The Unwinding

An unwritten letter,

An absent tailor,

A heart worn thin,

An unravelling king.


“My dearest Excellency,

Thank you for your letter”

He gazed, silently, at the notepad in front of him, for some minutes. Then, equally silently, he tore out the page, crumpled it into a ball, and allowed it to join its comrades at the bottom of the wastepaper basket.

“My beautiful Majesty...”

“My faithful Highness...”

“My one true Delicacy...”

No, no. None of them would do.

How many days, had it been now, since first he shouldered this burden? How many months? Years? For all he knew, the king was long dead.

Every day began the same way, with the same aim: attempting to write the perfect opening sentence.

Every day ended the same way: despair.

How he longed to put down his pen, abandon his writing desk, and leave the oppressive stuffiness of this room forever.

As he had done countless times before, he opened up his bureau. Took out the plain, starched envelope. Let his eyes roam across the words, searching for some clue – some previously unrecognised magic, hidden in the sequence of vowels and consonants, that might unlock from within him the perfect response.

He knew it was hopeless.

Staring at his reflection, his beard long since turned white, he knew the letter would never be written.

He knew he would never leave.


Dear Bernard,

I don’t want to alarm you, but with every day that passes – every day that I await your response – my condition grows worse.

It began, as you’re already aware, with the smallest toe on my left foot. I think, in retrospect, that I must have stubbed it on a paving slab, or perhaps caught it on the edge of a floorboard. No matter – the fabric was torn, that’s what counts. Before I noticed, my entire left foot had unravelled, and most of the calf.

“Send for my tailor, quick!” I hollered. But where were you, Bernard? Where were you?

Of course, life doesn’t stop just because the king has begun to fall apart at the seams. Royal duties continued, unabated. They took their toll. By April, both of my legs and most of my torso had unwound. I was forced to drag myself around on crutches, a mass of threads trailing behind me.

And then – horror of horrors – my daughter’s hand became entangled with the loose stitching of my shoulder. My only daughter! Now she too has unravelled entirely down her right side.

One thing led to another. My wife, our queen, is now nothing but a loose heap of wool. Our son has disintegrated all the way to the neck.

Bernard! You must return at once, before the entire kingdom unravels. If ever we needed you, we need you now.

Yours sincerely,

The king.


You used to hold the sky above the earth – nine strong stitches fastening blue canvas to the sun, rain held back within the silver linings of the clouds by your endless summer.

The years grow long now, and the tapestry is wearing thin. A scrap of cloth within my heart, and a hole torn through by the absence of you.