Weave a Circle Round – Kari Maaren

Freddy never knew exactly how well she remembered that encounter in the park. She hadn’t done much with the memory—taking it out whenever she touched the key, but not for more than a few seconds at a time—and she sometimes thought she preferred it vague. But she found it varied much more than her other memories did. Some things that had happened to her she remembered sharply, as if she had stepped away from the time of the memory only just now, while some had faded to a fuzzy grey. Mel told her once that this was supposedly normal and had something to do with synapses, but Freddy didn’t pay much attention to Mel when she used words that were bigger than she was. The encounter in the park was sharp and fuzzy at the same time. She could feel the wood of the bench digging into her legs; she could see the key flashing between the woman’s fingers. She thought she remembered every word they had spoken. Maybe she was just pretending she did. A lot of the images were blurred, incomplete. She thought it had gone like this: The voices from the house faded behind her as Freddy tore across the front yard and the street, heading into the park. She had run into the park a lot lately. Her parents didn’t ever really talk any more. It was all screaming, broken by intervals of icy silence. But until today, she had never heard either of them mention what Mel and her friend Jonathan called “the D-word.

” Jonathan’s parents had been D-worded since he was five. Three years later, he had a world-weary air about it all. Mel tried to copy him. Freddy couldn’t. It was one of the hottest days of the summer so far. The sun beat down on Freddy’s skin as she stumbled across the brown grass towards the trees. There was a whisper of breeze, but not enough to cool her. Her vision was breaking up into prisms and quivering flashes of sunlight. She swiped impatiently at her eyes. She didn’t like crying, but she never seemed to be able to stop herself.

She had once overheard her teachers telling her parents she was “sensitive.” Freddy didn’t want to be “sensitive.” Sensitive people ended up cringing behind doors as their parents shouted at each other, then running blindly into the park to bawl like six-year-olds. Sensitive people got stomped on by life. Not for the first time, Freddy wished she were about a foot taller and could bring herself to try the cigarettes her cousins were always sneaking in her backyard when they came into town for Christmas. She had never asked them. She had told herself they would just say she was too young. She knew she was doomed to be sensitive forever. She had a favourite place in the park, a big clump of evergreens with a path through them and a bench near the path. Whoever had designed the park hadn’t thought very hard about that path.

It didn’t go anywhere; it twisted into the trees for a bit and stopped. People only took it when they were looking for privacy, and they weren’t heading for the bench. The path went on past it for a hundred metres or so, finally ending in a small clearing that teenagers used for parties and … other stuff. Freddy’s cousins told her she wasn’t old enough to know about the other stuff. Freddy’s cousins told her she wasn’t old enough for a lot of things. She did know, though, and she avoided the clearing, though it was technically more private than the bench. People didn’t pay much attention to her when she sat on the bench. It was set a bit back from the path, under three cedar trees whose needles she was always having to brush off onto the ground. If she squinted straight ahead, she barely noticed the grey strip of the path in front of her, seeing only the trees, sheathed in underbrush, poking into the sky. She could spend hours there, completely alone, even the sounds of cars and the neighbourhood kids muted by the trees.

A thirty-second walk would take her back out onto the street. She could pretend it wouldn’t, though. Freddy wasn’t supposed to go into the woods alone. It was a rule she’d been ignoring since kindergarten. No one had ever tried to hurt her here. It was cooler under the trees, but not by much. No one was in the woods. Freddy reached the bench and slid down onto it and curled up and squinched her face into her knees, and then she just cried for a long time. A crow gave a short, harsh caw from somewhere close, and she thought, Go away, and then, It’s not fair. Why can’t they just…? She didn’t think they would ever be able to just.

It hadn’t always been like this. They had fought before, but everyone’s parents fought. It was this last year that had been all screaming and freezing and throwing things. Maybe the D-word wouldn’t be such a bad thing. No, that’s not true. They’re supposed to love each other. People could stop loving each other. Jonathan’s parents had, and Rochelle’s. But it’s not fair. This isn’t how it’s supposed to work.

