Jumper, sweater, pullover… No matter how you describe the garment, it was just a knotty gathering of trouble for Jim Weaver. Actually, now he came to think about it, the clue should have really been in those names and the connotations they conjured. Jumper, an alternative title for a suicide. Sweater, someone caught in the process of interrogation, perhaps… His train of thought snapped back to the road and the fact that he was about to run another set of red lights. He changed down – sweat making the steering wheel treacherous beneath his white knuckled hands, the wind roaring through the open window – and accelerated between the bumpers of two slow moving vehicles. Through, unscathed somehow, and back to the road out of town. He changed up, then changed down again – anything to keep his mind in the moment and stop him replaying how an innocuous item of clothing had led to such a mess, such an unraveling of his life. A futile desire, he realised. The past was right here with him, bearing down upon him, entangling him.

      Perhaps it was the uniform. Perhaps it was her smile and her appreciation of action films that made him want to take things beyond that first, hesitant video store meeting. Whatever it was, there was no doubt that falling in love with Amanda had been easy. It was the ‘staying’ in love that Jim found difficult.

      At the outset, caught in a rapturous flood of curiosity and romance, he’d been able to cope with her night shifts, with the intrusive level of interest her work colleagues showed about his personal life. But, as time wore on – and the novelty of dating a traffic officer wore off – he began to resent ‘the force’ and the constant pressure it placed upon their relationship.

      Somehow, though, instead of fracturing they fell into a comfortable rut and decided that moving in together was probably a “good idea”. A testament he’d believed, if nothing else, to the foundation of their mutual attraction. Their constant. Their rock. Every couple has one, he mused as he swerved to avoid a postman on his bike. A song, a place, an item that draws them back to the starting point of their togetherness. For Jim and Amanda it was his battered old ‘comfy Sunday’ pullover that he’d lent her one cold December morning after they’d first slept together.

      He knew absolutely nothing about knitting. If he had, he would have described it as brown four ply Scalloway Yoke made of a soft Shetland wool. All he did know was that Amanda’s face poking out of its neckline – her hair morning mussed, her eyes glinting cheekily – was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen.

      However, only a year later, the comfortable rut had turned into a groove and the sides of that groove, for Jim, had slowly inched up to vertiginous proportions.

      Then he’d met Cassy. Well, ‘met’ probably wasn’t the most accurate description for their entanglement. Jim momentarily considered calling it a ‘thrusting together’ but felt that to be inappropriate somehow. It was an affair, an office affair at that, and one sided as he’d never exactly got round to telling Cassy about Amanda. He flinched inwardly at the deception and hardly noticed the roundabout as he careered around its tyre blackened kerbs.

      Cassy was altogether a more rustic proposition to Amanda’s urbaness – a combination of song and earth that fuelled her passion for gardening and the outdoors. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight for Jim, but the continuous contact through work wove its seductive magic until, one morning, he woke in the opulent bed of her otherwise conservative cottage. She ventured downstairs to make tea wearing nothing but his old jumper – he’d worn it as a way of fitting in with her lifestyle – and so the farce began.

      “Where’s my jumper gone?” Amanda asked one weekend while digging through damp laundry. She always called it her jumper these days, but the discrepancy allowed enough space for his deception to blossom.

      “Which jumper is that?” He had his back to her which was just as well as one eye closed in an instant wince and he felt his face flush.

      “You know. My… Your… Our jumper. The old brown one.”

      He’d managed to return it with the fabrication that he was going camping with some old school friends. His hands shook as he washed it for a second time, paranoid that Cassey’s scent would somehow be detected by Amanda.

      Its return to Cassey was a complete accident. Or maybe – he thought as he swerved past several cars to take the outside lane of the motorway’s access ramp – it wasn’t. He’d genuinely been cold, he’d been in a rush and he had no intention of spending the night with Cassey. But, come the morning, there she was curled in her favourite spot on her floral print sofa, her head poking through the jumper’s neckline almost exactly like Amanda’s had.

