair behind her ears. Calm down, she told herself. Her hands quaked against her cheeks. Oh, just please stop shaking. Then another thought soared to the front of her mind: If anyone needs to stop, it’s Cally.

What was she doing, sitting on that damn, dead-awful-colored couch, boo-hooing and shivering under Cally’s stare? She was the customer, by goodness!

Maybe she wasn’t right all the time, as customer’s were sometimes touted as being, but she deserved some respect. She wasn’t a wayward child who needed reprimanding.

She flashed a quick peek at Cally, nervous at the idea of her still staring at her, but she wasn’t willing to sit there and be afraid any longer. No matter how much Cally scared her, she was going to tell her what she thought.

But Cally was gone. Nowhere to be seen. Julia heard the soft push of air from the office door as it closed, announcing Cally’s entry into her office at the back of the store.

With the closing of the door, Julia’s resolve to say anything, to speak her truth, slipped from her grasp, and she found herself picking her needles up again. Her lips tightly sealed.

The buzzer at the front door jarred the silence that lathered the linoleum floor. Julia jerked up and saw familiar faces. Relief ran from the crown of her head down her body like caramel over a golden apple. Thank goodness that her friends were arriving.

Josie lead the way, chatting heartily with Amanda about something very funny, and Lilly, Nelli, and Donna followed close behind, removing hats and putting their car keys in their purses.

“Hey there, Julia,” Josie said in unison with the other ladies, as they found their seats and began to shed their jackets and scarves. Julia could hear the wind outside howling and whistling through the minute cracks that haloed the front door.

“Are you okay?” Josie said. Her sweet voice lowered to a whisper, as she sat down next to Julia.

Julia shook her head and flashed pleading eyes at Josie, wishing that she could read her mind, so she wouldn’t have to translate her feelings into coherent words. Josie’s eyes only widened in question, and then she said, “Cally.”

To Julia, Cally’s name was enough to invoke utter, impenetrable fear into her heart. Julia saw that same fear now take shape in her friend’s eyes, in the flush of her cheeks and the way her shoulders tilted forward, as if an invisible weight lowered itself upon her.

“What did she do now?” Josie said, exasperated to know there was something else, but her tone also held the desperate need to not know. If she didn’t know, then nothing needed to be done, right? Julia couldn’t agree more.

“Nothing…really. She just…” Julia’s voice trailed off, not sure how to describe the unbearable angst she felt in her gut or the tension that cranked her muscles tight. She didn’t like being so afraid, especially when she wasn’t afraid of anyone else like that. She wished her husband was there. He would tell Cally what for.

But he wasn’t, was he? And when she had told him of Cally, what had he said? “Why are you putting up with her, Julia? If yarn’s that important to you, open your own store.”

She had poo-pawed the idea. She couldn’t open her own store. “What about ordering your yarn online then?” he suggested. Just mentioning ordering yarn online made her cry. That was inconceivable. Unacceptable, really. No serious yarn lover could order yarn online, not without seeing it first.

But now, as she sat there crying, she doubted her reasons for poo-pawing her husbands suggestions. Here she was in her favorite place, unable to knit, unable to enjoy the smooth, earthy texture of her self-striping yarn between her fingers. Talk about unacceptable.

She wasn’t even able to finish her husband’s hat. Wasn’t that like forgetting him all over again? All because she was too scared. Too scared of Cally.

She was a grown woman who couldn’t stand up for herself. How embarrassing. She slumped further in her seat, desperately wanting Josie to fix it for her, make it all better. But she knew she couldn’t. Josie was just as scared as she was—it was written all over her face.

“Did she throw someone out again?” Josie’s face grimaced at the prospect.

“No.”

“Well, what did she do?” Josie waited, staring at her, searching Julia’s eyes for any indication to what had happened.

“What are you two so cozy about over there?” Donna interjected, her voice a light flower that should of been welcoming but was more intrusive than a hissing raccoon.

“Nothing,” Josie and Julia said at the same time, a bit too loud.

