Monday, December 22, 2014

#153" "Knife" by Ted Chiles

~This story was previously published in Permafrost (Summer 2008).

            John woke to pain. Not an explosion but an announcement between his shoulder blades. Have I slept on something? The remote?  He tried to roll over, but the pain spread down his back and across his shoulders. 
He was on his side facing the window.  He never slept in the middle. He always slept with his back to her side of the bed. Even after she left.
John tried to roll over again, but the pain returned. He rested and then slowly turned onto his stomach and slid off the end of the bed. It hurt to stand, but he found relief with his head bowed and shoulders slumped.
He walked to the door and flipped the switch to the ceiling light. No remote or book lay on the bed. But in the middle of what would have been a chalk outline of where he normally slept, he saw a stain – red going to brown.
It was probably a boil. He walked out of the bedroom and down the hall to the bathroom, thinking that a boil had formed and purged itself during the night. He switched on the lights and raised his head to the mirror. He seemed older, having left something of himself in the bed.
John neither liked nor disliked his appearance. He thought of himself as normal, and he was normal in the way that people from the Midwest don’t have accents. He filled peoples’ expectations.
John examined his back. He expected a hole. The remains of a boil.
Instead, he saw the knife.
It had a hilt and handle of polished metal about five inches. The hilt curled back on itself. Coiled ropes of steel textured the handle and gave it a vaguely medieval look. Not a noble blade worn openly, but a villain’s weapon.
Only a little blood flowed down his back.

