20100527-KS-How to hold a knife - 1.1Sammy enters the meeting, ruddy-faced, apologizing for her dress and introduces herself as ‘drunk as fuck.” Her accent is discernible but not identifiable, and she finishes every sentence with ‘Sir’ and ‘thank you.’ She probably knows the dessert fork is laid perpendicular to the top of the place setting.

Chris admonishes her, tells her it is best if she just listens, and Sammy defers; but Chris used to be drunk as fuck, too, curtaining his apartment windows with toweling and buying two-bit vodka from the corner store thrice daily. I remind myself I don’t like Chris.

Sammy keeps dropping a water bottle—the metal hydroflask kind—on the linoleum, and it is dented in ten places

“So sorry,” she keeps saying, and it turns out she’s Swedish.

I search her out after the meeting—she has left early—and she is staying in a tarpaulin lean-to alongside the church with an elder gentleman sleeping in a bag. I see her by the light of a cellphone.

“Sammy? Do you want to talk?”

She at first shakes her head, but then gets up to walk with me a few paces. I let her lean against the church fencing where she gracelessly slides down to find seat on the concrete. I sit cross-legged next to her.

“Hi, my name is Thom.”

“Nice to meet you, Sir.”

“Is that where you live?” and I point to the tent condominium that is perfectly pitched, and has a bicycle and wi-fi enough that she can use her phone.

“Yessir. Well no Sir. I usually stay on Park and University, but I’m watching after my friend.”

She grimaces.

“This young kid, he come around and threaten me friend, says he wants to kill him. Just, you know, to kill a man on the street.”

Apropos of nothing, she tells me she’s Swedish. I mention I’m Dutch and Irish, and therefore stubborn. She laughs.

“Dutch? I’ve been in twenty-five countries,” she says, “And this is the only one I’ve been drunk in. This country. Alcohol is cheaper than water.”

She hiccups.

“The police, they know me,” she confesses, “I’ve got me an axe. You’re Dutch, you know that.”

I don’t really, but I get her gist.

“They took it away from me, the police. They know me. The Swede who carries an axe.”

I keep listening. She lights a cigarette and gets a mean face.

“I tell the kid, do you want the bottle or the knife?” and she holds up her dented flask. “I say they should choose the bottle, it’d be faster. Right to the skull.”



Sammy decides she likes me. She takes a hidden hand, the one not holding a cigarette, and throws a knife down on the sidewalk. It has a hand-grip and a four-inch blade.

“That’s me knife.”

She pockets it as quickly.

“The AA meetings, they help,” she continues. “All you people telling stories.”

“Can I show you something, Sammy?” and she nods assent. I carry the Big Book with me, but also a copy of ‘A Trip to Echo Spring’, a book about writers and drinking. I open to a page.

“Cheever says, “The tonic or curative power of the narrative is inestimable.

“We tell stories when we’re in danger and afraid. And—“I point back to the church, “Every one in that Room is afraid. Stories help.”

She says: “That white boy come back, I’ll show him afraid.”

She reaches across my lap and draws a line on my thigh.

“If I cut you there, it’ll take you three minutes to die.” She repeats: “But they should choose the bottle, it’ll be quicker.”

She says: “Don’t tango with me.” And I ask, because she’s slurring: “Did you say tango or tangle?”


“Like the dance.”

“Yes. You don’t want to tango with me.” She shows me her flask and points out the dents.

“My last dancing partner,” she confides. “Beat the shit out of ‘em.”

She draws on her cigarette.

“That white boy come round, he threatens my friend. My friend is old. I’m staying with him tonight.”

She proffers a jacket arm.

“Feel this.”

And I touch her forearm. She has a butcher’s knife up her sleeve.

“He’s got another thing coming. He’s a coward. My friend is old.”

“You said your name was Sammy?” I said getting up.

“Yes. Sammy, Sir.”

I reintroduce myself as Thom and I offer her a hand.

“I think you’re kind to look after your friend, and Henry James said there are three rules in life:

1)Be Kind.

2) Be Kind.

3) Be kind.”

She takes my hand though I only meant to shake hers, and she pulls herself to her feet.

“I like you.”

“I like you, too, Sammy. You are kind.”

“Tank you for showin’ me your book.”

“You’re welcome, Sammy.”

And we hug, and it is awkward because she has steel in her forearm, but that is the only reason it is awkward for we are two humans on this planet that just so happened to find one another on this night where it is cold and the only reason we exist is to protect each other; the only reason we exist is to be kind.







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