“Sharp Like the Edges” by Brent Rankin

Only nineteen years old, and he didn’t know whether to pee or cut off his toe. Sitting on a crag over looking the still lake, he was half-drunk, and with his friends and beer gone, had nothing better to do. He was alone, wearing a red swimsuit with a tee shirt. The sleeves were cut off. His long brown hair, blowing in the wind, kept falling into his eyes, and he’d brush it away with a flick of his hand, the hand that ominously held the hunting knife, occasionally, over the first knuckle on his left big toe.

To cut or not to cut, he thought, and then he decided it was too creepy. He fumbled to stand up. He stretched and yawned, and glanced around for a tree. Any tree. It was the lake; there were thousands of trees around. He needed one he could hide behind.

He saw the one and staggered over to it. Hugging it like a bear, he rested his forehead against the trunk and relieved himself. So far, so good.

Then, with a gloomy thought, he realized he had no ride back to town. It would be a twenty or so mile walk and he was wearing flip-flops.

If he could find them. He slipped the knife into the elastic waistband of his swimsuit and pulled his tee shirt over the leather handle. Leaving the tree, he blindly stumbled over his sandals and scuffled to put them on his feet. It was a war he appeared to be losing, until he won. He had the daylight in his favor, so he started the trek toward town.

He hadn’t made it a mile before a bright red convertible pulled up behind him on the shoulder of the road and honked. Much more sober now, he craned his head around and saw a young anxious woman, his age, behind the wheel. He stopped walking. He recognized her.

“Ya’ll look like you could use a ride,” she called, her voice high and crisp.

“Reckon so,” he replied, and climbed in the seat beside her. She offered him a beer from the ice chest behind the seat, which he gladly accepted. He twisted off the cap and knocked back half the bottle in one swallow.

He burped and said, “Excuse me. Does your daddy know about the beer?”

She laughed and started off.

“Thought you went to the doctor,” he said, watching the scenery speed by.

“I did. It’s not important any more.”

They were both quiet for a while. The wind was warm, and the sky was fresh and blue. He finished the beer his second gulp and tossed the empty bottle.

“Have another if you want,” she said.

He laughed and said, “That’s a problem I have. Always taking one more.” He looked at her. She didn’t react one way or the other. She wasn’t put off.

“I didn’t mean anything by that,” he said, “It’s just me, you know? Trying to get a rise…”

“It would be so easy just to drive this car into a telephone pole,” she said.

“You don’t mean that. I was going to cut off my toe. Not so smart, uh?”

Her eyes remained on the road. She moved one hand off the steering wheel as she slowed, and she shifted to a lower gear. Turning onto a narrow side road, she stopped the car. She dropped her hands to her lap and stared out straight, avoiding his eyes.

After a few tense moments, he said, “There were other choices.”

“I know.”

“I mean, I could have cut off a finger. Maybe something else.”

“Maybe. I thought about that, too.”

“Cutting off a finger?”

She turned and looked down her nose at him. She sneered a grim smile, “I don’t want to talk about it.” She backed the car onto the highway and started off.

The knife in his waistband pinched his leg, so he removed it. He held it in his right hand and let it dangle out of the car.

It felt awkward, now, too big and bony. He didn’t like it anymore. He let it drop. When it hit the pavement, the silver blade made sparks, and then shattered into a million brilliant pieces.

She asked, “Where are you going?”

“Anywhere,” he answered, “Nowhere. Somewhere over there.” He motioned with a nod of his head in the general direction the car was going.

“That’s how you are,” she said, wryly.

“I know. It’s not like I never was. I never lied, never pretended.”

“Yes, you never pretended.”

She drove the car through three green traffic lights and came to a stop in an asphalt parking lot beside a religious bookstore. He started to open the door to get out, but she asked him to wait. She reconsidered what she had to say, and then decided not to say it.

He lifted himself out of the seat and closed the car door. He turned and looked at her.
She smiled at him and asked, “Want another beer?”

“Sure. Why not?” He got hold of a cold bottle, went to put it in his back pocket, and then realized he didn’t have one. He held it and he looked at her in a clumsy awkward way.
She asked if they might get together later. He didn’t answer.

“We could try, couldn’t we?” she asked him, “I mean, get together?”

He didn’t respond, instead he thought about the knife he’d dropped. He recalled how the bright silver blade would reflect the sunlight in peculiar ways. It was a smooth hollow blade, but it had sharp edges.

The End


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