The Grown-Up

rating: +21+x

My body never figured out how to stop growing, which means all the more inches of esophagus for bile to get sucked through — all the more inches of epithelia to burn with stomach acid, cooking my heart and filling my nose as I hunch over the toilet, my face nearly as wide as the bowl itself, what look like pieces of my stomach lining pouring out into the water, plunking and spilling and swirling until I finally can make a gasp for air, lift my head, and feel like it might be over.

But I don’t trust that easily. I wait some interminable moments before I feel like the heaving has well and truly stopped.

I grope for my cane in the relative darkness, and use it to pull myself off the ground. As I lift, I can feel the creasing of scar tissue that stretches across my lower back. Puberty was not kind to me.

I take a cup from next to the sink and fill it with water from the tap, then down it all in a couple gulps. I repeat this process until the taste of sick is mostly washed from my mouth. In, out. In, and out. I just breathe and wait for the pain to subside. I want to be composed before I leave my apartment, and I have to go to the store.

The yarn store, actually. I’m soon to outgrow my shirt, and my hands have become too big for sewing.

I was hesitant to learn a new skill, but when I grew out of my shirt and was down to my long, draping coat, I knew that I had to give in. So I’m pulling myself together. I flick the light on, look in the mirror, and try to force pigment back into my face. I’m pulling myself together. Maybe if I think it loud enough, I’ll will it into existence.

It’s not working. I wince, and go to my next best option. I don a scarf that comes up to the tip of my nose, and a beanie that brushes the tops of my eyebrows. I have no confidence, but I can’t spend another day sick and pointless.

There’s nothing special about this yarn shop, except that it’s near me and open late.

A bell dings as I walk through the door, a hand on the head jamb as I bend forwards to get inside, my walking-stick poking in before me. The ceiling is high enough that I can stand my full height, but the hanging lights at eye level make me nervous so I hunch anyways, careful not to damage property.

A lone cashier looks at me, and loses all customer service skills in an instant. Like everyone else, they reduce to a scrying owl, swiveling head and all, and I, the mouse, find a burning desire to get as far away as possible, lest I turn my head and their talons sink into my back.

I try to pretend they don’t exist, and thank fate that they are the only other inhabitant of this small, colorful place.

Speakers in the ceiling meant to play quiet, mindless muzak dig into my ears, and vents I pass under send chills down the back of my collar. My cane thumps each time as I adjust its position on the carpet and lean against it. Once I think I have found what I am looking for, I lean my cane against the wall, and crouch down to peer closer to the shelves.

Thick, spilling wool. I don’t care much about the color, I just need a lot of it. I pick up everything I can carry and stuff in my basket-sized pockets.

I struggle to stand back up, using my cane to pull myself off the ground and feeling my head spin and my stomach churn. I pause mid-lift to make sure I’m not about to empty my guts into my scarf, breathing deeper as if I can push the illness out with the air.

My head steadies, my stomach cooperates, and I rise to near-full height and walk towards the counter, offering everything I have.

They take a moment to compose themselves before they are able to scan the pile. Their hands are so shaky, their eyes so intimidating, I suddenly can’t help but sputter out some form of justification.

“I’m having a baby,” I say, like that is somehow an appropriate reason to have yarn enough to cover three couches.

They look up at me, briefly, though there isn’t much of my face to be made out. I lamely shrug, and they simply continue their duty.

I pay, I pick it all up, and I exit into the smoky glow of the city.

I enter my building, get in the cramped elevator, ride to the third floor, and make it through my door without passing anybody in the halls. Home once more.

Home isn’t large, but it’s not small. I have a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen plus dining room, but most importantly, I have a high ceiling. I pay the rent with my inheritance money — a quiet bank account I never feel the need to check. On the table in my living room is a sewing machine, and a chair fit for my size that I crafted two months ago.

On the way to my seat, I pass a shelf I installed full of soap carvings on different subjects. The last project I’d started, a possum skull, has been unfinished on my wall for some weeks now.

I sit down and placed my bags of yarn on the floor, relieving air from my lungs and leaning my cane against the chair. As soon as I’m seated, I wish I could have brought with me a glass of water, but the moment has passed.

