By M. LAWSON
The assembly line continued: the other angels carded the wool, dip-dyed it pink in the great tin pot on their table, and fed it into the spinning wheel, which they wound on a cone that F— knit into a new section on the color block scarf. The new color was only a few rows long; this incarnation had just gained consciousness. The pink sat on top of a green section (railway worker, Romania) and a hundred other colors, lives this soul had lived, lives that F— had knit for about a million years, it seemed. F— leaned over to see how much wool they had left. A mountain of fluff sat beside the first angel, and the handfuls she grabbed to spin didn’t even make a dent in its size. They still probably had enough for ten more feet of the scarf. Then, they would restart, and F— would keep working.
The angels were all aware of their impact on the incarnation, of the fact that however tightly they spun the yarn or saturated the color would have a tangible impact on her life. They knew when to give her a break by spinning looser or make things a little more tedious by purling instead of knitting, but F— was the only one who knew what was happening to the incarnation as she knit. This incarnation — young girl, lower middle class, North Carolina— was learning how to ride a bike. She and her dad were in an empty Arby’s parking lot, and she rode slowly, keeping one foot on the ground.
“You won’t be able to get anywhere like that,” he said.
“I don’t wanna fall.”
“If you fall, you won’t get hurt, okay? You’re not that far from the ground.”
She looked back at him and started to ride, but tipped left onto the hot asphalt. Her hand scraped the concrete, and she lifted it, pebbles pressed into her skin, and stared straight into the cut. F— saw the girl through gaps in the yarn, the cells in her palm, the coppery blood, and for a moment the girl could see her, too. Never had one of the incarnations looked straight at her. This one, she thought, seemed to be most perfect creature to ever breathe — and she had knit her up!
Then, the girl began to cry and looked away from F—. Her father picked her up and shushed her, wiping the blood from the cut and fogging F—’s view. She clenched the yarn tighter before realizing it was probably hurting the girl. None of the others stopped. Were they blind to understand that they had a delicate creature on their hands, and that she was in pain?
F— stopped knitting for a moment to try and recapture the girl’s gaze, but it was gone and replaced with the same glazed look she had always seen from the incarnations. The angel beside her poked her, and she kept working. F— had to remind herself to keep an even tension, keep her pace so that it wouldn’t throw off the rest of the scarf. How ugly would it be if the middle cinched inward? How glorious when others only noticed the brilliant pink of the girl?
A few rows passed. The girl didn’t look at F— again, though F— thought if she just stared back into her palm, she could do it. The girl was older, already. Time for the incarnations was so haphazard — concentrated in one place, then a decade gone in a single stitch. They couldn’t even see the cloth of their lives, except this girl probably could, if she wanted.
She was older, and she was kissing a girl and F—’s hands gripped around her needles. She took a moment and began again. The girl headed into the other girl’s arms and they were wrapped together now, for life.
In her periphery the spinning angel got up with a handful of dyed wool and left the line; everyone continued working without her. F— dropped her needles, put down the scarf, and followed after her.
“What are you doing?” F— asked.
“What do you think?” From the distance, another figure was approaching them, also with a fuzzy ball in their hand. They were going to tie the wool together and give it to another assembly line to be weaved into the girl’s son, another soul’s reincarnation.
“Don’t you think we should keep that?”
“I mean, shouldn’t we let her have a bit of extra strength? Just in case?” The idea that the pink fuzz ball wouldn’t be in her grasp, but in the grubby hands of some random angel, stolen for some ungrateful child, was liable to burn her up.
The other shook her head. “We’ve done this a thousand times before. What’s wrong with you now?” She nodded toward the assembly line. “You’re falling behind.”
The angel beside her scowled when she took her seat again. The cone of yarn wasn’t even that heavy, but she acted like F— had dumped a thousand souls on her knees. F— wound the yarn around her fingers again and slipped back into the easy comfort of the girl. Couldn’t she take a minute to stay with her here? Couldn’t she wait a bit to breathe in her presence?
F— thought she felt the absence of the wool, though of course, that wasn’t the case. Once an incarnation gave birth twelve times and she had hardly noticed the yarn thinning with each childbirth. But, that was some woman, barely even the girl’s predecessor. The girl might have been trying to send her a message. She would ditch her wife and child and be hers. She was going to stay beside her forever, or she would completely destroy the system, so they could all rest and watch the Earth from above without having any pressure to keep them thriving. The girl certainly could.
The yarn grew even thinner in her hand. It had only been a row, but the vision of the girl softened and greyed. Her son was gone already, and F— hadn’t even gotten a chance to look into his eyes and see if he could break through, too. The chance was minuscule, of course, because the girl was extraordinary, but maybe. She wondered why the other angels had killed him off so soon, and the wife, who had died while F— was rewrapping the yarn around her fingers. It was convenient, certainly, to have that wife out of the way, so F— could be alone with the girl, but her vision of the girl clouded. The fogginess was normal with old age, but maybe the girl would wipe away the debris so F— could get a good look at her.
The girl sat in her EasyChair and watched The Price is Right for three rows. At least now, F— could imagine sitting beside the girl in some sort of domestic bliss. No wife, no son to worry about. Just the girl and F—. The girl believed that today or tomorrow she could leave the Earth. Silly girl! If she only looked down in her palm certainly she could know that she had the power to stay alive forever, if she wanted, or go up and join F—.
The angel beside her held the yarn tight and said, “New color coming.”
F— dropped her yarn. The new color was a grotesque yellow, like the Sun had aged it only enough to make it unpalatable. Was the dyer even trying? “What do you mean? It’s not time yet.”
“Of course it is.” She pointed to the block of pink, at least six inches long now. “She’s been alive for a long time.”
“What’s she even dying of?”
“What, have you run out of ideas?”
F— thumbed the yarn and felt the slow hum of life pulse through it. She thought, again, she could see the girl blinking at her through her palm; she was so old now, and she needed to be replaced by this putrid yellow that would inevitably produce some bratty baby who wouldn’t the thick, spinning universe.
She felt the other workers staring at her, but she didn’t budge. She would rather kill this beautiful girl instead of letting her breathe through new lungs. The new incarnation would take over and destroy any resemblance to F—’s girl. There were only four inches left of pink yarn to let the girl mold into a new reincarnation. She broke the yarn in half.