“Nothing, my foot. Are you guys whispering about Cally? Is she here?” Donna looked over her shoulder and scanned the store. Her eyes returned to Julia’s, inquisitive and undeterred.

Julia cleared her throat and wondered what to say. Nothing had happened. Cally hadn’t yelled at her. She had just been herself, which was enough to throw Julia’s emotional stability under a bus with spiked studs for snow tires.

Her chin quivered and she felt the onslaught of emotion begin to rise. She tried to squelch it, contain its urgent need to erupt, but she couldn’t control it. Tears sprang anew. She covered her face with her hands, embarrassed for being so weak. Damn it!

“Oh, my goodness,” Donna said. Josie wrapped her arm around Julia’s shoulders and pulled her close. Julia reveled in the comfort of her friend’s warmth and consolation.

Julia sniffed and sat up, feeling the itch of Josie’s wool sweater on her eyelids, and tried to collect herself. “I’m okay. Really, I am.” She sniffled and wiped the underside of her nose with the back of her hand.

“No, you’re not. You’re falling apart. What did she do?” Heat singed Josie’s words, but Julia knew that Josie’s heat was more feeling than action. If Cally walked in, none of them would say a word. They were just as weak as she was. How sad.

Right then, Cally did walk into the room, her form visible behind Julia’s friends. They didn’t see Cally yet, but Julia did. The world was going to end, wasn’t it?

“Did something happen?” Cally said, her voice sarcastic, as if she could visibly see their weakness leak out onto the floor and wrap around their feet and legs. She propped her hands on her hips, which made her look larger and more formidable. She grinned, but her eyes held no humor, just unabashed disdain.

Josie and the others turned, clamping their mouths shut. Julia lowered her eyes to her lap and prayed. Please God, or whatever is out there, please say she didn’t hear us.

What would she do if Cally kicked her out? How would she live without her yarn? Ordering it online just wasn’t the same. She couldn’t touch it or smell it. She couldn’t see it’s real color under the light with her own eyes.

No. Online yarn shopping just wouldn’t do. Oh, please, God. I’m not smart enough to open my own shop, she added.

“Nothing happened,” Josie said, her voice lighthearted, as she shook her head and picked up a knitting magazine from the stack of magazines planted on the coffee table.

“No, nothing,” the other ladies chimed in, each now rummaging through their yarn bags, gathering their hooks and needles, yarn and patterns. Julia kept her mouth shut, silent under Cally’s searing stare.

“What about you, Julia?” Cally’s voice lingered sweetly in the air as she stepped closer, leaning down and placing her hands on her knees for support. “Did something happen to you?” Her sweetness flamed into a steel sword, wrenching Julia’s eyes upward.

Not that she wanted to look at Cally. No, this was power that no human should ever wield or even know about, but some did. Cally did. “Oh my, are you crying? Just a poor little baby you are, aren’t you?”

Julia’s spine stiffened at being called a little baby. How dare her! But what could she do? Cally was stronger than her. Meaner.

And she owned all the delectable yarn in town, within 300 miles of town actually. New tears slipped from Julia’s eyes, as if the anger she felt needed to go somewhere and this was the only outlet, pathetic as it was.

“Get out,” Cally said. “I don’t like cry babies in my store.” She straightened herself to standing, her hands locked on her hips again. Without warning, Cally kicked the couch Julia sat on, jarring Julia’s spine and her mind. “I said, get out cry baby!” Cally’s voice boomed through the store.

Josie inched away from Julia, as if close proximity meant she’d have to leave too. The others turned their faces, busying themselves with yarn and needles, as if nothing was happening. Cally wasn’t screaming and cursing and kicking the couch. No, that wasn’t happening at all.

Julia took in her supposed friends and watched their fear freeze their hearts and chain their words. They were so deathly afraid. She looked at Cally, as she hollered and cussed like an outta-work trucker.

Time slowed, like slow motion in the movies. Each beat of Julia’s heart thickened with panic and rage, and most definitely fear. Her hands clenched into a tight ball. Her tears stopped, at least for now, as if the slowing of time dried their well and now they rested on her cheek bones in limbo, waiting.

