Or: your shoelaces when, after walking along the riverfront for almost an hour, ignoring the cigarette packs and clotted algae and poisoned fish slopping against the dock legs and instead admiring, determinedly, the movement of the river tide—how dangerously fast it is, deceptive—you notice that your heel has begun to slip in your sneaker, so you say that you would like to just take a second here and you pause to pull the laces tighter, and the man you are with stops and kneels to take your foot in his hand, causing your stomach to turn hot and then cold, before very simply, he says, how tight?
A type of lasso loop. For best results, do not make the stopper circle too small, as you will need to adjust the slip and slide of that rope when you throw, your wrist loose and sure—the way you might, for instance, let your ankle dangle casually, your legs crossed and skirt pulled strategically up just high enough to show the fullness of one fishnetted thigh, so that the eye can travel up and down that expanse from tapping toe to the place where fabric cuts the imagination, or rather, lets the imagination expand, blossom into silks and cotton and something much softer, a fragrant darkness—and feel that thrilling tug—a catch.
- Sheet Bend
Used to tie ropes of different quality or sizes together; i.e., hemp and silk, or cotton and twisted polyester. This is something you will consider when you first visit his apartment on a freezing Wednesday evening and see—as you walk through the sloping upstairs unit to the front porch where you will sit and drink wine and complain mutually about your mothers until three in the morning—a kitchen with clumps of black dog hair and dirty dishes in the sink and an overflowing garbage bin and six empty bottles of Bombay Sapphire on the counter along with something that looks suspiciously like a cockroach dancing in the cupboard shadows and an open bathroom door where you can spot the toilet lid up and, as you pass his bedroom, you catch a bed with a quilt that looks handmade and you appreciate that but also a table with two desktop monitors and a snaking ball of wires and cables and video controllers and clothes on the floor and on every hard surface jars half-filled with—what, water? milky coffee diluted with week-old ice?—and you think, still following him to the porch, of your own tidy apartment, bedroom-kitchen-office-bathroom all scrubbed and vacuumed and not a dirty dish in sight. But then, of course, the sheet bend is a reliable knot and is not made to fail. Think about this as you shiver on the porch and drink your red wine and consider how much you would prefer that your lips replace his glass.
This, for combining a mobile line to an immobile one, when he tells you he has almost never been faithful to any partner in his life. This, when you consider the jumpy nervousness you have seen in him, those chain-smoking up-all-night hollows beneath his eyes. This, when you recall the animal need rising from his skin when he looped an arm around you and asked, his nose in your ear, what your hair smelled like.
Like many things, both decorative and useful. See: your crystal phone case where it lies next to your hand on the table. See: the little candle that lights up the menus just enough to make out the prices (middling; you will split the bill). See: his hand, not beautiful but practical, edged with callouses and nicotine stains and bitten nails and still, somehow, elegant, that hand that now reaches and offers you a bite from his fork, see, it’s good, and you find, after several hours of talking and refilled glasses and the waitress tap-tapping her foot in the corner, ready for her tip, and one too many rolls of sushi (you will not care, later, that your stomach swells when he lifts up your shirt gently to kiss your navel, his eyes closed, reverent) that time is a relative thing.
- Mooring Hitch
The room: candleflame and rain flecking in the open window. Midnight, maybe later. A storm outside that rattles the palms like bones. Stretch your arms out in front of you as though you are bearing a gift, leaving only a little space between them so the rope does not cut off your circulation when he ties your arms to the bed (tender touch, those nail-bitten fingers, the defenseless tips smooth on your inner arms, and, blindfolded, your body takes all touch equally, that is, to an extreme) and cinches the knot tight. Do not pull against them because you will twist yourself into agitation, and you must keep your heart rate down because now—just now—there is the scarf, a blindfold (shut your eyes, blacken the room first by choice), pulled over your face so each breath you take tastes musty and warm, filtered through the glittery cloth. Think of cauls. Think of the womb. Think of the safe word you did not choose (stop). Think of the rope on your wrists and your ankles: you think, comforting. You think, exposed. And when, with the rain on your skin and the soft blackness all around you, he steps back and admires his handiwork—you on the bed, trussed and peeled of your clothes—and asks, can you escape now? you will wish to point out that you would not want to try. Caught fish, you. Bare belly ready for the knife. Wanting that gutting.
This knot is for quick release. This is a safety knot. But the rope will hold its shape after it has been let go.
Take point A on the line and bring it to point B. A shortening of distance. Or time, if you prefer to measure things in hours spent away from him. Which are too many, and you believe that it must be too many for him too, if he indulges in the same transposition of time and space. He is more unavailable than you—his phone turned off for work, he’s told you; email uncertain, he does not like the internet—but you are, you tell yourself, a patient, understanding person, and you recall old wives’ tales about hennish women, and you recall a magazine advising women that men are like rubberbands and must be allowed to stretch, and you call a friend to ask the etiquette of just stopping by unannounced, to which your friend asks if you’ve gotten fresh air lately. You are, you see, in love.