She wrapped her arms around the backs of her knees and drew in a shuddering breath. She really hated crying like this, fighting not to make a sound while the tears streamed down her cheeks to pool on her thighs, but she hated crying the way Mel did more. All that noise was just embarrassing. The crow cawed again. Freddy became aware she was not alone on the bench. She wasn’t sure what she noticed first. She couldn’t have sworn the person hadn’t been there when she arrived; in fact, thinking about it afterwards, she was almost certain the bench had been occupied all along. But the cawing was a sound from outside her net of misery, and it made her notice other sounds, too, and one was the slight scrape of a foot against gravel, not far away. Freddy turned her head slightly without raising it from her knees and peered out through swollen eyelids and her mane of curly hair. A woman was sitting on the other end of the bench.

She was one of the things that would seem both fuzzy and sharp to Freddy when she thought about this day later on, perhaps because she had cried her eyes into a semi-functional state by then. There was nothing particularly unusual about the woman herself, but something was wrong with her clothing, which looked as if it had been through a shredder. It was, thought Freddy, pretty good clothing: the kind of blouse and slacks her mum wore to work, plus flats and a little green purse. Or that was what it had been until recently. Afterwards, Freddy would remember staring at the rags that the blouse had become and thinking about how the fabric looked almost new. The slacks were in ribbons. One of the blouse’s arms had been yanked almost entirely off, and the front of the blouse was gaping open, hanging together only by its two remaining buttons. Freddy twisted her neck a bit farther to the right, shifting her eyes up towards the woman’s face. The woman was gazing straight ahead of her, off into the trees, apparently oblivious to Freddy’s presence. She had dark brown hair, neither long nor short, that had also been through the shredder, then tangled into knots and shoved down over her face.

Freddy sat up, still blinking away tears. She couldn’t go to pieces with some stranger here. At her movement, the woman spoke. Still staring into the woods, she said, “Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes so stupidly wrong that you find yourself saying every five minutes, ‘Now, this can’t possibly get any worse’? And then it does?” Freddy edged very slightly away from her. She knew she wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. She didn’t like talking to strangers. Strangers always wanted to make conversation, and Freddy could never see the point. “What am I saying?” The woman was still gazing raptly at nothing in particular. “The desperate crying indicates you’re having one of those days now. I sympathise, though if we had a pity party, I think I would win.

” “Your pants have a tear in them,” said Freddy. Even as the words came out, she knew it was a dumb thing to say. The woman’s pants were one giant tear. “I expect they do,” said the woman. “There was a thing that happened just now.” Freddy edged a bit farther along the bench. Now the woman turned towards her. Freddy saw two bright eyes peering through the hair. “Your parents have told you never to talk to strangers.” Freddy nodded.

“I don’t count,” said the woman. “I was sitting here already when you came howling through the trees. If I’d had a predatory intent, I would have joined you afterwards and promised to show you a puppy.” “A pred…?” “… atory intent. It means I drive around child-friendly neighbourhoods in a van with blacked-out windows and snatch innocents off the streets. Or it would if I did. You’re too young to be getting any of this, aren’t you?” “I’m ten,” Freddy said indignantly. She hated it when people assumed she was Mel’s age. She knew she was too small. The woman nodded.

“I can see that. So why all the wailing and carrying on?” “It doesn’t have anything to do with you.” “That’s why I’m interested.” The woman leaned forward. More hair fell into her face. It was beginning to bother Freddy that she didn’t just push it back. “I need a distraction from my own woes at the moment. You’re handy. Why were you crying?” It was just an ordinary summer day, hot and still, with a lone bird calling in the trees. The moment Freddy would remember most acutely afterwards, however, was this one: the roughness of the bench, the woman facing towards her in a polite sort of way.

