Knife Man


The knife salesman, Theo, pressed his finger to the tip of a Petite Chef knife. “There’s nothing this knife cannot cut through,” he said. We were sitting across from each other, a coffee table between us. He reached over the table and handed me the knife handle first. “Feel the weight of that blade. You are holding a knife you can trust.”

On one side of the coffee table, his display case lay open. It was a large, sturdy black affair lined with red velvet. In the middle of the case were indentations to hold several different knives. On one end there was a small compartment housing various objects the knives could cut through as well as a blade sharpener and on the other end, a small compartment that held promotional literature and a receipt book.

He wore a pair of black khaki pants, a cheap white dress shirt, a mismatched blazer and a thin tie that hung loosely around his neck. His hairline was marked by tiny beads of sweat and his face was flushed. He reached into an inside pocket in his jacket for a soiled handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “Are you ready to change your culinary life?”

I looked at him carefully. He was in his late 30s, neither ugly nor handsome. His unremarkable looks irritated me but I found his bad haircut, the ragged ends hanging too long over his ears, endearing. “I’m not sure.”

“Do you need to consult your husband?”

I twisted my engagement ring around my finger, a nervous habit. It is an offensively large diamond. I take pleasure in the spectacle of it. “Do you need to consult your husband for minor household purchases?”

He blushed and started stammering. “I meant no offense.” He wiped his forehead again. A drop of sweat fell onto the coffee table, which was dusty. I thought, human mud.

I crossed my legs and sank lower in my chair, a high backed Victorian affair I hated. My husband decorated our home. I picked at the wooden arm with my fingernail. I get a small thrill from performing petty domestic vandalism.

He began to remove his blazer. “Do you mind?” he asked, even though he had already committed the act for which he was seeking permission.

I shrugged.

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together. “So, do you have any children?”

“Do you see any children?” I said.

The shades of red in his face and neck grew deeper. “I’m new at this.”

I unbuttoned the top two buttons of my shirt and rubbed my fingers between my collarbones. There was a familiar twang in his voice. “Where are you from, Theo?”

“I just moved here from Texas, Denton. I’m living in a motel off 41.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

“They leave me foil packets of instant coffee each morning. I appreciate that.”

I glanced at my watch; it was half past two and school would be letting out soon. “I’ll take your most expensive set.”

Theo’s eyes widened. “Are you sure?”

“Never ask questions like that, Theo. People find them ingratiating.”

He bit his lower lip. His hands shook as he filled out a receipt slip, took down my credit card information, let me know when my new knife set would be delivered.

As I walked him to the front door, I asked, “What motel are you staying at?”



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About Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay's writing appears or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney's (online), and others. She is the co-editor of PANK, an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, and can be found on her website. Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.


  1. Mervyn Kaufman says:

    This is a fabulous story. I think there’s more to it—more possible. Perhaps it could be a novel. Very compelling, beautifully done.

  2. Steve Dubin says:

    Wanted to print out your Weekend Fiction, but there is NO easy way to do that – like a simple Pdf. Can you arrange that in the future?


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