I open a drawer in my table, and acquire my knitting needles along with a pattern I had printed for a scarf. It is the easiest start I could imagine. So with my mismatched yarns and the remainder of my time, I begin.

It takes all night, but it’s all I do. No television, no radio, and no music. For the next hours upon hours, I sit in my chair and knit, interrupted only once by a doorbell when my personal shopper drops off groceries. I knit until the sun peeks through the curtains and my eyes start to squint, but my work pays off.

In one day, I make, using only a third of my yarn, a scarf. I remove my old silken one, and wrap the new accoutrement around my chin. It may be a thousand different colors, one abruptly crashing into the next at indiscernible intervals, but I like it.

I use my cane to pull myself to my feet, stumble towards the windows, and close the curtains tighter. I don’t feel hungry, but I force myself to eat a takeout container of soup before turning in.

The next evening I awake and scour some leftover arts and crafts magazines for knitting patterns, creating an anthology of stories yet to be knit. I hurry through my five eggs and uncountable sausages, and then move to the living room, ready to start tearing through my yarn. I skip lunch to finish three projects — a beanie, a cowl, and cabled socks that take two tries to get right.

By that point, the light is peeking through the windows again. I eat dinner and fall asleep, my head swimming with new knitting projects, new clothes, new items.

Several days pass in this fashion, the cashier at the yarn store becoming slightly more composed with each of my visits. By the end, I am covered head-to-toe in newly knitted apparel. I have fingerless gloves, shawls, sweaters, coats, socks, beanies, earmuffs, all in completely mismatched colors, some riddled with errors, too tight or too loose, though others come out immaculate in my eyes. The only non-knitted clothes I still wear are my pants and shoes, though cracks in the latter tell me they must be replaced.

As the sun peeks through my curtains on the fourth day, I put down a pair of legwarmers, and feel miles from the enthusiasm I started with.

I lean back in my chair, and just sit there.

The room gets slowly brighter, as I sit, breathe, and rub a knitting needle between my thumb and forefinger. I simultaneously wake up from the dream, and feel overwhelmingly tired. I don’t bother to store the day’s finished projects or pack my needles away. My stomach feels tight and volatile, so I go to bed with no dinner.

Sleep goes poorly. Maybe a week or so ago, I started noticing that my feet were touching the footboard of my bed. Today it is especially uncomfortable. I sweat despite the coolness of my quarters, and I wake up several times with my blanket tossed onto the floor.

I dream of bars of soap the size of marble slabs, and cubes of ice that melt before I can touch them. I find a frayed thread in my pillow and pull at it. At sunset, I wake up, and my back is sore from pure muscle tension. I back myself up against the headboard until I am in a sitting position, and rub my aching forehead. I feel unwell.

I feel sick and disinterested.

Knock, knock, knock. In my sense-suppressing nausea, I wonder if I merely imagine the sound, but it comes again after a wait. “Coming,” I say, though my voice is racked by atrophy and comes out hoarse and quiet.

I pull myself to my feet, and my cane thumps in front of me as I carefully move towards the front door, leaning on the walls sometimes to steady myself.

I crouch and look through the peephole.

My heartbeat quickens. Outside my door is a gruff looking man with a thick moustache and furrowed eyebrows, his hair just beginning to grey. I take a moment to compose myself before opening the door by a mere crack, hoping that if they can’t see much of me, they won’t be so off put by my size.

“Hello?” I croak.

He clears his throat. “Hello. You share a wall with my son’s room I think, and he heard some pounding and, er, yelling. We were checking in to make sure everything’s okay.”

I swallowed, hard. “Oh, ah, sorry. I uh, I’m feeling sick, and I work nights so I s-sleep during the day. I must have f-flailed in my sleep and been hitting the wall. Fever nightmare. Sorry.”

“That sounds terrible,” he sympathises. “Sorry to hear.”

“It’s alright. I’ll… I can move my bed to another wall, so maybe I won’t bother him so much,” I offer.

“No need,” he replies. “We were just checking that everything’s alright. Have a good night.”


And then he’s gone.

After I close my door, I put my ear to it, and follow his footsteps down the hall. Sure enough, he enters a door on my side of the hallway. Opened, closed, silent. My next-door neighbor. How many years have we lived here without meeting?

I stand in front of my door for some time, threatening to bowl over and puke, but I fight it. I breathe, and steady myself, and turn around.

The last remnants of sunlight sliding through the crack in my curtains illuminate the pile of knittings on the table, and a couple balls of yarn I let roll across the floor. Just looking at it makes the bile rise into my esophagus, the tang of vomit coating the back of my throat, so that I turn and face the door again.

My body is trying to send me a message, and I think I know how to read it. I retreat to my bedroom, careful to keep my eyes on the floor and to not jostle my stomach unnecessarily. Tonight, I plan to do nothing. A concentrated effort of nothing.

I sit on my bed, and think.

A week. Knitting had lasted me a little under a week, and I had to push for that much. I’ve been sewing for most of my life. I’d taken up cobbling early on as well, and after that I had many years of carpentry. Soap carving and whittling came in the same package and lasted some months. But eventually, all things wear out their welcome. It just seems… that as of late, things have been wearing out faster. I feel as though I face an approaching dissolve with neither fear nor courage. I merely acknowledge its presence, and find myself, day after day, waiting for the moment that the future becomes the present.

I lay down.

What’s changed? I feel like I used to have such a well to draw from. I may have always been quiet, but I was quietly working, plugging away at project after project, each one more miraculous and wonderful than the last, only moving on once I’d considered myself a master, and only returning as was necessary.

Necessary like chairs and beds that fit me, necessary like new knitted clothes… necessary unlike soap carvings of possum skulls.

We share one wall, I think to myself.

I have a brief and epiphanous brainstorm that propels me out of bed. The word necessity shoots between my neurons like a pinball, lighting every bulb it hits and ringing out as it rolls around the board. There was no such thing when I was young and adventurous. I dress enough to feel decent, and push into the living room, my breath feeling clear, my pores ceasing their dripping, my stomach fading into the whole of my being once more.

I feel well.

I feel fit and piqued.

I pick up my knitting needle, throw yarns of all colors across the table. I release, within myself, that thing which has so blocked me from true creation. I pull yarn through the head of my needle. Give me something new, I whisper to it, hoping it will hear me and bear with me through this process.

I reach into the throat of my being and gag, inducing the process of creative vomit.

I held onto Sebastian for dear life, his button-eyes bumping against my brow and his string-tongue tickling the top of my forehead. Dad told me the man next door was just sick, but I hadn’t been able to sleep all night. I kept hearing noises through the wall, and I didn’t like them. Wet, sick noises, and a fair share of thumps.

“Mom?” I cried, but no one answered from the bedroom across the hall.

I heard one last whump, which made me retreat even further under my covers, but then it was quiet. I had only my heartbeat and breathing to hear. I carefully poked my head above covers. My nightlight by the door glowed a low, inoffensive purple, which made visible my pile of stuffies, train set, and wardrobe. Once my heartrate subsided, I could only hear the ticking of the clock and my parents’ steady breathing from beyond the door.

“Dad?” I whispered, not truly expecting to be heard.

I wondered if this was only another monster in my closet. Dad said they didn’t exist. That I had an “overactive imagination.” I think I believed him, but I wasn’t willing to test these theories.

“Do you think he’s gone?” I asked Sebastian.

Silent as always, the serpent merely looked back at me. He must have been listening, too.

Knock, knock, knock. I jolted, pulling the blanket up to my eyes. My ears ringed, and my forehead was coated in sweat. In my sense-suppressing fear, I wondered if I merely imagined the sound, but it came again after a wait. Knock, knock, knock.

I stared into the darkness just beyond my ajar door. It was a knocking on the front door. It sounded heavy, but reserved. Like it could break into the house with one push if it wanted to but was being polite. Knock, knock, knock.

The more I heard it, the less it scared me. I backed myself up against the headboard until I was in a sitting position, and hugged Sebastian with both arms. “Mom? Dad?” I tried one last time, in vain. Knock, knock, knock.