The only other part of the memory with nearly the same power would be the bit with the key. But the one thing Freddy could never recall was why she answered the woman’s question. She knew she should just leave. Instead, she found herself saying, “My parents are getting a divorce,” and the tears started again. The crow cawed once more. “Ah,” said the woman. “That would explain it. Do you think they shouldn’t?” Freddy gulped back half a sob. “Yes. I mean, no, they shouldn’t.

They’re my parents!” “Your answer is somewhat lacking in logic,” said the woman. “I approve of it. Is there ever a better reason for not wanting two people who spend most of the time longing to drive steak knives into each other’s hearts not to get as far away from each other as possible? ‘They’re my parents’ is about as good as you’re going to get in this situation. Does crying help?” “What?” “Does it help?” The woman waved a hand in a lazy circle. “Does it make you want to sing show tunes in the street?” When Freddy just stared at her, she added, “Does it make you feel better?” “Yes,” said Freddy. “Does it really?” The woman leaned back on the bench and looked off into the trees again. “I know everyone says it does, but isn’t it really just that you scream tears all over yourself until you’re on the point of throwing up, then stop out of pure frustration because nothing has really changed? What good does it do? It’s not going to stop the divorce. You’re off doing it in private, so no one who matters is even going to notice it’s happened. No magical tear fairies are likely to turn up, feel sorry for you, and make everything go poof. As far as I can tell, crying about something you can’t change is a slightly more sophisticated version of throwing a tantrum because the sun has melted your ice cream.

” Freddy felt her eyebrows being drawn down into a glare. Crying did help. It … helped, okay? Well, all right, she did feel sick already. She felt as if she needed to cry more, on and on, until … what? Maybe it was true. It wasn’t as if she wanted to be crying, was it? “I can’t help it. Could you?” “Yes,” said the woman. “I have a method.” “No one can help it,” snarled Freddy. “If you don’t know that, nothing bad’s ever happened to you.” “Bad things happen to me every day before breakfast,” said the woman.

Freddy recognised the tone; it was the one Mel used when she was pretending she wanted everyone to feel sorry for her, even though she knew no one would. “You can see I had several just now. You need to get over the crying thing. You’ve succumbed to a victim mentality.” Freddy narrowed her eyes. There were a lot of big words floating around, and she thought most of them were probably veiled insults. “I’m going to do you a favour, small crying girl I have never seen before,” announced the woman, and Freddy saw knowing eyes appear again beneath the hair. “I’m going to teach you not to cry.” “What good will that do?” Freddy was finding it hard to stop her hands from balling into fists. “It won’t stop them from … from…” Her eyes filled up.

“Oh, stop,” said the woman. “It’s useless and takes us around in circles. Watch this.” She picked up the little green purse, which seemed less battered than her clothing, and opened it. After a few seconds of fishing, she pulled out a key ring so jammed with keys that it didn’t even jingle. The woman ran her fingers through the keys. “So you see, when one of the usual terrible things happens to me and I experience an overpowering urge to throw myself down on the floor and blub, I take out this key. No, not this one. It’s in here somewhere. At any rate, there’s a key I take out.

I don’t know what lock it fits; I found it in a gutter somewhere. So I have this key. Whenever I’m in danger of tears, I go looking for a lock.” Freddy’s own tears had receded again, though she could feel them lurking. “Why?” “To see if the key fits it, of course.” The woman briefly waved the keys about before returning to her search. “It has to fit some lock somewhere. Of course, there are trillions of locks it could fit, and odds are I’m never going to find the right one, but you never know, do you? It gives me something to think about besides my own righteous self-pity. It’s always, ‘Maybe this will be the time, and maybe the lock will belong to a door that lets out into a magical land of sunshine and kitty cats,’ and I stop wanting to cry because I’m interested. It’s never the right lock, but maybe it will be someday.

