Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Wandering Knife

This is a true story. I've been staying at my friend's place in London this summer and in his kitchen, like most people, he has several kitchen knives, one of which is particularly sharp and useful. It went missing from the dishwasher on Thursday or Friday and we both assumed one of us had accidentally put in the trash when disposing of food scraps (I've actually done this before, so it's totally plausible). We did a cursory scout of the trash, but gave up after a minute or two. Even a sharp knife wasn't worth that unpleasantness. We also checked high and low in the cupboards, drawers, the very bottom of the dishwasher, and even the fridge and found no sign of it.

Life went on.

Then last night, Monday, after I'd come home and my friend had been back from work and then out again, I discovered the knife in the dishwasher, clean, right next to some dirty utensils I'd placed in there that afternoon. Oh good, I thought, I wonder where he found it!

When my friend came home I asked him about and received a very odd look.

"I didn't find it," he said.

I showed him the knife in the dishwasher.

"I didn't find it either," I said.

We were mutually creeped out. Sure, one of us could blame the other and call it a practical joke, but I know my friend well enough to know that wasn't the case in this instance. There was only one rational explanation and that was that the neighbor or the landlord, who both have keys, came by and borrowed it for the weekend. That explanation doesn't rest easy because it's out of character for either, especially with no notification of having done it.

But knives do not wander of their own accord.

I went to bed and was unable to sleep properly. I kept thinking about that knife. If it were a sock it wouldn't be the same, but a knife is symbolic of harm, butchery, anger, and pain (and julienned carrots). I thought about telekinesis, teleportation, membrane jumping (M-Theory) and parallel worlds, and sneaky blade-happy poltergeists (my friend's flat is in an old gothic building--so this wasn't a far leap of the imagination), and every weird way that knife could disappear and reappear. As someone who identifies as rational and pro-science (and who wanted to sleep) these thoughts were not welcome. Granted, I do have a rather florid imagination, but I keep it reined in under my own control most of the time.

This all generated an interesting epiphany. If even I'm so quick to invoke the bogeyman, than we are all closer to the irrational than we like to think. This has interesting implications for storytelling as well as culture. A simple disquieting incident is enough to flip that fear switch and let loose the superstitions and worrying speculation. It's always fun as a writer when a reader reports back that something resonated with them long after they read it, and I think this is one of the good methods for prompting that reaction. In culture though, I think it's a different matter, because it makes us easily manipulated--I probably don't have to point out recent examples. And that in itself might be a good prompt for a story.


Unknown said...

Hey what a great story, so funny how the smallest things can lodge so deeply in our psyche. There is definitely something more evocative about a knife than say a tv remote or something!

KaOs said...

Yes. I have never lost sleep over an adventurous TV remote.