With This Switchblade I Thee Wed ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
His face was skeletal, all chalky skin like raw chicken and white stubble. The only thing alive about the face was the blue eyes, filled with hate. He pointed his finger for emphasis and trembled.
“My daughter is a good girl,” he said, “and I’m not going to let you make her into a bad one.”
Carl Dickey didn’t know what to say. Anything he said wouldn’t make any difference. He stood on the front lawn, smiling to let the old man know he wasn’t afraid. Wanda stood behind the old man on the porch, a smirk on her face. Her mother stood beside her, a protective arm around her shoulders.
“She’s sixteen years old,” the old man said. “I don’t know how old you are but I’d guess you’re about twice that. She don’t know anything yet, and you’re not going to be the one to teach her.”
Carl turned his head and spit on the grass. He opened his mouth to speak but changed his mind.
“Now, I’ve got a twelve-gauge shotgun in the house,” the old man continued, “that I keep behind the bedroom door. Anybody that knows me knows I’m a crackerjack shot and they also know I mean business.”
“Are you threatening me?” Carl asked.
“Just get off my property right now before I call the sheriff!”
“I think it’s against the law to threaten people.”
Wanda’s mother whisked her into the house and the old man followed, slamming the door for emphasis.
A dog in a yard across the street began barking. Carl stood there in the dark for a couple of minutes, taking some deep breaths. He was still a little shaken at how mean Wanda’s father was. He shouldn’t have just stood there and taken it without saying anything back. By not saying anything, though, he believed himself to be the better person. Why should I stand there all night and bicker with the old ass? he asked himself. What’s to be gained by that?
He got into his car and drove off into the night. It was only eight o’clock and he didn’t want to go home. His parents would be installed in front of the TV, his father in his undershirt and his mother in her pajamas and housecoat with her hair in curling pins. He saw himself going into his room and lying down on the bed, wishing he was somewhere else, exactly as he had done in high school.
When he met somebody new, as with Wanda Fritchie, he felt a little funny for them to know he still lived with his parents, like a recent high school graduate, long after the age of thirty. His brother, two years younger, was long gone. He had a job in the city, living what his mother called the “extravagant lifestyle.” Carl envied him and wished he had the courage to do the same.
He drove around for a while, feeling a little lonely—he and Wanda had been going out tonight—and a little put out because of the way Wanda’s father had treated him. How can people be so mean? So what if there’s an age difference? It happens all the time. Women get old quicker than men, so if the man is a few years older, it works out just about right. Not that he had any intention of ever marrying Wanda. He didn’t know her well enough yet and maybe never would.
He drove to the movie theatre, almost deserted on a week night. He bought a bag of popcorn and a large Coke and sat at the front of the balcony, his favorite place to sit. Sitting there, he could see the screen without anything in his way, and he liked the feeling of being up high and knowing that people were down below. He could see them if he leaned forward in his seat, but just hearing them was enough. Except tonight it was quiet because the place was practically deserted.
The picture was loud and long and it gave him a headache. At the end of a picture he always knew if he liked it or not by the way he felt. If he felt in a good mood and not tired, he enjoyed the picture and hadn’t wanted it to end. It he felt out of sorts, irritated by one thing and another, and dreaded going to work the next day, he didn’t like the picture and would have been better off if he hadn’t seen it. The picture he just saw fell into the second category.
He felt lonelier than ever leaving the movie theatre because he was the last to leave and the old man who worked there was sweeping up popcorn and candy wrappers from between the rows of seats. When he got into his car to leave, he felt like the last person on earth because they had turned off all the outside lights and everybody else had already left. To add to his feeling of disconnectedness, a train whistle blew from a long way off.
It was eleven-thirty when he got home and he wasn’t even sleepy yet. He took off his clothes and got into bed, though, because he had to get up early and go to work.
He laid there for hours thinking about what Wanda’s father said to him. He knew the old man had a point, but he didn’t have to be so mean about it. What was he doing dating a high school girl, anyway? Anybody with any sense could see he was only asking for trouble. Quit now while you’re still in possession of your pride, he told himself.
He left work early the next day so that he might pick up Wanda as she was getting out of school. He saw her coming out of the building with a bunch of other girls. She whooped when she saw him and detached herself from the others.
She scooted across the seat and put her arms around his neck and gave him an open-mouthed kiss, which he always hated. Her mouth tasted like the bad food she had eaten, the cigarettes she had smoked and the stale air she had breathed.
