Unravelling - Short Story

The full short story Unravelling available for reading online.


by G. M. Worboys


First published July-2015

Copyright © 2015 G. M. Worboys

G. M. Worboys has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work.

This story may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes provided that the story remains in its complete original form.




She wrote to me again last night. You can’t imagine how that makes me feel. I could just burst with happiness now that she knows I exist. More than that, she even seems to like me. Me!

It was a simple post onto my wall. None of my friends paid much attention. A few of them liked it but nothing more. If only they knew how important she was to me. But what do they know? A Facebook friend isn’t really a friend. But she is. She, who I have never touched, is more real to me than any of my other friends.

I tried again to follow her post back, to see if I could find her page, but it doesn’t work. I only come back to my own page. I don’t know how she does that. I knew she must be clever, but I never expected her to know so much about the Internet.

The post included a photo. She’s standing on the edge of the forest, the bright green grass beneath her wonderfully bare feet. One of those tiny blue birds is flying near her shoulder singing to her – I can almost hear it. She is smiling that same bright, innocent smile I first fell in love with.

It’s a photo from earlier on, when her hair was longer. It’s darker and shorter now. Not quite the spectacular feature it was, but still very cute. And, of course, her face hasn’t changed. Those impossibly large, emerald green eyes. I get lost in them every time.

There’s no sign of E. in the photo. I take that as a good sign. Not that I wish her any unhappiness, I just think she would be better off without him. I want to tell her that she shouldn’t expect too much of E. He’s not going to change. Men don’t.

Oh sure, E. is handsome. But that can’t be that important to her or she wouldn’t have friended me. She will have seen the photos of me on my page. The Harry Potter glasses wouldn’t be so bad if I looked remotely like Harry Potter. The lenses are very thick, most of the time I look more like a lizard searching for flies than I do the valiant Harry. Maybe that’s what attracted her to me, I know she has a thing for lizards.

I’d love to talk to her, to hear that sweet voice speaking words meant only for me. I got really brave after her third post and in the comments I asked if she could give me her phone number. You know what she answered? “I don’t have a phone, silly.” Imagine that. No phone. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.


I told Michael about her today. I didn’t mean to. It just sort of slipped out. Things often do when Michael and I get talking.

“Where did you meet her?” he asks in that way he has.

“At the theatre,” I tell him. And it’s true, though “meet” is perhaps an exaggeration. I saw her so briefly, but I knew right away she was special. I kept going back, again and again. I couldn’t get enough. But I don’t tell Michael this, I know he thinks I spend too much time watching movies. He doesn’t understand.

“Will you be seeing her again?”

“Oh yes,” I tell him. But it won’t be at the theatre, she doesn’t go there any more.

“That’s good,” Michael approves. “It sounds like progress.” He knows how much trouble I have meeting people these days. It’s why he thinks going to the theatre so much isn’t good for me. But if I hadn’t been at the theatre it might have been months before I saw her. I shudder at the thought of the time that might have been wasted.

“And how’s your job hunting going, Joe?” Michael asks me.

“Joseph,” I murmur. I don’t like “Joe” any more. She calls me Joseph.


I tell him about my last job interview. “I don’t think he liked me much,” I finish. And I don’t. The old man across the desk had looked at me very strangely. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like lizards, not even cute ones. She thinks I’m cute.

“And what next?”

“I have another. Day after tomorrow. A restaurant.”

Michael frowns at that. I know what he’s thinking: too many people for me all at once.

“It’s out the back,” I reassure him. “Stacking boxes and cleaning up and stuff.”

He nods sagely. “Do you think you’ll like doing that?”

I shrug. “It’s only a couple of days a week.”

My eyes flick to the clock, I’ll have to go soon.

“When do you think you will see … did you tell me her name?” he asks innocently.

I hadn’t. We both know that. “I’d rather not.”

He raises an eyebrow.

“I feel like it might jinx things.”

He nods agreeably, but I know he’s curious. “Do you have plans?”

“I’ll take it slow,” I tell him. “I don’t want to scare her off.”

“I think that’s wise,” he agrees.

We stand and Michael sees me to the door, like a friend.

“I’ll see you next week,” I say, and wave.

He raises his hand and nods.


She wrote to me again last night. Another simple message on my wall. I am so pleased that she feels she can confide in me, especially now when she is so much in need of comforting.

The photo she posted is heartbreaking in its sadness. Her delicate eyebrows pinched together, her large eyes glistening with tears. Her entire visage telling me just how betrayed she feels. E. has disappeared. Done a bunk. Her parents are trying to console her, but she has looked to me for solace. I try as best I can.

Some of my Facebook friends made sarcastic remarks. I quickly unfriended and blocked them. I don’t want her seeing how cruel some people can be.

