monkey's fist

A boy and a girl sit crossed-legged facing one another, with a knot of rope between them. The knot is thick as an apple, gnarled and tight. It would take all of their strength to untangle it. It would take cooperation.

The boy is anxious to do exactly this; he's thinking about the many things they could do with a sturdy length of rope. "We could build a swing," he says, "or make a jump rope. We could wrap it around a tree branch, for climbing."

But the girl doesn't want to untie the knot. She likes the feel of it in her hand, and the reassuring heft of it. She likes running her thumb across the whiskery fibers that have come loose. It wasn't easy to get the rope so intricately bound, and though she can't explain why, she knows something would get lost in the undoing of it.

And the girl doesn't see toys and games in a line of unused rope, anyway. She sees an anchor that will hold her in place. She sees a tether and a chain to all the worst parts of herself. She sees a noose.

"What if I told you I want to leave it like this?" she asks the boy, holding it up like a promise that feels true in the moment. "What if it was never anything else?"

The boy looks at her, and looks at the knot. He thinks, saying nothing. After a moment he stands up and comes round to sit just beside the girl.

"Then I suppose I'll have to find a new way of looking at it." And together they waited for dusk, and for the shadows that creep and twist, changing what we see--if not what's really there.