As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Jamie Figueroa — Fiction

JUGGLING KNIVES

When your fiancé comes home with a new set of kitchen knives, an early wedding gift from your soon to be mother-n-law, he tells you to be careful they’re sharp. You give him the look, a controlled smirk that reads “idiot” without having to say a word. You’re trying to be respectful unlike your own mother who used to tell your father on a number of occasions what a stupid asshole he was, while you and your sister peered out from behind biology and alegra books at the dining room table, or from the back seat of the family car, a Ford Taurus with perpetually bad brakes. You nod to your fiancé with one eyebrow bent, nostrils flared, and finish the dishes. He unwraps each knife delicately, holding the various blades up to the light with such grace that you’re reminded of one more thing to scribble down on the Why I Should Go Through With This list.

After you’ve finished putting away the last of the dinner dishes, you pick up the largest knife. You imagine this is the kind of knife used for cutting the heads off chickens or splitting watermelons and you run your thumb across it, like you’ve seen your father do, to test the sharpness. You cut off your right thumb almost entirely. At the sight of your blood dripping onto the glossy linoleum floor, your soon-to-be-husband snatches the damp dishtowel from the oven door and clamps down on your hand, yipping, “I can’t believe you!” He shovels you into the car and drives faster than a sixteen-year-old boy to the hospital.

In the E.R. he gives you the look. It’s the same look you gave him, not half an hour before. You know this will be one of the stories he will tell his entire family at dinner next Sunday. Everyone will hackle you. You can clearly imagine mashed potatoes and peas flying out of their mouths as they point at you, celebrating your misfortunate event of poor judgment. You mentally put this on the Why I Should Not Go Through With This list.

Your wedding is in two months. Unlike your sister, who planned hers for years, you’ve only been planning yours for three weeks. You remember how she made sure everything was perfect, right down to the shade of faux fresh water pearls that both peeked out of the center table arrangements, as well as accented the crown of her veil. So far, you have a shelter area reserved at your favorite metro park. Your best friend has agreed to cater from her family’s Mediterranean restaurant, Under The Olive Tree. You have, in the trunk of your car, two boxes of tea lights, and yesterday you decided canning jars stuffed with wildflowers would do perfectly for “the flowers.” You still haven’t heard back from Dr. Henry, your philosophy professor from college, who has not only the ability to teach, but also to legally wed couples. You can’t recall if she was supposed to go to Tanzania at some point this year or not. You hope she’ll be back in time so you won’t have to endure someone marrying you who is actually religious.

Why I Should Go Through With This:
1) On your first date, the one where you hiked a small section of the Appalachian Trail, he brought a bag of dried plums and de-pitted each one before placing it in your palm.
2) On winter mornings, he always scrapes the ice and snow from your car while you’re still warm and buried under layers of dreams.
3) He reads to you at night from novels, at least three inches thick, that you have chosen.

Why I Should Not Go Through With This:
1) When his mother makes fun of you, he puts on his awkward grin and says nothing.
2) He’s always hogging the only bathroom in the house.
3) He snores.

All of these arrangements could be easily dismantled. You could still get away. Far away. Tanzania, perhaps. A mirage of your sister appears before you. She is in her wedding dress, its many layers of tulle threatening to suffocate her. It’s just before the ceremony. She is strung out and desperate in an I-gave-this-my-every-last-breath sort of way which clearly now she regrets, a year and a half later, as they go through the divorce.

A nurse comes in and begins cleaning your thumb. Her name is Terry. She reeks of nicotine and peppermint. Part of her red hair is crispy like she put hairspray on it when it was still wet. Her fat curls and waves are cemented into place, and her nails are the fake kind, with one missing. You stare at the missing synthetic nail and think, I almost lost my thumb. Although you wouldn’t have lost your whole thumb, only the upper inch or two, which probably no one would have ever noticed anyway unless they were shameless about staring like you are right now with the nurse.

Your fiancé waits for you in the lobby. The smells of the ER are too much for his full stomach. Disinfectant failing at masking the sour stench of vomit and blood—both fresh and stale—and the funk and musk of bodies in peril. As he walks away, you notice his hair is grayer than it was this morning. You know if you marry him you’ll see him change many times throughout the years.

Instead of being consoled by this thought, it scares you. You begin to cry. It’s not because of your thumb, as nurse Terry thinks, comforting you in the same way she would a toddler. You’re crying because you’re about to be a bride and everyone in your family, it seems, cannot remain wedded despite their earnest vows. Not only your sister, but both of your parents have been divorced several times since their initial split from each other, when you were thirteen and your sister was eleven. Failed attempts at matrimony, your mother’s ever-changing last name, your father’s wives of various ages and sizes, makes you decide you have no business being married. You still can get out with a clean record. Just then the doctor comes in with needle and thread.

