May the Knife

I killed my first man when I was twelve. I guess you could say it was self-defense, but I wasn’t scared or nothing. I was more angry than scared.

See, it happened like this. I was living with Pa at the time. He worked late night at the docks. Pa ain’t have no women friends—he’s too shy and all—and he needed somebody to check-in on me at night while he worked. Make sure I ate and did my homework and took my bath. Make sure I was okay and shit. Since Pa had no relatives and no women friends, he got his high school buddy, Damian, who lived across the hall, to watch me.

Pa always called him my “Uncle Damian.” That ain’t never felt right to me. I mean, he ain’t no kin of mine.

Besides, the way Damian would look at me, I know he didn’t think of me as his niece.

He was always low key flirting with me. Saying how pretty I looked. Saying how I was gonna be a “man-killer” when I got older. Heh. I know those are normal things a man says even to a young girl; but the way his eyes grew big and got all sparkly like when he said it sent me the chills. Sometimes I thought his eyes were gonna burst straight out of his head, like the top of a pop bottle when you shake it up too much.

I ain’t never trust him to watch me properly with those eyes, so I took to bringing a big knife from the kitchen to sleep with me. Hid it under my pillow. Just in case.

Well, just in case eventually came. He had the key to our apartment, so it meant nothing for him to get in. It was around midnight. A Thursday. I had a test the next morning and I had gone to bed early after studying.

The sound of the lock being unfastened woke me. I could hear him mumbling in the other room. Then the door closed and I grabbed the handle of the knife, hoping he don’t come mess with me.

He had been getting bold the days prior. He tried to touch me any chance he got. A tap on the shoulder. A pat on the head. Stroking my arm. His fingers like fat caterpillars against my skin.

So now he open my bedroom door, and I can see his outline all hunched over and wobbly in the door frame. I clutched the knife tighter, finding strength in it.

Damian stumbled all over. Climbed in my bed, all mumbling something I ain’t understand. He rolled over on top of me. Breath smelling like whiskey, stale and stank. A lil bit spicy, too.

He done kissed me. My first kiss stolen by a man I hated. I could feel his pelvis all wiggling, spreading apart my legs. Felt his little limp dick try to get hard.

I knew he was gonna rape me.

So I took my knife and plunged it into his back. The first thrust caused him to holler in pain, but it ain’t do the trick. I had to keep stabbing him, keep forcing the knife deeper into his flesh.

It’s amazing how thick skin is. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was gonna be. Stabbing a man. You feel some resistance, something pushing back against you, but you keep pushing harder. Then you feel the resistance give way and snap. Like when you take a bite into a piece of beef jerky and it’s all tough, so you pull and pull and it goes snap. And you’re able to go further in. Bones get in the way sometimes, and theys hard to break.

Well, when Pa finally came home and saw the mess in my room, he went looking for me. Calling for me. “May! May!! MAY!” He found me in the bathtub, covered in Damian’s blood, staring at the bathroom door.

Folks always said my pa ain’t have no smarts. Said he was slow, a retard. They use to joke and say he gave all his brains to me. Said he gave me so much smarts it ain’t leave room in me for a voice. That’s how folks explained me being a mute.

Well, Pa panicked that night. He paced back and forth, his head swaying and open hands shaking at his side, at the bathroom doorway. Less about him and more about me. He was ‘fraid I’d go to prison. For life. I was a murderer, at only twelve years old. I ain’t know at the time I could’ve claimed self-defense. That Damian was gonna rape me and that’s why I killed him. That I did what I had to do. If I had known that then, I would’ve told it to Pa in Damian’s blood.

So Pa called the police. Told them that he killed Damian.

Fucking stupid.

I wish I hadn’t had been so messy with Damian. I could’ve done a better job cleaning up the blood. It was like I had wet the bed, with blood instead of pee. If I ain’t waste all that time crying, I could’ve scrubbed away the blood. Changed the bed sheets. Stuff I seen criminals do on Law & Order.

If I had told Pa he ain’t need to take the rap for me, I might not have killed my second man. Well, I can’t not quite call him a man, seeing how Travis was only sixteen years old.

See, after Pa went to prison, I got put in foster care. It was tough placing me. Not many folks wanted to deal with a lil mute pre-teen girl who was traumatized for life. I had to visit psychiatrists every couple of weeks. I hated it.

They sitting there in their brown leather chairs, talking to me in they stuffy voices. Asking dumb questions. Why I ain’t know how to sign? How I felt bout Pa going to prison? Stupid. I ain’t even answer they stupid questions. Telling them about it ain’t gonna change none of it.

Eventually I got placed with Poppa Ben and Momma Loraine. Theys good folks. Treat me real good. They got me interested in reading books. Momma Loraine had me reading Hooks, Hurston, Walker, and other writers “important for a young black lady to read.”

She even took me to some plays: Bootprints by Latonia Valincia and Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. Momma Loraine cried when Beau dropped them kids at the end. I sat there stone faced; I ain’t never gonna let some man hurt me or my babies.