I tell her that E. is probably just taking a break. Getting some air. It can’t be easy to cut yourself off from your old friends and from a lifestyle of such freedom. That is what I said, but I don’t really believe it. I don’t think E. is ever going to give her the dedication and attention that she deserves. I ask her if there is anything I can do for her. If she gave me an address then perhaps I can send her something to cheer her up.

She tells me that she knows I am not rich, that it is my company and support that she craves, not gifts. She is very sweet.

I ask her if she can use Skype or GoogleTalk, some way that we could talk more naturally than through messages on my wall.

There is the sense of a sad sigh in her response. She says it is not possible.

I wanted to press her for reasons, but it was not the right time. If the wall is all we have, then the wall will have to be enough. I stayed up most of the night reading and re-reading our brief conversation.


“What are you doing?” comes the raised voice of an irate woman.

I turn to see who she is speaking to. Me!

The woman is staring at what is in my hand. I look to see if my phone has turned turned into something horrific. But it is still just a phone.

“What?” I ask her.

“What are you doing?” she asks again.

I look back at the lantern I had balanced on the narrow shelf, and then again at my phone. “Taking a photo.” I feel silly stating such an obvious fact.

“You can’t do that!”

I frown at the phone – it seems better not to frown at the woman.

She brushes past me and lifts the delicate paper lantern from the shelf. I worry she will crush it. I become encased in a cloud of strong perfume. I feel like it’s choking me.

“Are you going to buy this?” The woman holds the lantern up in one hand.

I want to tell her to be careful, the lantern is fragile, but I can’t get a breath.

There must be something in my look. The woman takes a step back. She’s not that tall, she only seems that way in her anger. There is nothing sweet about the pursing of this woman’s lips, nor gentle in those glaring eyes. “Are you?” the woman repeats.

The air has cleared a little now, I can breathe again. I fumble in my back pocket and pull out my thin wallet. “How much is it?” I ask.

The woman tells me.

I open my wallet and look inside. The last note lies there lonely in the dark depths of the leather. I had spent all day searching for something like this lantern. I had walked for miles. I only wanted a picture of it. I can’t send the lantern to her, if I could I would buy it without another thought, but I can put a photo of it on my wall.

“We take credit cards,” the woman says.

I shake my head. I did have a card, once, but it doesn’t work any more. This last note of cash was going to buy food on the way home. I think about what’s in the cupboard. There’s some spaghetti I think, and there’s still some butter left, you don’t have to have sauce.

“Could this be enough?” I ask, holding up the note. I wasn’t trying to beg, but I needed that lantern.

The woman’s face frowned and then softened. Maybe she wasn’t so bad. “All right.” She plucks the note from my hand. She holds the lantern well forward so I don’t have to get too close to her.

I take it gently.

“Would you like a bag for it?”

I nod.

I wouldn’t have taken the bus even if I had the money for it, I didn’t want to be jostled with my delicate parcel. But I had walked a long way today. It was a very long way home. It was dark before I got there.

The lights come on when I turn on the switch. I sigh in relief. I don’t know what I will do if they cut off the power. I try to count off the days until my next cheque comes in. I think I will be okay.

The first thing I do is check my wall. There are no new messages, which is disappointing but not really a surprise. She doesn’t usually write until later.

I put on some music that I think she might like and then look around my room. I feel excited. I know she will like what I have in mind. There is a wooden bookcase there that might be the right place. I make sure to place the bag out of harms way while I unload the books off the shelf. I wipe away the dust with an old shirt. All my shirts are old.

I take the lantern from its bag and carry it carefully. It won’t fit on the shelf. I place the lantern back in safety while I get a chair and clean the top of the book shelf. The wall behind it isn’t pretty, but hopefully it won’t matter, hopefully it won’t even be noticed. Lighting the candle is tricky, I almost burn the paper.

At last it’s ready. I pull out my phone and line up the shot. This is much better than the photo would have been in the shop. I am no longer tired from my journey, nor depressed about money. She will love this, I know she will.


She wrote to me again last night. She was as thrilled as I knew she would be. She gushed with praise of my artistic talents, and thanked me solemnly for the thought that had gone into such a gift. She said that she hoped I hadn’t gone to too much trouble and expense.

Of course I told her it was no problem, that I just hoped it would help to cheer her up.

She said it had.

News came in about E. and she said she had to go. Apparently there had been a sighting in a neighbouring municipality. It sounded like E. might be in trouble again. I’m not surprised.

The photo she put up was sparkling in its beauty, and the smile effervescent as only hers can be. I mooned over it for hours after she was gone.


