I sleep with a knife by my bed. It’s a Kershaw, matte silver in color, and folds compactly in on itself. Pleasingly weighty, it fits elegantly in the hand. It is designed for a small hand such as mine, a woman’s hand. The blade is attractive but business-like. The design is modern and pretty, in an industrial sort of way.
My husband gave me the knife; he is a boy from the wilds of Michigan, the same place writer-renaissance man Jim Harrison, that Hemingway of the Upper Peninsula, hails from. It is a place where a knife is like an eleventh finger, or an extra toe; it’s not unusual when everyone has one, and everyone who spent time tramping that wild windswept landscape did.
At first I kept the knife at my bedside to look at it. Also maybe with some vague notion of protection; it would be tough to get past my Wolverine husband but if someone or something did, I’d need to be ready. Ready for what, you may ask. And, what do you mean by something, you might be thinking. What “thing”? You’re a middle aged woman who falls asleep on a nice mattress in a safe neighborhood every night; what danger do you need to be ready for, you might reasonably also be thinking.
I am a horror story writer and avid horror movie goer (as well as close observer of my fellow man), and so my imagination is quick to supply me with a full range of bad-to-worst case scenarios for every occasion. I refer to this as the HorrificTurnOfEvents, or ‘the hortoe’).
If there were a monster under the bed for example – and this is just an example because everyone knows monsters under the bed don’t exist – but if they did, they’d almost certainly have looooong arms or even tentacles that would reach up to grab me, and a knife would be the perfect weapon — far superior to a gun, as anyone can plainly see.
If it were a monster on the bed, a knife would also come in handy. My dad’s business partner didn’t have a knife when he woke to find a monster on his bed, which he shared with his wife. The monster had removed a screen from the window over the kitchen sink, crawled in, crawled past the partner’s wife and five year old child putting a puzzle together in the living room, up the steps, and onto the bed, which shifted a little under the monster’s crawly weight, which woke the business partner in time to see him and fight back, though he was sleepy and confused and terrified.
The partner prevailed but was wounded in many ways, visible and in; the monster was captured (but not killed) but that is another story for another day – the point here is, a knife would have been very handy in that situation. Very handy in deed.
But, a friend said, a gun would have been even better! I don’t believe that is so. The only way a gun could have helped the partner is if he’d fallen asleep with one in his hand, already loaded, with the safety off and pointed at the foot of the bed for good measure.
And a monster such as this, a cunning monster that could slip by the inhabitants of the house in order to kill the master first, might look for a gun on the table next to the partner’s bed.
If there is one sight I don’t want to wake up to, it’s a monster leaning over me. And if there is one sound I don’t want to wake up to, it’s the click of my own gun trigger.
I shared this notion with him and to his credit my husband did not smile, physically or secretly, in an isn’t-that-cute way, but said, “Show me how you would hold it.” I did, and he corrected my grip; then, to ensure I understood the why as well as the how, he thoughtfully demonstrated correct technique for some hortoes I hadn’t even considered, having zero experience with situations where the choices are stab correctly or die, or worse (there are definitely fates worse than death, any good hortoe could tell you).
(Side note to fellow horror buffs: No, my husband is not the same as the survivalist husband in Incident On and Off Mountain Road whose wife faces hortoes her husband both inflicts and also, sadly (for him) never even considered.
When I opened the bakery, the focus of my hortoes naturally shifted from my home to my workplace, where I now spent 20 of every 24 hours. By day the bakery with its bright green floors and pipes and walls painted bright primary reds and yellows is a cheerful place, flooded by skylight with natural light. Even the wind rattling the big metal garage doors sounds friendly, the rattling (that can sound so much like tapping) seeming to say “nice breeze out here if you care to join!”
At night, however, it can be creepy, full of dark corners and inexplicable sounds. The big walk in ovens sit silent, and it’s all to easy to imagine someone hiding in them, biding their time….for what, only the hortoe knows. The locker room is dark and quiet, and was that a thump from the shower stall, and if it is, do you pull back the curtain to check? No way, says the hortoe, which remembers that scene from Mrs. Massey’s room at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Pulling back that curtain was the last thing little nine year old Danny Torrance should have done. (Apparently the shine can’t stop you from making stupid decisions when you find yourself in a real, live, unanticipated hortoe).
So I took to carrying the knife clipped to the pocket of my Carhartt’s work pants. It made me feel better when I heard cars late at night drag racing in the industrial park where the bakery sits, isolated from the public except for the owners of the other businesses all around me, people I rarely see, though their delivery trucks – some mysteriously unmarked – trundle busily back and forth all day. If it ever turned out that the tap-tapping sound on the metal garage doors was not the wind at all, but a drag racer or monster (or both, whispers the hortoe), I would be ready.
As it happens when you work in a place all hours it is not long before all of its sounds, even the small ones like water trickling, crumpled paper unfolding itself – become known to you, and so the hortoe turns its attention elsewhere. For a small businessperson just completing two years of operations, hortoes are all-too-familiar but almost never of the variety a knife can solve – a different arsenal of weapons altogether is needed.
More often than not it can be found resting once again at my bedside, unobtrusive among the candles and earrings and books piled there. I still consider hortoes on a daily basis, but the knife rarely figures into them, unless you count the story I am writing. In it, a young girl battles monsters real and imagined with her dog at her side. She does not carry a knife, unless you count the blade of her intelligence, the weapon that ultimately helps her prevail…but that, too, is another story for another day.