Unravelling the Facts
When Marlene leaves the courthouse, divorce decree in hand, she twists the wedding band from her ring finger. She stands on the bridge and watches the flash of gold sink to the bottom of the Truckee River. Her marriage dissolved with a stroke of a judge’s pen. She’s done with the lies, the smell of whiskey, the midnight punches.
The word “knit” is derived from the Old English “cnyttan” which means “to knot.” The history of knitting is not well known because fabrics used for knitting are made of wool, silk, and other fibers that decay rapidly.
Marlene packs her battered suitcase and leaves the divorce ranch for the last time. She moves into a one-bedroom apartment on the wrong side of town, all she can afford with her dwindling savings. She circles the want ads, plans to look for a job in the morning.
Knitting was initially a male-dominated occupation. When the first knitting guild was
founded in Paris in 1527, no women were admitted.
Marlene applies to a manufacturing plant, mining companies, a medical lab. Despite her training as a chemist, she cannot find work in the city. Everywhere she is told, “You don’t want to take a job from a returning GI, now do you, sweetheart?” They ask, can you type? How’s your shorthand? Her funds are running low. Someone suggests she apply at a casino.
To become a master knitter, a man had to serve a rigorous three-year apprenticeship to a master knitter, and then three years as a journeyman perfecting his craft.
The casino manager says he’s only hiring cocktail waitresses, says he needs to see how she looks in the uniform, tells her to try it on right there in his office, no need to be embarrassed, honey. She slips out of her tailored skirt and blouse, slides the silky black sheath over her head, tries not to notice how short it is, how low the neckline plunges. He chews on his cigar, nods, says she’ll do.
“Tricoteuse” is French for “knitting woman.” During the French Revolution, the Commune of Paris paid groups of women to sit beside the guillotine to knit and watch the executions. The women jeered and yelled as the aristocrats were led to the guillotine.
Night after night, Marlene endures the fanny pats, the leers, the drunken customers’ propositions. She won’t stay long in Reno, she tells herself. Just long enough to earn her fare back East.
Knitting shifted from a male-only occupation to a female hobby with the invention of the knitting machine in Victorian England. Knitting was no longer considered a skilled profession, and it became a domestic skill that increased a woman’s value as a wife.
She smiles and ignores the pit boss’s invitations to join him for a drink after her shift. He’s persistent, and her supervisor says she shouldn’t be so snooty if she wants to work there. Finally she agrees. She needs this job, and what’s the harm in one drink?
Early knitting needles were made from bone, ivory or tortoise shell. There are three basic types of needles: standard “pin” style, double-pointed, and circular. Some women in the past have attempted self-abortions with knitting needles.
Marlene lies in the hospital bed in the public ward of St. Mary’s, refusing to answer the doctor’s questions. She’s getting on the next train out of Reno, doesn’t matter where it’s headed.
Barbara Buckley Ristine escaped from the law years ago and hasn't stopped running. Her knitting frequently unravels. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Milk Candy Review, the Mojave River Review, and Shotgun Honey, among others. She lives with her family in northern Nevada, where she's (slowly) working on a novel.