“On the Needles,” by Stephanie Gibbon

Aug 20th, 2020 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Rarely do life’s turning points announce themselves ahead of time. They are typically best seen in the rearview mirror, long after one has made a choice later understood as pivotal. But even as Michon was leaning towards her with one eyebrow raised and THE question on her lips, Lucinda Kerr knew herself to be at a crossroads.

“Do you knit?” asked Michon. Then she raised an eyebrow and opened her tote just a little to reveal two glistening needles and a ball of purple wool.

Lucinda’s first impulse was to shake her head, close her locker door, and walk away. But Michon was pretty and popular and this was the first occasion she’d ever spoken to Lucinda who at the time was a plump, brace-wearing, sometimes stuttering 13-year-old battling two-week periods, lopsided breasts, and especially virulent acne. Lucinda wondered why Michon was making this approach. Possibly it was due to the fact that just the day before they’d been standing in the same group waiting for Mr. Hart to unlock the classroom door. The topic of conversation had been a girl even lower down the social scale than Lucinda and Lucinda, fuelled by two cans of Jolt Cola, had made a wisecrack that had drawn the appreciative laughter of every girl who heard it. Michon in particular seemed to enjoy the joke so perhaps this was why she was here now, whispering conspiratorially and suggesting that they be very naughty indeed.

“Well?” Michon sounded a little irritated so Lucinda quickly answered.

“Yeah,” she lied. “Here and there, you know.” Trying to sound casual. Failing. Her voice wavered and she covered it up with a cough.

Michon’s eyes narrowed. “Really? You don’t have to lie you know.”

“I’m not lying!” Lucinda’s mottled skin reddened.

“Uh huh. Well, whatever. Come on. We’ve still got 20 minutes until gym.”

Moments later, they were crossing the school grounds towards a stand of pine nestled near the chain link fence that divided the property from the neighbourhood beyond. Michon strode forward at such a pace that Lucinda, used to travelling only reluctantly, had to occasionally jog to keep up. They reached the trees and there Michon pointed out a large shrub behind which they could conceal themselves. She looked over her shoulder once. No teacher was to be seen and all was quiet. Quiet enough for Lucinda to hear her own blood pulsing through her ears.

Michon zipped open her bag and pulled out the needles and wool.

“Ok, little Miss Experienced. Show me how to cast on if you’re such a pro.”


There was no other way out of it. Lucinda fessed up. Michon cackled.

“Hah I knew it! So I’m initiating a virgin… sweet. Just don’t go and freak out on me, ok? Just a few stitches for you. This stuff is pretty strong.” Michon’s fingers worked rapidly to generate the first row of an illicit scarf. “Pure New Zealand Merino. Top shelf.”

Lucinda knew she should be impressed. “Wow,” she said. “How did you get your hands on that?”

Michon laughed and shook her head. Lucinda noticed that her eyes were looking distinctly glassy. A beatific smile spread across her new friend’s face and she staggered backwards slightly as one row became two. “Now, never you mind. That kind of thing is shtrictly, I mean strictly, confidential. I will say this though: sure as fuck…”

Michon’s eyes rolled back in her head. “Oh my fucking Jesus.”

“Are you ok?” asked Lucinda.

Michon laughed again. “Never better. He did warn me.”

“Who warned you?”

“My big brother, that’s who. Who I currently love more than anyone in the universe. Except maybe you Lucy-Goosey. Can I call you that?”

“Um, sure. Do you think I could try now?”

“Yeah. Oh fuck. I just let the cat of the bag, didn’t I?”

“I won’t say a word.”

Lucinda moved so that she was standing beside Michon and watched as Michon demonstrated the basic stitch. “Needle in like that, wrap the wool around, you see. Like that.”

Michon handed the needles over. “Go fucking bananas.”

