Unraveling by Becky Pourchot

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Margo had just finish a masterpiece—at least that’s what she called it.  In thick, wooly browns and yellows Margo had knit herself a sweater with stitches so tight, so perfect, not even the coldest Arctic wind could penetrate it.  As she tied the final knot, her cats Roquefort and Marley wandered along the ledge of the couch to get a closer look. She held her boxy accomplishment up to show them.

“What do you think guys?” she said to her sweet felines.

Both of them blinked.  They weren’t interested in the sweater. She sighed, folded her work up neatly and laid it on the couch.  There was a routine to follow.

In the bathroom Margo approached the twelve amber bottles lined up in military fashion on her counter.  Reaching for the one labeled doxorubicin hydrochloride, she awkwardly twisted the child safe lid open, aware of the irony that there never would be any children to protect from these poisons.  Margo dropped two pills into her hand and her stomach lurched—a Pavlovian response, she figured.

She took the pills and slapped her hand against her mouth, catapulting them down her throat. Apparently her swift move wasn’t quick enough this time and she tasted a sharp bitterness on her tongue.  She winced, but still swallowed them without water, letting herself feel as the two hard lumps slowly creeped down her throat.

Modor, her calico cat rubbed against Margo’s feet asking to be picked up. In her arms he did as always, rubbing his jaw against hers, stretching his soft jowl into a kitten smile and purring loudly.

As Modor and Margo enjoyed their moment, Smeigel the Siamese came into the bathroom, dragging Margo’s favorite roll of wool with the playfulness of a kid on a playground.

“Smeigel you naughty, naughty boy you”  She put down Modor and rolled up the wool.

Margo stood up and caught herself in the mirror.  She barely recognized herself.  She’d probably lost forty pounds, but nothing about the weight loss made her want to call Jenny Craig for a photo shoot.  In fact without the added fat, she felt exposed, vulnerable.

She took one hand and smoothed her bangs across her forehead.  She was one of the lucky ones and still had her hair—though it didn’t matter much.  She was never one for caring much about looks, which is why she always kept her hair so short.  When people she met assumed she was a lesbian, she’d answer, “No, I just prefer cats.”  To her satisfaction, that usually scared them off.

She opened the shower door and turned on the faucet, letting the shower room steam up nice and hot.  She slipped off her sweats and stepped in.

Margo grabbed the bar of soap and lathered up her legs.  Lifting a razor she began dragging it upwards from her ankle to her knee. She paused, stared at the blond stubble, and wondered what her legs would look like if she stopped shaving all together.

What would it matter anyway? She thought.  No one would even know.

Interrupting her thoughts, she heard a thump, like something falling in the other room.

“Kitties?” she called.

Though she couldn’t see the bathroom door from the shower stall, she could hear it creak open, then an unfamiliar man’s voice spoke.

“Hey!  Sorry to bother you, but could you tell me where I am?

Margo screamed.

“Oh, no no no. “ he said apologetic. “I’m not here to scare you…”

The shower door opened by itself and Margo tried to cover her chest and thighs.  She stood frozen, exposed.

Apparently there was no one there, but the disembodied voice spoke again, “Hey.  Wow. You’re not dead.”

“Uh.  No…” Margo answered scared and confused.

“I’m sorry.  Looks like I’m not even on the right spiritual plan.” The voice laughed.  “Go figure.  Must have made a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”  The voice chuckled like he had just told the best joke ever.

Margo slowly, cautiously grabbed for the door and shut herself in.

“Sorry about interrupting your shower,” the voice said muffled behind the glass now. “Any chance you know how to get to the 16th dimension?”

Margo called back wearily, “I don’t know who you are… or why you are in my bathroom. But you need to leave.”

“Yeah, I would like to do that. But I don’t honestly know the way out of here,”  The man paused.  She heard the floor boards creak and he called from the other room, “What are you, some sort grandma or something?  Never seen so much yarn in my life.”

“I’m NOT a grandma.  I’m forty-five.  I knit.”  Margo said trying to entertain the man while she devised a plan to call for help.

“You knit?  That’s cool.  Mittens and booties and such?”

“No.  I make infinity scarves.  I sell them on Esty,”  she said with a proud sniff.  She reached for the faucet and turned off the shower.

“Oh!  Infinity…” The ghost said thoughtfully.  “Now that’s a concept I have yet to grasp.  I thought when I died I’d learn all the answers…”

The shower door opened by itself again, letting the cool air in. A towel, appearing to float in the stall hovered in front of her.  The door then shut allowing the steam to once again build up.

Margo rubbed her eyes firmly with her palms as if this would somehow wake her up from her bizarre hallucination, but when she removed her hands the towel still hung in mid air.

“This is just a side effect of the chemo,” she said to herself out loud.

The steam now seemed to cluster around the point where the towel magically hung and a forty-ish looking man appeared, translucent in the little shower stall.  He looked her up and down before handing her the towel.

She grabbed it and covered her body.

“What are you?” she asked.

“I’m Rob…Robert…Robby.  Whatever you want. I’m a wandering ghost. Been dead for I don’t know how long.”

