Coming of Age Fiction Friendship

“Ethel? Are you home?” Marjorie called as she threw off her wet shoes by the door. No longer able to handle the frigid, Cincinnati rain, her umbrella had called it quits halfway through her walk back home. She peeled off her drenched blazer and threw it next to her shoes. Marjorie hated this city and missed the sunny beaches of San Diego she had grown so fond of. 

“In the living room, Marj!” Ethel called back. Ethel was lounging on the sofa, warming herself under the blanket she was knitting. The radio was playing and her eyes were closed. The needles moved rapidly under the guidance of her fingers and her blanket slowly grew, stitch by stitch. 

“I don’t know how you do that,” Marjorie said, shaking her head and slouching next to her friend. 

“You look tired. And wet.” Ethel peaked at her with one eye. The needles clicked away.

“Yeah, well, you should see my umbrella. I got you some more yarn. The lady said this is good stuff.” Marjorie pushed aside the books in her bag and pulled out six large balls of rolled yarn. They were wool and a brilliant hue of red. 

Ethel gasped and reached for the yarn. “Oh, Marj! These are gorgeous. Oh, and feel this!” She held the yarn out to Marj who stroked a tendril of yarn through her fingers. It reminded her of running her hands through soft sand. 

“It’s nice, Button.” This was Marjorie’s term of endearment for Ethel who always smiled when Marjorie called her this because she found the word so amusing. 

“I can’t wait to use it. How was work today?” Marjorie was a typist at a law office which was in the basement of a popular Italian restaurant. At lunch, the law office was filled with the songs of a novice pianist who performed every day. Marjorie said this was the best part of her job, but she swore that the thick smell of tomato paste had permanently stained her clothes. 

“Oh, it was alright. I had to retype a few briefs because I didn’t notice that the ‘f’ was getting jammed. Mr. Lock was all mad and said when this war is over he won’t have to settle for gals like me.”

Ethel scoffed and missed a stitch in her annoyance. “Lock’s a fat-head. You don’t need this job, anyway. He’d be lucky to find a man half as good as you.” Neither Ethel or Marjorie cared too much for the war, but the best thing the army ever did for Marjorie was draft her brother. He used to beat on her and had once threatened Ethel. She hoped he was already buried somewhere in France. Ethel and Marjorie lived in his empty apartment under the guise that he asked his dear sister to look after it. His landlord allowed this because he’d do anything to aid “those brave boys overseas.” 

“Who's gonna pay rent, then?” Marjorie teased, pinching Ethel’s side. Ethel stifled a grin. Ethel had just quit her job at the used-diaper cleaning service a few blocks over. She now filled her empty days knitting blankets in the hopes of selling them. Marjorie tried to explain that it was a bad time to get into the blanket knitting business because most goods like that were being sent to warm soldiers. Ethel knitted away, unphased. 

Marjorie rested her head on Ethel’s shoulder. She could tell Ethel washed her hair that day because it smelled like honey. She soaked in Ethel’s sweetness, closed her eyes, and listened to the radio fight against the pounding rain outside their window. 

“Ethel? You home?” Marjorie called from the door. The apartment was quiet and dim. Ethel was out often now, and Marjorie had a growing pile of notes collected from the fridge which said things like “Be home in the morning! -E”; “I’ll be home late, don’t wait up! -Ethel”; “Dinner is in the fridge and there are muffins in the pantry, see you soon. -Button.” She walked into the living room and saw Ethel’s fifth knitted blanket, unfinished, resting on the couch. 

“Marj, is that you?” Ethel called from her bedroom. Ethel pulled a stocking on in front of her mirror. She was wearing the navy-blue, polka-dotted dress that Marjorie bought her last Christmas. Her hair was delicately tied behind her head and her lips were neatly painted red. She looked lovely and Marjorie wondered if she had washed her hair. 

Ethel turned and beamed at Marjorie who leaned on the doorframe. “Oh, Marj. I have the best news!” She fumbled with the rest of her stocking and ran to Marjorie. “Look!”

On her slim finger was a dazzling diamond set in a silver band. Simple, elegant. Exactly what Marjorie would have picked. Stunned, Marjorie grabbed Ethel’s hand to examine the ring closer. 

“Wow, Button. I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know you and Frank were so serious. I didn’t know you liked him enough to say yes.”

“I was surprised myself. I know he can be a crumb sometimes but when he asked me–well, I don’t know, my gut just said yes. I want you to be my maid-of-honor, of course, and I want you to get dinner with him sometime soon.” She pulled her hand away and walked back to the mirror to inspect a few loose strands of hair. Marjorie noticed a suitcase open on her bed, already packed. Ethel noticed her staring. “I’m taking the train with Frank to meet his parents. They live in Chicago. I hope I packed warm enough.”

