Knife Rules

Michelle Ross


They don’t talk about their becoming knives. We don’t talk about their becoming knives. None of us talk about knives at all. When onions must be diced, the dicer chokes the chopping knife handle with her fist. She works quickly but carefully. She washes the blade, puts the knife away.

Kitchen knives are different. They’re completely under our control. Still, we don’t talk about kitchen knives, either.

We wrap our younger siblings’ hands around sleek black handles. Show them how to chop without a word. We show them the first aid supplies, too. How to clean and bandage a wound. How to stitch a gash.

When a finger is severed, we don’t talk about the how or the who. We place the finger in a plastic bag, swaddle it in crushed ice. We deliver the finger and its owner to the hospital. When the nurses and doctors ask how, we say, a kitchen accident. If they demand more, we say, a chopping accident.

Nobody ever told me this—what to talk about and what not to talk about, what to say when a stranger asks a question. I learned it from observation. I learned it so young, I never thought about it at all, not until recently when my younger brother, barely eight years old, barely half my age, became a knife for the first time.

I’d seen my father and my older brothers become knives too many times to count. I’d seen them cut, felt their cuts. I’d kept quiet. I’d bandaged my wounds.

But my little brother—I’d changed his diapers, scrubbed dirt from beneath his fingernails. Once I’d held him in my arms all day long because he’d had strep and a fever. I’d rubbed circles into his back until my shoulder felt rusted.

When he turned into a knife, something in me unraveled. A spool of thread spun down to the bone. When he cut me, I howled loud and long.

Everyone stopped what they’d been doing and stared.

Then the knives and the not-knives all spoke at once. Told me to shut my mouth. Quit making a fuss.




Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, The Pinch, and other venues; and her work made the Wigleaf Top 50 for 2019.