      “I need it to go fishing. A friend wants to use it for a still life drawing. Its pattern is quite rare; a local knitting group want to copy it. I’m going to a fancy dress party as a U-Boat captain.” Backwards and forwards the garment tumbled, his excuses for its relocation becoming all the more incredible. And in and out of the washing machine it went, the smell of detergent becoming almost as overpowering as his guilt. It was around this time that he decided he no longer needed the delicate wash of deception. No, the situation required a rinsing out, a spin cycle of clarity and decisiveness. He took the jumper to Oxfam.

      “You did what?” He’d tried to prepare himself for this sort of reaction, but floundered under Amanda’s interrogation. He had to be resolute, he kept telling himself, this had to stop. His steadfastness led to the worst argument they’d ever had and, unsurprisingly, he’d ended up seeking sanctuary at Cassey’s.

      “You did what?” If he’d expected support, love and understanding about his decision to give the jumper away, he realised with a sinking feeling, he wasn’t going to find it here. There was no argument as such with Cassey, just a series of perplexed silences. He slept on the sofa and resolved to make things up with Amanda as soon as he could.

      In hindsight he did his best not to imagine the scene that must have unfolded, but he couldn’t avoid it. It was obvious that both Cassey and Amanda had taken actions into their own hands, so disturbed were they at the loss of their most treasured garment. If only I’d said ‘charity shop’ things might have been different, Jim thought forcing the car in front of him to move out of the fast lane. But no. He had said ‘Oxfam’ and that’s where both girls must have headed during their lunch breaks. He imagined them arriving at the door simultaneously, both courteous and full of embarrassed half smiles as they insisted the other go first. It was only as they related what they thought was their individual story to the two smiling old ladies on the cash desk that realisation started to materialise like the swelling of an ominous and particularly dark thunder cloud.

      He pictured them staring at each other in utter disbelief while one of the old ladies shuffled off to see if the pullover had been sold. She returned as fast as her aged gait would allow, folding Jim’s jumper as she returned. The two younger women stood statuesque, caught in a stunned silence that was eventually broken by the old lady saying, “Is this your jumper?”

      Amanda and Cassey both glanced at the garment and whispered, “yes”.

      Jim noticed that Cassey hadn’t returned from lunch and asked her manager where she’d gone. Phoned in sick she had said explaining, at some length, that the poor girl had been feeling out of sorts all morning and things had taken a turn for the worse over lunch. He felt a pang of guilt, an occluded sense of responsibility and went back to his desk and a protracted afternoon planning how he’d resolve things with Amanda.

      Something – call it presentiment, call it intuition – vaguely alerted Jim to his fate as he turned the wheel and drove towards his house. There was the distinct sensation that something was off kilter with the whole scene rolling towards him. A cat ran away in fear as soon as it saw his car. The youths on the corner paused mid drag on their cigarettes to stare at him. And then, there was his house. Amanda’s patrol car parked on the drive, Amanda herself – still in uniform – talking to a woman on the doorstep. A woman who turned to gaze straight at him. A woman who looked exactly like Cassey. Jim froze, the car crawling along under its own volition, the two women still staring, his old jumper clutched in Cassey’s hands. His heart raced and his throat constricted as his foot unconsciously stabbed down upon the accelerator.

      The fast lane was solid with cars, so Jim deftly switched to the less congested slow carriageway. He snatched a glance in the rear view mirror and blinked hard at the revolving blue lights that strobed back at him. There was the roar of a supercharged engine and the police car pulled alongside. The window was wound down and the glowering faces of Cassey and Amanda glared back at him.

      Even above the whistle of the wind Jim distinctly heard them both shout, “PULL OVER!” Somewhere in his panicked brain he thought that maybe Cassey was still talking about the jumper but, deep down inside, he knew that Amanda meant something entirely different.