A Personal History of Knives, part II


Still a child, I used to play with a neighborhood boy a year older than me named Ronnie. He was like the proverbial “rough boy” mothers are supposed to warn their children against. But our mothers happened to be friends. I worshipped him for the same reason men used to worship their gods: out of propitiation: out of the fear that otherwise he might strike me down. For as far as I could see his principle passion in life was breaking things upon other things. Indoors he would beat cushions against the couch and the floor; at the pond he would throw the biggest rocks he could manage into the water; in the woods he would smash dead limbs against the trees. Also, he liked to hit me with things, or push me, or put me in headlocks. I never knew what he was so angry about. Nor could I understand why I was always eager to play with him.

One afternoon in summer, when the heat and the screaming insects somehow made time stagnate and become oppressive, he wanted to go in. My mother was outside gardening, picking weed or herbs.

“We’ll get a drink in your house,” Ronnie said.

“I’m not allowed in my house when no one is inside,” I protested, but I knew that it would make no difference. He was already walking around to the front door.

“We’ll only be inside a minute. Anyhow that doesn’t make sense. If no one is inside how are they supposed to know if you are inside?” He was going in my house without waiting for me; the screen door sprang back in my face. “Haha! My parents tell me I am not allowed in the house when they are inside,” he added.

When we got in the kitchen (which smelled sweet for a pot of meat sauce was simmering) he asked for a cup, but they were all in a cupboard neither of us could reach. I watched him push a chair over and climb onto the counter. “Which one?” he asked. But while I pointed out where the cups were he was already distracted. My mother had been chopping vegetables earlier and the big knife still lay on the cutting board near the sink, glistening. He picked it up. I immediately felt uneasy. “Ronnie . . .” I said, and he looked at me, but I was too afraid to tell him to put it down.

After studying the knife a minute he said, “watch this”. He lifted up his sweaty red shirt and held it up with his chin. Then with the thumb and index finger of his left hand he spread open his navel like he was holding open the heavy lids of a sleepy eye. As he drew the knife closer I watched a bead of tomato juice run down the blade and drip to the floor. For some reason I recall that image with great clarity.

“What are you doing?” I asked, and he started digging the tip of the knife around in his bellybutton, twisting it this way and that. And then suddenly I didn’t feel uneasy anymore, I felt good. I realized in an instant that I hated Ronnie. I knew this because I wanted very badly for him to fall. I wanted him to come crashing down upon the knife and break into many pieces. I had no concept of what I would find inside, but with satisfaction I imagined his soft belly splitting open like a waterballoon spilling strawberry jello everywhere. I wanted to push the knife in myself.

He pulled the knife out. “Ha, look at this!” he said, pointing the tip at me.

“I don’t see anything,” I said coldly.

“Look closer.” He was squatting, grinning at me like a Cheshire cat as he usually did before hurting me in some way. Contemptuously, I walked right up to where he could have sunk the point in my eye. “Look,” he said again, and I looked. There was a little ball of red lint impaled upon the tip. It was so stupid that I could no longer restrain myself.

“Put it down!” I cried, and slapped the knife from his hand, which went crashing to the floor. Still he had that terrible grin on his face, but his eyes looked different.

~ by Peter on March 15, 2008.

9 Responses to “A Personal History of Knives, part II”

  1. Wow. Powerful imagery here and lovely use of language. ~eyes big~

    Thanks for stopping by my place and you’re mucho welcome to come by anytime. I iz all about the goofing though — no high art at my place. uh-uh. ~smooches~

  2. I just read that Debussy quote in your sidebar for the first time. Brilliant, I’ll never forget it. But with that ringing in my mind it’s hard to write a comment, if you know what I mean, to quantify or attempt to explain the music in your writing and the way it is conjured from technically perfect prose, well, you know by now, that it stuns me, the delicacy and the control of tone, perfect,

  3. Hi Paul, I don’t know if anyone has ever mentioned this before to you, but you are a truly generous person. Not only have you faithfully read everything I have posted here, but I see your comments spread far and wide in WordPress giving encouragement and insightful criticism.

    Time is all we have, and you give yours. It is very much appreciated.

    The Debussy quote is great, isn’t it . . . one of my favorites.

  4. Reading your writing isn’t really generous, Peter, it’s pure selfindulgent pleasure.

  5. At the risk of breaking you and Ginga up temporarily, I’ve read both halves of “A Personal History of Knives” and while I can’t begin to out-express Paul, I will tell you that I find your prose both exotic and extremely well-written. Your ability to write in counter-point POV is worthy of any ‘edgy’ writer. Thanks for sharing some with us.

  6. This is excellent. The attention to detail is just enough and the dialogue is great – so many writers screw up dialogue and it kills the whole piece. Nice job. I look forward to reading a lot more.

    I have to ask though – what ever became of “Ronnie”? he’s a very interesting antagonist. I’d love to see him developed further.

  7. Broken Forum, thank you for your kind words. I find dialogue very difficult to write and therefore include it only when I have no other choice, it certainly can destroy a piece.

    I actually have another story involving Ronnie in mind. I am not sure when I will get to it, but once I post it I will let you know.

    Thank you for visiting, I hope to see you more.

  8. Wow. From one peter to another — copious applause. Excellent, excellent work: controlled, yet unexpected. And eerily true, almost unbearably so. As fine and precise as the tip of the knife in question.

  9. Thank you!

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