Monday, November 17, 2014
Here is a truncated version of a second-person, experimental fiction piece I wrote a bit ago. Enjoy.
The first time you held a knife it felt good. The knife wasn’t one of those dull, butter knives that couldn’t slice through cold Jell-o, but the blade was as big as your forearm, and the reflection distorted your face.
You were eight years old, and it was your younger sister’s birthday. Your mother was busy slamming dishes and silently dispensing her anger on everyone, so you decided to try to cut the ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. It was a lovely cake with a layer of vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream, separated with the mysterious and crunchy layer of cookie bits. The icing had pink and purple flowers around “Happy Birthday,” which was written in a blue gel icing. Your face probably showed some of the excitement that you felt when you held the long knife, but your mother looked at you in her glaring passive-aggressive way that could slice through a misdeed and make even your father pause mid-gulp of whiskey, and she assumed that the excitement she saw in your face was fear. “Be careful,” she told you as you sliced into the frozen layers of ice cream, but you were not afraid. You knew that a knife was supposed to make you afraid by how sharp it was and how easy it would be to cut your cat’s tail off or to slit your baby sister’s throat.
Your eyes glistened a little. You didn’t do any of the bad things that you thought about because you would get in trouble and these thoughts weren’t right, but you did trace your fingertip along the edge of the ice cream-coated blade, slicing a small line in the fleshy part of your finger as if it were a piece of raw chicken. You put your finger in your mouth, savoring the amalgamation of the salty blood mixing with the creamy ice cream that oozed into your mouth.
Your mom thought that you cut your finger on accident. She yelled at your father, blaming him as if he had cut your finger.
That was when you were eight. You have probably matured and grown since then, but really, you have only learned that people do not feel this odd excitement whenever they hold a knife. You still feel a tingling intensity whenever you hold a knife as if it is a powerful wand that can determine the future.
Since that time when you were eight, you have disguised this fascination behind a love of cooking. Dicing apples and carrots does not excite you in the same way that slicing the fat off a chicken breast does. When you hold large knives and slice into the flesh of some poultry or fish, you hide the shiver that runs down your spine.
Regular people must not think this way, but sometimes, you suspect that everyone feels this bit of arousal in the separation of flesh. Everyone must feel this ticklish feeling on the back of their necks and in the depths of their groins, but like you, they must hide these feelings to stay out of trouble.
One morning, you get up before your alarm clock rings. This is a bizarre occurrence. Normally, sleep is a strange cloud in which you can hide, buried under covers and past the snooze button, but this bright morning in early May fills you with a non-pathos enthusiasm as you stand in front of your open window. The air soothes your skin, promising something… something. You can feel excitement in the air, but the sensation from the fresh cool air may only be the oxygen rushing to your nerve endings or the pollen starting to clog you sinuses. Whatever it is, it feels good.
While you are getting dressed and putting on the reddish mascara that makes your eyes look larger and greener than usual, you listen to the early morning news. Caroline, the reporter from the local Minneapolis news station that you listen to, reports the fourth burglary of the year at the Super America down the street from your apartment, and this makes you feel like laughing. What a lovely excuse to carry a knife.
You reach into the top drawer of your dresser, reaching to the back of the drawer where you have hidden your favorite knife. It is a lovely cimeter knife with a slightly curved blade and a rosewood handle. The nine-inch blade looks like a gently sloping fan blade, but because you sharpen it nearly every day, it cuts through flesh like the meat wants to be separated, begging to be divided into more pieces. The meat never resists, the sound is a beautiful and clean “shh,” and when you hold it, the knife makes you feel strong.
You put the knife in the inside pocket of your jacket and leave your apartment.
Instead of taking the bus to work, you decide to walk along the streets of Minneapolis because it is only a two-mile walk and because you have extra time this morning. A small crushed squirrel lies in the gutter, and this makes you happy. The squirrel’s fur has been saturated and re-saturated with snow and rain, so now the animal looks like the remnants of a sloppy sand sculpture, collapsing into its own reality.
The snow piles have started to melt, leaving behind the gray piles of discarded road salt and cigarettes that have mixed into the icy slush through the winter. You like the ragged edges of the dirty snow piles because it shows a layered history of garbage like the geologists see in sedimentary rocks. This is so much more interesting than the bits of green grass that are beginning to appear in the brown patches between sidewalks and streets, but when people comment on how beautiful the new grass and the new buds on the trees are, you agree.
You call your boss to tell him that you will not be in work today. If you were a normal person, you might call it a mental health day or you might lie and say that you’re not feeling well. None of this occurs to you, and your boss doesn’t ask. You tell him that he can expect you tomorrow.
You wander the streets for about an hour, unconsciously meandering toward Coastal Seafoods. You decide to buy a nice steak of fresh tuna.
You have started taking sushi classes at Coastal Seafoods, primarily to have an excuse to be passionate about cutting raw meat. The other students seem to gain more pleasure in arranging and slicing the lopsided rolls of sushi that they prepare like misunderstood works of art, but you practice hiding the initial joy of cutting a piece of eel or salmon. The bright turquoise façade of Coastal Seafoods seems to mock the coastal shacks in Belize or New England rather than pay any sort of homage to them, and the wholesaler has a dozen display cases with pink salmon and gray shark flesh nestled amongst the artificial green grass that makes seafood seem more artificial. Damon, the owner of Coastal Seafoods, always weighs the fish for you, and when he prepares the fresh tuna or walleye or whatever, the meat separates in a strangely sensuous display, like a bloom opening into a flower.
