Knit Together
Anna Hecker

It is the middle of the morning in the middle of the week in the middle of winter in New York City, and all of us have to go to work. The cold nips like the neighbor’s tiny, angry dog between where our black coats end and our black boots begin, and even the birds stay frozen on the streetlamps, heads tucked under their wings, too cold to mark their usual arcs in the sky.

It is so cold that even the miserable grime of the subway station’s a relief. We stand at polite intervals, toes brushing the yellow line, wishing for a surprise Caribbean vacation or a word of praise from our boss or even just for Friday. We narrow our eyes and shove rubber nipples into our ears and read magazine articles about actresses whose babies are more beautiful than ours, and the train trundles into the station with a frustrated sigh.

The train’s floor is covered in a thin coat of sludge. The speakers are turned up too loud, an army of static whenever the conductor announces a stop. Our hands jostle for a place on the pole, and none of us look at each other. Sometimes our fingers touch, accidentally. We move them and drop our eyes, and when the doors open the cold rushes in and we shiver beneath our wool hats and leather gloves, wishing we’d sprung for a warmer coat.

In the middle of the car, in the middle of the train, in the middle of our ride, a woman is knitting. She is maybe 24, maybe Korean, wearing a soft lambswool shawl over a soft tweed coat over a soft green skirt that almost, but does not quite, brush the floor. She spools out yarn from a white canvas tote that says something across the front, but from where we’re standing we can’t make out what. The yarn runs like water over her fingers and through her knitting needles, which are stout and wooden and do not grate or click. We think that maybe she’s knitting a scarf, because it has no beginning and no end. But it would be such a large scarf, a scarf for a giant. It rests in waves on her lap and trails onto the floor, and as her needles breathe the yarn in and out it grows until it covers the person next to her, until it wraps around our ankles and warms the places where our socks don’t quite meet our long johns.

She knits a blanket that fills the subway car, draping across our shoulders and bunching in our armpits, the yarn powder-soft against our cheeks, soothing the cracked skin on our knuckles. Her knitting flows out the doors and between cars, flooding the stations, jamming the gears so the trains can’t move. She knits a blanket that covers the whole city, a different colored square for each neighborhood: pink for Chelsea and pale green for the West Village, bright red for Midtown and a refined dove gray for the Upper East Side. She knits until all of the buildings and stoplights and sidewalks are wearing sweaters, until no dog or pigeon or street vendor is left out in the cold.

Inside the subway car we take off our hats and gloves and pass around hot cocoa, exchanging stories. We snuggle into the folds of the blanket and huddle together like puppies jostling at their mother’s teat. We tell our deepest secrets: About the parrot and the billboards and the siblings. The man with the parrot and the woman with the siblings fall in love. The model from the billboards tells his story and we stroke his cheeks with the tender pads of our fingers, assuaging his despair. We have taken out our ear buds and put away our magazines, and the conductor’s voice, muffled by the knit blanket, sings us lullabies over the speaker. When our fingers meet on the pole, we leave them there.

And the knitting woman keeps knitting. She knits layers upon layers, forming an egg, a cocoon. When it is almost finished she climbs onto the seat, grasps the subway poles and lowers herself inside. She knits a roof over her head, closing the cocoon, sealing herself in a woolen cave.

We stay like that, all of us, until spring. And then as the warm air chases winter from our city and around the curve of the world, we begin to unravel. Our fingers move over the blanket, deft as mice, undoing knots until spaghetti-skeins of yarn twist and squirm at our feet. The dogs and pigeons and street vendors emerge; patches of sidewalk appear. Streaks of yarn tumble from the tops of buildings, puddling in drifts of soggy red and yellow and green. The subway gears unclog and the machinery chugs to life, the city waking, our commute unsuspended. Soon we will be at work, pouring coffee, turning on our computers, slipping off our boots under our desks and brushing stray strands of yarn from our toes.

But first, we unravel the cocoon where the knitter is entombed. Carefully, reverentially, we undo the knots, piece by piece, layer by layer. Inside, in the very center, she is preserved, embalmed in yarn: eyes closed, the ghost of a smile on her face, knitting needles locked in her frozen hands. We take her body and mount it on a ziggurat in the center of the city, preserving the memory of her, our savior: The one who brought us together and kept us warm.

Anna Hecker received an MFA in fiction writing from New School University. Her debut young adult novel End Times, written as Anna Schumacher, is forthcoming from Penguin’s Razorbill imprint in May 2014. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dueling pair of cats.