“Forgive me,” the man across from her says with an embarrassed smile. “I didn’t mean to stare.”
“That’s all right,” Lottie responds quietly with a wobble of her head. She had not noticed him earlier, and the realization that someone is speaking to her startles her.
“It’s just that you look very familiar,” he adds after a moment. They are standing in line at a bakery -- the constantly busy one on Magnolia Avenue. He stands several customers ahead of her, but the line loops back so that they face each other now, with a black plastic ribbon separating them.
Seconds before, she had been blankly looking forward while waiting and not focusing on anyone. It had been a rare moment of blissful peace in her usually tumultuous thoughts, especially in a crowd. Now that he has her attention, she looks him in the face from behind her sunglasses. Yes, he does ring a bell, she thinks, but for the moment she cannot place him, which is highly unusual. Like the rest of her family, she is excellent with faces and able to recall everything about a person immediately. In fact, it’s completely uncharacteristic of her to be unable to identify anyone instantly, even someone she has never met personally. That’s a power she’s always had, or at least as far back as she can remember.
Tilting his head, he looks at her as if he’s waiting for her to remove her sunglasses so that he can get a better look at her face. Not going to happen, pal. She prefers to keep them on, even indoors like this. In public, she likes the barrier of protection that they create. Eyes are powerful, intimate organs, especially in her case. He continues to study her face, deep in thought. Lottie quickly becomes uncomfortable, nervously looking down at his shoes after three seconds. She’s never been a fan of prolonged eye contact, even through the sunglasses. It’s quite dangerous, or at least it could be for him. The tinted lenses might not be dark enough to protect him.
“Doctor’s office,” he says, with a tone like he’s guessing a playing card. “A waiting room. Oh, the eye doctor! The one on Lankershim Boulevard!”
“Yes,” she says, astounded as the memory finally comes back to her. They had sat near one another in a tiny waiting area, and he had chatted with her about her knitting. At the time, Lottie had been concerned about her growing need to squint at the yarn and needles that were usually at work in her hands, enough for her to risk a doctor looking deeply into her eyes. She thought she could stave off what she called her Forever Sight in order for the doctor to analyze her deteriorating human vision. Unfortunately, the Forever Sight isn’t easily controlled, and her appointment had ended abruptly a few minutes later. She had never gone back. She had been an immoral, selfish fool to go. Snapping out of the painful memory, Lottie says, “My, that would have been years ago.”
“Yeah,” he nods happily, pausing to consider when exactly it would have been that they’d once sat next to one another, “At least a couple of years ago.”
“Well, you have an amazing memory,” she says, giving him a relaxed smile. “Do you work for the government or something?”
“No, my memory is just sporadic like that,” he says, as the line shuffles forward. He’s almost at the head of the line now, and he turns around to continue talking to her. “I remember you were knitting. Do you still knit?” He smiles at her like he’s showing off, trying to impress her again.
“Of course,” she says, digging into her tote bag to fish among her normal crafting materials that she’s able to take out in public. She pulls out her current out-of-the-house project: a short, tightly knitted, burgundy tube on a circular needle. “It’s going to be a sock,” she explains, waving it gently at him. She considers working on it for the rest of her wait in line, since it helps her avoid people-watching, which can lead to bouts of Forever Sight. However, the brief conversation with the man went well, so she stuffs the unfinished sock back into her bag.
“Very nice,” he calls to her, straining to see her as he moves to the front of the line and she steps to where the line loops back. She smiles to herself and shakes her head. Maybe it isn’t so surprising that she couldn’t recall him at first with her human memory, since she had wanted to forget that eye appointment, backfiring tragically as it did. The way the optometrist had wavered across from her, with that horribly lost expression. Lottie should have known better! And the way her sister Margot had laughed and teased her afterward. She had successfully blocked it out for a while, and the painful memory had taken this man’s face and identity with it. Until now.
Lottie worries that the rest of her wait at the bakery will be spent remembering the optometrist’s fall into the abyss, and she is usually pretty good with such predictions. The doctor had been a young Asian woman with a friendly manner. It breaks Lottie’s heart all over again to think about that moment when she allowed the doctor to look into her eyes, and Lottie had been unable to hide eternity. In a single instant, it had slipped into her eyes, and the doctor (an intelligent, dedicated helper of the community, a daughter to loving parents, a good friend to many friends, a lover to her husband and a mother to a little boy) caught a glimpse of it through the lenses between them. They had remained frozen in silence, sitting in the darkened examination room, all the while Lottie had prayed with a pounding heart that the young doctor had not seen the limitless depths. But obviously she had, and Lottie left in tears, ashamed that the accident had not been foreseen.
