In the dust that settles at the end of the world where the only light is the dimness of dawn, there is a woman sitting on a wooden chair. It is not a throne; she is not a queen. It is not a rocking chair; she is not a crone. It is a wooden chair you might find anywhere in the world, straight-backed and uncomfortable to sit on for long periods of time. She sits on it while she weaves with a cat sleeping lazily at her feet. There is a single flickering flame that lights her workspace, illuminating spools of thread in every imaginable color and a large loom fashioned from the same wood as the chair. She moves the threads with practiced intention, weaving tiny lines and cells into a new tapestry. A scene is playing out on it, a couple of people who are still only feet. Their toes point together and when she reaches their heads they will be face to face. The weaver can hear the conversation hissing through the dust outside her door. She can see in her mind’s eyes the faces of the two people. Only she is watching, and she is watching it all, weaving it as it happens.
Long ago she was something else, but she has retired into quiet, comfortable obscurity far from worship and zealotry. She loves the loom. Loves the dim light in her sliver of the world, loves the chair that hurts her back and her lazy cat. It is peaceful to watch scenes play out. When she finishes a tapestry she sets it outside where it joins countless others. The colors will bleed away in time. The fibers of the scene will crumble and join the dust that swirls around her peaceful, lonely little place. Once the cat stretched and watched her work before asking in his small voice, Do you make the scenes happen or as they happen? She paused her work and frowned down at him. Does it matter?
More than anything, he’d argued, but she had to disagree. The pure joy of creating something was worth more than the lives it did or did not impact. She couldn’t help what she wove. Maybe she was merely mirroring what was happening somewhere out in the world, or maybe she was under the control of whoever wove her own tapestry.
She’d taken up the cat because she desired minimal companionship. When she stopped to feed or pet him it reminded her that time was indeed moving along. Besides that, she couldn’t help feeling kinship for the little beast. She admired him for wandering to the edge of time as she once had. He was brown but had been grey when he arrived, coated thick with dust, hungry, but lively. Even as he lazed around day after day there was a glimmer of fire in his green eyes that never dimmed. He kept small beasts from destroying her work or making nests in her spools of thread. They got into arguments to pass the time and waxed philosophical over meals.
What makes you say that? she asked. He was the only outsider to ever look into her little workshop and thought her ways were very strange. He claimed to recognize some of the figures in her tapestries. From when I was a man, he said, but she doubted he was ever anything but a cat. Why else would he wander so far afield in search of someone to feed him and scratch behind his ears?
If you are in control of the world then you can change it. Judge those who should have a better or worse picture. She didn’t like that; it made her fingers fumble over the fibers of her creation. It reminded her of the days when she was asked for miracles and punishments.
I don’t interfere. She’d answered carefully. Not can’t, not won’t. Don’t.
Sasha awoke with a sudden start. The moonlight streaming through her window glinted off Toblerone’s yellow eyes and he was glowering at her for waking him. She sat up and rubbed her head. It was pounding and her mouth was dry. There were crusties in the corner of her eye that felt suspiciously like dust. She picked up her phone and squinted at the bright screen. Her alarm was set for three and it was two minutes till. Groaning, she threw back her covers much to Toblerone’s dismay. He meowed his disapproval and jumped off the bed. The little bell on his collar jingled as he padded down the hallway and awaited his breakfast.
Sasha packed her hamper into the too-small trunk of her car and headed off for the laundromat. She passed a few other cars and had to wonder what they were doing up at that hour.
The laundromat wasn’t busy, but it wasn’t completely abandoned either. There were three other cars parked, including a shiny old Mustang right in front of the entrance. A young couple was out front smoking when she walked in. A haggard-looking woman waited beside a drier with her son asleep in her lap. In the back corner by her favorite washer sat a man in an outrageous green silk coat. She smiled as she walked by to throw her clothes in.
“Laundry day, huh?” she said with a cheeky nod at his coat. He frowned at her.
She swallowed, “I like your jacket.” He cracked a smile and straightened the lapels. Around his neck hung three gold chains and he wore about fifteen rings on his fingers. He was at a certain age where he might have been forty-five or he might have been sixty.
“Fifty-bucks for it." He laughed at that a little harder than she thought was appropriate and he sounded a little nervous too. The neons in the window cast a bluish tint over his skin and she found her own crawling as she turned her back to him. Sasha sat a few seats away and frowned as she looked at the rows of washers in front of her. Hers was the only one running. She pulled out her phone and pretended to scroll.
“Lovely fingers,” he said quietly, leaning over as if they were sharing a secret. She clenched her hands into fists.
“Excuse me?” she said, a little loudly though she didn’t expect any help from the mother with her sleeping son. The guy shrugged and pulled back a little.
“You have nice hands. Do you ever do any knitting or sewing or anything?” His voice was oddly familiar like she’d overheard it on the bus or at a coffee shop. Not someone she really knew, but certainly someone she’d heard before.
She felt her face turning red. What a creepy attempt at flirting. Not to mention he was at least old enough to be her dad. “What are you talking about?”
“My nana used to make blankets,” he said, “you know on a big old-timey loom, you know? She had the most beautiful hands. Strong hands and when she moved her fingers it was like magic.”
“Can you just leave me alone,” she said finally. He frowned at her and nodded, running a hand through his thinning brown hair.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said and cleared his throat. He looked away, but every once in and while he would start looking at her again. First just stealing glances out of the corner of his eye, but they got longer and longer. She slammed her phone down and turned to look at him.
“You are making me uncomfortable,” she said slowly. He was looking sheepish now, almost pained.