Lucinda knitted her first stitch. And that was all it took. 13 years of accumulated angst magically melted away. Her mind opened and every little ache and pain, psychic or otherwise, simply ceased to be. She was 10 feet tall. Michon liked her! She liked herself. She had the thought that if she reached out her hand just now, she’d touch the face of God like in that poem. She was a natural. While Michon watched with an amused smirk on her face, Lucinda knitted an entire row. The tension in her wool was uneven but that didn’t matter. The rush she felt was the most intense hit of pleasure she’d ever experienced.

“Give that back now. If you O.D., I’d be in such shit.”

But Lucinda didn’t want to stop. She twisted away and grinned mischievously over her shoulder. “No.”

Michon gasped. “Look at you! A full fledged addict already. I wasn’t kidding though. Give that back.”

Lucinda reluctantly parted with the needles. Michon knitted herself a few more stiches and then returned everything to her bag. She looked over at Lucinda and, with an ironic little grin, asked her if she was ready for gym.

Lucinda laughed so loud it echoed it off the trees. Simultaneously she spread her arms wide. “I’m ready to fly.”

“Hmm. On second thought, it’d probably be wiser just to skip class. I don’t think it’s likely that you could maintain.”

Like a shadow passing over the moon, Lucinda’s expression changed from euphoria to wrinkle-browed consternation. She pointed at the top of Michon’s head. “Has that leprechaun always been there?”

“Oh great. You’re completely tweaked.”

Lucinda giggled. “I know.” Then she clapped her hands as inspiration struck. “Let’s go to church!”

Michon sneered. “Why?”

“I dunno. I just feel really close to Jesus right now. Do you think He ever knitted?”

“I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet.”

“I’d love to be the Son of God,” said Lucinda dreamily. Then she projectile vomited.

It was the best fucking day of her life.


At first, it was a weekend thing. On the outside there was little to indicate that Lucinda had changed. Her parents in particular remained oblivious to any problems with their daughter beyond the usual teenage stuff. Her marks remained high and those who knew her remained optimistic that once Lucinda emerged from this awkward stage she’d go on to great things. University was a given. Maybe teaching, maybe an academic career. She was so bright and well-spoken and especially adept at mathematics, pure and applied.

But within Lucinda, there’d been a seismic shift. Yes, she was able to go through the motions and perform according to expectation but was increasingly resentful that she should have to do so. Why, she asked herself, couldn’t people—particularly her parents—just accept her for who she was?

“It’s like I have to be a performing seal,” she told Michon during a sleepover where together they worked on infinity scarves into the wee hours of the night. “I beep the horn with my nose and then they fucking applaud. God, I hate it.”

“What do you think they’d do if they knew you were knitting?” asked Michon.

Lucinda snorted contemptuously. “Probably have heart attacks. Their little girl, former star of the Allenbrook Public School Mathletics Team, sneaking stitches behind the portables? They’d probably kill me and then kill themselves to avoid the shame.” Lucinda laid a hand palm-down and fingers-spread across her upper chest and said, “Whatever will the neighbours think?”

Michon smiled and shook her head. “My parents are just the same.”

“Soul-dead suburban clones.”

“White picket fences and wood-panelled station wagons.”

“It’s SUVs now. Next year coal-burning tanks all the same colour,” said Lucinda.

“Must keep up with the Joneses.”

“I’ll never be like that,” said Lucinda.

The two knitted in silence for a while. They got so high that time lost its coherence. Minutes became hours. They both retreated into their technicolour inner worlds and so neither of them registered the heavy footsteps on the stairs until it was far too late. Michon’s father, a dyspeptic and frequently sleepless CEO, had been alerted by the tell-tale clacking of needles wafting up through the duct work. He flicked on the overhead light. The incandescent glow that flooded the downstairs rec room where the girls had set up with their sleeping bags overwhelmed them both. Lucinda let out a scream.

“What the fuck? What they hell are you two doing?”

“Nothing,” blurted Michon.

Michon’s mother appeared in the doorway behind her husband. She took one look and fainted dead away. Her worst fear had materialized.

Her daughter was a stitcho.