When it comes to future moments of her own life, Lottie is blind. One of the universe’s great ironies is also her curse. She vows never to risk a mortal looking into her eyes again. Their minds simply cannot handle the shock of forever. Seeing its depths leaves them a pale shadow of what they once were mentally. It devastates the rest of their lives.
Shaken by the memory, she forces herself back into the present: the bakery, with its constant drone of chattering people and clattering from the kitchen. The man finishes his order and then winks at her as he walks past, holding his receipt. “Nice to see you again,” he says to Lottie.
“You too,” she nods and feels her cheeks go red. Why do they betray her like this? Lottie always blushes so easily.
Thankfully, the line moves quickly, and she places her order. She goes to wait in the pickup area, since she’ll be taking the three sandwiches home to eat with her sisters. She predicts her inability to hide her feelings about this encounter with a flirting man, and Margot will take the opportunity to tease her. Claire will chide Margot to stop, but she will be ineffectual. As usual, Margot shall have her cruel fun at Lottie’s expense, and Claire will attempt to comfort but in the end will seem largely indifferent to any suffering. Lottie will return to her work, crushed and dismal, desperately trying to create her next project as a beautiful triumph to make up for other monumental failures, such as the poor optometrist two years ago.
“How did that green sweater turn out?” The man is beside her in the pickup line. He is slightly taller than Lottie. He has a kind face and thinning straw-colored hair. He looks at her expectantly.
“What?” It’s hard to hear him above the din of the crowded bakery. Also, she’s not used to being caught off guard. Repeatedly.
“That green sweater you were knitting back at the eye doctor’s,” he says. “I think that’s what it was. I figure you’ve finished it by now. Do you remember how it turned out?”
“Oh, it was horrible,” she says, as this memory also comes flooding back. Suddenly, she’s talkative, probably because the subject is knitting – her most frequent activity. “The yarn started to felt before I could get the sleeves done, and it turned into this frizzy mess. I tried to save it by spraying it with a little water, I tried everything, but it was a total loss. I couldn’t even undo it and try making something else. The yarn just went bad.”
“I’m so sorry,” he looks at her with mournful puppy dog eyes. “I remember liking its color. A very soft, deep green, right?”
“A little too soft, I’m afraid. The fibers refused to be cohesive and just kept spreading, making it really hard to use. That particular batch my sister made would just not stay together. Sometimes that happens in the dyeing process.”
“Your sister makes yarn?” He asks.
“So she’s your supplier, and you make all the clothes,” he says as if to confirm.
“That’s about it,” Lottie nods, and the man’s order is announced. He accepts his bag, which appears to be a single sandwich to go, and he returns to her side.
“Do you take orders or requests, like online somewhere?” He asks with a friendly smile.
“My other sister handles distribution,” she shrugs.
“Wow, sounds like a cottage industry,” he beams at her.
“You could say that.”
“Do you have a card or a website?”
Why is he so interested, she wonders while searching for a card in her wallet. She never hands these out. She never really talks with people anymore. Margot will love this. Lottie can already hear the cackling.
“Here you go,” she says, handing him one of her cards. It says: “Clothing Of Sorts” with their web address and phone number.
“Thank you,” he says while looking at the card. “I’ll be sure to place an order.” He looks back up at her. “Would you suggest anything in particular? Maybe something you like making?”
Lottie imagines him in a soft green scarf. No frills, just that deep, felting green that he seems to like. It isn’t like her normal visions, where she sees him in the future wearing something that she knows she will make – something that guides him further along his life story, something in the Forever Sight. For once, she is using her natural human imagination, and it delights her. Plus, she knows that her eyes aren’t spinning, which is a relief. She almost laughs at the realization, so she’s grinning honestly when she replies, “How about a scarf for when it turns cold? A nice soft green one perhaps? I think it would go really well with your eyes.”
“I’d like that. That sounds great. Thank you.”
“Be sure to order it through there,” Lottie says, pointing to the card in his hand. “I can’t be trusted to take the orders.”
“Oh, you have the most important job,” he says, putting the card in his shirt pocket. “You are creative design. You are production. This time, you’re even the promotional department. Your sisters would be lost without you.”
“They would,” she shakes her head affably. She’s not used to receiving compliments. She’s also not used to talking to strangers, but then people are rarely complete strangers to her. She nervously fidgets with her bag.
He pauses uncomfortably, looking for a reason to linger. “Well, it was nice to bump into you again. Maybe it won’t be another two years, but who knows, right?”
“Right,” she kind of laughs. “It’s a small world, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. My name is Duncan Gerstner, by the way,” he thrusts his hand out to shake hers.