Panic settled deep in Marjorie’s stomach. She crossed her arms. “You’re coming back, right?”

“Of course! I can’t move all my things in one trip.” She threw in a few books and snapped the suitcase closed. “I have something for you.” She handed Marjorie something lightweight but bulky wrapped in newspaper. “Open it when I’m gone.” She pulled Marjorie into her arms and Marjorie held on tightly. She did smell like honey. 

“Ethel, are you sure about this?” Marjorie pleaded. 

“Marj. This is my way out. Trust me, alright?” Ethel kissed Marjorie’s cheek and, suitcase in hand, walked off to the door. Marjorie didn’t follow. Dazed, she listened to Ethel put on her shoes and fumble with her keys. She called out once more, “See you in a few weeks, Marj!” Marjorie didn’t respond. The door closed. 

A tear slipped down Marjorie’s cheek and landed on the newspaper in her arms. An empty square of yesterday’s crossword smudged gray. Sighing, she wiped away a few other threatening tears and sat on Ethel’s bed. It creaked under her weight. She tore the newspaper and held up a radiant red knit-cardigan, lined on the collar and along the edges of the sleeves with a rich teal. The buttons were all mismatched, each a different size and color. Marjorie liked to imagine that Ethel had secretly procured each one from oblivious strangers she passed on the street, snipping at long trench coats and jackets carelessly tossed over shoulders. A note pinned to the breast of the cardigan read: “To my dearest Marj. My finest work for the finest human being I’ve ever known. I love you always. Yours, Button.” 


Sarah never imagined she’d grow so tired of cardboard boxes and packing tape, but now even the waxy smell of tape as she tore it from the roll made her stomach turn. She uncapped a marker and wrote “KITCHEN” in large letters. The living room walls were empty save for a few nails casting thin shadows and vague outlines of the various sized frames they once held. When Sarah moved the couch, she discovered the crayon-masterpiece Leah had drawn when she was four. There was an orange butterfly the size of Lia, who was depicted in pink, and a blue dog they used to own named Gremlin. Gremlin was small and scrappy and got hit by a mail truck when Lia was six. When Sarah explained this to Lia and in response, Lia sobbed under her bed for the whole afternoon, Sarah wondered if she should have lied. She never understood the point of lying to kids about things like that; it’d be worse to find out later that your perception of something was entirely wrong. Sarah didn’t think those types of truths domed a child’s happiness. Lia was fifteen now and doing just fine. Sarah couldn’t remember why she just moved the couch in front of the drawing instead of trying to scrub it away, but she was glad she left it where it was. She crouched in front of it and traced the lines that had been there so long they seemed etched into the paint. Her finger made its way to the distorted drawing of the dog. Poor Gremlin. 

“Hey mom,” Lia said, her voice muffled. Lia was holding a large pile of clothes and only the top of her hair could be seen. “Do you think I could have some of these?” She dumped the pile on a clearing on the kitchen table.

“Jesus, Lia.” Sarah stood up, hands on her hips, and inspected the pile. “Did you go through my things? Where did you find all these?” She held up a pair of yellow bell-bottoms, tattered on the edges, and an old vest that matched. 

“You asked me to box up your jewelry. These were at the bottom of your dresser.” Lia grabbed the pants from her mom. “I love these. I think they’d fit, too.” All of Lia’s clothes fit perfectly because she taught herself how to sew two years ago after finding Sarah’s old sewing machine in the attic. 

“Oh, honey. Don’t you want some new jeans? Kids don’t wear stuff like this now. These will fall apart after two days.”

“No, I like these.” Lia pinched the seam and gazed at it as though her eyes were the needle. 

“Okay. What else did you find?” Sarah pushed aside a pink t-shirt, and a pair of white shorts, and saw a splash of red poke through. Smiling, Lia lifted up a red, wool cardigan lined with blue. So many buttons had been lost that now they were all replaced with ones of different shapes and sizes. Sarah wasn’t fond of the inconsistency but had never taken the time to sew on a new set. 

“I love this. You haven’t worn it in so long.”

Sarah stuck her hand through one of the sleeves. It was soft but felt dry against her skin as she moved her arm through. “Well, it’s old. I didn’t want it to get hurt.” 

“Where’s it from? There’s no tag or anything or even a washing label.” 

“It’s actually handmade, I think. It was my Aunt Marjorie’s. She gave it to me when I graduated college and got my first apartment.”

Lia frowned. “Did I ever meet her?”

