All Stories, Crime/Mystery/Thriller

The Incident with the Knife by Monika R Martyn

With time and reflection comes meaning, or so I’ve heard my therapist say many times. But what she doesn’t understand, even with all her schooling, is that despite all, a person can never go back in time to seize an opportunity, to rectify a wrong. At least within the luxury of these solid walls, and as is usual at this time of the night, when all is quiet, and neither breath nor movement intrudes, I can remember the facts as they suit me.

On that Sunday, that year so long ago buried in my mind, the moon took on a permanence even during the day. It brought meaning to the term paper moon, as it hung in its full moon glory on the pale blue sky and recorded the day in memory and the feeling as if it were watching. The moon, as everyone knows, has the power to move oceans. It would be stupid to assume that within its own powerful sway, it hadn’t moved me too. But I’m not blaming the moon. No, the fault is purely my own and the moon had nothing to do with what transpired that afternoon; my own anger was responsible for what I did and I should never be forgiven.

I killed him. There. I said it; even if only aloud to the tender tissue of my fragile mind. I took the kitchen knife, while Ben slept on the sofa after his gluttonous lunch and stuck it into the soft flesh of his gut. When he opened his eyes, aghast at the pain intruding on his nap, I carved him like a hog, because I made a voluntary decision, influenced only by my battered emotions. It was wrong, but I’m fairly certain, I’d do it again.

Struggling, his eyes aghast, Ben grasped the knife and folded his bear paws over mine, fighting me, but pain, and the shock and blood squirting everywhere made his grasp on the knife slippery. Blood is sticky, warm like tepid water. My grip was firm, held in place by years of festering emotions.

“What the …?”  Ben’s pupils twirled like a pinwheel in the wind, he didn’t think I had it in me, his surprise, like an accomplice, aided me in succeeding with his demise.

The reason for my hatred is a hundredfold and rooted long and deep in my childhood. Ben is, or was, my older brother until I snuffed the light from his eyes. Don’t be too sorry too quickly, there wasn’t a singular nice trait within his psyche, nor mine I guess. I was shaped by circumstances, Ben by his choices.

I had returned to the family homestead that Ben inherited and ran into the ground because of those circumstances I alluded to above. His wife, poor Kate, did her best to raise the brood of children, the chickens, the hogs, the carrots, and potatoes. But life was hard for Kate despite shouldering the weight; for being an eternal optimist and in my opinion a fool. As an innocent bystander, she was fuel to my fire.

For a mere second, Ben summoned enough strength to raise himself off the sofa, but he slipped on his own blood which was pooling all around us. Humans contain a shitload of blood and in Ben’s case, from the looks of the mess, at least a gallon and a half. He was the sort of man who was well watered. As he staggered, he fell into my arms, which gave me the power to rip the knife upward. I really gutted the son of a bitch. Adrenaline is a powerful substance.

“Why…?” Was Ben’s last question. He died with dismay imprinted on his face.

“Because.” I said as I felt the blade cut deeper into the core of his flesh.

Because is never as simple an answer as the word implies. Because is the Pandora box of life. Even if I had explained to Ben, let’s say over dinner, that I hated him, that life wasn’t fair, that he was a fucking cunt who deserved it, he would have argued, laughed in my face and fed my contempt with his arrogance.

What surprised me, and still does, were two things. My strength didn’t fail me and pulled on resources harvested by circumstances. Then again if you’re going to commit murder it is best to stay the course. The consequences of failure are not an option.

And what stayed with me is that life and death are so separate from each other. We can mention the words in one sentence and believe we understand their meaning. But it isn’t so until you stand at the finishing line and cheer for the one or the other, I had a spectator seat in a race with only one ending. For one split second, I felt the tenuous beat of Ben’s life within my hands, then as swiftly, it was over. There is no middle ground. A person is either alive or dead, it’s a startlingly distinct line.

Ben Smith was thirty-five when I stuck the knife into his flesh. He was master of his future, boss of his own destiny until I took over the role of his fate. He had a great job in the village that paid well, (as is so typical) he wasted much of it on booze. He wouldn’t allow Kate to get a job, and seldom had two cents worth of decent feelings towards his children.

Ben also inherited the farm. Part of the deal included that he pay his siblings off with the profits. As of that day with the moon hanging in the sky, we were still awaiting the first instalment. But this killing wasn’t just about money. It was based in pure unadulterated hatred.

There are four Smith children, I’m the youngest. Our parents perished on a-once-in-a-lifetime- cruise that they won in a raffle. Talk about shitty luck. They were a hard-working, diligent couple, and raised us best as they could. Except for Ben and to some extent myself. Not sure what the logic was, but as the first born, Ben was given privileges which were not passed down to us and he took everything for granted. What he didn’t take for granted, he took without permission.