- Monkey’s Fist
The approximate size of a human heart. No end of the working line is visible, tucked and folded into itself as it is, so that it is a complete thing, contained, self-sufficient. This is—that closeness of self, that inward ontology—what you consider when you think about the way you have become a cup full of him, with the world running off your shoulders.
Also: the actual size of his fist when, after discussing the relational merits of pain and pleasure, he leaned across the breakfast counter and hit you, not very hard but hard enough, on the side of your head. The surprise, you think, was what you actually felt. Not the contact. Not the shame. Not even the desire to show him that yes, you could take it. Just the startle: you realize that this is where you are now.
- Jack Ketch’s
This is the knot used to hang a man. It is supposed to break the neck but sometimes, if the body is too light or the rope done wrong, the bones will not break and the condemned—think of church bells tolling, the wooden stairway, ravens in the sky, if you must—will suffocate. Thirteen coils: unlucky fate. This knot should not jam but is known to resist attempts to loosen it. (Would you loosen it, would you try? On those days when you have decided you are strong and capable and a powerful woman and have called up a friend to see if you can crash for a while, when you just need to get out of town for a bit, and your playlist is crammed with pop anthems and dance music and you feel like you might enjoy a bike ride by yourself, or maybe you’d like to visit a museum and look at the artwork without, for once, wondering who is looking at you while you look at the artwork—on those days, fine, it is easy to imagine. But on the days that are not those days—would you?)
- Knute Hitch
For attaching a lanyard to a tool. Useful during a camping trip to keep track of your objects, such as your water bottle, or a medic pack, or a knife similar to the one that, while carving an underdone sirloin on a board slick with thin oily blood, he suddenly pointed straight at your face and said, quite simply and more easily than you thought was possible, that he could, if he wanted, just stick this right in your eye.
- Yosemite Bowline
These knots will remain in place for a very long time, under harsh weather and poor conditions and many levels of stress, longer than the time you spend pacing the riverfront alone—determinedly alone—letting your hair tangle in the fishstink wind just as the waves are rimpled into agitation, making sure to note new things that you can keep for yourself, your own special observations, such as the greenness of the small patch of grass in front of the courthouse, or the single white heron with toothpick legs on the far banks. Longer than the time you spend experimenting with an online dating app that you delete and reinstall almost half a dozen times. Longer than the Xs that begin to darken your calendar, if they were plucked from the page and lined in a row. Longer, even, than the time you spend staring at your phone and, in the end, refusing to let yourself call his number.
- Packer’s Knot
Will quickly snap a line taut and easily lock it into position. He misses you, the text tells you. And there it is: you’re gone.
- Anchor Tie
Exactly what it sounds like. Check, before you toss the anchor over, that there is indeed a knot. That you have not misjudged the quality or the strength of the rope, because it is easy to lose an anchor in the deep and then where will you be but stranded, floating on the river, that mucky brown river full of alligators and sharks, the one you walk along in the leafless winter while he cups a cigarette to his face and contemplates where he will go when he leaves this ugly town, and you take note of the pronouns he’s using, and take note of the conspicuous absence of that important word that might indicate togetherness, might indicate sharing, might indicate a future beyond your bedrooms, and are forced then to say, as casually as you can, that you’ve always thought fondly of solitary travel.
- Timber Hitch
Sometimes used for support, as in, securing a line to a tree to prevent the thin trunk from bending under the weight of snow or a hanging bag or something else too heavy for that unsuspecting branch to bear. If you are using this knot for support, make sure to choose the bracing weight carefully—another tree, a rock, perhaps, even, yourself—because this must absorb the brunt of the force in the line, the tension that will pull and pull until the line wants to break but it cannot, because this is a good knot. Easy to tie and difficult to undo once the strain begins.
But also often used for hauling dead weight. Like when you sit in your clean apartment, alone, and listen to records and drink cheap cooking wine and think about how nice it would be to get a cat or a dog (you will peruse Craigslist pet listings for an hour before you remember you are broke and cannot feed a golden retriever) so instead you get up from the futon and make brownies in the kitchen and end up eating half a bowl of batter before stomach cramps force you to stop and wonder how Carol King got to be so wise and you, you, so small in your life. Your fingers so heavy when you pick up the phone to dial that number and then put the phone down and then pick it up again and repeat this over and over until the screen is muddy with finger grease (grease like his hair in the middle of the night, that question, so sweet, can you escape now?) and you want to chuck the damn thing out the window along with your sad self.
But the window is shut with a crackling bundle of ancient Duct tape and you only live on the second story.
Is there a way out of this place? (Tie off the lines, coil in neat bundles. Reverse, along the braid back to the moment when each strand came together and wove into one thing, unzip and zip back up in stop-motion the twisty silk, red-blue-white up and down, see the thing come undone.)
Is there a way out of this place? (Can you escape now? he asked. Do you want to?)
Look outside, look inside. There is the river, the palms, the bed. Trace the path from one to the other and you will see that it forms an endless loop. And you are spliced into it from end to end to end.
Bridget Apfeld lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she is completing an MFA at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Her work can be found in various journals including Verse Wisconsin, So to Speak, Able Muse, Better: Culture & Lit, and The NewerYork Press.