It’s our fault for hanging a flier on the bulletin board of Shriekin’ Beans Coffee Shop where we hold our meetings. Fiona Apple comes to the first meeting of the new year in gray sweatpants, a large men’s winter coat, a brown beanie, and sunglasses that cover half of her face, tracking in a trail of murky snow. She approaches our crochet club set-up, two large rectangular tables pulled together, surrounded by eight wooden chairs, and sits down in a chair next to Jeanne, the oldest member whose specialty is vagina art. Fiona carries with her a worn-out green tote bag, spilling over with tangled brown yarn.
“Hey ladies,” Jeanne said, bright white dentures beaming at us, “looks like we got a new member. Why don’t you introduce yourself sweetie,” she put a hand on Fiona’s shoulder. Fiona scoots her chair several inches away, leaving Jeanne’s hand dangling in the air.
“Fiona,” she says, then looks down at her bag, and rifles through it until she picks up a brown ball of yarn. She pulls out some sort of half-finished stuffed animal and works on it, her fingers moving faster than any of ours.
“I’m so glad you could join us,” Jeanne says while pulling out her current project— an afghan made up entirely of crochet vaginas. “Are you from around—”
“That’s not as subversive as you think it is,” Fiona says, waving her crochet hook towards Jeanne’s blanket, “it’s a bit overdone, don’t you think?” Jeanne laughs in response, clutching her blanket closer to her chest. She’s been working on it for months.
The rest of us continue to chatter about the upcoming snowstorm, PTA meetings, and town events, while Fiona sits in silence, tapping her foot on the hardwood floor. By the end of the hour, Fiona has completed a crocheted two-headed dog. The dog on the left is a light brown pit bull, and the dog on the right is a black pit bull. Its body is a marbled pattern of the two colors, swirling together in a mixture that would have taken any of us weeks to crochet. The dog has a purple collar around its neck that is attached to a leash. Jeanne smiles warmly at Fiona as she watches her weave in the ends of her two-headed monstrosity.
“What did you make there sweetie?” she asks.
“These are my dogs, Janet and Mercy. Janet’s dead. I have her bones on my mantle at home.” She says all of this without looking up at Jeanne, tapping her hook rhythmically on her temple.
“Oh, how unique,” Jeanne goes back to crocheting her blanket, but keeps glancing at Fiona’s plush monster.
The next week Fiona comes in with her two-headed dog on a real leash, pulling it behind her. She sits it down by her feet and puts a tiny food and water bowl in front of it.
“Oh wow, I see you brought some pets with you,” Jeanne laughs, and points at the crochet beast, heads leaning over the silver bowls.
“You know pets aren’t allowed in here, right?” Megan laughed. Fiona Apple scowled at her.
“Can I pet them?” Jeanne asks, her hand hovering slightly over her thigh, seeming hesitant and unwilling. We aren’t sure why she is offering.
Fiona smiles and pushes the dogs towards her. Jeanne pats their heads lightly. Fiona wriggles the dog under Jeanne’s hand, its heads pushing up against the pets. She makes little panting noises under her breath, and it sounds just like a happy dog.
Jeanne was clearly encouraged by this, instead of weirded out like the rest of us, and pets harder, calling the dog a good girl and scratching its ears. She moves her hand under one of the dog’s chins and Fiona begins barking and lunging at the stuffed dogs at Jeanne’s hand, pretending that they are biting her. Its plush heads flail from left to right as a guttural growl comes from Fiona. Jeanne pulls her hand away in disbelief.
“Sorry, I forgot to mention that she doesn’t really like to be pet there,” Fiona laughs. The rest of us stay silent for the next hour. Every few minutes, Fiona talks to her dog or pets it. She spends the hour crocheting a sweater for it.
The next week, Fiona doesn’t show up right away. We take this as our first opportunity to say what we have all been thinking: Fiona Apple is a freak.
“We should’ve known as soon as she told us she kept her dog's bones in her house.”
“Oh yeah, that’s when I knew.”
“Or what about that giant coat she always wears. It’s cold, but you don’t see us walking around in menswear.”
“Has anyone noticed she always smells kind of funky?”
“I heard she hasn’t left her house since 2012.”
“None of that even matters, she’s just a bitch.” says Jeanne. We are all surprised to hear her join in the chain of hate towards Fiona. “I don’t want her in the club anymore,” Jeanne continues as we feel a gust of prickly winter air and hear the rustling of a coat and look up to see that Fiona has entered Shriekin’ Beans, her crocheted pet trailing behind her, its face covered in mud and chunks of salt from the sidewalk. Everyone stops talking at once, and our silence is louder than our gossip. We all wondered what she heard.
She keeps her coat on as she sits down, brushes some dirt off her dog’s face and pulls out the sweater she had been working on last week without a word.
“Fiona! We were worried you weren’t going to come, how are you” Jeanne says, clearly overcompensating for our words.
“I’m okay Jeanne, thanks. How are you?” We glance at one another, trying not to make it obvious to her that we are confused by her behavior. We expected a tantrum of sorts, an attack from her two-headed dog, but instead she was being the politest that she has been since she started crocheting with us.
“I’m fine,” Jeanne responds in a slow, hushed tone.
“How’s she doing?” Megan gestures at the dog. Fiona hasn’t pulled out the bowl for them this time. When Megan draws attention to it, Fiona uses her heel to slide it under her chair more.
“It’s just a stuffed animal,” her lips turn up in a quiet smirk. She doesn’t seem proud of her creation like she did last week. She crumples up the sweater she is working on and pulls out a fresh ball of powder pink yarn. She begins crocheting what looks like a beanie. A human sized beanie. She somehow finishes it by the end of the hour and gives it to Jeanne with no comment.
“Thanks sweetheart,” Jeanne holds the hat lightly between her fingertips. Fiona nods but keeps looking at Jeanne. She realizes what Fiona wants from her and pulls the hat over her hair, and the ends curl out of the bottom. It almost seems like Fiona is smiling. She waves and turns to leave.
After she leaves, we all sort of feel bad for how we have been treating Fiona. The next week when she comes to class, we each have our own crocheted pet by our feet on leashes. Megan has a tabby cat with a cast on its left leg, Jeanne has a colorful parrot, Amy has a raccoon, and the others have various common dogs and cats that look like the ones they own. When Fiona stumbles in ten minutes late, her two-headed dog is not following behind her, and she is wearing a thin black coat that is in serious need of a lint brush. She looks at our new pets, one at a time, eyes lingering on each one. She stops at Jeanne’s, perched on her shoulder. She blinks twice. She shifts from heel to heel.
“What’s this?” She asks.
“We all decided we wanted our own crochet buddies,” Jeanne pats her parrot on the head and whispers something into its ear. Fiona stares at us, tapping her fingers against her thigh one at a time, as if she is piecing something together inside of her head. We sit still, waiting to see how she will respond to our gesture.
“When did you decide this?” She asks.
“Oh, we talked about it in the group chat, and a few of us got together to work on it over the weekend,” Jeanne says. We just realize that none of us have ever asked Fiona Apple for her number to add her to the chat. Fiona’s body stills as Jeanne explains our plan to her. She drops her tote bag to the ground. Her face looks pink and blotchy as she turns away from us, walking out of the coffee shop, a gust of wind hitting our faces as she exits. Jeanne picks up the tote bag and pulls out handfuls of crocheted hats, one for each of us.