Not everyone is perfect. I get that. With family, it’s a crapshoot.

After the news of our parents’ death settled over us, Ben wasted no time. Within a few months, he married Kate, although when my parents were alive they advised him against it. Without so much as a decent explanation, we found our personal items scattered on the lawn, Ben took a stance on the porch with a loaded shotgun cradled in his arms, a sinister grin on his face.

While I strained and drove the blade deeper, to finish the job, Ben stopped struggling and went limp, a thud as he fell onto the wood flooring. There wasn’t a moment of regret other than that my shirt, my skirt, my skin, and my hair were soaked with Ben’s blood. I remember thinking that he was surprised by my strength, he didn’t think I had it in me. I was surprised how full the moon was in the afternoon sky that Sunday as I stared out the window.

Of course, I now stand behind the clang of metal bars and cement walls. It’s impossible to justify murder, regardless. And many of you are eager to jump to the defense of Ben, after all, the only crimes I’ve listed so far were: drunkenness, neglect, arrogance, greed, a touch of gluttony, some may have assumed wife-beater, (true) and being an ass in the general way of life. Maybe I’m the cunt after all.

But what drives murder? If you google it, you might come across the three basic elements that motivate murder. Greed. My brother was that: a greedy son of a bitch who cared for no one but his own satisfaction. A forgivable offence, some might say. But, here I’m giving Ben some leeway, for the last thirty years, every day, Ben exhibited his greed and that tallies up to a minimum of ten-thousand minor offences. I’m being generous by only attributing one act of greed per day. Those acts range from stealing my lunch cookies, robbing my piggy bank, taking every treasured possession I ever owned and using them for his gain or pleasure and I’m leaving off the daily trespasses he committed against his wife, against people who crossed his path.

I will also add the act of indulging in copious amounts of booze as an act of greed. Crucify me. Alcohol is the worst drug and social demon on the planet. Anyone can defend it if they need to, but the truth is that alcohol is responsible for social, physical, and economical demise. I’m not a preacher, I consider myself a moralist—I know, funny. Booze is the scourge of society; prohibition was its catalyst into protected territory. Google the stats, one beaten wife and one beaten child should be numbers/victims enough. Doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the occasional glass of wine, a crisp lager with pizza or burgers.

The article I recently read on Fox News about the three motivating causes of murder referenced MS13 and their motto, and in this hellhole I have a good glimpse of their offspring from across my cell. Kill, steal, rape, control.

I can forgive stealing if the circumstances warrant it. Like a homeless person stealing to feed their children or dog. It ends there.

Was Ben guilty of rape? Not in the sense of the law as written by men for men. Yes, the can of worms is open. Kate, Ben’s timid wife, endured. There was no pleasure in the act of coupling for her, not once the skin of her face met the knuckles of Ben’s fist. Out of respect and love for Kate, I won’t go into the details, but swearing on a stack of bibles, Kate was always a victim.

I know you despise me. You hope that I rot in jail. Jail is a state of mind even when it is or not enforced with physical bars.

Control and power. Ben’s chariot and whip. He was born with the type of personality that made him feel entitled to control and take advantage. Although he was never ‘labeled’ by any authority figure as a narcissist, he exhibited every trait: self-centered, inflated sense of self-worth, the need to be the center of all attention at all times, and when it came to empathy, his tank was empty. Ben tortured and killed our family dog. I know you were waiting for me to bring that up, that defining trait that pegs him to the cross. I was eight years old, and if anything ever scarred me in life, it was that moment. There is no treatment to rinse that sight from my vision, there are no pills that will ever soften the moment when Paws yelped in pain and then succumbed to impossibly cruel injuries my brother inflicted on him. A sound that I can’t erase from memory.

You see, all my life, I carried that moment forward in time. For years and with therapy, I tried to surpass that moment. Only to realize I was just as flawed as Ben. I was the person I was because of genetics, experiences, and beliefs. There was nothing I could do to escape my skin or learn to walk in anyone else’s shoes. I was shaped and molded.

Power. Like a slick cape, Ben paraded his power and lauded it over us. Our sister and brother moved away and had enough fortitude to move past their past. I was forced by circumstances to return, beg Ben for my portion of the inheritance. Power. He held it over me once again as he did that day he killed Paws. Although while growing up I often wished Ben dead, I never planned to commit murder. I admit, I always hoped that job would befall someone else.