“I don’t mean to. Really I don’t.”
“Well then can you please stop?”
“It’s just that…” he shook his head and ran his hand through his hair again, “can I ask you one more thing?”
Sasha glared for a moment and then sighed. “Fine.”
“Do you make the scenes happen or as they happen?”
Her blood went ice cold. She knew where she’d heard his voice before. The smile he gave her was utterly feline. “You recognize me?” he asked hopefully.
“I said you could ask one more question,” Sasha said. Her heart was pounding. Maybe she was still asleep. Maybe she was still dreaming.
“You can ask me one if you want.”
“What the hell do you want?” she whispered. She didn’t want anyone to interrupt them now.
“I’m as freaked out as you are, okay? I’ve never…I thought your brain couldn’t make up faces. That’s a thing people say about dreams, right? You can only dream about people you’ve met.”
“That isn’t the weirdest part of this,” she snapped. She didn’t know this man, had never seen him or met him or overheard him in a coffee shop. But they’d shared a dream. Such a real-seeming dream.
“Do you think that makes it real?”
Sasha scoffed, “I can’t even knit.”
He’d turned his knees toward her, “I thought it was my nana…like maybe that’s what she looked like when she was younger. But then I saw you when you came in and I–” he laughed giddily. “You gotta admit this is pretty cool!”
Sasha still felt put-off. There had to be a better explanation. But the dream had been real and this guy was real. At least she hoped he was. Maybe the mom by the driers hadn’t said anything because Sasha was just talking to thin air.
“I still have it,” he said quietly, but excitedly, “my nana’s loom.”
“You must think I’m an idiot,” she said. No way she was going anywhere with this guy and besides, she barely knew what a loom was or how it worked. Though the dream had felt so real. In it, she’d known exactly what to do with the loom and what it meant as she wove each thread. She’d held them in her hands, felt the strings slide between her fingers.
“I know I put you off, but I’m not that kind of guy. Really.” He pointed to one of his bazillion rings and flipped his phone screen toward her. There was a picture of him with his arms around another man of indeterminate age set as the background. The two of them stood smiling in front of a Christmas tree. Sasha nodded back toward the wall of washers.
“Why don’t you have any clothes?” she asked, eyes still narrowed accusatorily.
He looked sheepish again. “It was a really strange dream. I just really needed to clear my head. Not much else open at this hour.”
She crossed her arms, still unconvinced. He sighed and took out a business card. The embossed letters read, Arlo J. Karr-Ramirez., Attorney at Law, followed by a number, email, and website. She frowned at him. He just shrugged and stood up. “If you change your mind.”
Sasha was hesitant, but she took the card. With that, he nodded at her and left. Sasha crumpled up the business card but paused before tossing it in the wastebasket. Would it really hurt to hold onto it? At least if something else freaky happened she would have a name and number to give to the police. She tucked it into the pocket of her sweatpants and went back to watching her laundry.
Sasha stood behind the counter at the convenience store all morning in a daze. She couldn't stop thinking about Arlo and the dream. When it was slow she watched videos of people weaving on her phone, checked out Arlo’s website, and read the Wikipedia page on tapestries. Her fingers didn’t feel like her own anymore by the time she finished her shift at noon. The crumpled-up business card was on the front seat of her car. It must have fallen out of her pocket that morning. Without even realizing what she was doing she dialed the number.
“Weaver!” Arlo answered excitedly. She almost hung up right there.
“How did you know it was me?” Sasha demanded. He chuckled.
“I’m retired. I don’t just hand my card out to anyone. So…”
She was quiet for a long time. “I want to see the loom.”
“Can you bring it somewhere?”
“It’s kind of huge.” When she didn’t say anything else he sighed. “Where do you want to meet?”
The YMCA parking lot was busy for the middle of a workday, Sasha thought as she pulled in. She parked behind an empty school bus in a far corner of the lot. Arlo’s old Mustang came in hot, the loom poking out of the trunk, a few haphazard bungee cords holding it in place. Her heart sank when she saw it though. Recognized it.
“It looks…” she shook her head as he set it out in the bright parking lot. In the dream, the workspace had been dim, but it was unmistakable. “They probably all look like that, right? Like if I saw one in a movie it would look just like that one.”
Arlo had a plastic bag in his hand. “I stopped at the craft store on the way here,” he said and handed her the bag full of tapestry thread in a few bright colors. He went back to the trunk and produced an old wooden chair fashioned from the same wood as the loom. It was straight-backed and looked uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time. The kind of chair you’d find anywhere in the world.
“This is ridiculous,” she said as he set the chair in front of the loom. She pulled out a spool of thread and ran it between her fingers. She closed her eyes and saw the workshop at the edge of the world.
“Maybe it is,” the cat said, “but it’s worth a try, right?”
Sasha opened her eyes, looking down at the blacktop. Two pairs of feet facing each other.
“What if–” she looked at the loom. The air felt dry and full of dust. She could smell rotting fabric on the faint wind blowing over the parking lot. When she turned back to Arlo he was wearing that feline grin again.
“Now you’re wondering too, aren’t you?” Would she make things happen or as they happened? She shook her head began to string the warp with quick, practiced motions like she’d been doing it her entire life. Like she was born weaving and had always done it and known it.
“Don’t you see I’m right,” the cat said. He was standing behind her, but his voice sounded like he was below her. Speaking up from her feet. “It does matter.” His voice was on a wind telling her what he would say before he said it. She could see them sitting there. It was like she was at another car in the parking lot across from them, or in the school bus looking down at them. She could see them from every angle, the weaver and her cat.