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Twist and Twine
by Bill West

Mrs Johnson smoothed the job application and turned to the last page.

“Now Jenny, I see you have a medical condition, Lino, Linono – I'm sorry I can't read this word.”

“Linonophobia,” Jenny said, “a fear of string.”

Mrs Johnson peered at Jenny as if waiting for the punchline of a tiresome joke. On reflection, she concluded, this pale girl with chewed fingernails and split ends was not joking.

“Well, I see, how unusual I haven't heard of that one before.”

Jenny twisted the strap of her handbag.

“I've had therapy and everything.” she gabbled. “Dr Mason said it all started when I was little. Children can't make sense of shocking things the way grown-ups can.”

Mrs Johnson nodded her head to suggest a mother's concern. She wondered whether to buy liver for her tea.

“I stayed at my Aunty's house after school while I waited for Mum to collect me.”

Mrs Johnson remembered that she was low on onions.

“Aunty's house was full of house-plants and stuff. She was always making macramé plant hangers from string. She decorated them with beads, bells and little mirrors. We'd sit in the kitchen and she'd show me how to knot the string so that the flowerpots fitted snugly.”

Perhaps she'd buy some wine.

“One day Aunty asked me to get some more string from the cupboard under the sink. At first I couldn't see any string but then I saw something peeping through a hole at the back. I reached in and managed to get a little bit of it between my fingers. It felt stiff and dirty. I pulled at it until I got to a big knot and could get a better grip. Then I pulled and pulled until it came free.”

Her voice quavered.

“Dr Mason says it happens sometimes. They snuggle together to keep warm and bits of pooh and stuff stick their tails together. They thrash about and their tails get all tangled and knotted. When they pull the knots tighten. They're called King Rats. There were four, all dead, dried up like cardboard.”

Jenny sobbed.

“I was holding them by their tails”

Mrs Johnson leaned forward and patted Jenny's wrist.

“There, there dear, that must have been terrible. But tell me, do you think that this is the best place for someone like you to work everyday? If I had your phobia the last place I would want to work is here.”

She gestured round at the brightly coloured spindles of yarn that lined the wool shop's walls.