In all these books and stuff, black women are mules or colorful or a carpet. Reading them, I was like to hell with that! I was already black; “blacker than an ace of spades,” as my classmates would say. Black with full lips and kinky hair and wide hips and a big booty.

First day of new school, this girl, Tae Tae, had said I couldn’t talk because I was too dark, that dark-skinned girls were dumb. I punched her in her high-yella face right in the middle of class. I started beating on her. Took three teachers to pull me away. Nearly got me expelled. Ambulance took Tae Tae to the hospital. I ain’t seen her since. Not even round the way.

I’d be damned if I was gonna be burdened or walked all over. Fighting Tae Tae made me think about that night I killed Damian. Made me think about how my life as a black girl was gonna be.

If I was gonna be anything, I was gonna be a knife.

Yeah. So, I was sixteen, living with Momma Loraine and Poppa Ben and going to school. I was doing regular high school shit. Boys. School. More boys. Less school. Friends. More like “friend” in my case. I ain’t only have but one friend, Jana.

I guess Jana and I became friends because her momma was deaf and so she knew sign language. I ain’t know any, so she taught me. I was use to carrying a pad and pen with me to write what I needed to say. Folks always laugh that I ain’t write like I was writing, but I wrote how one would talk. I ain’t quite sure what that means.

So Jana was dating this boy. Travis. I would say he went to same school as Jana and I but he ain’t never go to class. Come in once a month, just to get his bus tickets for the month. Then he be off wherever the bus or train would take him. I know because Jana would sometimes go with him and his friends, and she’d drag me along with her.

Skipping class ain’t make Travis a bad guy. Hell, I skipped class, too. He smoked a little weed, but that ain’t make him bad. I smoked a little weed, too. He and Jana would drink, but I ain’t never drink.

Liquor reminded me of Damian’s breath the night I killed him. Reminded me of Pa incaserated to protect me.

One day Jana ain’t come to school. I ain’t think nothing of it. Thought she was out skipping with Travis and his boys.

In third period, she text me while I was in class, telling me to come over to her place. As soon as I got the chance, I ditched school and took the train to see Jana.

Jana answered the door with a bag of frozen peas over her right eye. Cheeks all bruised, looking like two plums on her face. I signed, “Who did this to you?”

Her lips quiver and she say, “Travis.”

My rage fill me up and I wish I had a knife so I could go slash something. Cut someone. Stab something. Kill someone.

Kill Travis.

But I couldn’t leave my best friend all by herself. So I took Jana into the living room and we sat on the couch and I held her and she talked and then she cried and I held her closer. She done cried herself to sleep. I left her alone on the couch. I knew her folks would be back from work soon, so I slipped out into the evening.

Folks thought that since I sign with Jana and I can’t talk that means I can’t hear either. Idiots. I hear just fine. I hear all they bullshit. I hear Jarvis talking to Antwan about what Travis did to Jana. They laughing, saying he “Chris Browned” her. Saying Jana should’ve just gave it up nicely without having to get beat.

I shook my head. Wish I had my knife to cut them two boys deep. Deeper than the shade of purple Travis’s fist turned Jana’s face. Cut them deeper than the hatred they had for women.

But I ain’t have my knife, so they lived and kept talking and I kept listening. Found out where Travis gonna be later on that night.

To make a long story short, I hung outside near the club Travis and his boys were at. It was a cold night, which was good. Kept decent folks inside the house. And gave me a reason to bundle up in layers, looking like an Eskimo or one of them Arabs living in the desert.

I saw Travis stagger out the club with his boys. He looked like the only one out the group drunk. He never could hold his liquor. And that’s what I was hoping on.

I hid in the shadow of an alleyway. Waiting and watching. Travis’s friends get ahead of him, and his drunk ass was lagging behind. He doubles over like he gonna vomit and stepped right into my alley. Good.

I grabbed him by his mouth so he couldn’t scream and stabbed him eight times in the gut and chest. I laid him on the ground. Snatched the platinum Jesus-piece off his neck and his wallet from his pocket. Made it look like a robbery gone wrong.

I slinked back into the night. Ran away, quietly as I could. Ran to the bay. Stripped off some of the layers I was wearing. Threw them into the water.

I looked down at my knife, let the moonlight reflect off the blade as best it could. The knife was covered in blood, and the light from the moon made it seem sparkly. Sparkly like Damian’s eyes.

I tossed the knife as far as I could into the water. And then I turned around and went home.

When I got home, Momma Loraine was still up. Louis Armstrong’s “Mack the Knife” on her old record player. Momma Loraine sat on the couch just staring at it. The room was filled with Armstrong’s sonorous voice:


When the shark bites, with his teeth, dear

Scarlet billows start to spread.


Momma Loraine must’ve heard me come in cause she turned to look at me.

That look in her eyes. Felt as if she knew what I did. What I had done. That night and that night four years ago. I don’t know if she knew or not, and if she did how she found out. I ain’t tell no one.

Her eyes scared me that night. They were two suns illuminating all I had done in the dark. I went to the couch, sat next to Momma Loraine, let her wrap her arms around me.

I wept.

*This short story appears in Popular Television.