Once, there was a husband and wife made of string. During their first years of marriage, he always picked at her threads. He ran his fingertips along her soft pointelle. He wanted to find and trace the knot of her heart and hold it in his hands.
"Stop it," she said those first years, laughing. "That tickles."
But as the years passed and her muscles pilled into lumps that he tried to massage out of her, she yelled, "Stop it!" with frustration on the verge of tears. Some nights, she made him sleep on the floor. "I need space," she said.
On the floor, he thought about her cashmere hair hanging down like a shawl, the strum of her words. He turned back and forth in restlessness like a loom. Then one night, he saw it: the end of her string, swinging off the side of the bed, the other end buried deep inside her. He reached for it. He rolled it between his fingers. The thread was seafoam green, soft and itchy. He should give it back, he knew. He should tuck it back safe inside of her.
But he could already feel a strange pressure when she would get close, like magnets plunging away from each other. He felt like a ragdoll without her, which was often. So he reached inside his belly, found the end of his own thread, and tied them together in a knot impossible to undo.
When they woke up the next day, they ached. At the supermarket, the pain got better the more aisles they put between them. When they looked down, they discovered, where their belly buttons should have been, ripped-open seams, their thread unraveling. The line curled around the fruit section, glinted in the fluorescent supermarket lights like spider silk, and ended at each other. They picked it up and twisted it into a spool.
"I’m sorry," she said when they had picked up all of it, their crocheted fingertips brushing for a moment as their spools met.
"It's all my fault," he said.
They went home. They tried to darn themselves back up with needles. They tried to pin themselves together. They hacked at the string with bolt-cutters, but it was strong as titanium wire. The loose string dragged around the house, pulled down vases, brushed plates off the dinner table. It tangled around the chairs. They would spend all night unknotting with their fingernails. In the mornings when they went to work, the string stretching from their separate buildings, commuters and dog walkers tripped on it, yanking more of the husband and wife loose. When they were close, ache throbbed in the holes of their stomachs.
Finally, they gave up. They said goodbye. They walked in opposite directions, the centers of them carelessly unraveling like old hems. He could still hear her voice through the string, like their childhood telephone game: paper cups tied with fishing line across the night air. He could hear her ordering take-out, meeting strangers, snoring at night. The vibrations felt like spoons scooping out his insides.
As they walked, the world tangled with their string like a cat’s cradle. He stumbled over places she had already been: the string zagging across a meadow, circling a fountain, knotted around a desk. And always, there was the throbbing at the center of him and the music of her voice trembling on the wire.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brenda Peynado has work appearing in The Threepenny Review, Mid-American Review, Black Warrior Review, Pleiades, Cimarron Review, Colorado Review, 3rd Place in Glimmer Train's Fiction Open Contest, and others. She received her MFA from Florida State University and her BA from Wellesley College. Last year, she was on a Fulbright Grant to the Dominican Republic, writing a novel. This year she is a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati. You can read more at brendapeynado.com