The first time he wore a tie was at his mother’s funeral. His father gripped him by the shoulders and circled the thin black cord around his throat without making eye contact. He’d always thought this would be a rite of passage, like the first time he shaved, but there was no manly encouragement, no reassurance. It felt tight and strange at his neck, as though he was in fancy dress pretending to be an adult. Later that day as the coffin lowered into the damp earth he was bitterly aware that he’d left childhood behind.
At their wedding he wore a maroon tie to match the bridesmaids. He hated the colour, but it was what she wanted so he bent to her wishes. Four years later when she packed everything they owned and their children into her Ford she screamed at him for being weak. She said he was no longer the man she fell in love with, that he surrendered to her every wish. He’d thought he was making her happy.
For months after they left, he thought about using his father’s thick grey business tie. He fantasised about it, turning it around in his head. He imagined it happening on an empty Sunday from the central beam in his apartment. From that position he hoped he’d spend his last few seconds looking out over the city, maybe it would even make him feel like he was flying. He wondered who would find his body, spinning silently in tiny, concentric circles as he had done all his life. But he knew when she found out she’d do that ‘I told you so’ eyebrow and bore everyone with his deep-seated mental issues and the many sacrifices she’d made just to tolerate him throughout their marriage. Thinking of her and the things she’d tell the children saved his life.
That year, at the office Christmas party, he wore a navy tie dotted with red holly. Janine from accounts had used it to pull him towards her, whispering for him to take her home. He went home alone instead, drank too much Black Label and took his father’s tie from the drawer, fingering its pattern. Somehow from the drink-fuelled depths of his subconscious he remembered happier times. The rare days when his father had returned from work early, pulled him into his lap and read to him, tie dangling over pictures of pirate ships and monstrous squids.
The next morning, he woke with the tie still coiled around his fingers. He walked to the kitchen, took scissors from the drawer and made one sharp incision, straight through the centre of the thick cloth. His whole body felt lighter and he found he could think clearly. Although he knew she wouldn’t want him there, he booked a flight to reach the kids for Christmas Eve. As he dashed from his apartment, he undid the top button on his shirt and felt the winter sun warm his neck for the first time in years.
Jo Withers writes poetry and fiction for children and adults. She is author of the middle-grade adventure ‘5 Simple Steps to Saving Planet Earth’ and won The Caterpillar Story for Children Prize in 2017. Her recent flash appears in Spelk and Cabinet of Heed. You can follow Jo on Twitter – @JoWithers2018.