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by Ajay Patri

I went to the three ladies who spin rope. The day was hot, the crimson sun making everything steam and water. The ladies sat by the side of the road on low stools, sheathed in thick, black garments. I fought the urge to whip the hood off of one to see if she was melting inside: a human toffee kept out in the sun, eyes and nose dripping down past a rasping mouth in a slow dribble. Their hands, flawless and nimble, weaved and arranged individual threads of rope together. I cleared my throat.

We know why you’re here.

They spoke together, an uncanny trick, three voices like two pieces of sandpaper being crushed against each other.

Can you help me?

Of course we can.

I looked around at the bundles of rope that lay scattered around them. Giant loops like the coils of an obese python, delicate strands like the damaged capillaries in my nose, and everything in between.

Didn’t you spin yarn in the old tales?

Rope is hardier, they sniffed. And your travails in life have made you bitter.

I blushed. I wasn’t sure if they were passing judgment on me or if they were being kindly grandmothers showing their sympathy for a man down on his luck.

This needs to end, I told them. I need it to end. Please help me.

We will, they chimed as their fingers started moving so fast that watching them made my head spin. I closed my eyes and breathed in the rope dust suspended in the heavy air. Sweat poured down my face as I waited for that little snip of the scissors that would tell me the deed was done.

Here you go.

No snip. I opened my eyes. They were offering me a sturdy length of rope with a loop around one end, a loop big enough for …

Oh no, no, I said. I took a step back and stumbled over a heap of rope.

What did you expect?

I thought you would … I thought all it took was a snip of the scissors from you ladies.

That’s just the fables, they said, their voices cracking with disdain. They held the rope up again. My stomach convulsed as they dangled it in front of me.

You do everything yourself. We just make the rope.

Ajay Patri is a writer and lawyer from Bangalore, India. His work has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, Eunoia Review, Every Day Fiction, Star 82 Review, and The Oddville Press, among others. He is currently working on his first book. His Twitter handle is @ajaybpatri.