Therapy had been her mother’s idea. Nip it in the bud, she had said. Stop it now before she’s standing on a street corner, selling her body for one lousy ball of coarse-fibre common wool. So both of Lucinda’s parents had perused the Web, made discreet inquires among relatives and had at last found Dr. Murray Chu, an exceedingly expensive uptown psychiatrist and psychotherapist who specialized in the treatment of textile and fibre art related obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Lucinda sulked the entire way there. This was such bullshit. So she liked to knit – so fucking what? Plenty of other people did. Rock stars, accountants, athletes, half the kids in school, writers, poets.

Stay strong, she told herself. This is what you have to do for now. Play the game, jump the hoops, convince them that it’s over. In two years she would be graduating and then she could do whatever the fuck she wanted when she wanted. Lucinda looked out the window at all the tastefully lit largesse. It was all so plastic, all so empty, all so devoid of ultimate meaning. Instead of true transcendence, such as was to be found in slipping 2 stitches p-wise onto a cable needle, letting the cable needle hang in front of the work as you knitted the next couple of stiches and then knitting the stitches off of the cable needle, all Lucinda saw was the very poor substitute of unchecked materialism. The stores offered a plethora of high priced goods and services but it all amounted the same thing: buy shit, be happy. Consumerism had to be most soporific, virulent drug of all. A society-wide addiction yet it was not only legal, it was the new religion.

She wanted no part of it. She had found her own personal Zen and thought it was such hypocrisy that knitting, a truly spiritual discipline, should be illegal and stigmatized while all around her Satan tempted in the form of lead cut crystal and new tits and $10000 knick-knacks ostensibly from Nepal and Laos and other hard luck places so the people buying them could comfort themselves with the thought that maybe they were funding a brand new spigot somewhere for a thirsty tribe when really they knew that they weren’t.

She said as much to Dr. Chu not long after she had settled herself into one of his sumptuous, brown leather wing chairs. The dapper man with a nice watch and a meticulously groomed beard smiled.

“I don’t disagree.”

Lucinda eyed him warily. “Are you just saying that to establish rapport?”

“No. While that is one of my goals, I said what I said because I meant it. But let me check that I understood you: you see knitting as a rational reaction to and escape from the life our deeply diseased society offers you.”

Lucinda considered for a moment. Then she said, “Yeah. That’s one way of putting it. Knitting is subversive, you know?”

“Then I agree. As Jordan Peterson has pointed out: psychological questions are often posed the wrong way around. It shouldn’t be: why do people become knitoholics? That’s obvious. The question should be: why doesn’t everyone become a knitoholic?”

Lucinda snorted and looked away. “Knitoholic? Is that my new label?”

“I won’t use it again if you don’t want.”


“You seem angry, Lucinda.”

Lucinda shrugged. “Maybe. Whatever. I don’t know.”

“It’s okay if you are. I mean, I take it this wasn’t exactly your choice.”

Lucinda stared at her fingernails. “My parents are pretty pissed. Well, not exactly pissed. More like super worried.”

“They love you,” offered Dr. Chu.

“Yeah, I suppose. Whatever that means. But this is more like ensuring they get a good return on their investment.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Well that’s why people really have kids, isn’t it? I’m an extension of their egos. If I fuck up and end up, I dunno, working in a factory or something or on welfare or even worse, people will think less of them. It’s not for my benefit that they’re doing this. I’m just a means to an end.”

“That’s pretty cynical, Lucinda.”

Lucinda scowled. “You don’t even know them.”

“True.” Dr. Chu braced his elbows against the armrests of his chair, made a tent of his fingers and briefly rested his chin on the apex. “But let’s return to a statement you made earlier about knitting being subversive. Subversive in the sense that you’re rebelling against your parents? Or are you thinking even bigger than that?”

Lucinda thought about it. “I dunno. I guess against my parents in the sense that they like represent society. All the rules and expectations come through them. They, um, encapsulate society. No, that’s not quite the right word –”

“Embody?” suggested the doctor.

“Yeah that’s better. So I suppose it’s both. But so what? I don’t get the point of me being here except that it’s pleasing my parents. You and I both know what happens next. We shoot the shit for another 45 minutes, you collect your fee, suggest that I see you indefinitely, and I keep on doing what I want to do.”

