The Needle

A short story

Once there was a woman with a needle, and she needed the needle to be an oar. She felt it was, at its core, an oar, and had entered the world wrong-sized.

On the edge of town was a wizard whose shelves were lined with spindly glass bottles packed with colorful potions. When the woman showed him the needle and asked for an oar, he nodded.

I see your point.

Do you?

I do.

It involved a sprinkling of powder, a nearly full moon, a lakeside, and her heart empty of fear. I can do that, she said, unsure.

Empty, he said. Wipe it clean. Enter a world of change and strength. Then your plan is what? To go into the lake?

I plan to leave town in this way.

You are escaping?


If you feel the fear, he said, in a low and gravelly voice, you must sidestep. Or release. Wave it goodbye. Just don’t hold tight to it. It is not your friend.

It is my enemy, she replied, to convey her understanding.

No, he said. It is not! That is tight holding!

Her eyes filled with tears at the intensity of his response.

It is, she ventured, my acquaintance?

And the lines in his face eased, a softer brow, a gentler mouth. Yes, he said. That is closer.

He told her, while filling a jar via a glass funnel with the recommended morning sky color powder, that he had no relations, no loves. He spent too much time alone in the backroom dehydrating fungi. That is not an innuendo, he said, shaking his head at himself. It was what he actually did, all day long.

Leaning on the counter, watching the powder travel through the funnel, the woman was finding him surprisingly attractive, so when he gave her a longing look, she returned it, and he indicated a room in the back (not the fungi room), and it was a very good time together, something alternate about it, alternate-worldly, like traveling somewhere and returning all at once.

But it was not enough to keep her there. Come the almost full moon, the woman was by the lake with her boat, with her pale blue powder in its glass jar, with her needle. Without an oar, she would just sit in the boat and drift. An oar, a proper-sized oar, was motion, direction, purpose. It was human desire against current. It was the crucial tool.

Empty of fear, she told herself. Empty the fear.

It is my acquaintance. I greet it. Hello, fear. How’s all?

The fear said everything was going all right. It resembled a wolf in her mind, gray, fangy.

Good to hear it, she said.

And you?

All is fine, she lied.

Good, good. The fear peered at her, tried to see deeper.

How she wanted to lean into the peer, but she knew the instructions.

Well then, she said, heart trembling. Nice to see you.

You too, said the wolf, turning away.

Powder on the needle. Eyes closing. The moon on the needle, shining its beam. After a minute, she could feel it expand in her palm. Ah! The growing! A stretching sound, even, as the metal lengthened and heavied. That it was working made her want to run and return to the apothecary, to the wizard, so old and functional and oddly attractive, and his bed. Maybe he’d used a powder on himself that day? It seemed likely now, some kind of lust potion or attraction spell. Should she care? It had been such a good time. But the pull to leave was greater.

When she opened her eyes, the needle was, of course, a spear. What kind of oar has a point at the tip? What would that do? She could flip it over and dip the needle’s eye in the water like a paddle, but wouldn’t the water just sluice right through the hole? It would! Had no one considered this? When she had babbled on with such surety to the apothecary and herself about how the needle was just an oar of the wrong size?

Right as she was thinking this, the man she was escaping came running through the woods. He had found her gone, her closet side empty, her toothpaste missing. He was ready to take her back. It was not okay for her to leave. He owned her, she was his forever.

She held up the spear, its glittering point. It actually had quite a good handle in the eye, just the right size for her fingers to grip.

He hurtled through the shrubs to the edge of the lake. Saw her, backed away. Whoa, he said.

Don’t move forward, she said, stepping back into the boat. Don’t you dare, or I’ll lance you in two.

It was quite a spear, long and shiny with that point, ready to pierce the fabric of any person’s skin. She brandished it in his face.

I’ll miss you, he said. I’ll die without you. I’ll throw myself into the lake!

Fine, she said, voice wavering, wolf loping at the edges of her mind.

But even with the wolf returned and her hand shaking, the spear still remained a fearsome object, and the man did not progress.

Another step back and she was in the center of the boat. She used her foot to push a boulder and move from the shore. There was a helpful gentle current: this was her luck. Just enough to set her off and away. The man was a lousy swimmer. They had met at the shore so long ago, when he had presented to her a different face, had been so sad and cute in his inept swimming circles.

I’ll die, he said halfheartedly, and then turned around to walk back home.

As expected, the spear was a terrible oar. It contained no oar qualities at all. Her destiny belonged to the movement of the lake. The tool was different than planned.

Frances Murphy is a freelance illustrator based in the United Kingdom.

Aimee Bender is the author of the novels The Butterfly Lampshade, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and An Invisible Sign of My Own, as well as the collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures, and The Color Master.