She glanced down at the self-striping hat in her lap, the one she was going to finish for her husband. Was she willing to forget him again? Herself? She noticed the vast colors of skeins that populated the store, showing off their rainbows of possibilities. How could such vibrant beauty be connected to such hate?

Cally grabbed Julia’s arm and yanked her off the couch. Her hat and needles fell to the floor, landing on a braided rug of dark orange and green.

Julia watched her own feet step on her husband’s Christmas gift, breaking one of the needles as she went. She stumbled forward as Cally hauled her toward the front doors. Still yelling. Still cursing.

Julia looked back at her friends. Why weren’t they doing anything? They just sat and watched with sad, helpless eyes. Were any of them really that helpless? Was she?

That’s when time completely halted. And within that space between movement, she saw everything. All of it.

It was as if all her life she’d been collecting random puzzle pieces that didn’t fit well together and had never made sense until then. Each puzzle piece collided into place and created a huge picture of herself.

Her slouching and fear, as if she deserved to whither away and stay hidden. Her unwillingness to take any chances, to try anything new or stand up for herself. And then there was her annoying willingness to put up with rude people, all because she didn’t want to be considered rude herself, or, heaven forbid, be disliked.

This picture disgusted her.

She wanted to change the picture. Wipe an eraser over the lot of color and start fresh. But she had no eraser and didn’t know of one that existed. But starting fresh, could that be done without erasing all that came before? Was that possible?

She imagined herself sitting tall with her eyes up, taking in the world. New breath from an unknown world of self-confidence filled her lungs, her soul, and she knew what she needed to do and who she wanted to be.

And though fear still resided in her mind and heart, she knew her fear would not kill her. The world wasn’t going to end, unless she allowed it to. Cally was just another woman, no different than her.

This new breath, or realization, sped up time to where she now stood, facing Cally in all her might.

Julia wrenched her arm away and stepped back. Cally watched her, her dark, brown eyes wide. “What are you doing?”

Julia gave her friends one last look, smiled, and decked Cally in the face. Cally stuttered backward, her eyes bulging from their sockets, and fell on her butt with a hard whack. She toppled over onto her back, her body unmoving.

Was she still breathing? Julia studied her diaphragm and saw that, gratefully, she was. Julia didn’t really believe she could kill her, but still …

Her friends sat stunned in their seats, as if she had knocked their voices from their bodies along with Cally’s breath. She noticed her hands vibrated and her heart battered the inside of her chest.

Now what? she thought. She remained quiet and still, breathing in and out, waiting for inspiration.

What had she done? She wasn’t like this, whatever this was … She’d never hit anyone in her life, but damn it, Cally was cursing and yelling, pulling and kicking her. What else could she do?

Her thoughts and feelings were like a cold rain that washed over her, cleansing and chilling her, but then, as if the cold spicket they came from turned off, a great warmth kissed her skin.

She walked back to her seat, picked up her broken needles and self-striping hat, and packed her things. No one said a word, neither did she, until she had her jacket on and her scarf wrapped around her neck.

She looked each friend in the eye, took notice of their faces and their complete inability to understand what had just happened. She could barely believe it herself, but she’d had enough.

She wasn’t willing to be a damn rug any longer. Not meaning that she was going to make it a habit of hitting people she disagreed with. No, that would be uncalled for, inappropriate, really. But she felt in her heart that she would definitely not refrain from using her voice, if warranted.

“I’m going to open my own yarn store,” she said and puffed her chest, truly believing that what she said was real. She would open her own store, or something like it. It didn’t really matter, did it? “And if that doesn’t work out, I’ll just order my yarn online.”

Her friends gasped at the mention of ordering yarn online, but she didn’t care. They could gasp all they wanted.

She pivoted round and stormed out, stepping over Cally who laid unconscious on the floor, drool draining from her mouth onto the linoleum.

Julia never felt so good. Frisky even. John’s going to have fun tonight, she thought, as she stepped from Cally’ Knit and Stitch out into the cold, whipping wind.

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