            He tried to reach around and grasp the handle, perhaps pull it out, but the pain grew as the distance between his hand and the knife diminished. He felt his muscles contracting, and the knife responded. As John studied his reflection, pain came in waves– a low discomfort on the verge of explosion like a tooth nearly abscessed.
John had a knife in his back. He never thought it would happen to him.
His cousin Marsha had had a knife in her back. Fifteen years ago, shortly after his eleventh birthday. He saw it once at Thanksgiving. No one talked about her knife. His mother instructed him to ignore it, yet he couldn’t stop staring at the silver steak knife with the curved handle. All the rage in the previous decade’s wedding registry. John sat in the corner and pretended to watch the football game. But he kept looking at his cousin, and the way the knife caught the light. The reflection danced across the wall like Tinkerbell.
Marsha met his gaze, held it, and then broke. She dropped her hands between her legs, pulled her chin into her chest and folded in on herself. He couldn’t stop looking.
“John,” someone called.
He turned and saw his grandmother shaking her head. The rest of the family looked at him. He retreated to the basement. Being older, Marsha ate upstairs. When he ascended, she had left.
Marsha didn’t come for Christmas. That Easter he saw her without the knife. The family sat outside, and Marsha wore a sundress. John looked for a scar and saw a faint white line between her shoulders. She had changed. But if asked, he could not have explained how. In later years, he decided she became aware. Her movements guarded. Her eyes scanned the surrounding like a mother cat watching her young.
John called his doctor’s office and told them he had bled during the night and his back hurt.
“Is it a knife?” the nurse asked.
He hesitated before answering, “Yes.”
The doctor didn’t have an opening, but the nurse promised to work John in after 3:00 p.m. He called in sick and made a pot of coffee. The knife made sitting difficult. He had to tilt forward in his favorite chair, and so he chose a barstool. But it too felt uncomfortable. Finally, he stood at the counter with his breakfast and read the paper.
After he showered, John studied the knife with a shaving mirror, and wondered how to get a shirt over the handle. A man of habit, he always wore a white shirt with a blazer to work. He pulled the shirt over the knife, but the shirt barely buttoned. He searched his drawers for a sweatshirt. It fit better, but the bulge gave him a hump. He took off the sweatshirt and cut a slit in the back.
He knew driving to the doctor’s office would be a problem, so he decided to experiment with pillows. He took two, taped them together, and then cut a small hole in the middle for the knife.
John left a half hour earlier than usual because he wanted to drive carefully. He walked into the doctor’s office and signed in. The receptionist sat behind a glass partition like the drive-thru window at a fast food restaurant. The patient’s waiting room had three sides of chairs with a table and lamp in three corners. There had been an aquarium of tropical fish on the fourth wall by the entrance but a large potted plant, maybe a ficus, had replaced it. Having left his pillows in the car, he sat on the edge of the chair. The other patients glanced at his back but avoided his eyes.
A small child wearing a faded Speed Racer t-shirt pointed at him, “What is that thing on the man’s back?”
“It’s a knife, dear, but it isn’t polite to talk about it,” his mother said. “Never, never ask anyone about his knife. Now read your book.”
The child continued to look at John over the top of his book.
John read a travel magazine as patients came and went. The nurse called a middle-aged, blonde woman with a bandage on her arm. She rose and engaged the nurse in conversation. John returned to the magazine but sensed someone in front of him. The woman with the bandage stood before him.
“I have given you my appointment,” she said.
“No, thank you. That’s not necessary,” John said.
“I insist,” she said and returned to her seat.
“Mr. Heath,” the nurse called. 
John walked to the door held open by the nurse.
He looked at the woman with the bandage. She smiled at him. He mouthed a “thank you” and went in.
The nurse (her name “Nancy” embroidered on blue scrubs) weighed him, deducting five pounds for clothes and shoes and a half pound for the knife.
“Your temperature is fine, but your blood pressure is elevated. That’s expected with a knife,” she said and took him to an examination room and asked him to remove his sweatshirt.
“We need an x-ray,” she said.
Afterwards, he leaned against the side of the examination table waiting for Dr. Carr. John wondered why his cousin’s knife hadn’t been removed before Thanksgiving. But medicine had advanced. He tried to visualize the procedure and kept seeing a simple pull. The doctor came in with his x-rays. He clipped them to the lighted box and studied the pictures.
“It’s a knife, but you already know that,” Dr. Carr said.
“How bad is it?” John asked.
“It’s in pretty deep. The blade is about as long as the handle.” He showed John the x-ray with the blade tapering to be a fine point about five inches long.
“How do you remove it? Will I need surgery or can you do it in the office?”
“I can’t remove it.”
“Do I need to see a specialist?”
“No. There is no board specialization in knives. It is rare. One in 125,000 people will get a knife during their life. The patient has to wait until the body forms a scar around the knife. Then he can take it out himself.”
“But I can’t reach it.”
“It just seems that way. The pain prevents you, but when your tolerance increases, you’ll be able to extract the knife.
John thought about this. It made sense in the way we connect things.
“How long will that take?”
“It varies. Some people can take it out in a day or two. Others require longer.”
“Can I do anything to get it out sooner?”
The doctor closed his eyes for a minute, depressing and releasing the end of his pen in a steady rhythm before he spoke.
“A minority. A very small minority of doctors believes that finding the source will accelerate the healing though I don’t agree with that approach. You will know when it’s ready to come out.”
“Once the bleeding stops, you can take it out within three days.”
“The bleeding will stop, won’t it?”
The doctor removed his glasses cleaning them on the corner of his coat.
“Almost always. There have been rare cases when the person is never able to take the knife out. You don’t strike me as that type.”
Dr. Carr wrote a prescription for painkillers and told John to call if he had any more questions or if the bleeding didn’t diminish in a day or two.
John walked towards the door and turned to look at the doctor.
Dr. Carr shrugged his shoulders and opened his palms as if to catch raindrops.