Dr. Chu smiled. “So you knit because you want to, not because you have to.”

Lucinda gripped the armrests of her chair and leaned forward. “Hey! I can quit anytime I want. Let’s get that straight. I’m not some stupid addict. Those people are pathetic. ‘Ooh poor me. I can’t help it. I’m out of control. I have a disease.’ Please. Give me a fucking break.”

Now it was Dr. Chu’s turn to shrug. “Ok, Lucinda. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t really have a problem. But it’s easy to lose track of what our real motivations are. The subconscious and all that.”

“If you start quoting Freud or Jung I’m going to throw up all over your hardwood floor.”

Dr. Chu laughed. “Ok. I promise I won’t. How about we make a deal? There’s something I want you to try.”

Lucinda eyed him warily. “If it’s pills, you can forget about that. No way I’m ending up a lip-smacking zombie.”

“No, not pills. I want you to go a month without knitting. Or crotcheting. Or sewing. Nothing fibre-related ok? Just for a month.”

Inwardly Lucinda screamed. But somehow she maintained her poker face. She waved dismissively with one hand. “Big deal. I can do that in my sleep. Like I said, I’m the master not the slave.”

“I hope you’re right.” The doctor checked his watch. “Tell your parents no charge for today. Make an appointment for a month for now.”

Lucinda was aghast. “That’s it? We’ve only talked for like twenty minutes.”

“I know. There’s no point in going on if you’re not the one who wants a change. Give it a month,” he said. Then he smiled with half his face. “And then we’ll see.”

Lucinda pouted. “You don’t think that I can do it.”

“Not on your own I don’t. Remember, I see this every day. You’re what? 15? Take a look at your hands. You’ve got more blisters and callouses than patients I’ve seen three times your age.”

Lucinda glanced at her hands then shoved them self-consciously underneath her armpits. She found herself blushing and quite unable to make eye contact.

“I’m going to prove you wrong,” she said without conviction.

“Please do. See you in a month.”


By the time her father pulled out of the parking spot they had found near Dr. Chu’s office, Lucinda was craving so badly she could barely see straight. She wished she smoked: she started chewing on one of her thumbnails in the hope that would provide some relief. She fidgeted, she sweated, she cursed her skin for suddenly being two sizes too small.

“So,” said her mom at last. “Going to tell us what happened in there? Pretty short session.”

“Patient-doctor confidentiality,” said Lucinda shortly. God, she was so not in the mood for any sort of parental interrogation.

“Great,” said her dad. “Over two hundred dollars a session and we’re not allowed to know anything.”

Lucinda was about to shoot back with ‘got that right’ when she reconsidered. What was truly the path of least resistance here?

She sighed. “Fine. If you guys must know, he issued me a challenge. Said there was no point in therapy until I really wanted to change. So I’m supposed to go a month without knitting. He thinks I can’t do it. Can you believe that? At least he had he decency not to charge for today’s session. I’ll do it no problem. Hey—there’s a 7-11 coming up. Can we stop? I’ll get you guys a Slurpee or something for all your trouble.”

Her dad shook his head. “Pass on the Slurpee.”

“I’ll guess I’ll have a Kit Kat,” said her mom, who started to zip open her handbag. Lucinda reached forward and patted her mom on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry mom, I’ve got this.”

“Ok. Thanks dear.”

Moments later, Lucinda was out of the car and into the store. It didn’t take her long to locate the corridor that led to the storeroom and the rear exit. Soon she was outside again, enough money in her pocket to stay high for a week. A neighbourhood where every alley teemed with dealers was but a short walk away.

She advanced towards the approaching evening and it encircled her and she was gone.

Well and truly gone.


Stephanie Gibbon grew up in Canada. At the primary school she went to there was this big tree in the corner of the yard that everyone, especially the teachers, called the Big Oak. Every spring, the Big Oak would shed hundreds of maple keys which twirled to the ground while everyone watched and made appreciative noises.

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