And anticipating that is better than sitting around moaning for some reason I won’t even remember tomorrow.” Her fingers slid onto a little silvery key and stopped. “I can spare this one,” she said. “It’s another gutter acquisition. I don’t have the least idea what it’s for.” Freddy watched as the woman tried to force the key off a ring nearly too full to hold it. She wasn’t really sure she believed anyone could stop herself crying just by sticking a key in a lock, but … I’ve stopped crying now. Is that really all there is to it? It was worth a try. Anything that would stop her from crying herself sick was worth a try. The key slid off the ring.

So did five other keys. The woman regarded them ruefully, then dropped all the keys but one back into her purse. She let the odd one out rest in the palm of her hand. “Take it.” It was a small key; it gleamed in a beam of sunlight that had escaped the green canopy above. It had a straight blade with a little catch at the end rather than the jagged teeth Freddy was used to from house keys, and the part you were supposed to grasp to turn it—she didn’t know what it was called— was a hollow circle of metal. Freddy hesitated. She wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, and she wasn’t supposed to take anything from them, either. “It’s not poisoned,” said the woman. “I have apples and candy bars for that.

” Freddy reached for the key. She glanced up at the woman’s face as she did. The slight breeze had, perhaps, been at work; the hair had blown partly back, revealing a pale curve of cheek. “You’re bleeding,” said Freddy, her hand still hovering in the air. “What? Oh.” The woman touched her cheek gently. “Never put handcuffs on an angry teenager. They weren’t bad handcuffs,” she added in what Freddy thought was meant to be a reassuring way. “There was stuff that happened, and then it went boom. I don’t have the handcuffs any more.

Take the key.” Freddy took the key. It was just a key. It was warm against her fingers. She closed her fist around it. “Good,” said the woman, rising and picking up the purse. “That’s you sorted. Just try the thing with the crying. It works.” Freddy shrugged.

She doubted it would. But the solidity of the key against her damp skin was oddly reassuring. The woman turned away, then back. Her hair had fallen over her cheek again, hiding the long bleeding scrape. “One thing. Whatever you do, don’t tell me I’ve given you that.” Freddy gave her the stare Mel said made people want to apologise for being born. “I’m serious,” said the woman. “It would be very, very bad. You see?” “But you already know you’ve given it to me,” said Freddy.

“And you said you didn’t know what it was for.” “Still, don’t tell me. I might do something drastic if you did. People could die. Or you might accidentally kill a puppy.” There were occasionally crazy people in the park. Freddy hadn’t thought this woman was one of them, but she’d been wrong before. It was kind of too bad. The thing with the key and the crying almost made sense, in a zigzagging sort of way. “I won’t tell you,” said Freddy, “since I don’t know who you are.

” The woman gave a slight, twitchy little shrug. “No one does, occasionally including me. You have a nice morning, now.” Freddy said, “It’s afternoon.” “Have a nice morning tomorrow,” said the woman. She turned and marched off down the path. One of her shoes made flapping noises at every step. It looked as if the sole had come loose. Freddy listened to the flapping, which was strangely dignified, receding into the trees. She was pretty sure the woman had been a passing nutcase.

But Freddy did keep the key, threading it onto her own ring next to the keys to her house. And the day her mum and dad sat Freddy and Mel down to tell them they were going to live separately, just for a little while, she made herself think about the key the whole time. Once her parents left their daughters alone, Freddy went to the grandfather clock in the living room—the one they had never been able to use because no one could unlock the casing—and tried the key in the lock. It didn’t fit. But Freddy didn’t cry. She could feel the tears just behind her eyes, threatening to push their way out. The key kept them at bay somehow. She used the key many times over the next four years. Sometimes it stopped her crying, and sometimes she remembered it too late. As time went on, she forgot less often, and it finally became automatic, then unnecessary.

Just touching it was enough to calm her down. She thought of the encounter in the park whenever she grasped the key, but it gradually grew to be just a slightly weird thing that had happened to her when she was ten. She wouldn’t have known the woman again if they had met in the street, especially if the woman had brushed her hair and found some new clothes, but Freddy didn’t think they ever had.


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