Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Knife

A strange senseless thing, Annette giving her that knife that night. Annette had barely had it for a month herself, it was a gift from Tom and Tom had gotten it from his younger brother Jules six months earlier. Where did Jules get it? A fascinating question beyond the scope of this particular exploration. It is only relevant to note that Jules had hardly looked at the knife during the time that it was in his possession, and Tom had only practiced opening and closing it before giving it to Annette. Why did Tom give the knife to Annette?
It was a very simple stainless steel blade that folded into a black handle, the sort of thing that could be purchased in a sporting goods store, or a gun shop, or even at an army surplus store. Tom personally had no practical use for a knife, his chief interests being theater, literature, theater, and other boys. Looking at the knife, several times, he had thought it could be used to slit his own wrists or to cut his chauvinistic father's throat while the sweaty old man slept, but he had sharp razors to do the first job and too much sensitivity to do the second.
Annette was tall and lean and had blonde hair that had been shorn irregularly by her own hand in a self destructive rage. She wore cut off blue jeans and polyester shirts found in the thrift stores of San Jacinto and Sun City, which as everyone knew was where senior citizens were sent to die in sardine cans with white quartz lawns. If you needed a gaudy polyester shirt, you were sure to find one there.
Tom gave Annette the knife because he hoped that she really did possess all of the conviction he lacked. If he said idly, bitterly, that they should climb to the rooftop of the theater department and spill bags of animal blood over the kids in the quad while shouting that it was Tom’s AIDS infected blood, Annette seemed to consider it a valid pursuit. Whether she really would have done it or not, Tom was never brave or desperate enough to find out. The two were engaged in perpetual games of intellectual chicken, and Annette rarely backed down.
She was very touched by the gift of the knife. It felt as if, for the first time in her life, she was being given power rather than having it taken away. One night after her parents had administered the usual dose of psychological abuse, Annette crawled behind her dresser and, using the knife, carved something like a poem into the soft pine.
Three nights later, after work at the cinema, Annette gave the knife to Lisa. They were sitting in Annette’s room on the white day bed with porcelain balls on the posts. Lisa explained that she planned to move to New York within the month to go to broadcasting school. Annette’s blue eyes grew wide with wonder and empathy as Lisa confessed her fear of that distant Metropolis in which she planned to meet or make her destiny. Annette retrieved the knife from behind the dresser and pressed it into Lisa's hand.
Lisa had only four fingers on her right hand. The middle finger had been cutoff at the knuckle by a rusty antique farm implement in the lot behind her parents' trailer. Both of her hands, her arms, her face, her entire body was covered with pale freckles. They littered her milky white skin like stars in the night sky viewed from a high place beyond the smog and light pollution of the Inland Empire. Her hair was shockingly orange and curly.
What did she feel as Annette pressed the knife into her hand? Did she feel the force of the desires of all the knife's previous owners, who, like her, dreamed in their own way of an end to this small suffocating world? A strange senseless thing, Annette giving her that knife that night. A small gesture in a chain of gestures, heavy with significance.

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