Sarah slipped her arm through the other sleeve and fingered the top button. “When you were a baby. The last time I saw her, you were two. She sent a Christmas card every year, though.” Sarah hadn’t thought of her Aunt Marjorie in years, though she had done her best not to think much of anyone on her father’s side of the family. It had been five years since she had spoken to her father. Two years later he left a voice message to tell her Marjorie died. Sarah didn’t call back and she didn’t go to the funeral. 

Lia stared at her, expecting more. “She died a few years ago. She lived alone her whole life in San Diego. Never married, never had kids. But she lived by the beach and I think that was all that mattered to her.”

“She sounds interesting,” Lia said.

“I guess so.” Aunt Marjorie was bitter and had a crude sense of humor that often made Sarah uneasy as a child, but she liked her aunt. She used to love spending the weekend in the city with Marjorie. They’d play checkers and listen to the radio; always music and never the news. “You can’t have this one. Not yet.”

“Are you serious? You’re not going to wear it!” Lia whined. 

“I will give it to you one day, but not yet. Alright? You’re lucky I’m giving you anything for all your snooping.” 

Lia smiled and wiped her nose against her sleeve to try to hide it. “Fine.” She called from the stairs, “Thanks, mom!”

Later that day, Sarah folded the cardigan up and placed it in a box with Lia’s ultrasound, a lock of hair from Lia’s first haircut, wedding photos when she and her ex-husband still loved each other, and small charcoal drawings her mother had made. She double-taped the box and wrote in marker on the side: “SENTIMENTAL (DO NOT TOUCH).” 


Her feet on the table, Billie finished painting her big toe and nervously eyed the pregnancy test sitting next to her coffee. When she bought the pregnancy test at the pharmacy, she picked out a blue nail polish that matched the test’s packaging. She thought it was funny and that calmed her a bit. She felt a vibration beneath her toes. Her phone was ringing. She capped her nail polish and grabbed it. 


“Please tell me you are already sitting in the crowd and I just can’t see you because I forgot my glasses.” It was Dallas, one of her closest friends not because they got along the best but because he was the only person she knew from college who also moved to Savannah. 

“Shit,” Billie said under her breath. “I’m sorry Dal, something came up. I can be there in 30.”

“Alright. Well, if Olivia sees me I’ll just tell her you had some bathroom emergency.” Their friend Olivia was an amateur actress in a community Shakespeare group. Every Saturday they performed a few scenes in the park. It was never very good but it was an excuse to get out and they always got drinks together after the show. 

Billie reached for her coffee. “Great, thanks Dal. I’ll head over–” She caught a glimpse of the test. Pregnant. 

“Oh fuck–” She stumbled to grab the test and jolted out of her chair. “Shit!” Coffee spread across the table and she felt the hot liquid seep through her clothes and ease against her skin. 

“Billie? You good? What’s going on?” 

“No, yeah, yeah. I’m good. Just spilled my coffee. Talk to you later, Dallas.”

She hung up and padded to the kitchen. She pulled her arms out of her now drenched cardigan and stared down at it. A large patch of the faded red was now the deep, copper brown of blood. Billie cursed under her breath. She loved this sweater. It had been in her family for ages, allegedly made by her great, great aunt. It was covered in thin bulging scars from threads that had come loose which were then carefully sewn back together by her mom. New holes appeared every time Billie wore it and it was hard to keep up. This coffee stain felt like the end. Billie gripped the shoulders of the cardigan and ran her thumb against and through a hole by the collar. She killed the cardigan. Billie buried her face in the wet fabric and sobbed. She sank to the floor and gripped her stomach and cried until her throat was dry. Her phone hammered against the wooden table in the room over. She pulled herself up. It was Dallas. She answered. 

“Look Bill, Olivia is pissed–”

“Dallas,” she interrupted him. “Can you two come to my place? Something’s happened.”

There was a pause on the other end. “Of course. We’ll be over soon.”

“Thanks, Dal.” Billie hung up and stared down at the pregnancy test. Pregnant. She picked up her phone again, hesitating only a moment before calling her mom.

The ringing drawled in her ear and sunk knots in her stomach. 


“Hi, mom.”

“Hey, sweetie! How are you?”

Billie sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Mom, I have bad news…” She fingered a loose thread on the cardigan. “I uh, I ruined that red cardigan you gave me. I’m really sorry.”

Her mom chuckled. “Oh, honey. It had a very long life. Why don’t you bring it over sometime soon, I’ll add it to that pillow I’m making you.” Her mom used old fabric scraps to stuff pillows. She sold the pillows on Etsy and had 50 followers. 

Billie smiled and swiped at another tear. “That sounds good. Can I come tomorrow?”

“Of course, Billie. I love you!”

“Love you too, mom. See you tomorrow.”

May 12, 2022 14:32

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