“The Knife”

An original story by Christine Emming

The first thing park kids notice about Will is the knife clipped to his pocket. Will’s knife came to him on his seventh birthday. Technically, this one isn’t that exact knife. He lost that first one hanging upside down on the monkey bars. It fell from his pocket into a mound of brown wood chips, and Will didn’t notice until he was halfway home. Tears were shed and angry words were spoken. Eventually this knife replaced the lost one, and he isn’t sad anymore because this one’s better. Sharper. Will picked it out himself from the knife store.

Before getting his own knife, Will used Mom’s. Sometimes with a lecture about safety. He was five and learning, he knew, but her worried cries jarred his concentration. He would ask to carry the knife and mostly she said no. He would steal it into his room and use it, hurriedly, before she noticed. Sometimes that led to using it too quickly.

“I want to carve things in wood,” he told Mom. “Which takes a different type of knife.”

Mom finally realized he was serious and his need to carve wasn’t going away. She sat Will down with a laptop. “Watch this video,” she told him, and started YouTube. The video taught knife safety: ways to cut deeply or slice more shallowly without catching the edge in his skin.

Mom ordered safety gloves and a carving knife with a wide, thick handle that perfectly fit his hand. For his sixth birthday, she gave him the gloves, carving knife and different types of wood chunks to carve. And she bought a large supply of band-aids and showed him how to clean a cut properly.

While he practiced carving, he had to wear the glove on his left hand, that was the rule. He also had to freeze if someone walked by. There was a “blood bubble” he had to respect in order to keep the knife. This lead to much yelling, by Will, at his sister. She was annoying!

When he headed into the woods, Will couldn’t bring the carving knife. Its blade didn’t retract, and Mom insisted it wasn’t safe. So he still had to carry Mom’s pocket knife to sharpen sticks in the forest with his friends, to throw at trees.

“Why can’t I have a knife?” he asked in what might have been a whine. Will was tired of using his mom’s stupid knife.

“When you’ve got the rules down, I’ll get you a knife,” she said.

The whole way home, he whined about it.

The next week, his annoying cousin wouldn’t get out of his room. She wouldn’t! He made his angriest face, yelled. It didn’t work. He showed her the knife blade. It might have been a threat. Of course, she tattled.

“This is serious,” Mom said when she came in. He’d cried and squeezed the knife in his fist, but she hugged him. “I know you scared yourself too,” she said. When he finally gave it to her, she took the knife away for a whole month.

It felt like part of himself was missing, having the knife gone. He wanted to jab pieces of wood. He felt like scraping the bark off sticks in the forest. Carving wood helped, because he still had the carving knife to use. He carved boats. He carved spoons and a ladle. But he still missed the reassuring weight of the pocket knife in his right pocket. He missed his friends asking him to cut rope or carve a spear tip.

“What are the rules?” Mom asked. She had the knife in her hand and Will stared at it greedily.

“No threatening. Don’t let anyone else use it. Clear the area,” Will answered.

“And slow down,” Mom said gently. “I don’t like to use the band-aids on you either.”

Will got angry plenty of times the next few months, but the back of his brain screamed “NO!” when he thought of holding up the knife. He used his fists to threaten instead and was often threatened in return.

The more he used the knife, the more carelessly he used it. His hands became covered with band-aids. Once he tried to cut through a piece of leather by holding it still. The knife stabbed through it and into the top of his foot. That was a bad one and the scar reminds him to put his things on a stable surface.

For his seventh birthday, Will couldn’t sleep for fear he wouldn’t get a knife. Maybe Mom forgot? Maybe she thought he could just use hers forever? His stomach clenched. He needed a knife of his own the way he’d never needed anything before.

Birthday morning arrived and there were large packages waiting on the counter beneath streamers and balloons. Too large to be knives. He ripped them open anyway. Legos. A file set for wood carving. Field hockey sticks. And then he noticed the smallest one. His heart heaved! It was a knife! A pocket knife with a carbon-steel blade, an orange grip top and a pocket loop. He changed out of pajamas into day clothes and set it in his right pocket immediately. He glowed with happiness.

Using his knife, he opened his Lego bags and got started making them. The rest of the day, and his party, blurred.

He had a knife! He showed it to everyone, even neighbors walking by with their dogs.

Alone, in his bedroom, Will occasionally used the knife to carve his furniture. He hadn’t meant to the first time. He was angry and sent in there for a time out. It was satisfying to slice his name into the bed frame. So satisfying that he tried it on the coffee table the next day. Then on the dresser. By the time his mom helped him tidy up on Friday, gauges riddled his furniture.

She held out her hand for the knife and simply walked away.

“When will I get it back?” he cried, following her.

“Don’t talk to me right now,” she said. She shut the door to her bedroom.

He waited outside the door for a while. When she took too long, he went back into his room and slammed the door. He looked at all the scratches and cut up parts of his furniture. All of it. Something sunk into the bottom of his stomach.

Will walked back to Mom’s room and sat with his back against her closed door. “I’m sorry,” he whispered into the crack of the door frame.

Eventually she came out and hugged him. In a week, he got his knife back with a new rule: “Respect the furniture!”

His name stands proudly on the wood of the treehouse, but that’s his own to carve. Mostly he follows the rules and he’s kept his knife for a year now. He’s eight.

Will visited a new playground and a boy pointed the knife out to his dad. The dad asked Mom if Will had a knife. He wore a worried face, but Mom didn’t. “Yes,” she winked at him. “Will’s very responsible.” His face burned, in a pleasant way, and he ran off to swing.

“For my next birthday,” Will told Mom on the way home, “I want a hatchet.”

© 2020 Christine Emming. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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