An extract from Sarah Stephenson’s one-act play, The Knitting Circle
PEARL (30s, F)
January 5th, 2022.
Hello! Hi. Backspace. Hey, B.
Thought I’d write this to say. Backspace. Just wanted to say hello. I know you’re five hours behind so no rush, but I was clearing out the apartment and I came across that vase your sister bought us as a joint Christmas gift in … 2017? 2018? And I thought I’d ask if you wanted it back.
It’s the one that ceramic artist in Red Hook lobbed off a balcony and glued back together again with a gold paste. Hundreds of them all lined up in that big white gallery. Remember?
I know you liked it.
It’s been really weird without you here, but I am adjusting. I’ve been eating meat again and really kind of revelling in the taste of non-vegan sausage rolls. Backspaceee. I hope you’re well.
Let me know.
Best. Backspace. Thanks.
Select all. Delete.
Do you want to keep this? Insert photo.
P.S. Does the word ‘lob’ exist in America? I never asked.
Hope you’re well.
Mum dropped by to take some of my stuff out to a charity shop and she wants to send you a birthday card.
What’s your new address?
Not heard from you in a bit. Holding onto that vase just in case. All okay?
Pearl takes a small shoebox and places it centre-stage where it will remain.
It is much, much heavier than it looks.
I found something… unfamiliar under the bed. It certainly isn’t mine.
It’s a box, and it’s got our names written on the front. I don’t recognise the handwriting.
Can you explain this?
A knitting group. 6pm every Wednesday at the village hall; five seats in a semicircle.
Pearl sits in one seat and addresses the empty chairs.
I suppose the last time I was a member of a group like, a proper group was – it must’ve been the school orchestra. Bass clarinet. David and I went to school together, actually. I don’t think we’ve seen each other since year nine biology.
I used to knit a lot but sort of, gave that up when my ex moved in.
Text projects onto a screen at the back of the stage in a scroll that reads ‘HOW WE MET’. Thumping club music.
Mood Ring, Bushwick. 2017.
The man on this tiny dance floor looks like a character from Mad Max. He’s wearing a pair of leather trousers and no top and he’s got two – not one – two – piercings that take the shape of horns emerging from either side of his bald head. I’ve never seen someone dance to such quick music so well. I join him as the second person on the dance floor. Him at the front, me at the back.
Everyone here looks like a vampire, or at least vampire-adjacent. Like they’re already living the cyberpunk future the rest of us eventually have to catch up to.
The music is too fast. I retreat to the bar. You are there. I recognise you as a fellow fish out of water; that this place is too hip for us. I lean over and ask if you would like a drink which I have never done and only associate with American films. I assume there is some truth in the gesture when you accept, with relief. I compliment your sweater. You say a friend knitted it for you.
Your name. I tell you it’s loud, we sit outside. My cousin works in Brooklyn. Graphic designer.
You just got stood up. A stranger you’d been speaking to for three weeks online and had consequently fallen in love with the pixels of. You brush it off. You say the guy on the dance floor is here every week and doesn’t he look a bit like a character from Mad Max?
The three of us dance in that dark space, together but separate.
Maybe it was the fact you didn’t take off that knitted sweater once.
The music stops.
Pearl looks up.
Sorry, I’ve been speaking –
Pearl paces around the box.
March 5th, 2022.
I’ve never written anything on here before but I don’t have anyone else I can really talk about this with in my life.
I want to sell my ex’s stuff. He isn’t responding to any of my texts or emails, and seeing all of his things day in and day out is dragging me down. I’m due to move out in six months and I could really do with the money.
He lives in the U.S and I live in the UK so shipping anything would be very expensive and difficult. It’s been eight months since we last spoke.
I want to move on. How long should I wait?
Thumping club music pulses and fades. The sound of cars in the background.
We stay out until the club closes. Neither of us feel like going home, so we split a gyro with the Mad Max guy before heading back. He slips into the morning light without even a goodbye, or a ‘see you next week!’. You lead me to the rooftop of your apartment block and prove your claim: that New York really does have the best skies, day or night. It’s four in the morning and the heat is heavy except for the occasional lick of a breeze against our faces. The buildings are tetris blocks.
