By Erin Pienaar
Amy is the first one of us to visibly diminish. I spend our Stitch ‘n Bitch meeting staring at her collarbones—two perfect ridges jutting above the V of her sweater.
“You look great,” Veronica says as Amy studies two different shades of blue wool. “What are you doing differently?”
Amy shrugs. “Nothing, really.”
“Tell me.” Veronica pulls her cheeks with her palms and for a moment she looks like a melting ghoul. “I’m desperate.”
“I’m not doing anything.” Amy tucks her hair behind her ears and I notice how tiny her wrists seem in the holes of her sleeves. “I’m eating the same stuff as usual. More maybe. Kevin has exams so he orders pizza all the time.”
“You lucky thing,” Veronica says, picking up her knitting.
I arch my eyebrows at Veronica before forcing my face into a neutral expression. “Are you feeling sick, Amy?”
“I feel fine. That’s the bizarre part.”
“I hope you’re okay.” I drop a stitch and focus on hooking the offending loop with my needle.
Except for Veronica, I’ve known the members of our Stitch ‘n Bitch group since university. Amy, Kendall, Gwen and I took the same first-year English course. Amy met Veronica at the gym, where she complimented Amy’s handmade mittens and said she wanted to learn. At the beginning of each meeting, we set Veronica up with a row of stitches. She usually makes a few half-hearted motions with the needles before resting them in her lap. The rest of us know the basics. My mother makes all kinds of things: sweaters with intricate patterns, baby booties and blankets. I can cast on and off but can’t craft much more than a scarf.
As soon as the snacks are gone, we gather our things. Veronica has completed two lines of uneven blue stitches. Gwen is working on a blanket and the knobs of her mistakes poke out like gnarled knuckles. My scarf is growing wider every day. Secretly, my favorite part of knitting is tugging the yarn and watching how quickly my work unravels.
A week later, I’m on the bus, twisting my university ring around my finger. I often fiddle with it, turning it to make sure the stone’s on top, touching it to confirm it hasn’t slipped off. Usually it’s secured in place by the fleshy part of my finger. Today, the white-gold band slides all the way up to my knuckle.
When I get home, I shed my clothes and stand in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom. I’ve picked up weight since I graduated—a smooth layer of flesh cushioning my torso. I turn to the side and notice the crest of my hipbones. I root through my closet for a pencil skirt that hasn’t fit in years. I slide it on and can almost pull the zipper to the top.
I shimmy out of the skirt and pull on my pajamas. I crawl into bed and rest on my side, my knees pressing together. Then I shift so I’m on my back. In the dark, I run my hands along my ribcage, my hips, prodding my body the way I press avocados at the grocery store.
Amy misses our next Stitch ‘n Bitch meeting.
“She texted me and said she’s feeling off,” Kendall says. I notice Kendall looks thinner, her high cheekbones prominent in her pale face. There is something appealing about the look—the shadows the bones cast, the depth they create.
Veronica sets her purse on the coffee table. She’s wearing a tight blue dress cinched at the waist.
“I love that dress,” Gwen says, pulling her half-finished blanket from her bag.
“Do you?” Veronica spins so we can see the back. It looks very similar to the front but I make an impressed sound.
“I’ve gone down a dress size!”
I frown and fiddle with my ring before selecting a ball of grey wool from my bag. I went shopping too: a treat for myself to make up for the secretary job I took to pay the bills since my degree in media studies turned out to be useless. I bought mini-skirts. I picked sleeveless tops to show off my arms.
Gwen asks to see my mom’s old knitting patterns and as she reaches to grab the binder, I notice the bone in her wrist poking out like a smooth, small stone beneath her skin.
Kendall offers to make tea and I follow her into the kitchen. She selects mugs from the cupboard. I pull my shirt against my frame.
“So…I’m losing weight,” I say. “A lot. Have you noticed anything?”
“Not really,” she says. “I’ve been working out.”
“Veronica looks great too. But it’s kind of weird.”
“Why is it weird?” Kendall says. She blushes, a habit that used to fascinate me when she spoke up in English class. I watch the flush creep up her neck to her cheeks. “It’s good.” She lifts her dark hair off her neck and then lets it drop. “Why are we talking about this?”
She grabs two mugs and walks out of the kitchen.
The problem: I am both enchanted by and afraid of my slender, boney body.
I should call Amy. She was the first of us, she is our future. I picture her grotesquely thin, wrapped in a size zero, her chest flat like a boy’s. I dial her number. It rings once and I hang up.
When my pencil skirt becomes loose, I decide such loss must be monitored. I visit my doctor and my blood is drawn, my weight noted down on a clipboard. She tests for diabetes, checks my thyroid, but the results come back negative. She cannot fix me. I am relieved.