“Well, whoever…er…whatever you are, I’d like you to leave.”

“I’m afraid that ain’t gonna happen, lady. As far as I can tell I slipped through a one way portal. We’ll have to wait for another one to open up. ”

Margo looked at the door, which Rob had inadvertently blocked with his ghost body. Rob saw her glance at it and politely stepped out of the way.

Out of the shower, she grabbed her clothes and headed for the bedroom, with the four cats trailing behind.  She shut the door and thinking she was free of the ghost, slipped on her clothes.

The voice began again, this time behind her.

“So, you some kind of crazy cat lady or something?” Rob asked.

“I’m not crazy…at least not up until today. I just like my cats,” she said bending down and petting them in defense.

“I’m a dog person. Or was.  Cats?  I dunno they kind of creep me out. They slink around all silently. You never know where they’ll show up.”

“Yeah. I know how that can be,” Margo said staring her hallucination down with a slight smirk.

“Sorry about that.  I’m not used to hanging out with living people these days.”

“So…you normally hang out with dead people?” Margo said deciding now to indulge her delusion.

“Yeah.  Ghosts and spirits and what not.”  Rob looked around her bedroom and took note of the framed photographs of cats dressed in doll clothes.

“Please tell me you don’t spend your days home here knitting cat clothes,” he said.

“I don’t knit cat clothes…not often anyway. But I do make sweaters. Human sweaters.” Margo said. She walked into her living room and picked up her crowning acheivment.

“This is my masterpiece,” she said looking at a faint, ghostly image of a man that hovered in the corner.

“See the intricate stitch work?  The lattice design?” she added.

“No offense or anything,” Rob said playfully, “but it looks like my uncle barfed kielbasa all over it.”

Margo pulled the sweater out in front of her and looked at it closely, then started to laugh.

“Kielbasa, huh?”

“You know I mean it in the nicest way.”  Rob chuckled.

Margo laughed with him. Really, there was nothing much left to do in her life but laugh.

“I guess it doesn’t make sense to be making a sweater, living here in Florida, does it?”  she said as her laughter turned into an uncomfortable coughing fit.

“You’re not well, are you?” Rob asked seriously.

“No.  Not really,” Margo answered, though for some reason she kept smiling. “Stage 4 cancer, they say.”

“That sucks. You got kids?  Family?”

“All I have is my ninety-three-year-old mom.  She’s in a home with Alzheimer’s.  I’ve got an ex-husband. He was a real winner…allergic to cats. Go figure. No kids. Just my cats. That’s all.”

“So what’s your prognosis?” Rob asked.

“The doctor gives me four months or so. The meds may help a little…you know, add a few months, but honestly it feels like they’re destroying me.”

“What are your plans after you die?” Rob asked seriously.

“The kitties will go to my friend Beth. The rest of it all gets donated.”

“No,” the ghost corrected her. “I don’t mean your plans here…I mean your plans after you die.”

“Is that a choice?” she asked with a curious smile.

“Yeah.  I mean, do you want to hang around here as a ghost, do the heaven thing, get reincarnated, travel transdimensionally, etcetera, etcetera…?”

“Ooh!  I don’t know,” Margo said. For the first time she was feeling a little excited about her impending death. “Travel sounds good?  Is there a Travelocity site for the recently departed?”

Roy laughed.  “You know, you’re not the freaky cat lady I first took you for.”  He smiled at her.

She paused and looked at him with growing warmth.  The ghost was overweight and seriously balding. He was no Tom Cruise, for sure, but there was something charming about him.

“You know whatever they tell you—four months, ten months, whatever—you go when you’re ready,” Rob said.

“How will I know?” she asked, surprised at the calm tone in her voice.

“You’ll know when you can let it fall behind you…when you let yourself become unbound.”

Margo smiled and nodded. The thought of relinquishing control suddenly felt very good.

“You know, you’re right about this sweater.  It’s awful,” she said.  “Why am I making sweaters anyway?  I live in Florida for Christ’s sake!”

She looked at the ghost with a knowing smile, picked up her sweater, and began searching for the little final knot that had marked the sweater’s end.  Slowly, carefully with her finger nails she pulled the knot free and began to pull and pull, releasing the tight, elaborate knitting she had spent a life time learning to master.  The yarn unraveled itself into a pile on the floor and she watched as Smeigel played in it with a passion.

Margo pulled at the last and final binding and dropped the wool to the floor, completely satisfied.  Her hands were empty.

A commotion came from the bathroom and she found Modor and Marley knocking all of her medications on to the floor.  A little bit perturbed, she bent down and picked a bottle up.  But just as she began to place it on the counter, she paused.  Rather than returning it to its designated spot, she turned to the trash can and tossed it in. One by one she collected the bottles and threw them all away.

Stepping to the trash, she gazed at the twelve bottles laying in no particular order, one on top of the other in the midst of discarded Q-Tips and cotton balls…and in that moment she felt it.  The release.  The unbinding.

Excited, she ran into the living room and called out, “Hey Rob, I did it! I’m ready!”

But when she made it to the room, Rob was gone.

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