“Get off me!” he said. “People are looking at us.”
“Let them look!” she said. “They’re just jealous, anyway.”
“Your old man really was really riled up last night, wasn’t he?”
She laughed. “I should say he was! He can be a real shit whenever he wants to be!”
“I don’t appreciate being threatened on somebody else’s lawn,” he said.
“Oh, he’s just full of hot air! He doesn’t mean a word he says!”
“He doesn’t know you very well, does he? He thinks you’re so innocent.”
“He still thinks of me as an eight-year-old little angel in a taffeta dress hunting for Easter eggs.”
She took a cigarette out of her book satchel and lit it. He opened his window to let out the smoke.
“I am so sick of living at home with my parents,” she said. “I hate school and I would quit in a minute if I had a good reason.”
“Better finish school,” he said weakly. “You’ll be sorry later if you don’t.”
“I’ve got two whole years to go! I don’t think I’ll make it without killing somebody.”
“Nobody likes their life. Everybody wishes they were somebody else.”
“I’ve got a plan, though,” she said.
“We’ll run off and get married!”
“I never said anything about marriage!” he said.
“With us legally married, nobody can touch us. My father will just have to shut his trap because there won’t be a thing he can do about it.”
“Isn’t that a little drastic?”
“I figured you wouldn’t be quite as receptive to that idea as I might have liked, so I have an alternative plan!”
“What is it?”
“You get me pregnant and then I can quit school and, whether we get married or not, we can get an apartment and live together.”
“Wait a minute!” he said. “You’d want to get pregnant just so you could quit school?”
“Sure, that and other reasons.”
“What other reasons?”
“So you and I can be together always.”
“Yes, and with a third party there, too. Babies scream all the time and need constant attention. Are you willing to give up high school for that?”
“Sure, it happens all the time!”
“Are you up to taking care of a baby?”
“We’d manage. People always do.”
“It sounds like a living hell on earth,” he said, “if you want to know what I think about it.”
She looked at him and her smile faded and her eyes narrowed. “Are you saying you don’t want to have a baby with me?”
“No, I don’t want to have a baby with you.”
“If you loved me, you wouldn’t say that.”
“Nobody said anything about love and nobody said anything about having a baby.”
“You’re just a chickenshit, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m just a chickenshit.”
“You’re not even a man. I don’t know why I ever even bothered with you. Daddy was right about you. You are a no-good bum who will never amount to shit. I’ll have you know that I can have any boy anywhere I am, in high school or anyplace else.”
“I’m so happy for you.”
“When daddy was saying mean things to you last night, I couldn’t believe you just stood there and took it without a word. A real man would have stood up for me and declared his love and told him that nothing on earth would keep us a part.”
“I’m just not a real man, I guess.”
“I’m sorry I ever wasted a moment of my time with you. I could have gone out with good-looking men with things going for them who want to make something out of their lives.”
“I’m sorry I ever wasted a moment of my time with you, too,” he said. “You’re a sniveling little baby and your breath stinks.”
“Oh!” she said, seething with indignation.
She started to get out of the car, but before she did she took a switchblade knife out of her book satchel and sliced him across the top of his arm.
“I hope you bleed to death!” she said before she slammed the door. “I hope you rot in hell!”
His arm was bleeding all over the inside of his car and he didn’t know what to do to make it stop, so he stepped out of the car and took off his shirt and wrapped it around his arm. He knew he needed help—it wasn’t one of those cuts that would heal on its own—so he drove to the hospital emergency room.
He waited about half an hour and when his turn came a young doctor took him into an examining room and closed the door. The doctor cleaned the cut, took twelve stiches and bandaged it.
“Who did this to you?” the doctor asked as he administered a tetanus shot.
“I cut myself shaving,” Carl said.
“Hah-hah,” the doctor said. “Who did this to you?”
“I had a fight with my girlfriend. I guess you’d say she’s my former girlfriend now.”
“If she did this to you, what did you do to her?”
“Not nearly as much as I would have liked.”
Carl had no trouble forgetting about Wanda. He knew he should never have become involved with one of her type in the first place. He learned his lesson.
About a month after his arm was sliced, he heard through a friend that Wanda ran off and married a twenty-eight-year-old divorced car salesman with two children and alimony payments through the roof. It didn’t take a genius to know it was never going to work out. And after him, there’d be somebody else and then somebody else and somebody else after that. Poor Wanda. He got out just in time.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp