I snip the cords as soon as I see them. They grow back, stubble poking out of my skin, ends sliced across. The skin around each strand is red and sore. Split.
“Why don’t you want this?” My mother asks. “It’s an honour. A real honour.”
“You do it, then.” I look away, look down at my shin. My fingertips catch on raised welts as I run them along my flesh. I can never cut them close enough.
“It doesn’t work like that,” my mother says. “You know that.”
Yes. I know that. I know cutting the cords is useless, that they will only grow back and tangle me up. Still, I cut them.
“You’re going to have to accept it,” she says.
I don’t believe she means to be cruel.
She leaves me, leaves me to curl up and stroke my hand across my legs, my stomach, my throat. Braille bumps lie under my skin, pushing up in pebbles: fresh cords ready to break through. So far, they’ve only grown in on my legs, and I keep them short. Just about. I’ll lose this fight once they break out all over my body.
It was a Saturday job to earn some cash. That’s all. Well, cash and a chance to spend time with our Yarn Woman. All people my age want to be near the Yarn Woman, to see if she finds them a link.
I took Old Evelyn groceries from the corner shop, and every week she sighed a little more, sagged a little further under her red yarn. Not a strand of it ever attached to me. Not a strand latched on so I could trail it after me and link to another.
Already, people call by our house, asking to see me. I turn them away. I sit in the window-seat and practice being alone.
When Old Evelyn died, I wondered, vaguely, who’d tie me to my loves now. Every community needs a Yarn Woman. When I found a single strand of crimson cord, thicker by far than any human hair, standing an inch from the skin of my calf, I knew my community had one.
Everyone noticed when Old Evelyn went, but nobody truly mourns for her. All they’ll say is how pleased I must be to have been granted her gift.
There’s something they don’t know, though. I wasn’t granted anything. I took it. I just didn’t know I was taking it.
She begged, you see.
It was months before she asked me, and I said no. Of course I did. The first eight times, I said no. On the ninth, she had tears in her eyes, and I took the length of cord she gave me, snarling out from her ribs, looped it round her throat, and gave her what she wanted.
There’s a ring of bumps above my collar-bone.
I wonder who will pull the cord for me, and when I will break and ask them.