I was late getting up. That was going to be a problem. My interview was mid-afternoon and it would take me a long time to walk there. I shower and find my cleanest shirt. Jeans will have to do, I don’t have anything better. I don’t have time to shave. It probably doesn’t matter.

The afternoon is hot and the air is thick with the smell of car exhaust and asphalt, for some reason it reminds me of the shop woman’s perfume. I’m sweaty and breathless by the time I get there.

It’s cool in the restaurant. Enough that I shiver. The young man that meets me surprises me when he says he is the owner. He’s not much older than I am. He shows me through the front. It is very elegant. I think this is a place that she might like.

Through to the kitchen. You’ve seen them on TV, there’s nothing unexpected here except the girl.

“Shauna is the one that will tell you what needs to be done when,” the young man tells me.

Shauna, of the ginger hair and sour expression, looks at me with disdain.

I try to look like I don’t care.

The man’s office is neat. He offers me a chair.

“What do you think?” he asks me.

I give him a blank look.

“Would you like to work here?”

I’m not sure how to respond. I don’t really want the job. I don’t have the time for it. “What days will it be?” I ask, trying to sound interested. It’s important to seem like I’m making an effort.

“We need someone for our quiet week nights. Tuesday through Thursday.”

I nod and try to look thoughtful. “I’m not sure how it might work with my other job,” I lie.

The man looks surprised.

“But I’d like to give it a try,” I say.

He frowns for a moment. “Right,” he says. He rummages in a drawer and pulls out a form. He slides it across the desk. “I guess you’d better fill this out.”

It’s an application form. All the usual questions: contact details, no problem; next of kin, Mum, we never talk but she won’t mind this; references, none – or none that I want him calling.

Outside, the heat of the day hits me. Perversely, I shiver again.

I browse the shops that I pass on my way home, looking for fresh ideas on how I might make her happy. I can’t buy anything, but maybe I can sneak a photo while no one’s looking. But there’s nothing special enough, not for her. When I get my next cheque maybe I can get a bus into the city, there are better shops there.

It’s dark when I get out of the last shopping centre. I didn’t realise it had gotten so late. The take-away food shops I pass make my stomach rumble. I’m tempted to check the bins outside to see if someone may have discarded something, but I’m not quite down to that yet. There’s bound to be something still edible in the cupboard at home. I think there’s still some breakfast cereal. The milk is out of date, but I don’t think it’s gone over yet.


She wrote to me again last night. I think she’s flirting with me! The photo on my wall is so coy and cute. I want to kiss the screen. She says she’s been looking forward to hearing from me.

I feel bad that I didn’t have anything for her. She knows me so well that she asks me what’s wrong. I tell her about the job interview. I pretend it’s for a waiter’s position. I was going to tell her the truth. Maybe make fun of it, say I was going to be vice-president in charge of dirty dishes or something, but in the end I just couldn’t do it – it’s not that funny.

I don’t know what got into me, I hadn’t meant to, but I asked her about E. She said she hadn’t heard anything more. Then she said she had to go. I didn’t sleep much. I was worrying that I’d upset her.


It’s not a good day. I’m still depressed about being so stupid last night. There’s no place I have to be today, and nothing I could do anyway. The milk has definitely gone over. Water on breakfast cereal doesn’t work very well, and instant coffee without milk just tastes sour.

I try to think of what I could do for her. Something to make up for last night. I look around my room. The lantern is still there, but I’ve already done that. The books are still on the floor. I’ll get to them later. The only other pretty things in the room are pictures of her. My printer didn’t do a very good job, or maybe the paper is wrong, the colours are all flat and washed out. I look at the poster I tried to make, the sticky tape is showing where I joined the pages. Maybe I could fix that, but I don’t know how to do it better.

There’s nothing new on my wall. I remind myself that she doesn’t write to me during the day. I look through my music.

That’s an idea. Maybe I could write a song – I know she loves to sing. I can’t do the music, I never learned what all those dots and lines on the page mean. But maybe I could do the lyrics. It can’t be that hard.

It’s dark in the room by the time I realise that the day has gone. The screen is mostly blank. Words came and then went again. Nothing seemed right. Not good enough. Not for her.

The night passes without any message from her. I don’t sleep. I sit there waiting. Sometimes I restart the computer to make sure it’s working properly.

My cheque arrives.

Not far from the bank I see a DVD shop. Her movie is in there. I buy another copy. I get outside and my phone rings. It’s the guy from the restaurant.

“Can you start next Tuesday?” he asks.

It takes me a moment to take it in.

“Are you there?”

“Yeah. You mean … I got the job?”

He laughs. He’s a nice guy, I think. “If you still want it. So, is Tuesday okay for you?”

“Sure, guess so.”