John sat in his car studying the entrance to his local drug store. He opened the door, swung his feet outside, unbelted the pillows and stood up. The parking lot was full. John hoped that most of the cars belonged to customers at the new coffee house.
He walked into the drug store and saw three people in line and four more sitting in molded black plastic chairs linked with steel rods by the pharmacist’s counter. Why didn’t I have the doctor call it in? This is going to take forever.
        Angling his chest towards the chairs, he took his place in line. A young man looked up. He said to the older woman sitting next to him, “It’s a knife.” She looked at John and then shifted her gaze to her nails.
John felt the need to urinate.
“Are you dropping off or picking up?” the pharmacist asked.
John heard the words but couldn’t speak.
“Are you dropping off or picking up?”
“Sorry. I have a prescription I need filled,” John said.
The pharmacist held out his hand, and the three customers in front of him moved to the side. John handed the pharmacist his prescription.
“I can fill this right away if no one objects.”
They all signaled agreement with nods and murmurs.
“Take my seat,” the young man said.
He began to stand and offer his chair, but John raised his hand.
“I’m fine. It’s more comfortable standing.”
As he waited, the wound throbbed as if breathing.
The pharmacist returned with the pills and a printed set of instructions and precautions, put them in a bag and handed them to John. His arm had a tattoo of two anchors crossed like swords and an emblem covering their intersection. Hair obscured the writing on the emblem.
 “These are very strong,” he said.
John stood by the counter, and the other customers studiously ignored him while eavesdropping.
“You should use these sparingly. My experience is that people who use them daily don’t heal as quickly.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“The more pain you can handle, the quicker you heal. One prescription should suffice.”
“I’ll remember that.”
As John left, the young man said, “Take care.”
John paused and turned towards him, “You too.”
         When he walked into the house, it was too late to call his office. He had plenty of sick leave but wasn’t sure if the company policy covered knives. After putting a frozen dinner of macaroni and cheese into the microwave, he went to the bedroom to change the sheets. Later, he undressed, tied the pillows to his back, lay down and waited for sleep. The painkillers helped.
In the morning he woke from a dream. John detested his dreams and never wrote them down or discussed them with anyone. They usually evaporated like water thrown into a skillet to test the heat, but today an image of his bed with two chalk outlines lingered – his to the left and Wendy’s to the right, each with a stain. The outlines resembled a butterfly in their symmetry. His head was turned away from hers and hers away from his.
John took the pillows off and headed for the kitchen. After he made coffee, he called the office and explained the situation to his boss, Mr. Williams. He expressed his concern for John’s condition, but John suspected Mr. Williams was just being careful since the knife could be a disability issue. He instructed John to call Human Resources.
“Sick leave is unavailable,” said the Human Resource person.
“Because a knife can be classified as a self-inflicted injury.”
“I thought knives were covered under the Disability Act.”
“That’s still in the courts.”
“Can I take a personal day?”
“Let me check.” John listened to the sound of fingers on a keyboard.         “Yes. You have accumulated eight personal days.”
          He disconnected and called Mr. Williams. John said he would take the next two days off, but to expect him on Monday. If the knife wasn’t gone, he could still function but would need a special chair.
“I think we have one in accounting,” said Mr. Williams.
John hung up and went into the bathroom. He inspected the wound. There was still a steady trickle of blood. The swelling had lessened as his flesh began to acclimate.
The phone rang Thursday night, but John didn’t answer. He had the knife and didn’t want to talk to anyone and knew he didn’t have to since he had the knife.
Friday and Saturday were spent at home mostly watching videos, mainly thrillers, although he finished with a few romantic comedies. No one called him, and he didn’t call anyone except a pizza place that delivered. Sunday John drank more than usual and later called Wendy.
John and Wendy had been a couple. The kind of couple people expected to be together. If you met them at a party and were the type of person who thinks that you know things, you would have steered them toward each other. And everybody else who saw them together would have said, “I knew that was going happen” or “Isn’t that just perfect? They fit.” Some would take credit and eventually forget that they had nothing to do with the coupling.
John and Wendy seemed almost twins. There are reasons for clichés. Opposites have different edges and can fit into each other. John and Wendy couldn’t. They were so alike that what they hated in themselves they sensed in each other. Both lacked the imagination to understand any choice other than their own and stated opinions with the authority of extensive research. They thought their taste impeccable, and each secretly believed if the other chose first that choice must be inherently flawed. John and Wendy acted out these beliefs, criticizing each other until the break up became inevitable. Those who had not claimed to put the perfect couple together now seemed wise.
John dialed Wendy’s number. The answering machine picked up on the third ring. John hung up. The third ring. She couldn’t walk into the kitchen in three rings, or so he imagined. He had never seen her new apartment. I bet she’s just sitting there, monitoring the phone. At least she doesn’t know it’s me. John had blocked his number from caller id.
He dialed again and repeated the process.
An hour and two drinks later, he called again. This time he left a message.
“Wendy, it’s John. I need to talk…. Are you there? … Wendy, I woke up with a knife. Call me.”
Monday morning John lay on his side and watched the digital alarm clock. Its numbers were formed by two squares with a common link – the bottom of the top square and the top of the bottom square.  His old clock was pre-digital without hands. Its numbers hinged in the middle, and each minute the top would fall and cover the bottom. The passage of time looked more definitive then. Concealing the past, not altering it.
John waited for the eight to lose its lower left side and then turned off the alarm. Could he reach the knife today? He had tried to reach it several times Sunday and could never touch it. The pain rose in waves of jagged heat with each attempt. Even with the painkillers. And the alcohol.
John got out of bed and unbelted his pillows. No knife lay atop the sheets. In the bathroom he held the mirror to view the knife. Still there. In the kitchen the number on his answering machine displayed a rectangle, the middle bar invisible. John picked up the phone but put it down again. He had already used four personal days.
When he got to work, the special chair had been moved to his office. A regular office chair except that the back could be adjusted by removing sections. John detached two from the middle and sat down. He wore, as always, a white shirt and blazer, having altered them over the weekend. He leaned back and, for the first time since Wednesday, felt comfortable.
Jill, his secretary, had left several contracts for review. John worked in the compliance department and was responsible for monitoring the performance of supplier contracts. Sara, a coworker dressed in black as she always did, told him how she had followed up with his client on Friday. Problem settled.  Bill, from accounting, brought him a cup of coffee. He and Bill barely spoke since he had overheard John criticizing his tie (a paisley affair that resembled tadpoles performing unnatural acts).
Later that afternoon, John asked Jill for the rest of his current contracts.
“Mr. Williams and I worked through them on Friday. We wanted you to have a light day today.”
John thanked her and went back to his desk. He found a Danish and a new cup of coffee.
When John got home, the light on his answering machine had formed a one. He pushed the play button.
“Call received at 4:30 p.m. John, hi. It’s Wendy… Sorry to hear about your problem. Let me know if there is anything I can do… I’m going out of town on business. I’ll call later in the week.”