I say I’m leaving in two days. You say your date just texted. She had this emergency, something to do with her dog running away, she’s so sorry she bailed. She wants to reschedule. A walk in Park Slope? I say you should, but you’ve already unmatched her. Gone, forever, back to the ether of cyberspace.
I say isn’t it weird how close you can get to someone you’ve never met knowing that you both have the ability to ghost the other whenever you like?
A couple off their faces with the same idea as us approach the opposite side of the balcony and start making out. I ask when I can see you again. You say dinner, tomorrow? I say I’ve got plans with my cousin and her husband but I’m free in the morning and the afternoon.
Brunch it is.
We do not kiss.
Apartment. Pearl switches the lamp light on.
Used keyboard. Good condition. Yamaha eighty four key electronic piano. Fifty pounds. Auction ends in forty-two days. Start bid.
Pearl drags in a light wooden table. She pours herself a glass of whisky, sips it. Approaches the box. Kicks it lightly. Tries to pick it up. Drops it.
Her phone buzzes. She places the glass on the table.
An automated text-to-speech generator reads out the replies.
The voices should get quicker and overlap.
Pearl unloads the items onto the table: a vase, a box of records, books.
AUTOMATED VOICE 1:
Give him an ultimatum. Tell him you’re gonna get rid of it all after a certain date. Remind him at least twice.
AUTOMATED VOICE 2:
Just ship the stuff to his address or to his parents’ address. Selling shit that’s not yours is, you know, not exactly legal and could get you in trouble if he wants to have it back later.
AUTOMATED VOICE 3:
If he’s not answering you should sell his stuff 100%.
AUTOMATED VOICE 2:
Also, any costs to this are probably worth the peace of mind and the closure. Look at it as buying your ticket towards freedom. It sucks, but all breakups come with costs or messiness or losing friends or needing to move. It can’t be helped and it’s better to go with it than to try and avoid the pain and drag it all out.
AUTOMATED VOICE 5:
Usually in the states it’s 30 or 60 days for abandoned property. As long as you are legally in the right, I don’t see the problem with selling them. He’s not responding to your texts or emails, lives in a different country, and you’re moving and need the cash. I’d do it, personally.
B, it’s been three months. I’m going to sell half of my stuff and half of yours at the car boot. I think it’s only fair. Will start with the items I think you’d care the least about letting go of.
And by ‘car boot’ I don’t mean my literal, that I’ll be selling things out of the back of my –
Do you even know what a car boot sale is? I don’t think we ever went to one.
Car boot sale. Pearl stands behind the wooden table and continues to unload items from the box onto it.
Once a month, four percent of the village’s population get together with all of the old things they’d forgotten about: Christmas cracker debris, toddlers’ shoes, that three stringed violin, and they lay them out on tables in rows in an big field and invite the other ninety six percent to walk by and make deals so they can assume those discarded items as their own.
There’s no saying what will or won’t sell, but it’s better not to label things with a guided price.
Wait for the item to pull the customer in. And when they ask, ‘how much will that go for?’, act as though you’ve known all your life the essential value of that thing.
Pearl picks up a record, studies the cover. A song starts to play out loud. Something earnest; mid-90s.
This album. This song.
Your first visit to a place in the UK that isn’t London. The warmest February since records began. 2017.
I’m wearing the turquoise green tights I bought online and will only wear again once and I’m wearing them because I think they will distinguish me.
Your hair is longer and softer than it is on screen. You have a ring of sleep around your eyes and I can tell you’ve been drinking. You hate flying.
‘I don’t usually drive.’
You put your feet up on the dashboard. I stick to the left lane. Driving makes me anxious and I think that’s why I’m quite good at it.
Green upon green upon green.
The motorway station we stop at has a Burger King in it. It’s only been 48 hours since you left America, but you already miss the taste of fast food and the way the melted square of cheese sticks to the wrapper. We sit outside and the motorway cuts across this painting-blue expanse of lake.