Even on that afternoon while Kate was playing out under the blue sky with her youngest child, I could hear her sing and giggle, I wasn’t thinking of murdering Ben. Kate, I remember clearly, was marked by a black and blue pattern beneath the second-hand house she wore. It never, despite the prosecuting attorney painting me into that role, occurred to me beforehand, to kill my brother.

Ben slept on the sofa, the ritualistic Sunday football blaring on the television, his can of beer had gone flat, he was contently snoring, his cotton undershirt stained with sweat and the grease of a Sunday lunch.

I was on my way out. Since Ben refused to pay up, I had no choice but to leave. He knew I was desperate, he loved holding that control flag in my face and making me suffer.  But as I walked around the kitchen island and saw the butcher’s block of knives, something triggered.

It wasn’t an act of aggravated passion or premeditated. Murdering was a spur of the moment and an opportunity. I had nothing left to lose. The knife set was all shiny in its pristine state, Ben only used them to carve up his bounty when he hunted rabbit, deer, or moose.

The largest knife slipped quietly from the slot. The kitchen light reflected a glint as I saw my distorted features in the blade. I had nothing left to live for, I thought, and if I didn’t, then Ben didn’t deserve to either. All my life I had obeyed the laws, the rules that society sets. Even in court, I was commended for my exemplary volunteer record, in private I donated, recycled, prayed, and fulfilled that minor role that life had handed me. For what? Nothing but misery.

As I stood in the congealing blood pool, Ben’s eyes staring into mine, his mouth agape, mine, I’m not sure I must have snapped my lips shut, I was gritting my teeth, my jaw clenched. I dropped the knife on the threadbare rug, someplace in the tree out front, a bird chirped, children’s giggles echoed, and the wind rustled in the leaves. Sounds I haven’t heard since and never will again, but at least now I have a home, a bed to sleep on. I am where I belong.

Monika R Martyn

Image by Sabrina St. from Pixabay 

16 thoughts on “The Incident with the Knife by Monika R Martyn”

  1. Hi Monika,
    I really enjoyed this. I thought the pace was controlled brilliantly. I think that is a very difficult thing to do.
    I’ve mentioned Simon Kernick before and the pace that he gets into his novels, ‘Relentless’ is worth a look as an example of you thinking you are having to read quicker to keep up!
    I thought your last paragraph was excellent. It emphasised the clarity that she had, the change she had made and her acceptance of this.
    Excellent!!
    Hugh

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  2. “Then again if you’re going to commit murder it is best to stay the course.” perfectly captures the practicality of what (to me) seems a justifiable act, although it did get messy. The symbol of the moon tracing across the sky and coming along with the story adds depth; it provides a visual. that, for whatever reason, is more unsettling than the killing itself. Well done.
    LA

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  3. Very interesting read. I agree with Hugh in the comments here that the pacing of this story is impeccable. You give a little, take a little, and we are riding the waves of the narrator’s own justification of the murder of their sibling. It feels real and raw.

    Like

  4. Good job of getting inside the mind of a killer. I thought the description of the murder effectively detailed without being over-the-top gruesome. You can debate whether the MC was right or not, which is the mark of a story creating a believable character.

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  5. Hi Monika
    I love the sharpness of this piece. The strong sense of an unrelenting battering leading to a recognition that this is not what any life should be, this is abuse. You really captured that moment when the narrator moves from learned helplessness and an almost rhythmic response to fear to premeditated action. It’s a story that one hears and sees everyday in women’s refuges or from children stuck on the merry-go-round with abusive foster families – so much so that it’s become an identified syndrome with it’s own category of PTSD. I think the main characters sense of self-loathing was so sad but at least it was tempered with an understanding of how evil that miserable brother was. No one gets a happy ending and that’s a hard story to write – and you do it so well.

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  6. What is interesting are the three motivating causes of murder. I believe they are supposed to apply to the murderer, but the protagonist applies them to the victim, who then in a sense becomes the perpetrator of his own demise. He deserved to be murdered because he sparked the perps motivation. ‘I remembered the facts to suit me’ she says. Good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I envy the way in which you draw a reader onto the stage, whilst writing. I felt I was with your protagonist as she stalked upon her brother. I sensed her agony, fear, loss and bitterness. Not that I, personally, could ever condone the killing of another human, whatever the circumstance; having said this, I was happy that he painfully met his end. It was a clever little twist in the end she felt a prison cell was where she established her ‘home’ and where ‘she belonged.’ Well done Monika, you are a talented writer. I was a Minister, licensed to work in one of our large prisons, for six years. At that time the global recidivism rate (offenders returning to prison within two years of their release) was 75%! I often wondered if the poor souls had felt that prison was their home.

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