It wasn’t the knife or the way she held it that scared me, it was years of experience and the absentminded way it undercut her words, waiving it limply along like a conductor‘s baton on a broken wrist. ‘Did you lie to me because you’re an asshole or because you thought you’d get away with it?’ Neither, I say. A bad answer for a worse question. She had me backed into an actual corner. ‘So, what, you just did it for fun?’ I felt the absurd teeth of semantics closing on me and nearly laughed myself to death.
Sitting some metres away, two table lengths, it’s barely even interesting that they didn’t notice me cutting. They were discussing football, the oval kind. I used a new craft knife, not knowing how much pressure would apply depth to its sharpness scared me. I have often been meek in this way, tender beginnings with irresolute ends. If they had noticed I would have stopped because of them instead of myself. Funny how cowardice has strains, they called it yellow, differing shades. I wanted to see red and couldn’t commit. They kept talking about football, it was barely even interesting.
Jo’s standing in the kitchen with a paring knife and an expression of torpid decimation, not vacant but vacated. I call out his name and hear the inside of a seashell, the frightening hush of unmeasured depths. He doesn’t move while I slide the knife away, the stillness of it more dangerous than the blade and intrusive in a way that an incision could never be. I stand with him for a time, horrified and curious, enraged by my own inability and actively drawn into dark and quiet introspection. If someone calls out my name, what will they hear?
Every evening I slit my wrist and pull out the little failures. I am a party magician and their spool is never ending, it is the realest illusion in my life. They stream from me in ribbons of degraded earthen shades, bled terracotta soldier, and I use them to bind my unhappiness. Abraded clots in braided knots, woven tightly to the psyche. I keep my eyes open and try to see it all unfurl. When I fall asleep, I hold the knife to my throat and tell myself this will be the last time, I won’t be tricked again.
Often, when I’m home alone, I’ll go to the kitchen and take a knife from the block, the big one that looks like it was descended from Viking stock. I’ll take it to the bathroom, remove my clothes, and sit with it in the shower basin. Cross-legged with the flat upon my thigh, I use the nails of my free hand to map prospective incisions. I stay this way until I feel guilty for having wasted everybody’s time, time I should have spent on them. It doesn’t matter what I want, they still need so much from me.
I only show her a few times before she asks to have a go. The knife, so small in her hands, still drives deep, its cool flatness pressed into and parting the meat of my left flank. Our fingers cross upon its hilt as she tilts her chin to face me and then I see the sunset rolling its dusk across each iris. She says, ‘I thought there’d be more bleeding,’ before the light fades out completely. There, in the following night, starts some new fire. Burnt between us and sizzling in the air, a scorching promise to engulf.