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Husband, Father, Writer, War

Good Knives

Good Knives
Credit: zz77

I leave the house with a bag of knives.

My daughter, Loretta, holds my wife’s hand, and the three of us wait to cross a busy street. There’s something unpleasant ahead.

“That's poop!” Loretta squeals. “On the sidewalk!” I tell her someone will clean it up. But I’m not sure, really—not sure of much these days.   

It’s a sunny day in Beirut, Lebanon.

At least we’re together. My wife’s assignment is to cover the Arab revolutions that seem most likely to end in failure: Yemen, Bahrain, and neighboring Syria, where the government has been bombing its own people. Three Western journalists have died in Syria in the last weeks.

At the grocery store, Loretta demands to ride in a shopping cart shaped like a car.

“It’s dirty,” my wife says, peering inside.

There’s a steering wheel with a horn, and a little seatbelt torn in half. Are those teeth marks? Where a gas pedal would be, there’s a dark puddle. You want to do everything right but sometimes you can’t.

With the little girl inside, we wheel past bins of produce, which we wash in bottled water, and through cases of milk, which we worry is making us sick.

At the meat counter, I start pulling out the knives. I drag the heel of my palm across a dull blade, showing the butcher how bad it is. He nods, understanding.

Puffing out his chest, he settles a steel wand into the butcher block. Hollowed out at the center, the wood is stained pink. With great arcing swings of his thick arm, he begins to slash my knives over the steel.

I watch his moves, mesmerized by the sound and smell. All that flashing energy, that racket of metal on metal. Testing his work, the butcher cuts into a big red loin, a $2 chunk here, $5 there, blood everywhere. Will I have to pay for this? Soon there’s something like $30 bleeding into the counter. My knives are covered in gore. This could be very expensive.

At last, the butcher staggers over, breathing deep. He shakes his head, declines money.

“These are good knives,” he says, speaking English in a thick accent. “Now they are better.”

Back home, my wife is putting the kid to bed. I take out one of the sharpened knives and run it along my finger. Too much blood around here these days, I think with a sigh.

But, suddenly, I can’t stop laughing: The knife is totally dull. Despite all the butcher’s theatrics, it couldn’t hurt a thing.

Nathan Deuel is the author of Friday Was the Bomb. He has contributed to the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, and GQ, among others. He lives in Los Angeles with his family. More by Nathan Deuel