‘Do you smoke?’
I shake my head. ‘No’.
How did I quit? I started to knit.
One addiction to the next, apparently. I watched this documentary on YouTube about it – it’s how our brains are programmed. You’ve built up these neuropathways to gain a reward from a repeated behaviour and that pathway doesn’t just disappear. You’ve got to replace it with something else and the thing I replaced it with was knitting.
It’s something to do with your hands. Creation rather than consumption. I’d like to start it up again. You kind of laugh and we move onto a new topic. You think knitting is a waste of time. You think any hobby that can’t be monetised is a waste of time.
You control the music via. Bluetooth. You play this song – this song.
I ask you not to smoke in the car but you do anyway.
The song gets louder. And it cuts off.
This is when you tell me you’d like to live here someday.
Car boot. Pearl puts the items back into the boxes.
Each week I leave with more of your things than mine
A faint, faraway echo of the same song. Pearl switches the lamp light on. She is drinking.
The phone rings. And rings. And rings.
AUTOMATED PHONE VOICE:
Sorry, the person you are trying to reach is not available at the moment. Please leave a message after the tone.
Pearl puts the phone down and takes another swig.
She approaches the box, crouches over it.
She slowly unravels the duct tape and tears it off.
She lifts the lid. A radiant, ethereal light shines out of the box.
She puts the lid on it quickly. And then opens it again, slowly.
She pulls out a pair of knitting needles and holds them up in the air.
Projected onto the screen behind is a scroll that reads:
‘A BRIEF ONLINE HISTORY OF KNITTING’
Followed by a stream of YouTube videos.
Knitting is believed to have originated in the Middle East in the 5th century and travelled to Europe with wool traders soon afterwards. By the 16th century, knitting machines were used to knit hosiery for elite classes. One of the oldest preserved examples of a knitted garment –
Pause video. New tab.
Hi everyone! I am so excited to –
Pause. New tab.
Knitting was initially a male-only occupation. In fact, when the very first knitting union was established in Paris in 1527, no women were allowed –
Hello YouTube, this is Linda. Welcome to my ASMR channel. Today I’m going to give you a very basic tutorial on how to knit. By the end of this lesson, you should know how to knit something very simple, like a scarf. So, shall we begin?
Pearl sits on the floor. As Linda gives hushed instructions, she follows in a trance.
Here are the things you’ll need.
Pearl takes the yarn.
And a pair of knitting needles.
The yarn that I’m using is a really soft merino wool that’s been hand dyed in all these nice, very heated colours that make a really nice pattern when they’re knit up. You can use any yarn you want, but I like to use real wool because it makes my hands feel better and there’s just a little bit of lanolin in the wool that doesn’t dry my hands out too much… that is, it doesn’t dry out my skin.
Pearl falls asleep.
Car boot sale, a new day. Pearl unloads the vase, the records, the books onto the table.
Bargains with a customer.
It’s an old game boy. A tenner? No chance. Thirty five at least. Well, let’s speak to your Dad then shall we? Bring him over. Hey! Hey. Is he interested in opera? No, okay. Is your mum’s birthday coming up? Grandma? Something you could – oh. I’m sorry. Look. I’ll give you this – this entire box full of stuff for free. Yours, today. B? That’s no one. Just a name on a box. Hey, come back. Take this too. A tenner, go on.
Google: knitting groups in Gloucestershire. Search and Go.
‘Knit and Natter’
A radical, community-led anarchist knitting group.
… once a month, we host a speed dating night for members who are interested. We also bring a few pages of theory to discuss each session while indulging in our favourite hobby.
Get in touch on: 08-
‘Knitting groups in Arlington’
‘THE KNITTING CIRCLE’. Click.
A group of likeminded people, Southwest based. We meet at 6pm every Wednesday at the village hall. Beginners and experts are welcome. Turn up with knitting needles and a voluntary donation of two pounds. We will provide the yarn, all we ask you to bring is yourselves! Tea and cake will be provided. Email me at a: MargotSweetPea@gmail.com
Members take turns to lead sessions. See you soon! 🙂