“I’m Charlotte Sort,” she obliges, and he holds her hand gently.
“Charlotte… Sort?” He doesn’t think he’s heard her correctly, so she nods.
“Like on the card. ‘Clothing of Sorts,’ see?”
“Of Sorts!” He lets go of her hand to press against his temple. “Charlotte Sort and the Sort sisters. Right, I get it now, Charlotte.”
“You can call me Lottie,” she shrugs, the suggestion bubbling out of her before she knows what she’s saying.
“Lottie. That’s a pretty name. It suits you. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Lottie.”
“Nice to meet you too, Duncan,” she says, finally glancing at his pleasant smile after avoiding looking him in the face throughout most of their conversation. She worries how terribly awkward she must seem, hiding behind her sunglasses. They have exchanged names. Now the scarf will be far more personal. It will be a Big Deal. When was the last time she had a Big Deal? He had escaped her visions years ago when the green sweater fell apart. He had gone off the grid as it were, and she had only associated the eye doctor tragedy with that project. Then perhaps, in a small way, she could try to make up for that tragic day by making him something nice and guide his life into fulfilling happiness, as a Fate might have it. Although, she thinks as she watches him go, he seems to be pretty happy at the moment.
“What happened?” Margot asks with an accusatory tone when Lottie hands her a wrapped sandwich from the bakery.
“There was a long line, as usual,” Lottie says with a pronounced sigh, hoping that for just this once she can throw her older sister off the scent and escape her annoying game.
Since the sisters all have the Forever Sight, they can see into most mortals’ lives, but each sister has their own particular area of interest. Younger sister Claire sees where people come from, while Margot sees where they are going. Lottie sees what Margot jokingly refers to as “the middle part.” This seemingly boundless access to knowledge between the three of them does not extend to their own lives, so when one sister experiences something on their own, the other two are naturally very curious. Lottie, the sister who most enjoys her privacy, is the worst at hiding her feelings, and Margot reads her expressions and body language with ruthless zeal, dragging out anything that the middle sister would prefer to keep to herself. Back in their homey kitchen, Lottie’s sunglasses are off, since keeping them on in the house is unnecessary and would raise Margot’s suspicions even more, as if Lottie were trying to hide behind them.
“No, something happened,” Margot glares at her. “You saw something. Or someone.”
“Margot, please,” Claire wails, “if you interrogate her every time she gets us lunch, she won’t go anymore.”
“Nonsense,” Margot growls. “We take turns, and it was her turn.”
“I don’t mind going,” Lottie says, sitting down and delicately unwrapping her sandwich at the table.
“Okay, something definitely happened,” Margot says hungrily, sitting down next to Lottie and dropping her wrapped sandwich on the table. “Why don’t you want to talk about it, Lottie? Or do we have to wait for it to come out in the craft?”
Claire sighs from across the table, but she doesn’t say anything. She’s waiting for a cue from Lottie to see if she needs help.
“It was a long line and a long wait,” Lottie says, clasping her hands over her sandwich as if she’s saying grace. She doesn’t look at her older sister, but she knows Margot is still glaring at her, waiting for more. Hating herself, Lottie continues but tries desperately to sound nonchalant. “I had a pleasant conversation with a man in line with me. He was very sweet and wanted to talk. That’s all. I was just thinking that I’d like to make something nice for him.”
“Who is he?” Margot asks quickly.
“He told me his name is Duncan Gerstner.” Lottie doesn’t look away from her sandwich, but she knows Margot’s eyes are spinning. Lottie glances over at Claire and sees her younger sister’s eyes spinning as well. The swirling eons darken Claire’s eyes in an unpleasant way, casting a deathly pall over her face. “Can you both try not do that at the table, please?” Lottie sighs in exasperation, and then picks up her sandwich to eat, keeping her eyes downcast.
“You’re the one planning to make him something,” Margot snaps defensively. “I’m not sure how you plan to do that on your own.”
“I didn’t say I was going to do it on my own,” Lottie laughs incredulously with her mouth full. She takes a moment to chew and swallow, placing one hand over her lips while she does, and then adds more clearly, “I meant I thought it would be nice for us to do.”
“I can’t find him,” Claire says, with her haunting face hovering across the table. The black cosmos of forever spins in her eyes, and Lottie tries not to look at her while eating.
“He’s a blur,” Margot announces, and then leans closer to Lottie. “What did you see when you looked for him?”
“I didn’t,” Lottie protests after swallowing a bite. “I just spoke with the man. I figured there would be time later.”
