I tell my girls when they’re young, because younger is better in these matters. Before their blood begins its monthly flow, before their breasts bud and the peach fuzz on their legs turns coarse, I sit them down for the talk.
“Never get into a car with a boy. That’s the only rule.”
“Why not, Mama?” Always the same question.
This is when I tell them about the people with knives.
“They hide under cars and wait for you,” I say.
“Like the monsters under my bed?”
“Worse than that.”
I’ve seen them, the ones with the knives. They lie under car chassis with long silver blades, waiting for a delicate ankle, a glimpse of bobby-sock or a seam in a silk stocking. Their noses twitch and wrinkle at the iron odor of blood. They are monsters, but they are real.
They do not take the unwilling; nor do they steal unripe fruit. Somehow, they know. Perhaps their acute sense of smell serves as a compass needle to guide them. Perhaps their ears prick at girlish giggles. Perhaps makeup, lipstick and rouge stolen from a mother’s vanity, makes their prey sticky. Magnetic.
“What do they do?” my girls ask.
I want to tell them truths, but truth is troubling.
“They’ll hobble you, my darlings.”
“With long, silver knives.”
This is a lie. They have knives, but not of silver.
“Where do they keep them?”
My girls batter me with one question, two questions, more questions I stumble to answer. Where is the hiding place? When do they take out their weapons? What does it feel like?
Protection is double-edged, like the knives that deliver pain, then pleasure, then pain of another kind. Like the knives that make promises, that retract, that leave traces in the shape of my twin daughters. Like the knives that give life and take it away. This is why I lie about the ones with the knives, saying only enough to warn, never enough to damage.
As I gather up unpaid bills, line the table with three place settings where there should be four, wash and iron clothes for tomorrow’s work, my daughters ask their final question.
“Did our father have a knife?”
“Yes. He did.” This is not a lie. Not really.
CHRISTINA DALCHER is a theoretical linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Find her work in Split Lip Magazine, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents her novels. http://www.christinadalcher.com, @CVDalcher.