Priority (Originally published in The Scrambler Magazine)


Over the phone, the college kid is slick. He has a summer job, he tells me, selling kitchen knives. He gets company points, he sings, just for coming to see me, even if I don’t buy anything. I would really help him out, he says. He repeats his chorus, These knives have to be seen to be believed.

The morning the knife kid is supposed to come by, I almost cancel. I don’t need knives or to waste my time or money. My husband says I should know how to say no by now, says I can’t say no to anyone except him. I pretend to read the newspaper. Soon after he leaves for work, the college kid shows up—tall, thin, and the best-looking male to walk through my door in I can’t remember when. My hand rushes to my unwashed hair, gray at the roots and limp around my face. I feel every moment of my forty-four years.

We sit at my dull dining room table and he lines up the shiny knives. His show includes cutting leather like it’s air and scissoring a penny like it’s a round of chocolate. He talks fast and is hypnotic. Turns out we’re from the same state, the same one-church town, the same high school. I tell him more than I’ve told anyone in almost twenty years: I was married before, to my prom date, for little more than twelve months. He asks my ex-husband’s name, wonders if maybe he knows him. My mouth hangs. I can’t remember my ex-husband’s name. My face warms.

I cover my mouth with my hand. “Oh, God. Imagine that.”

He squirms on my straight-back chair, his smile strained, and steers the conversation around to the heat wave and the latest fires in the Berkeley Hills. When I tell him my second husband is a forensic fire investigator, it strikes me as funny.

“No fear of a fire here,” I say, laughing.

The kid’s smile vanishes and sweat breaks out on his face. He starts to pack up his wares. Contrite, embarrassed, I buy the full set of knives, the scissors, and the wooden storage block for the grand total of fourteen hundred dollars. When he finds out, my husband will go off like a firecracker. I don’t care. The knives are state-of-the-art. The kid and I hold onto either end of the check. I want to kiss him, to tongue his wet warmth and taste the mint off his mouthwash breath.

After he leaves, I grasp at my ex-husband’s name, at a picture of his face. They’re inside me somewhere, bobbing in the dark. Then, hey presto, I remember his name. Of course. However, I cannot resurrect his face beyond a watery blur. I cry till my eyes burn, till my head throbs. That voice right above my pubic bone starts up again: Everything comes to nothing.

I think about those shiny knives, their power and possibility. Their strange beauty. I should have asked the kid how long the knives would take to get to me, should have told him to send them priority. Lifetime warranty, the kid had said. They’ll last forever, he had sung.