            John looked across the office at his coworkers, rinsing coffee cups, shutting down computers, aligning stacks of papers before they queued up at the elevators. Friday’s migration had begun. Some would land at Happy Hour, others home. John reread the pink memo from Mr. Williams. Need your review of the Case contract ASAP.
            John focused on the delivery schedules, comparing them to the firm’s expected sales. A possible problem appeared in the third month of the contract. John heard breathing above the ambient noise, and then he sensed pressure on the knife. Pain ran down his back, slowed and receded. The pressure came again, not an assault or a glancing blow but a sudden addition of weight, almost as if a small bird had settled on the knife. He felt dampness in the small of his back. The pressure returned, and this time he welcomed it with a moan. The dampness spread to his groin. The pain softened.
John took a deep breath and waited, perhaps a minute and then swiveled his chair. Sara stood behind him. A blush colored her neck.
            “I just wanted to say have a good weekend,” she said.
            “Thank-you,” John said.
            Sara turned, and John thought about asking her if she wanted to get a drink or why? Instead, he watched her figure encased in black walk to the elevator. She didn’t turn around, even as the doors closed.

            Sunday, John called Marsha’s number. He hadn’t seen her since their grandmother died twelve years ago. The family couldn’t gather a reason. According to John’s mother, Marsha had married and moved into the city several years ago.
            John didn’t tell his parents about the knife. He had thought of several plausible reasons why he needed to contact Marsha. His mother did not ask why he wanted her number. Just told him to say hello.
A male voice answered the phone on the sixth ring.
            “Hi. I’m John. Marsha’s cousin. Is she home?”
            “I’m Brad. Her husband. You weren’t at the wedding”
“No, I live on the West coast.”
“What do you need to talk to her about?”
“It’s personal.”
Brad made a noise like a snort and waited.
 “I need to ask her about when she had a knife.”
Silence. Then Brad said, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“The knife she had when she was sixteen.”
“Like hell she did.”
John hung up, closed his eyes and leaned into the wall by the base of his cordless phone. The phone rang. The knife throbbed. John counted eight rings until the answering machine picked up. He opened his eyes and pushed the volume button until Brad’s voice disappeared.

Each day for the next week, John woke, took off the pillows and went to the bathroom to inspect his back. He thought the bleeding had slowed but as with weight it is hard to tell by looking. One day your pants simply don’t fit. And John was surprised, even though he shouldn’t have been, when he realized that all the sympathy had dried up. No one brought him coffee that day, and he couldn’t remember the last day they had. People were also staring. Not that they hadn’t always looked at the knife, but now he noticed because they made no effort to mask their interest.