Margot barks laughter, making Lottie cringe. “You precious, precious thing, you!” Margot has another fit of laughter, and Lottie glances at Claire, who has snapped out of her seeing state and is trying to figure out the joke. Lottie shrugs at Claire and takes another bite.
Wiping her eyes, Margot scoots away from Lottie to give her sister some space, and then she unwraps her sandwich and begins to eat, erupting into laughter occasionally between bites. Claire and Lottie glance at each other again, and then Claire unwraps her sandwich and stares at it, thinking.
“If he’s a blur to us,” Claire starts and then hesitates, as Lottie glares at her. “I’m sorry, Lottie, but if he’s a blur to us, doesn’t that mean…?”
“His future is uncertain,” Margot interrupts with her mouth full. “Lottie’s next few projects may be what everything is waiting on. There are no coincidences; you both know that. Bumping into him today needed to happen so that Lottie could find him and guide his story. Good work, sis!” Margot lightly punches Lottie in the arm, and Lottie’s head bobs in a kind of indifferent acceptance to the blow.
“But there is another possibility, isn’t there?” Claire says, looking down at her untouched sandwich. Lottie stops chewing, and looks mournfully at Claire. Don’t say it, little sister. Don’t say what I know you’re going to say.
Looking from one sister to the other, Margot stops eating as well.
“We may be unable to see him because he’s too close to one of us,” Claire says, and they look at Lottie, who drops her eyes to the table.
“What did you see, Lottie?” Margot asks in a softer voice, with a rare note of familial concern.
“I told you, I didn’t look,” Lottie says, keeping her eyes down. “We just talked. He was nice.”
Out of the corner of her vision, Lottie sees Margot fidgeting excitedly, and then they all eat again, but in silence. When they finish, Margot slides her chair back and says, “That was really good. Thank you, Lottie.”
“Yes, thank you for picking up lunch, Lottie,” Claire says.
“You’re both very welcome,” Lottie nods and remains seated while her sisters leave the kitchen. In a meditative calmness, she folds her sandwich wrapper into smaller and smaller squares, as is her habit. When she is satisfied with a tight little triangle of wrapper, she clears the table, wipes it clean, and then joins her sisters in the crafting room. Claire is holding her old-fashioned distaff wrapped with a mass of wool, while Margot sits at her dirty beige desktop computer. Lottie takes her seat in the padded rocking chair between them and peers into the big wicker basket of Claire’s finished yarn, in search of some beautiful inspiration.
Their eyes swirl with maddening darkness. To the three sisters, the room disappears into the haunted void of their Forever Sight. They each stare, as if in a trance, while their hands perform their business. Claire pulls wool fibers from the distaff in her left hand and twists them into a thread that she attaches to the spindle on her lap. Lottie selects a ball of yarn and methodically wraps one of her needles with a loose end of the thread. Margot controls the clunky old computer magically, often barely touching the keyboard or mouse while channeling mystical power through the machine as a conduit out into the universe of souls.
Between the fingers of her right hand, Claire’s fibers come together in an intense glow, the brightest element in the dark void. This is a soul’s birth as seen in the stark light of a heavenly arc welder. Flowing from the initial bursting white flare, the twisted fibers emerge as a dull white thread, which in the void remains incandescent. The glowing, colorless thread is collected, rotating around her drop spindle, which falls from her thigh and spins slowly in the air beside her. (Currently not seen in the void are Claire’s dyeing implements, which sit by the wall behind her. Once a soul exists as a skein of yarn, Claire will work to give it color and possibly affect its texture, creating a more distinct personality that often guides it through its next stage.)
With her lost eyes, Claire’s face appears colorless and pallid, a sickly death mask of horror, much like her sisters’ faces. However, Claire differs from her sisters in her expression. Somehow, surrounding the horror of the spinning black void where her eyes should be, Claire maintains a look of wonder and kindness, of warmth and joy, verging on the edge of tears. In fact, tears do stream down her cheeks occasionally, as they do now. She weeps openly, witnessing the beginning of a new life in all of its glory, beauty and potential. Claire sees birth endlessly in its wonder, and in her hands, every new life is touchingly beautiful and a happy celebration. How could one not be moved?
When not crafting, Claire’s sensitive sister would be distracted by these tears, but Lottie has her own work that requires focus. Lottie’s selected ball of yarn glows in the void with its intense color, and she finishes wrapping its loose end around one of her knitting needles. The color she has chosen is a deep royal blue, and now she loops the yarn around the end of her other needle and begins to knit. The yarn’s shimmering blue brightness amid the swirling dark chaos lights up Lottie’s hands, and she stares down at the working needles as her latest artwork begins to grow. The blue yarn first becomes a string of knots, and then slowly builds into a ribbon and eventually an evolving cloth. Its shimmer becomes more complex and not as luminous. No longer the bright burst of pure simplicity, the growing cloth develops complicated textures and tiny details. As it grows larger, from a rectangle to a square to a larger rectangle, it is visibly softer in its unity of stitches. While the remaining ball of yarn has an unwieldy softness in its bundle of threads, the knitted cloth has a uniform beauty and becomes striking, fascinating.