I rubbed my knees together nervously, and twisted the fur on Sebastian’s neck. Soft but insistent knocking. I pushed the blanket off my bed, and put my legs over the side. Knock, knock, knock. “C-coming,” I answered, and hopped onto the floor. I walked to the door, and flicked on the light.

Knock, knock, knock. “Coming,” I said louder and with a bit more confidence, stepping into the living room and moving to the foyer. I reached towards the handle, and then hesitated. There aren’t monsters, I heard my Dad’s voice. Only in stories.

Knock, knock, knock.

I pulled down the handle, and opened.

“Oh,” a deep and sickly voice poured through the door. “H-hello.”

Pressed against the portal, nearly cracking the doorframe, was a wall of folded, tangled yarn which spooled out into the foyer. “Hello,” I barely whispered back. In the midst of this gaudy, saturated mess were moments of skin and features. One enormous rheumy pinkeye, spanning the top left of the door frame, was too wide to see both its corners. In the bottom right was a hand with the palm hidden behind the wall, each of its fingertips as large as Dad’s fists.

“Are y-your parents awake?” it asked.

I was stunned into silence and stillness. All I could bring myself to do was shake my head.

“Ah, mm,” it said in response, “w-well, that’s okay, I, uh, I made you a gift.”

The entire mass shifted, the eye rolling backwards beyond view and some flashes of joints poking through the blanketed surface, until a hand wider than the doorframe pushed through sideways, pinching something between its thumb and forefinger. I took several steps backwards as the forearm, draped as it was in long, rainbow threads and colors, followed behind it. It extended towards me until it was on top of me.

“Um, this is yours, y-you should have it.”

The hand gently lowered until it was just in front of me, the object pinched between its fingers at the right length for me to reach out and grab it, but I was too scared. “Um…” it seemed confused, but resolved to just put the thing on the floor, and then retreat the limb into the doorway. Another shifting of the mass revealed a corner of its mouth, and when it spoke I was overwhelmed with the smell of burning bile and rotted teeth.

“It’s a toy,” it said. “If I can’t have my imagination,” an eye opened in the center of the doorway, “then you can.”

There was a pause. “Thank you,” I managed to say.

“Don’t grow up,” it said. And then it was cacophony. The whole of it began to retreat from the door, and I could hear the floor creak under its shifting weight, its limbs bump and scrape across the walls, and then it was gone.

I held Sebastian to my chest. “Did you see that?” I asked him. Quieter: “Was that a monster?”

I walked to the thing it had dropped in the foyer. It looked like a piece of itself: a messy yet somehow intentional mass of braided yarn. The way its threads splayed around it, it almost looked like a squid.

“Doodlebug?” I startled out of my skin. It was Dad, who was standing in the doorway to his bedroom. “What are you doing up? And why’s the door open?”

I swallowed. “Sorry, Dad. You guys weren’t awake so I answered the door.”

Dad came into the room and walked to the door. “For who?” he asked.

I shrugged. He closed the door, crouched down, and picked me up. “Okay doodlebug, but don’t ever answer the door in the middle of the night again. Okay? Get mommy and daddy up first.”

“Okay,” I said, and watched over his shoulder as he hauled me towards the bedroom. Over his shoulder at the thing on the ground, which Dad hadn’t even mentioned, just sitting there in the foyer, like a guardian of the house.

“Dad?” I prod as he puts me in bed.

“Yes, son?”

“What’s it like to grow up?”

He just looked at me for a moment. Then he smoothed back my hair, and kissed me on the forehead. “It’s nothing to worry about. Now go to sleep, Dad’s tired and you should be too.”

He got up, walked out, and closed the door behind him.

I pulled the covers up, flipped on my side, and hugged Sebastian. The room was still. The only light was the purple glow of my nightlight. The only sounds were the ticking clock and my parent’s breathing from across the hall. I breathed, eyes darting around what little I could see, before I finally closed them, satisfied that nothing else would happen.

“Goodnight, Sebastian,” I said.

“Goodnight, Eric,” Sebastian said back.

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