This short story is inspired by a photo taken by Chris from the Milford Street blog. If you don’t know his photographs, I encourage you to go check them out in his posts! It was his recent Old Timers post that caught my eye, featuring the image below. Thanks again Chris for letting me use your photo for inspiration and permission to include it here.
Folding Knives and Blue Eyes
The knives folded on the table in front of Jude and, like them, she was without words. Where was the one that her grandpa had owned? None of these were calling out to help her.
She felt a dig into her left side.
“Oof,” she said, and her hands instinctively covered the sore spot. Looking over, she met intense blue eyes surrounded by wrinkles. The woman’s look was stern, and she muttered something under a breath that smelled mildly of sardines. Turning back to the table, she shoved Jude, this time with her hip.
Jude couldn’t make out any other words with so many other voices around her calling out prices and asking questions about how old was this lamp or what type of crystal was that?
Jude’s her bare arm met cold leather as her body swayed slightly to the right in response to being shoved. She noted the black leather belonged to a jacket that belonged to a man who she didn’t want to mess with. A thick gray beard was accompanied by a tattoo of a
skeleton’s body that ran down his neck and crawled under the collar of his coat.
He didn’t look her way. Jude tried to concentrate again on the knives. None of these had the right color of handle. The correct size. The memories. She hadn’t realized there were so many kinds of folding knives.
This will be impossible, it occurred to her. She slowly stepped back, turning around without looking up, only to bang her forehead into a chest with all the force of a boxing glove. Her heart sank even lower – though she hadn’t thought it possible – as she recognized the leather jacket. How had he moved without her seeing?
“You’ll no get far if ye don’t know what you’re looking for,” he said with a thick accent she didn’t recognize. Her eyes remained on the coat, which somehow seemed safer than the skinless body ironically inked on his flesh.
“Oh stop it,” said a woman’s voice sternly from back at the table. “She’s with me,” the female continued.
Jude didn’t know what to say so instead she nodded toward the leather. Feeling a pull on her right arm, she was guided around the gruff man and out of the crowd with little time to see anything other than flashes of stripes, corners of tables, and voices quoting numbers and quantities.
“You’ll want to stay out of his way. He’s a regular here.”
Jude didn’t respond but instead looked at the blue eyes again and blinked a few times. Was this woman a mirage?
“I think this is what you want,” the bright pink lips said, while extending her hand toward the girl. The fair-skinned freckled fingers uncurled to reveal a folded knife with a black handle featuring three thick gold stripes across it.
The woman’s white curls bounced as she quickly raised Jude’s hand from her side and stuck the folded knife in it. “It was his. Your grandpa’s. Eric.”
As she said his name, her voice took a more tender tone.
How did- Jude’s thought was cut short by the woman walking back into the crowd, her crocheted rose-colored sweater soon lost among them. Looking down at her hand, she studied the knife. She finally allowed herself to breathe. This was what her grandpa had kept by his bedside every night for the past ten years but had vanished when she’d gone with her mom to pack his things last week after the funeral.
She noticed a small inscription on one side of the handle that she’d never seen before as mom never liked her holding a sharp tool. Jude had only studied the knife from her perch on the side of his bed as she read him pages from The Call of the Wild by Jack London while he came in and out of periods of wakefulness.
The letters “AK” were there on the handle. But her grandpa’s initials were “ES.” As her fingers curled around the cold handle, she felt eyes boring a hole through her back. Turning around, the woman was there again. This time the blue eyes looked moist. Only Jude’s mouth was the opposite, too parched to form a word yet so many questions to ask.
©2017 Christy Birmingham