In my surprise I had stopped walking. I’m next to a bus stop. A bus rolls up and I remember that I wanted to go to the city. Food shopping can wait.


She wrote to me again last night. In the photo she looks to be in deep contemplation, and I can’t help wondering what is going through her mind. She apologises for not being able to talk last night, her parents needed her to attend something or other. I tell her that’s fine, that I was pretty busy last night anyway.

We chat for a long time, as intimates do. I have a hard time keeping my secret from her, I want it to be a surprise. I bought her something. It took almost everything I had. I know I can’t give it to her yet, but when I saw it in the city I just knew she would love it, and I know we will meet soon. It must be soon or I think I might go quite strange. The gift sits up on the bookshelf – next to the lantern – I get a little shiver of excitement every time I think of how pleased she will be to receive it.


Breakfast is better this morning. I will have to ration the food, it’s a long time until the next cheque. I force myself to go out and buy the few essentials that I can afford, things that might last until I get money again. It takes will power to do, but I have a plan. This time it’s a gift for both of us.

I rush back home and carefully lock the door behind me. It’s quiet in the building. Everyone else is off at work or shopping, or whatever it is they do to fill their lives. I feel sorry for them.

I pull out the DVD I purchased yesterday. I know just the thing.

It takes a long time to find all the software I need. It has to be free. I have no more money left, and no working credit card anyway.

First I watch the movie again. And again. She is just wonderful. Beautiful. The only thing that spoils the movie is E. I will change that. I will make it perfect. And she will love it.

This is not going to be easy. My first attempts are a disaster. I had hoped I could simply change his handsome face. I had in my mind that I might put glasses on him. I knew I couldn’t make him look like me, but I thought I might give a sort of reminder. But I can’t do it. So, instead, I start to paint him out of each scene. Frame by frame I remove him, filling in the background by copying from other frames.

It takes days and days. But only the days. The nights I keep for her. I don’t tell her yet about this gift, but I think she knows something is coming. She has that same sense of anticipation I feel myself. We talk. We talk as lovers must talk. She places photos on my wall. The one I love best is of her sitting there on a log looking attentive. I imagine it is me she is waiting to hear speak.

I hear the phone ring but let it take a message. It’s probably Michael. I think I missed our weekly get together. I hope he doesn’t worry. He would never believe that a real movie star is paying so much attention to me, so it’s better we don’t meet this week.

I realise that I haven’t changed the soundtrack of the movie. E.’s voice is still there, speaking through scenes now devoid of his face. I will think about that later. I’m not even half way through changing the frames yet.

Last night’s photo on my wall was truly intimate. A lovely gesture that proves to me that I am not mistaken. She really does care as much for me as I do for her.

When the phone rings again I try to think who it must be. I cannot. The clock on the computer says it’s Tuesday evening. That should mean something to me, but I can’t think what.

Cereal and water is not so bad. I don’t know what I was complaining about. Besides, I’m not very hungry. I’ve got so much to do.

I get past the half-way mark and think about taking a break. But no. I want to be able to show this to her. I watch the part that I have done already, with the sound turned down. Just her. Just her throughout. No other faces other than cheeky little Pascal. I think that’s a nice touch. I know she will love it.

I have trouble getting up some mornings now. I seem to be lagging badly. Never mind. There’s not much more to do. I think the next cheque is there waiting. It can wait a little longer.

It’s almost done. I’m almost at the credits. I’m tempted to stop now and watch it, but only a few more frames to go. This is a labour of love.

I turn from the screen for a moment. The room is dark, and there’s a smell. I wonder what it is. I don’t seem to get hungry any more, and that’s good. Less distraction from what I have to get done. I wonder if I can get these last frames done before we talk again tonight. I turn back to the screen and gasp in horror.

The screen has gone dark. The whole room has turned black. I fumble at the computer and flick the switch. No change. I stand in panic, flailing about. I fall over something. The books.

I’m not hurt. I reach out into the darkness and grab for support to help me stand. The bookcase. I feel it start to tilt and let go. But it’s too late. There is a crash and tinkle of broken glass. The crystal flower that I had bought for her! I scream in horror and reach out for the pieces. My hand goes through the paper of the fallen lantern.

I am screaming now. Just screaming.


She wrote to me again last night. A simple message on my wall. There’s no photo this time, there can’t be. It’s not easy writing on the painted brick of my cell, scratching it out in the paint with her finger nails, I don’t know how she manages it. She offers simple advice on how to deal with incarceration, she knows exactly what it’s like. She tells me that if she still had her magic hair she would let it down and I could climb from my cage to the comfort of her arms.


# # #

For the animators of the movie “Tangled”.

Your Rapunzel is enough to unravel anyone.

gmw 11-May-2013

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