By Baird Nuckolls
I still have the scar. I think about it every year when the weather turns cold and the leaves start to fall. We buy a pumpkin and I help the boys draw spooky faces and cut them out. When they were very small, their dad and I did the work of cutting and sawing through orange shell and paler flesh. They got to scoop out the seeds. Their little hands were good for that and besides, they loved the slimy feel of the seeds in their pulpy webbing.
When they were old enough to hold the knives themselves, I tried to encourage thinking outside the box, to distract them from the knife. How about painting the pumpkins? We could decorate them with feathers and leaves, using the hot glue gun. It never worked. I don't know why that seemed safer to me than knives, but burns are better than blood. Because there can be a lot of blood.
I was four and a half. Old enough to keep a secret. My brother, six, thought he was old enough to carve the pumpkin himself. We were out in the garage; Mom was doing laundry and not paying much attention. Keith got the boning knife from the kitchen drawer. He let me draw the eyes and the nose, but he drew its jagged row of teeth.
I sat, in rapt attention, as he muscled the pumpkin between his bare knees, the black face leering up at him. His arm came up and in a flash, the knife descended, impaled in the middle of one eye. He sawed away, grunting as he turned his hand to make the circle. The knife slid through the flesh easily.
“I want to do one.”
“No, I'm doing this bit.”
I scooted closer, the toes of my Keds nearly touching his leg. I leaned forward, pushing my bangs out of my eyes. He moved on to the second eye. This one was larger; I wasn't good at drawing both eyes the same. Again the arm came high, again the knife was buried in the pumpkin. I imagined the tinny screams of the dying pumpkin, and giggled as he cut out the second eye, then the nose.
When he started on the mouth, I rose onto my knees. “Please, let me try.” I reached for the knife, but he held it above my head.
“I'll tell Mom what you’re doing.” I rose to my feet, pretending I meant to get our mother. I wanted to do the cutting, not get him into trouble. But he didn't know that.
“Okay. But be careful.” He handed me the knife, handle first, and wiped his hands on his shorts.
Filled with my childish power, I bent over the pumpkin that still rested between his knees. I raised the knife over my head, like he did, but when I brought it down, it skittered off the pumpkin, not even scratching the surface.
Keith tried to wrest it from me. “You had a turn.”
I held it away from him. “I'm not done.”
Tongue caught between my teeth, I steadied the pumpkin with one hand and raised the knife again. The knife came down and I felt searing pain in my hand. The knife was buried in the pumpkin between my fingers, but things were not all right. I lifted my left hand to inspect what I'd done.
The knife had bisected my middle finger, down to the bone. I held my palm to my face and saw the white knuckle of the middle joint gleaming in the sea of blood that cascaded from my finger. I screamed. Keith jumped up and ran for Mom. I stood over the pumpkin, dripping blood, still screaming.
Our mother came running. She scooped me up and took me to the bathroom, where she cleaned and bandaged my hand. I don't remember being taken to any doctor for stitches. I don't even remember being punished for attempting to carve the pumpkin without adult supervision. All I remember, when I look at the thin white line crossing my finger like a ring, is the flash of the knife and the blood.
Copyright ©2011 Baird Nuckolls. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form, including electronic, without the author’s express permission.
If you like this story, check out Baird’s other stories, published on this site: Chickens roosting in the trees, He Preferred Red and Jet lagged.
Baird Nuckolls continues to cut herself occasionally with sharp knives; it's a known hazard, but it's worth the risk. She lives and writes in Northern California.