Knife Stories - A Trilogy
1. MY FATHER’S HANDS
My father comes to my thoughts in many ways; some good and sadly many bad. In the middle of it all rests a huge question mark, why?
I remember clearly my father’s hands; cracked and chapped from the unrelenting manual work which was his lot, either in his day job or as a part of the day-to-day DIY or car maintenance of home life.
Studying his hands was a distraction during the irregular brutal haircuts which made me feel vulnerable on returning to school in my newly shorn condition; magnificently unfashionable and left to the tender mercies of the school bullies.
I remember him holding my head to stop me fidgeting on the chair as the shears came too close for comfort to my ear, or heavy-handedly entrenched themselves in soft child scalp.
I can still see the dry skin as it broke around the lines on his palms and smell the scent of the lubricating oil he so lovingly applied to the shears before each haircutting session; a sign of the craftsman-like pride in his work.
I remember those hands also as they took the strap to us and often, too often, mercilessly beat us.
But the memory that seems almost out of place with all the rest is that of the long fingernail on his right little which he kept especially long so that he could clean his ears, this being long before the advent of Q-tips and the like. As a requirement of this meticulous cleaning process he kept a small penknife, around two and a half inches long with which he would clean each nail, in turn.
I never saw him use the knife for any other purpose.
I do not remember seeing the knife again after his death but somehow feel that it was an integral part of him; a show of pride when, in fact, he was a man trapped and seemingly emasculated by circumstances.
2 EQUAL RIGHTS
The girl held them at bay; snarling and thrusting the knife at anyone she thought close enough to present a danger.
Jake, like the rest, held his place looking for an opening to disarm and capture her. A peculiar dance which, but for the knife and the air of pendant danger, might have resembled a courting or mating ritual. However, this was more serious.
The girl, who was the centre of our attention, had only moments before robbed the box office by threatening one of the girls at knife point, after following her into the toilets.
One of the other bouncers had seen the money being taken and the rest of the security team had been alerted and secured all the exit points. Jake was on the front door and that was the exit our female desperado chose. The doormen closed on her and she produced the knife; slashing, screaming obscenities and warning them to get out of her way.
Jake experienced an amazing adrenalin rush and the thought that someone might die here or at least be seriously hurt but this he felt was, after all, what men do.
There was never any question that she would be allowed to leave with the money as the event had been arranged to raise money for a friend’s legal representation after a serious drug bust, so they danced their macabre dance.
The impasse was only broken when Mo, one of the more experienced guys, arrived and nonchalantly walked through the ring of dancing suitors and landed a perfect right on the girls jaw. She dropped and the knife dropped; game over.
The doormen had had enough problems with the police so, after she had regained consciousness, they let her go – which turned out to be a big mistake as we then had to fight a running battle with twenty estate kids heaving bricks and bottles until Mo decided he had had enough. He found an iron bar about twenty inches long and chased them down the road with the intention of doing them some serious hurt.
He returned around half an hour later, minus the iron bar but unscathed. Jake thanked him for his help. Mo gave him a disdainful look and spat his reply, ‘Fucking grammar school kids! Don’t want to hit a girl! Arseholes!’
Jake promised himself that day that if anyone ever pulled a knife on him again regardless of age, gender or anything, he would make them wear it.
You have been warned.
“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. “
The knife was beautiful, Jake thought. It had no function or place in his life but it was beautiful and he wanted it. He stared at it for a long time and took the catalogue home with him when his friend, Jon, offered it to him: he did not know why and he did not know what he would do next but it was beautiful and he was smitten.
He kept the booklet on the dining table, open to the same page, for five or six months occasionally pausing to stare at this wonder and breath in its dazzling loveliness, but each time he put away the thought of owning it for he knew it made no sense in his life: it was illogical and it had no place.
Then one day he made a decision to end his masochistic ritual: buy it or throw the book away he decided. So he bought it. The order was placed via the internet, after a few attempts to negotiate the German website and then he waited.
The first attempt at delivery failed as he was out when the postman called and a signature was required for receipt and this only served to increase his desire for his new treasure. The second delivery was successful and he decided to leave the package unopened until the evening so that he could take time to savour his new acquisition.
The day passed slowly and on his return home he ate and did his chores before sitting down and opening the package with great reverence: first the padded Jiffy bag, then the outer plastic bag with the consignment note, which he carefully placed to the side. From inside he took a long thin blue box with printed kanji, Japanese characters on the outside. This he turned over and examined carefully before opening it to find his prize within another slim plastic bag.
There was a sense of anticlimax after waiting so long but it was nevertheless quite, quite beautiful. The folded sheet brass was inscribed on the one side with more kanji and the other with a sword wielding samurai warrior with his right arm raised in salute or readiness to attack. The knife was the product of more than a century of craftsmanship and it called to him through time down to place in his primitive soul.
A small lever allowed the steel blade to separate from its hammered brass surround and as it came free it caught the flickering rays of the sun and cascaded them around his living room. The five inch, razor sharp, carbon steel blade bore two more kanji at the base of the blade, near the hinge He sat in silence and awe of his purchase and at last it came: he now knew why he had bought it and what he would do with it.
He replaced the knife in its box and carefully tidied away the wrappings, separating it into recyclables and non recyclables; checked that the flat was cleaned to his satisfaction and then took a shower. He carefully dried himself, tidied the bathroom and dressed himself in a long white flowing robe he had bought many years ago in North Africa: it wasn’t quite right but he knew that under the circumstances it would be more than sufficient.
Returning to the living room, he chose his spot on the floor and, taking the knife; he knelt. He carefully removed the knife from the box and realised he would have to rise again to sort and recycle the packaging. It was a mild annoyance but would not change anything, he thought.
After, tidying away the packing he opened the living room blinds and resumed his kneeling position on the floor. He opened the knife and held it up to the fast decaying sunlight as if saluting the dying day.
‘This is how men should die’, he said, ‘not ground down by industry’ and plunged the knife into the left of his abdomen.
Surprised, he stopped and savoured the pain for a moment and felt the warm blood trickle across the back of his hand. He gasped and yanked the knife to the right, across his stomach. He was now breathless and elated: he was free.