John walked into the drugstore and blessed his luck. The pharmacy was open, not a customer in sight, and he had called in his refill. He stood in front of the counter and waited. The pharmacist raised his head and then resumed filling the prescription he was working on. When he finished, he stepped down from the raised platform.
“Mr. Heath, how can I help you?”
“I phoned in a refill.”
“Your prescription cannot be refilled.”
“Why?” John asked and pulled the bottle from his pocket. He examined it and then extended his arm, thrusting the bottle towards the pharmacist, “I have a refill.”
“But you should have several pills left. I cannot refill the prescription for another three days.” The pharmacist then leaned forward, “Have you been overdosing?”
“No. I dropped the bottle in the sink, and a couple of pills fell out and down the drain.”
“I will have to consult your physician.”
John waited at the counter as the pharmacist called the doctor. He could not hear the conversation until the pharmacist became agitated.
“But don’t you think you’re coddling him. It has been over three weeks.” The pharmacist paused, then added, “ I understand. Yes. Thank-you.” He turned toward John. “Your doctor has agreed to let you refill the prescription early,” he said and placed John’s bottle on the desk and went back to the work on the counter.
“How long will it take?”
“About an hour.”
John slowly turned away from the counter and saw that a small crowd had gathered. He decided to wait at the new coffee house.
The girl at the counter was studying a computer printout when he entered, and it took a minute before she sensed his presence.
“I’m sorry. The inventory is off, and I can’t figure it out,” she said.
“Could I have a small coffee, please?”
She poured him the coffee and accepted his money. But when John turned and walked towards the table, he heard the sharp intake of her breath. His step slowed, but he proceeded to search for a chair with a low back. When he couldn’t find one, he turned a normal chair to thirty degrees, sat and started to read the newspaper left on the table.
John looked up and saw the counter girl standing with a scone on a white plate. She handed it to him.
“I didn’t order this.”
“My treat. I hope you get better soon.”

The next morning, John drove past his regular laundry and stopped by one closer to work. He had only altered four shirts and two blazers. The man at the counter promised to give his shirts special attention. Later that day he tried a different branch of his bank and then a new grocery. He felt better about things that night.
       Sunday John walked into the church and sat in the back row on the edge of the pew along the nave. He leaned forward, resting his forearms. No one joined him. The organist played Bach as the parishioners streamed in, filling only half the seats. The congregation spaced themselves as people do in a movie theatre. The first claimed the end of the rows and stood with reluctance when someone wished to sit in the middle. John studied the altar but listened for gasps and murmurs. He wondered if these people would pray for him. The organ music lifted, signaling the processional. John stood and turned toward the minister, who indicated his awareness with a nod.
In the back of the church stood two men wearing corsages and holding programs. The man to the right was Bill, who worked in accounting, and he was wearing the paisley tie. John watched as Bill spoke to the other man who then turned and stared at him.
The priest intoned, “Please be seated,” as John withdrew.

John was on his second drink when Wendy called. He didn’t pick-up. John could tell she was drunk. Not that her voice slurred, but it had taken on a slower cadence and more volume.
As he lay in bed, her message repeated itself as if on a continuous loop. “I had nothing to do with it, John. I don’t hate you. I don’t really think about you.”

That Monday John didn’t see blood in the shower. The wound had stopped bleeding as predicted. He reached around but didn’t touch the knife.
Later that day, Mr. Williams called him into his office, decorated with prints of ducks in flight, decoys and two small figurines of a hunter with a gun at his shoulder and a golden retriever tense, at ready.
Mr. Williams didn’t ask John to sit down.
“I want to get right to the point,” he said. “The staff doesn’t feel you’re trying. Most people don’t take this long to get a knife out.”
John explained how each case was unique. That he had tried to take the knife out, but the intensity of the pain prevented him. His knife was just taking longer. He didn’t tell Mr. Williams that the blood had stopped flowing.  His boss, unmoved, ended the discussion with a shake of his head. And this was not unexpected because John knew that people blame the sick for it is not their fault, then everyone’s at risk.
Later that day in the bathroom, John found a sign hanging from the handle of the knife, “Just Give Me A Tug.”

