“From The String Town Chronicles” by Joe Kapitan

What We Wove

The first time we tried using string, I was barely able to understand such things, but the older people in town said it would be good for us to visualize our loves, acknowledge our desires, so it began with wives tying strings to their husbands, parents to their children, children to their pets, and it seemed to work for a while — there were days our many strings made us happy, like birthday-full mailboxes, like lipstick lustwords on bathroom mirrors, until our idea turned on us and we began to lose track of the strings, until husbands couldn’t name the sources of the many lines that crisscrossed their wives and snaked down the streets in all directions, until mothers counted more strings knotted to their children than there were pets in their houses.

I remember the night my father stood on the front porch as the rain lashed the aluminum siding, a loaded gun in one hand, and handful of my mother’s strings in the other — trapped, immobilized, afraid of where her strings might lead, and afraid of other men following other strings through the darkness, strings that would eventually lead them to our door.


To Whom It May Concern

After the violence and the deaths, after we scrubbed the dark blood from the streets, we outlawed the strings for a time, which is why I awoke so shocked the morning of my sixteenth birthday, a string tied to my ankle, strung through a note that read I Will Destroy You.

I stayed in my room for days, knife beneath my pillow, shaking, waiting, until I realized I’d accepted some asshole’s invitation to guard my own cell, so I took my knife and crept out into the darkness, feeding the string back through my fingertips. I pictured my life ending. I pictured my girlfriend, the one good thing I’d sifted out of the debris around me. I pictured her left there, alone, worst of all.

I followed the string through the empty streets in the center of town, across the park, then up the granite steps beyond the fountain. The string was tied to a limestone column. On the top of the column stood a statue, the founder of our town, a wanderer whose wanderings died there.

I sat on the steps and watched our lone streetlight cycle green, yellow, red, green. Stars chased each other across the black. For a moment, I was a child again, when string was innocent, when a knot around your ankle meant someone cared, maybe even enough to warn the shit out of you.


Hope as Blade

Then there came the time that we climbed from our beds at dawn just to walk the streets of our town, looking for those who might have stolen away in the night. String Town was dying in increments, forgotten, foreclosed, praying for its end in quiet rasps, like all things do that outlive suicide and usefulness. In ones and twos we started tying strings to each other again, hoping to feel the pull if another one tried to leave. My wife and I didn’t bother with each other, our roots sunk too deep, but we each tied a string to our son, now seventeen, to his traveller’s cloudgaze, to his body taut as packed bags.  Even as he left us, he promised return. Tugged on his strings, smiling, just for us.

We stayed awake the night he left, talked of how lucky we were to have found each other in that larval hell, how blessed to have a son, antidote to despair, and I told her some things I’d never spoken of before, how the knot in the string around the limestone column bore the look of a sailor’s knot, and how my father used to tell me bedtime tales of far-off seas he’d once touched.  The sky warmed to pink in the east, warm like an answer, and that was when we finally settled on the two most beautiful things in the world — the feel of a sharp blade in your hand, and the peace that looked like raw ends disappearing into blue hills.

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