Why I Should Go Through With This:
4) He tells you you’ll only grow more beautiful as you age.
5) He leaves notes for you around the house with lopsided hearts drawn on them.
6) He never grows tired of listening to you.

Why I Should Not Go Through With This:
4) When his mother told you your skin was too dark, he slipped out of the room while you were left to fondle your fork at the breakfast nook.
5) He wears his jeans too many times before washing them.

“I hear you’ve been juggling knives,” the doctor says, chuckling to himself. Then abruptly stops when he sees you’ve been crying. “You’ll be fine,” he says, tapping your knee. Instead of finding his gesture a violation, as you normally would—a perfect stranger fondling your knee—you see it the way it was intended, to soothe you.

Now you’re wondering if it’s you, that the likelihood of the marriage you’re about to step into succeeding depends not on your fiancé or his mother and her dangerous gifts, knives, a sewing kit, a wife’s toolbox for small repair jobs, an iron, but instead rests solely on you. You decide it must be hidden in your genetic code, the inability to stay committed. Perhaps you’ll ask the doctor if there’s a medical name for this defect. Then you could refer to it when explaining to the man waiting for you in the lobby that it’s not going to happen for the two of you.

6) He won’t take you dancing.
7) He stutters and corrects your misspelling.

The doctor hums while he makes a cross pattern around your thumb. You imagine he is effortlessly married, with children that gather around him when he comes home from work singing, “Daddy is home! Daddy is home!” His wife can rest knowing if anything were to threaten the lives of her children, or heaven forbid herself, he would save them.

As the doctor serenades your red pulp of a digit, you manage to resist the temptation of thinking what you need is someone else to marry instead of the man you have been with for the last two years, ten months and seventeen days. In doing so, the rational part of yourself comes trudging back through the muck of your conflicted thoughts and constant tallying. This is you, the one who teaches elementary school, who shows first graders how to add and subtract, who breaks down words into bite sized letters and syllables, who flosses twice daily and consults Google Maps for the most efficient route, and who said those words, “Yes, I’ll marry you.”

You notice the tiny spider-like hairs inside the doctor’s ears, the dry skin on his forehead over his third-eye, the saliva gathering in the corners of his mouth as he speaks.

All you want is someone to be perfect, to make a promise and to never change. It’s what you expect of yourself.

Admitting to this realization makes you feel how ridiculous your expectations are. You wonder if the sharpness of your fear could be melted into a more pliable force used to keep your relationship together—bent steel, red hot, before the blade is fully formed, when it’s more like taffy, playful and pliable, and less like an instrument wielded when wanting to slice and sever.

After all, people are married everyday and everyday they celebrate silver and golden anniversaries and say things like, “I will love you forever,” and they do. Maybe your marriage could be the one that makes it. Maybe it’s not perfection that you need but an endless supply of forgiveness. You practice by forgiving the doctor for his dry skin. This idea of forgiveness occurs to you with the same amount of hope and curiosity you had as child, when you watched magic shows, doves flying out of black top hats.

7) He makes you garlic, cheese and piñon risotto at 3 a.m. after you’ve had a nightmare and can’t sleep. He stirs for twenty minutes with one arm and with the other arm, holds you to him kissing your head, even if your nappy hair is in terrible need of washing.

That night, in bed, you lay with your arm propped up on pillows, your thumb intact and suspended in air, like a stubborn hitchhiker. He puts his palm on your forehead, this man you’ve chosen, that’s chosen you. He brushes back your hair in tender motions, and looks you over. You know in the night he will cover you if the blankets have gone astray. You know he’ll jiggle you if you start grinding your teeth, which will make you stop, saving them from being reduced to chips and nubs of enamel in the coming years.

It reminds you of being a little girl, before all the serial divorcing, when your parents were still together and they would tuck you in at night after pages of fairytales. It’s the same feeling you are experiencing now. As you go into the stillness of sleep, your thoughts siphoning off, an answer arrives, solid as bone beneath skin.


Jamie Figueroa - headshotJamie Figueroa is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has been published in various literary journals including Split Oak Press, The Santa Fe Literary Review, The Yellow Medicine Review, Flash: International, ekleksographia and Sin Fronteras. Jamie teaches creative writing at New Mexico School for the Arts. She is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship as well as the Jack Kent Cooke graduate scholar award.

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