Lottie watches her artistic creation through her spinning void eye sockets with an expression that fluctuates slightly from moment to moment. Often her look is one of relaxed concentration, or as her sister Margot might tease: Resting Bitch Face. (That phrase was something Margot picked up on the Internet; Lottie rues the day that Margot switched from using reflective pools and mirrors for her craft and hooked herself up to the worldwide web.) However, Lottie’s expression does change a little over time, depending on how her knitting is going. Sometimes she looks pained, fretting over an inability to accomplish something she’d hoped for in a soul’s life. Sometimes she looks a bit pleased, seeing the soul’s art attaining or surpassing her hopeful expectations. She lets herself feel proud when the art goes well, and she can’t avoid the hurt when things become difficult or disastrous. Sadly, whenever a work nears completion and ends, no matter how triumphant a piece it is, Lottie feels the loss when it’s over. While Claire joyously hands over her balls of yarn to Lottie, handing the finished clothing to Margot is the hardest thing for Lottie to do.
With the other two sisters obviously creating something, each working on two different souls in their sisterly assembly line, Margot often appears to be unproductive. With her back to the others, she occasionally surfs the Internet, pumping up the speed of her computer with a little magic until she finds a limitation in the web and enters the void. Using the computer screen much as she once used mirrors or bowls of water, she connects with millions of souls throughout the void. Sometimes she seeks the living, and sometimes she seeks the dead. Her sisters don’t inquire about these searches, and she rarely offers information. Margot’s expression during these searches is unknown to her sisters, of course, but they suspect that it could only be the cruel, cold face of death.
Margot keeps a pair of scissors at her desk, but her use of them is largely symbolic. Whenever Lottie does get around to handing her the next item, Margot inspects it but usually avoids making alterations other than snipping off the remaining thread. As much abuse as she likes to heap on her sister, Margot respects Lottie as the artist she is and almost never comments negatively on her work. She realizes it’s hard for Lottie to let go, and that has made their relationship what it is for the most part. Margot knows when things are finished; that is her function. She suspects that Lottie knows too, but the artist in her just doesn’t want a project to end. Since longer than any of them can remember, Margot has had to be the hard ass.
Lottie’s royal blue scarf drapes between her needles. It’s a rather petite scarf in width, and Lottie’s face betrays the sudden realization that for all the blue yarn left in the ball by her side, the scarf is reaching an acceptable length for a cute, little accessory. She continues, but the steady speed of her knitting slows down to a deliberately drawn-out pace. When Margot’s back stiffens and she releases her computer conduit, Lottie knits faster. Margot swivels around in her chair and glares at her. No playful mischief, as there was with teasing at lunch, there is now a lack of feeling, all stern and strict, in accordance to the laws of the universe.
“No!” Lottie cries in alarm, startling Claire.
“Lottie,” Margot admonishes gently.
“I’m not done yet! It needs to be longer in order to have enough to wrap around, see?” She holds out the length of the little blue scarf, while gripping the yarn-connected needles tightly. “It’s not long enough! It will be too short!”
“It’s finished,” Margot says.
“No!” Lottie cries, her tears spilling onto the scarf as Margot brings out her scissors. “There’s so much yarn left! Couldn’t it be longer? It could be so much longer!” Grief stricken, Lottie binds off her last row of stitches and then breaks down into heaving sobs as Margot cuts the yarn a few inches from the last stitch. The scarf drops into Lottie’s lap. The ethereal glow of the royal blue yarn ebbs away from both the finished scarf and the remaining yarn in the ball beside her. Lottie drops her needles and covers her face, sobbing, and Claire comes over to comfort her.
“There,” Margot takes the scarf and shows it to Claire, as if to defend her choice of length. “It’s quite lovely, don’t you think?” After fixing the loose thread with a small plastic needle that had been tucked behind her ear, Margot regards her crying sister for more time than usual, and then, with an effort to put some feeling into her voice, she adds, “Lottie, it’s perfect. Well done, sister.”
Margot turns around, placing the beautiful little scarf on her desk in front of her digital camera. After taking a couple of pictures of it, she drops it into a wicker basket of finished projects beside her desk. Then Margot brings up their website onto her screen to advertise their latest product.