A Sea Change’, Shelly Jones

Illustrations © 2022 Dr T. Eratopo

 [ Coral © 2022 Dr T Eratopo and Dall-E ] Like many obsessions, yours started as a distraction, a way to keep your mind off the pain. The doctor said crocheting would be good for your arthritis, the gentle movement keeping your fingers limber. As we drove home from the appointment, we stopped at a craft store, despite our lingering doubts.

You selected the yarn carefully, chose a bamboo hook instead of metal, the soft wood natural in your hand. You were excited to show me the yarn, a new eco-friendly creation.

“Can you believe it’s made from recycled plastic bottles?” you asked. You rubbed it against your skin to prove its silky texture: no burrs of plastic marring your flesh.

That first night you practiced a few basic stitches, creating a misshapen chain that ebbed and flowed, stitches added and lost in the process of learning. A few mornings later, I found you in the oversized chair, eyes bleary in the dim light.

“Couldn’t sleep,” you mumbled, your hands methodically swimming under and over the yarn, as if casting a spell. Overnight you had crocheted yourself a blanket that splayed across your lap as you nodded off.

“Perhaps you should slow down a bit. Give your hands a rest,” I recommended, pouring your coffee. You nodded, accepting the mug eagerly. But by the time I left for work, your coffee sat cold and untouched at your side, four more rows of the blanket extending over you.

Another sleepless night, you sat in the darkened living room, awash in a blue aura from the television. The matter-of-fact voice of David Attenborough instructed on the mating rituals of blue-footed boobies, the predatory practices of an octopus. You were enthralled by its midden, a pile of shells heaped outside its den, like the compost we attempted one summer and then abandoned.

“Did you know the coral reefs are dying?” you called out to me as I brushed my teeth.

“What?” I asked, my mouth still full of foam.

“They blanch, lose all their color, their vibrancy. Then they die,” you explained.

“Like people,” I noted, stifling a yawn.

You said nothing, your hands still moving in the dark.

Now, months later, your nightstand is cluttered with books on coral reefs and algae. When not crocheting, you barricade yourself with patterns like a hermit crab tucked in its shell. You’ve even discovered a special technique that mimics the spiraling appearance of sea anemone.

“Isn’t this what retirement is? Finding new ways to be happy?” a friend asks, attempting to reassure me.

Another suggests that a vacation might help. “Perhaps a cruise? Embrace the obsession. She’ll appreciate the gesture.”

How can I explain my irrational fear of losing you to the reef? At night I dream of you slipping beneath its tendrils as we snorkel, sting rays guarding you beyond my grasp. You sink further into the seafloor until I am forced to the surface, my lungs desperate for air.

“She needs space,” the therapist announces. “She needs time to adjust to retirement, to accept where she is in life.”

I nod sympathetically. But what if space grows to distance, to disinterest, to disdain? What if, like your hyperbolic crochet, we aren’t headed in the same direction and are thus plummeting in opposite directions? How far are we willing to deviate before we’ve lost sight of one another?

In the summer, you decide to leave. A trip to the beach, you announce. You have already packed before I can ask if there is any room for me. At the sight of your bag, all yarn and fiber arts magazines, I swallow my words, nod goodbye.

In the stillness of your absence, I explore the empty house as if wandering into unknown territory. I realize that I have learned where your space begins and mine ends.

Bags and boxes litter the storage room, all overflowing with yarn: skeins, balls and hanks of different sizes, hues, and thicknesses. I retreat to my office, the one refuge where yarn hasn’t threaded its way through the keyhole like an industrious Theseus combing the labyrinth.

A few days later, you return from the beach, dragging bits of it with you. A brine permeates the house as you cloister yourself in the guest room.

“Shouldn’t we talk?” I ask finally as you disappear again into your domain.

“Isn’t this what you wanted? For me to have a hobby?” Your disembodied voice comes to me, garbled, as though from underwater.

I sigh, steeling myself as I follow your voice.

Standing in the doorway, I pause, too overwhelmed by the scene to continue. You have crocheted a giant coral reef made of algae from the beach that encompasses the entire room. Tentacles of color sway, titian fingers and saffron polyps line the walls, inching up to the ceiling. Terraces of vegetation are planted around the entire perimeter, cascading over the guest bed, draping over the nightstand. A blue, rotating light ripples along the sponges like waves and I swoon in the doorway, sea-sick from the fabricated motion.


For a moment you are lost to me, hidden within the undulating anemones. I cannot deduce where your body begins and where the reef ends, coral cushioning you like a lovers’ arms, like my arms once cradled you.

I close the door, embarrassed for having witnessed you in such an intimate pose, adrift among the kelp, body splayed open to its rhythmic sway. My shoes leave wet footprints across the carpet, a wake of my betrayal, entering your watery domain.

Resigning myself to the couch, the murky blue light from your terrarium seeps out under the door, stretching toward me. Leaning back I feel something dig in my hip, a discarded crochet hook lost in the cushions. I pull out a skein of yarn and begin to chain on, my fingers remembering the deft maneuvers of your hands. For hours I craft this rope, watching it snake across the room towards you: a buoyant tether to anchor you to me once more.

First published in Myriad #1: Boundaries, December 2021.

© 2022 Shelly Jones

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