Jonathon Paynter felt uneasy. Disquiet had plagued him since that night, a fortnight ago when he had left Steph Scammell to walk home: in the rain, in the dark and a distance of 11 kilometres. She had walked from the Mount Buninyong Lookout where he had taken her in his late grandfather’s 1968 Pontiac Parisienne. It had a comfortable, roomy backseat made for a passionate clinch, which she refused, and he pushed her out of the car. He didn’t know why he did it.
Her Grandmother rang Jonathon 24 hours later, after visiting Steph who had been hospitalized with pneumonia. She said “ I have a special message for you from Steph and I quote ‘you are a tool, a complete arse.’ Young man I could say a lot worse even though we’re ladies.”
Old Bag. He had thumped the table.
“He is so hot,” cooed the new girls in town as Jonathon walked into Oscar’s that Friday night. Two attractive girls wearing University hoodies made no secret of their admiration. Three local girls, at a table near the counter, glanced up then looked away. Some guys he knew did not return his greeting.Has this happened before? he thought. He pondered the familiarity of the situation.He ordered a beer and sat alone, pretending to be busy sending text messages on his mobile phone.
On Saturday night he was home alone. Aunt Fay came to the door carrying a suitcase.
“Jonathon,” she announced,” you’re in danger. You need a complete makeover.”
He stared at her open-mouthed and turned down his IPod.
“What was that?”
“Jonathon, you need a makeover.”
Whilst admiring his designer outfit in a full-length mirror, he managed to look aghast.
“It doesn’t matter about your jet-black hair, turquoise eyes and god-like body when your intellect is like a goldfish, your emotional range is like a blunt razor and, your spiritual insight is like a preschool reader!”
“So does my bod look like Josh Duhamel’s in Love Actually?”
“It’s this film in which Steve Carrell plays a father who–’’
“Forget that. What I want you to know is how to treat people like you demand to be treated. I’m tired of you leaving people out in the cold, or looking like they’ve been whacked across the bum with a stick.”
“Aunty Fay, are you saying you don’t like me?”
“No. For the sake of all Paynters, past and present, I’m saying that what’s likeable about you can be surveyed in a minute.”
“So, I’m good-looking, right?” He smiled. It was a whole hour since he had smiled at himself.
Aunt Fay sighed.“I have something you need desperately. It’s a special heirloom left by your Uncle Harry.”
“Oh, the cranky dude that died raving about the magic of Rumpelstiltskin.”
Uncle Harry was eccentric enough to have made an impression even on Jonathon.
She lifted a box from inside the suitcase that she had brought with her. When she opened the lid, Jonathon gasped.
“What is that?” he said.
“It’s a magical jumper. According to Harry it was given to him by his great Uncle Hugh, who received it from the great, great grandson of Rumpelstiltskin.”
“And you have to be either desperate or crazy to wear the fugly thing. Right?” said Jonathon. Fay lifted it out of the box and shook it so that he could see the garment in all its glory. The hand knitted jumper was baggy and an indeterminate shade between brown and orange.
“It has threads through it that are real gold, woven from straw”, said Fay. “Rumpelstiltskin made part of the threads for this jumper because he could weave straw into gold. He tried to use it to blackmail a woman into giving him her baby once, but she outsmarted him. Reputedly, he saw the error of his ways after he stopped being mad and helped create this garment to help others. Your Uncle Hugh received it as a gift on behalf of the Paynter men, who did need some reforming.”
“Can we pull the jumper apart and sell the gold?” Jonathon asked. Fay grimaced as she realized Jonathon had stopped listening earlier. Now he examined the atrocious article of clothing. Someone had attempted to knit a rainbow into the right sleeve and red and purple swirls into the left. Hieroglyphics in pea green adorned the back.
“It’s a wonderful garment. To quote Hugh, ‘It renders the wearer able to perform instances of remarkable intellectual and spiritual perception. Their social discourse is pleasant and interesting to all. They show thoughtfulness and wisdom that benefits their companions and helps maintain said benefits.’ It will make you a better person.” She stood up and approached him with the jumper.
“Get that thing away from me!” Jonathon jumped. “You’re a rotten sales woman and you couldn’t get a homeless person to take the fugly thing.”
Fay went stiff as a rod and looked him in the eye. “You’ll be sorry.” She threw it down.
Later, Jonathon tried to pull the jumper apart. It felt like straw. When holes were made, they quickly disappeared. The hairs on his neck stood up and he took it outside and threw it in the bin. When he returned to the lounge, it was floating above a chair. He slammed the door of the living room and went to bed.
He woke in the early hours. Something rough and thick was being held over his face. He gasped twice before falling back into a deep sleep.
The next morning, he inspected himself in the mirror. There was the jumper, covering him from his neck to halfway down his lean thighs. A wrestle ensued in which he tried to remove it. He gave up when he could not get off the bed.He reached for the phone and dialed Fay’s Number. He got her answering machine.
“Aunty Fay, Help! I can’t take off the jumper.”
Fay appeared in a minute. He started.
“Where did you come from? You haven’t had time to get my message.”
“Jonathon”, she shook her head. “Nobody but the wearer and we Paynters can see and feel the jumper. It reflects the inner state of the wearer, just put your work clothes on over it.”
He stared at her and then looked in the mirror. ”You mean, I’m really that ugly?”
She nodded. “Put on a shirt. I’ll drive you to work.”
Once they were in the car he told her that he had tried to take the jumper off.
“Don’t do that again,” she said. “It might hurt you. Wait until it’s pleased with you.” Outside the art supplies shop where he worked, she said,” I’ll pick you up at five.”
For the next six weeks, Fay was Jonathon’s constant companion. They read and discussed Hegel and Thoreau on the equality of mankind; and read classics of literature: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein. It was the first time Jonathon remembered enjoying reading, and considering things outside his limited experience.
In the third week Fay smiled when he told her, “I’m really enjoying this.” He had just brought her a cup of tea made the way she liked it, and her favourite biscuits. She gazed into the china cup, musing, “There’s a lot to like about this jumper.”
Jonathon asked, “Is it ok if I read about and listen to sport now? I feel like it.”
“You may. I want you to learn all the AFL game statistics from the last two years and the background of all the players. Don’t forget to take special note of your boss’s team, Essendon. I have an idea.”
Jonathon was about to protest about having to research Essendon when he thought better of it. He was becoming cooperative since he had put on the jumper. That night he noticed that the jumper felt softer, less like straw. It looked shinier on the front but on the back the larger hieroglyphics were darker than ever. His palms became sweaty; he’d come to respect the jumper’s power.
The following week, Fay invited Jonathon’s bosses, the Stanleys to dinner. Jonathon was on his best behaviour: opening doors; pulling out chairs; and discussing first, Mrs Stanley’s favourite composer, Tchaikovsky; and then Mr Stanley’s beloved Essendon.
Mr Stanley shook his hand vigorously when he departed.
“The boy’s really growing up,” Mrs Stanley remarked to Fay.
At 24 it really doesn’t hurt, thought Fay to herself.
In the fifth week, Fay arranged a blind date for Jonathon with the niece of one of her oldest friends. Jonathon thought it would impress Fay if he said how much he regretted his past, and that he would take very good care of Lucy. He protested, “I ought to see a photo if I’m to meet her in a public place.”
“She’ll be wearing a bright purple cashmere jumper and she’s blonde. You’ll make a perfect couple.” She must be attractive and intelligent, he thought.
Fay thought to herself, nobody from Ballarat knows the girl and nobody except the girl will associate me with Jonathon. She sighed with relief
Jonathon felt smug. The jumper immediately felt tighter and itchier.
What the hell! He thought.
The blind date was to commence at Walter’s Wine Bar in Southbank. When he saw Lucy he nearly ran back out onto the thoroughfare. She was short and size 16 at least. Her facial features were coarse and plain, her blonde hair was cut pudding-bowl style and her smile nearly split her face in two, as she displayed large horse-like teeth.
Her voice, however, was lovely.
“Good evening, Lucy. That’s an attractive jumper and you have a melodious voice.”
“Thank-you, Jonathon. I recognize you from the photo your Aunt sent me.”
You get a photo, he thought with disgust.
Lucy turned out to be an interesting date. She was knowledgeable about everything that intrigued him, and barracked for Geelong football club too. Most of his dates had involved girls gazing adoringly at him while he recited a Jonathon monologue.
Was that lame?
When they parted for the evening, he said, “You have gorgeous eyes, Lucy”, and he meant it. They were almost violet with thick brown lashes, and seemed to deepen in colour when she enthused on a subject.
When he told Fay he had enjoyed Lucy’s company the jumper felt as light as a feather.
“Why, Jonathon,” she said, “you sound sincere and grateful.”
Looking in the mirror, he smiled a friendly smile he hadn’t seen before.
“Who are you?” he wondered out loud.
Fay clapped her hands.
The seventh week came and Fay said,” Go out and live your life but I want a report every evening.”
The next morning Jonathon noticed flab around his waistline. He had gained a little weight during the last six weeks. He headed off to make use of his membership of the 24 hour gym. While running on the treadmill he looked around. He noticed a guy who was a body builder.
Bulked up to the max, he thought.
The body builder didn’t take his eyes off his reflected image. He pumped away staring at his biceps and triceps with a smile on his face.
Wow. He is up himself. Immediately Jonathon’s chest felt constricted. He got of the treadmill and walked doubled over to the door. After staggering out of the gym and across the car park, he flopped into his car gasping. Like a drowning man his mind replayed his past. Then Jonathon had a realization, I am judging that bloke by my own point of view. He could be checking his form, and if he’s not it’s none of my business.
His breathing eased and he reached for his mobile, and dialed. When Aunty Fay answered he said, “I’ll keep the jumper for a while, I really need to change.”
He hung the phone up and sat there feeling clammy and disorientated like he had woken from a nightmare. He realised the jumper was gone.