I’ve never been traditionally attractive. Large front teeth, eyes too small. In university it all came together. I wore fitted clothes in neutral colors, curled the ends of my hair. A pair of thick-rimmed glasses balanced out my wide forehead and pointy chin, red lipstick distracted from my eyes. I should have appreciated that time: the apex of my beauty. These days, I see faint lines around my eyes and mouth when I lean too close to the mirror. I’m no longer young but it is still something to be thin.
We used to wear sweatpants to Stitch ‘n Bitch; now we sit stiffly dressed in our finest. Veronica wears a fitted black dress, Kendall models shorts and a tank top, Gwen is in tight jeans. Amy is still absent.
Veronica hands out glasses of water and I clear my throat.
“So I went to the doctor about my weight loss,” I say. “She didn’t find anything wrong but is keeping an eye on me.”
Kendall shakes her head. “You’re paranoid.”
I turn to Veronica. “How’s Amy? Have you talked to her?”
“She’s fine. She’s just busy. Her uncle is sick or something.”
“Have you seen her?”
“Not lately. Oh, Kendall, I have that book you wanted.”
Nobody bothers to take out knitting projects. Kendall flicks on the TV and Veronica flips through a magazine. Gwen shows us photos of humane society kittens on her phone.
“As soon as I move out, I’m getting one,” she says. She brushes the picture of the cat she wants with a fingertip. He is grey with one white paw. “My mom had two kids at my age. I can’t even get a cat yet.” She smiles. “It's not all bad though. I met a cute girl on the bus.”
After four episodes of a TV show about weddings, Kendall offers to drive Gwen and me home. Gwen’s house is first so I wind up alone with Kendall. I stare out the window.
“It’s great Gwen met someone,” she says.
“Maybe I should start taking the bus,” she jokes.
“Trust me, it’s not fun. I wish I had money for a car. You were smart, taking nursing. If only someone would pay me to analyze all the reality TV I watch.”
“Nursing’s not perfect. Yesterday, an old lady peed on me.”
She pulls into the parking lot of my building. “I get it. This weight thing…it’s strange,” she says. “But I look great. You look great. Something is finally going right. Stop worrying and enjoy it.”
Our June Stitch ‘n Bitch is held at Gwen’s parents’ house. It’s a giant place; my entire apartment could fit into their recently renovated kitchen.
“You’re crazy to move out,” I say as Gwen pulls snacks from the fully stocked fridge.
There’s no pretense of craftiness: we sit by the pool in our swimsuits, sipping strawberry daiquiris. I’m wearing a bikini I bought specifically for today.
“I think Henry might propose soon,” Veronica says, dotting sunscreen on her cheeks with her fingertips. “He asked me what kind of ring I like. I said emerald cut and platinum. Obviously.”
I touch my bare ring finger. My school ring is too loose to wear.
The doorbell chimes and Gwen stands to answer it, stretching her arms above her head. Her belly button is newly pierced and the small stud glints in the sun. She slides the screen door open and walks inside.
“Amy! Great to see you!” Gwen’s voice carries from the house.
Veronica is mid-sip and her hand jerks. She sloshes pink liquid down her chest. Kendall bolts upright like a sleeper breaking from a nightmare. I turn away from the house. I have a quick mental picture of Amy: skeletal, barely coated by flesh, gray circles under her eyes. Ribs so clearly defined I can count them. My mouth is dry. I hear the screen door open and I pick up my phone and pretend to text.
“Amy!” Veronica says. I keep my eyes down and try to gauge her tone. It’s not shocked or unsettled but her levity is forced. I look up.
Amy is back to her usual size. Her face is fuller. Her chest strains the fabric of her red bikini top.
“Hey lady, you look good,” Kendall says, standing to give Amy a hug. Amy looks like a Renaissance painting, one of Raphael’s tranquil broads. Rosy-cheeked, fleshy, healthy.
“So everything sorted itself out?” I say. I have never looked at anyone so intently. My gaze moves from thighs to hips to face.
“I’m finally back to one-hundred and forty pounds. Thank goodness,” she says, lowering herself into a lawn chair. “It was such a bizarre thing.”
“Do you know when you started picking up the pounds again?” Veronica stares across the backyard, absently chewing her thumbnail. “Exactly when?”
Amy shrugs. “Last month?”
Kendall takes a long swallow of her drink. Gwen leans back in her chair, hugging herself though it’s not cold. The silence stretches and I struggle for something to say. Knitting’s my go-to topic, an effortless icebreaker: the color of wool, the complexity of a stitch. I open and close my hands, missing my needles. I stand and kick off my flip-flops.
“I’m going in.” I dive into the pool without waiting for a response.
I swim until my fingers brush the bottom of the deep end and then I make a sound—something between a scream and a cry. After a few minutes of silence I feel better. At least under water I am weightless.
Erin Pienaar lives in London, Ontario, where she completed her MA in English Literature. Her work has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, Pithead Chapel and The Danforth Review.