Damon is at the counter, smiling his smooth, cleanly shaven face at you. He looks young enough that he might grab a backpack and run off to a class at the U of M, but he calmly moves around the fresh meat, oblivious to the sensuality of the bare flesh. You stare at the television behind Damon, focusing on something other than your anticipation to have the raw meat. The television sits on a stack of discarded crates behind Damon, and the newswoman is muttering a morning traffic report. You recognize the newswoman—Caroline—and she smiles this broad grin that includes teeth that are too big for her face and cheekbones that are too pronounced to be healthy.
A morning traffic report distracts you from the raw fish. Construction on I-35 is still messing up any semblance of a traffic pattern in the city. When Damon sees that you are watching the news report, he says, “Stupid yuppies. Better to take public transportation.” You agree, and you are grateful for a distracting topic while you order a half-pound of tuna.
Damon carefully wraps the meat in brown paper and drops the clump unceremoniously into a white plastic bag with red “thank yous” all over it. You pay for the fish and reach to touch the bag gently. As you lift the plastic bag, your fingers stroke the brown paper, and through the rough wrapping, the meat feels so tender and soft.
When you stop at the Super America gas station on the corner of Nicollet and Lyndale, you are not surprised to see the cashier behind a shield of bulletproof glass. You wonder if the glass would protect the man if a suicide bomber blew himself up in the store. You wonder if a piece of broken glass could slice open the cashier’s unusually fleshy cheek.
You pick out some beef jerky even though this isn’t as tender and soft as the fresh tuna in your bag, but it will suffice as a snack until you can prepare the tuna. You decide that you will buy some cigarettes today, but you don’t really know why you would smoke a cigarette now. You haven’t smoked many cigarettes since you snuck out behind your high school and smoked to see if you would get in trouble—this, you realized at that time, is quite normal for teenagers to do. You need to buy a lighter, too, because the attendant will charge fifty cents for a book of matches. You would rather have a lighter anyway, so you pick out a cheap Bic lighter that is translucently orange.
You are not really surprised when a man comes through the door—he is wearing a black mask that reminds you of the Zorro movies. The man has a gun, which you find distasteful and impersonal as a weapon, and he grabs you from behind, grabbing your shoulders. He pulls you close to his body with his left arm wrapped around your shoulders, and his right hand holds the gun against your throat. The man smells like cigarettes and lavender soap, and this unusual mix catches you off guard. His arms and chest feel strong.
You didn’t get a good look at the gun, so you imagine a large butcher knife against your throat while he yells at the clerk: “Give me the money or I blow off this bitch’s head.” The clerk picks up a phone and presumably starts to call the police. He must not be very concerned with your wellbeing and must not care if he gets blood on his bulletproof window.
“I’ll do it,” the robber says. “Right here in front of you.” Despite his threat, you can feel his resolution fail because he takes the gun away from your neck and touches the gun to your shoulder. His other arm relaxes, and you do not feel pinned against the man’s body. He doesn’t really want to blow open your head because he is probably more normal than you are, not wanting to take another person’s life and not wanting to go to jail. He probably doesn’t want to get blood all over his ski mask, and a dime bag and maybe rent money are the only things that he probably wants.
Maybe you could roll your eyes back and drop to the floor. Normal people would probably do this. You really want to quell the rising excitement in your chest and do what anyone else would do: freeze, scream, faint, or whatever. Any time that you have seen a woman on the news held at gunpoint, she screams and struggles, but she is ineffective at doing anything. You think that the best course of action probably involves acting like a helpless woman.
Instead, you pull the beautiful cimeter blade from your pocket and step back against the robber’s body and push his knife-wielding fist behind your head, up against his face in one clean move. You want to hear a pleasing “shh” as you slice the knife through his flesh. You want to hear the smooth separation of the meat and the spurting of the blood.
You don’t hear the “shh.” A weird gurgling noise comes from him, and you turn around to face him. He drops his gun to the ground with a loud thud and clatter. The knife is sticking out of his cheek. When he opens his mouth to scream, you can see the blade inside his mouth, lodged between the fleshy part of his cheek and the roof of his mouth. His scream comes out more like a choked sob.
This is not very satisfying. The handle of the bag of fresh tuna is still wrapped around your wrist. You wish that you had sliced his throat or drew a jagged mark across his check. You wish that the man is dead, and you wish that the package of beef jerky in your hands is not covered in blood. Something about this makes you hungry.
The burglar drops to the floor, and you don’t know what to do. The breech from normalcy is much more thorough that you had intended. You walk over to the bulletproof glass and slide a twenty into the rotating portal that protects the man from any of this violence.
“A pack of Camels, please. And this jerky. And the lighter.”
The clerk passes you the change and the cigarettes through the rotating window. He still has the telephone pinned between his shoulder and his cheek.
“The bastards have me on hold,” he says, pointing to the telephone.
Normal people would probably wait for the policemen to arrive. Regular people would probably feel sorry for the screaming man as he tenderly touches the handle of the knife and his face. Some people might even wait for the newscasters to arrive.
“Have a nice day,” you tell the attendant, and you go outside.
You stop outside the door, tipping your face up to the warm sunshine. You slap the pack of cigarettes on the palm of your hand and take out a cigarette. You light the cigarette and are surprised at how good and refreshed you feel. You feel like you have just come out into a bright sunny afternoon after watching a matinee or like you just had a facial or something.