Thursday night, he walked into the support group. The seats were arranged in a circle with low-backed chairs. A few people were sitting, while others stood next to a refreshment table. Everybody had a knife. There were paring and steak knifes, daggers, a switchblade, four chef knives and what looked to be a small Japanese sword.
“Are you new?”
John turned and saw a tall woman with long black hair dressed in a tight white top. Her face appeared passive only a slight bulge of her jaw hinted pain and control. John imagined he could hear the grinding of her teeth.
“Yes. This is my first meeting.”
“How long have you had your knife?”
“About a month,” he answered. “You?”
“I’ve had mine for six months,” she said turning her back to him. John expected her to lift her hair because it was long enough to cover the knife. She didn’t have to. Her hair had been cut in a concave arc over the handle.
         Her knife was a sashimi. He had seen the type used in sushi bars. A small red stain, almost a perfect circle, adorned her shirt.
She turned back to John and waited a moment before she asked, “May I?”
He offered her a view of his.
“That’s an unusual one. Do you know what it’s called?”
        “No, I haven’t been able to find it.”
         “Did you try the Internet?”
“Your wound isn’t bleeding?” she asked.
          John turned to face her and said, “It sometimes stops. But then it starts again.”
She didn’t respond, but John felt it wasn’t because she didn’t want to. It was the choice of the words that hindered her. Then someone said, “Let’s get started,” and she turned and walked towards the chairs. Her hair swung side to side against the handle of the knife. John followed and sat across from her and the other eleven people.
           A short man, the one with the Japanese sword, greeted everyone and asked who was new. John raised his hand. The man welcomed him, introducing himself as Ken, and asked John his name, first only.
“Welcome, John. The meeting is run on a voluntary basis. Someone offers to tell us about their week and asks for suggestions with problems, or anything at all. We then move clockwise to the next person. You can always pass if you don’t want to talk. Any questions? Who wants to start?”
A man with a chef’s knife raised his hand. He sat at two o’clock, John at four o’clock.
“My name is Pat. I just had my anniversary. Last Tuesday. It’s been a hard year, especially the last couple of months. My family kept after me. The doctor told my wife the knife would never come out if it stayed in a year.
“How do you feel about that Pat?” asked the woman with the sashimi.
“It’s kind of peaceful knowing the outcome. Accepting it.”
            The group murmured words of encouragement and disparaging comments about Pat’s relatives. He nodded and wiped his eyes.
            The young woman with the paring knife said, “Pass.”
            “Are you ever going to say anything,” asked the woman with the sashimi.
            “She doesn’t have to Lisa,” Ken said.
             “But she just comes and listens. I bet you always hid in the back of the class.”
            “That’s enough. Let’s move on.”
            The group collected its attention and turned it toward John.
            John began his story, recounting the shock of waking with the knife and how that discovery was followed by waves of attention and kindness. But now the tide had receded. He looked at the group. Hoping.
            “His wound isn’t bleeding,” Lisa said.
The group began to toss questions, “Is it bandaged?” “When did it stop?” “Is it a real knife?” Ken finally quieted them down.
“John, how long it has been?” Ken asked
“It hasn’t bled for four days.”
“Then you don’t really belong here. Do you?” Lisa said.
Ken shook his head. He looked sad. The woman with the paring knife studied her shoes. Pat sat tense as if he was about to stand.
No one said anything.

That night John opened his eyes to the three on his alarm clock. He slid off the bed and walked to the bathroom. When he returned, the knife was on the bed where the stain had been. He removed the pillows and picked up the knife, placing it on the nightstand. He then lay down on his back for the first time in over a month. It felt good. Sometime later, he rolled onto his side in the middle of the bed.
In the morning he was still in the middle of the bed on his side, facing Wendy’s way.
John carried the knife into the kitchen lay it on the table. While the coffee was dripping, he went to the bathroom and examined his back. There was still a small hole surrounded by swelling. But the size was less than he expected. He regarded it while waiting for the coffee to finish.
He poured himself a cup and got a jar of polish and a rag from under the sink. It was round with a small circular sponge. He wet the sponge and began to work the polish onto the knife. The polish covered the blade with a dull blue sheen. He then rubbed the knife with the rag. John reversed his hold and held the knife by the blade as he polished the handle. The water stains came off easily, and the metal handle began to glisten under the overhead light. When he was done, he rinsed the sponge and returned the rag and polish under the sink.
He picked up the knife. The blade tapered, not in straight lines, but with two curves that gave the point an unexpected thinness.
It felt good in his hand.


“Knife” was written after someone had done me wrong. I found that I was carrying around this injustice like a treasure to show everybody. I was in love with my status of a victim. Writing “Knife” helped me purge this behavior. The story went through many revisions, but the essential narrative never changed.
            The most important craft lesson learned in the story, as in most magical realism, is that the magical element is never discussed or interpreted. The meaning of John’s knife is found in how this magical element fits into the world.

Ted Chiles, a graduate of the Spalding University MFA program in fiction, has published short stories and flash fiction in a variety of literary journals including Canteenn, Vestal Review, and Smokelong Quarterly. In his former life, he taught economics, the most dramatic of the Social Sciences. He lives in Santa Barbara, California with a writer and two cats and is also the proud father of two adopted avocado trees. His first novella, An Unimportant Boy, is out in the world searching for a home.

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