Latest Winner: The Only Time I Ran with the Carving Knife

By Richard Durant

Richard says: I live in Devon with my wife. I have been an author of education text books for twenty years, but I recently decided to try my hand at fiction. I have completed a novel and a number of short stories.

I was holding a biscuit and I was running. The biscuit was round with black specks. They were squishy. Don’t run with the biscuit, mother said. She always says that. Don’t run with the milk. Don’t run with the pencil. Don’t run with the baby. Don’t run with the carving knife. She said that once. Not then. Later. She didn’t really mean it though.

I stopped and stood up straight, like I was about to salute. I put the whole biscuit in my mouth and chewed. I tried to breathe through my nose so that I wouldn’t drown like grandma. When I finished I opened my mouth at mother and stuck out my tongue. Okay, she said, you’re safe. I ran through the kitchen and out of the sliding doors into the garden. I ran and I ran. 

The garden is a big one but I had to go side-to-side like father’s sailing boat tacking or I would have run out of garden too quickly. I held my breath the whole way. At last I reached the wall at the end and I leaned on it, gasping, looking out to sea, watching it fold itself against the rocks below as it reached for the land but couldn’t quite make it, being turned back, its scrawny white fingers losing their grip every time. Come on, I thought, you can do it. But it couldn’t. Not quite. A fishing boat was the only thing on the water, coming back, aiming for the harbour walls. Gulls wheeled in a ragged squabble above it, shouting.

I wanted to run again, but I was out of space. Stop and look around you, mother always said. Take time to settle yourself. You don’t want to be running all the time. I scrunched up my eyes and squinted across to the town where it sprinkled down the hill. It looked like the ground had given way beneath the town, so that it sagged into the dip below the hill, settling there. I wanted a giant to burrow underneath, the town above his back. Then he could push upwards so that the houses came down in a flat, straight line again from the top of the hill to the beach. Not saggy any more. I really wanted that. I willed it, scrunching my eyes up even more. And I wanted the garden to stretch on over the water, me running forever to the horizon. There’s no horizon, said father. You’d never get there. You can’t hold your breath long enough. I’d try. I want them to let me try. Anyway, that’s what I’d love: endless space, never getting there.

I breathed in and rushed back to the house, zigzagging, putting off my arrival. The house was white with red streaks under the top windows and under the roof. I fell through the sliding doors, choking, drowning, then breathing again. Father was there this time. He and mother were facing each other but mother was starting to turn away. She was holding her cheek in her hand and putting the carving knife away in the drawer. Father was grinning. Not like you and I grin. Like a tiger. Like tigers do just before they eat goats.

Another time it was raining. Big chunks of water tapping down the huge sliding panes. I grabbed the handle and yanked the door back. Don’t run if it’s wet, said mother. Don’t run if it’s wet, said father in the same sort of voice from his armchair in the corner, but like the words pained him. I hesitated. Did mother mean I couldn’t run because it was raining or I couldn’t run if the rain was wet? Then father was standing behind me, shouting. Don’t run if it’s wet, he said again, but to mother this time. Then: Stupid! Why does she have to run at all? Stop encouraging her. She’s an idiot enough as it is. Mother said, well, she’s your idiot too. Don’t I know it? he said. Well act like it then, she said. What, like you do? he said. That would be a start, she said. 

Then there was a smacking noise and a gasp. I didn’t look round because I could see it anyway. I could see it in my memory, and I didn’t want to see it this time. 

I grabbed the baby and ran out the door into the garden. Mother didn’t say anything, not even don’t-run-with-the-baby. I didn’t zigzag this time. I clasped the baby to me and ran in a straight diagonal to the place behind the fir tree where I could hide from the streaky eyes of the house and watch the waves trying to climb the cliff. I stayed there, staring over the wall. I didn’t mind the rain. I never minded it when I was hiding. I wanted to hold the edges of the sea and pull it out smooth, flat enough to run on without tripping. Don’t run, you’ll fall, said mother. The baby didn’t mind the rain either. She looked at me. Silent. Like she was waiting for the answer to a question she had asked, but didn’t mind how long she had to wait. I held her close. I felt her warmth. I hoped she could feel mine.

After a while I was wet. Daisy! came my mother’s voice. It sounded like a searchlight sweeping. It had hands cupped round it like Uncle Brian’s loudhailer when it said, Mum, reach for the rope! Gran! I shouted, get the rope! But the rope was like a snake and I didn’t want it to touch her and I pulled it away.  Father put down his can. He wiped his mouth before he smacked me. He pulled in the rope, coiled it and threw it at gran.

Daisy! came my mother’s voice. I ran, not zigzagging. She stood aside to let me pass but she snatched the baby from me. Father was just inside, grinning like the tiger. He didn’t step aside. I stopped and tried to read his face. Daisy! he yelled. Daisy! I went back into the garden and gathered the small flowers from a corner of the lawn. I ran back to the house and handed them to father. He smiled, like when you lick your lips and fingers after eating fried chicken. Daisy! he yelled. I ran back into the garden and gathered another bunch. When I came back in mother slid the door shut behind me. I held out the daisies to father. He didn’t take them. He was smiling still. 

She’s your idiot, he spoke across my shoulder. At least she is mine a voice came back. I could see the voices in the air twisting together, jabbing, like drunk people fighting. Father swivelled, steadied himself on the back of a chair, and went away. 

Another time I was getting my breath back and watching where the light grey sky and the dark grey sea met to make the horizon. You could walk up the sea or climb down the clouds. It would be the same thing. You would get to the same place. Except that there was a bit more sea than sky. I wanted to go to one end of the horizon and push down on it until the dark and the light grey were the same amount, but I had no one for the other end and the horizon would tilt like a see-saw. Perhaps when the baby was old enough she could sit on the other end. I held my breath and stared at one bit of the dark grey waves. I imagined my eyes coming out to form long tunnels burrowing into the water. Did gran still live there, I wondered. I looked for her beneath the wrinkles of the sea.

The lawnmower started and then stopped. After a while I heard a quick shriek like you might make if you fell off a boat. I went back towards the house, walking. I passed the lawnmower. It had a can on it. I went along the flat channel through the grass behind it. The streaky-eyed house waited for me until I got there. When I reached the door I heard my mother say, she was your mother for chrissake, she was your mother. 

I couldn’t see her at first. She was lying on my dolls in the corner, sobbing and bleeding. I wanted to help her up but father reached down, grabbed her by her shirt and pulled her up towards him. Mother turned aside and saw me, and I could read her face.

That was when I ran with the carving knife. Don’t run with the carving knife, mother mouthed at me. She didn’t really mean it though.