Southern Legitimacy Statement: My South is dichotomy and contradiction. Trailers to million dollar homes. Homemade apple wine from Mason jars to bottles of bourbon from a call list. Dumplins and banana pudding to grilled triggerfish and cherry clafoutis. A violent and dark history with a nostalgia for past days. A sting of shame and a sense of pride.
Wade holds out the yellow sodbuster Case pocketknife and watches for their reactions, hoping for a hint of approval—especially from Bristol.
“That’s a cute turkey on it,” Bristol says, bending to get a closer look at the emblem on the handle. Her dark hair cascades over her bare shoulders like a lazy waterfall, and Wade’s hand trembles.
“Where’d you get it?” Blaze asks before Wade finds his voice.
“From Cole,” Wade manages to say, hoping Bristol hasn’t noticed the redness he feels in his cheeks. “He keeps it in some box by his recliner and won’t be home ’til late; Thursdays he gets shitfaced at the Rooster.”
“He seems like a real jerk,” Bristol says.
Wade looks at her brown eyes and sees concern, and something in his chest twists. She’s right to be worried, he thinks. Cole had beaten his ass for smaller things, and if Wade somehow messes up his favorite knife, it would be a bad night. But the three sentences Bristol had already said to him made the risk worthwhile.
“I’ll put it back in a minute,” Wade said. “I thought y’all would want a look since he spent over a hundred on it.”
Blaze reaches out and jerks the knife from Wade’s open palm.
“Man, let’s play roulette with it,” Blaze says and before Wade can find the words to protest, he’s flicked the three-inch blade open.
“Don’t,” Bristol says, as Blaze slings the knife into the air.
The three watch as the violent spin of the blade rises and then momentarily pauses at the pinnacle, hovering over them, an interruption before the descent. Wade holds his breath, concerned for the wellbeing of the knife as well as their own.
“Shit,” Blaze yells, spins on his heel, and bolts to the treeline of the sandy field.
Wade and Bristol glance at each other and smirk while taking a couple of short, backpedaling steps before the knife embeds itself in the ground between them.
“I’m closer,” Bristol says as she smiles wider and bends to grab the yellow handle. The three had played the game many times, but with their own cheap pocketknives. Wade knew Bristol was fearless. Once he’d seen a handle of an open blade bounce off her bare foot, but she never flinched.
“By like an inch,” Wade says, his mouth dry. He closes the distance and can smell Bristol’s berry shampoo, amplified by the ninety-five-degree sun. For a moment, he imagines that it’s just her out there with him. How it would be if she would speak to him at school instead of only at the trailer park?
“I was a full foot closer.” Bristol pulls the blade smoothly from the earth. “And besides, we all know who the loser was.”
“Fuck y’all,” Blaze says as he approaches. “The sun was in my eyes.”
Wade barely registers what Blaze is saying; he’s replaying the short conversation with Bristol, wishing he could be smarter or funnier. “Should’ve been easier then,” Wade says after a pause long enough to seem out of place.
“Gimme that thing.” Blaze takes the knife from Bristol and circles around them, dragging his heel in the dirt. “I’ll toss it this time, and whoever leaves this circle has to go up to Delmont’s and steal us some beers. It’s hotter than a mother out here.”
The circle is tight enough that the three are shoulder to shoulder. Wade’s hand brushes against Bristol’s thigh, and his chest tightens. He hopes that she’s noticed, but she’s staring at Blaze.
“We ain’t going up to that perv’s house. You want to prove something, go get a bottle yourself,” Bristol says.
Blaze flicks the knife into the air. While Wade follows the linear rise, a vice grip encircles his wrist.
The remnants of his lunch rise in his throat. “The hell?” Wade says.
“Lemme go,” Bristol yells.
“Who’s a bitch now?” Blaze pulls them all in tighter and jerks their wrists down, forcing them all into a tight huddle.
“Damn it,” Wade screams and looks up. The knife has hit its inflection point. “Let go!”
“Here it comes, fuckers!” Blaze’s grip tightens and with another violent yank pulls them closer, his arms locked in extension. Bristol’s body presses on Wade’s side, his free arm following the contour of her waist and bare leg, and a longing grows in his abdomen despite the fear.
A scream pierces Wade’s ears.
The grip slackens on his wrist.
The trio collapses into a pile; more guttural cries erupt from above and the realization that something terrible and irreversible is happening descends on Wade.
Wade kicks back from the mass, rolls to his side, and pushes himself upright.
Bristol is kneeling with wide eyes and open mouth; tears form in her eyes and her brown skin is the color of chalk. Wade follows her stare to Blaze, where the screams are originating. The yellow handle sticks out of his bicep, the end of the blade visible on the other side of his arm. Blood pools at the hilt and drips from the blade’s tip.
“Oh, shit. Oh, fuck,” Blaze stammers.
The image doesn’t seem real to Wade, as if he’s watching the scene play out on a screen. “Don’t touch it,” Wade says, his voice echoing in his head.
Bristol turns and sprints to the treeline. “I’ll get help,” she calls over her shoulder.
“Wait!” Blaze yells. “Wait!”
Bristol never breaks her stride.
“Damn it,” Blaze hisses. “Wade, come on and get me to the house. There ain’t no one there, but I’ll be in deep shit.”
Wade’s stare bounces from the knife to Bristol and back to Blaze.
“It ain’t as bad as it looks; it just scared me. Help me out.”
Blaze grabs his injured arm and holds it steady as he drops his other elbow on Wade’s shoulder. “Come on,” he says, and the two take a steady shuffle to Blaze’s trailer. Wade tries to focus on the movement of his feet, but his gaze continues to drift to the knife’s tip. The blood is steady but slow. A few yards from the rusted front door, Bristol vaults out.
“No one’s here. I’m going–“
“Stop.” Blaze brushes off Wade’s support and lumbers to face her. “Lemme try to get it out before you go on and get us in trouble.”
Bristol stops and narrows her eyes at him. The concern and skepticism on her face make her seem younger, more like the girl Wade had grown up with. She used to be the one that settled arguments between them, the peacemaker. Since middle school, she was often too busy with other friends to even simply be around.
“It ain’t bleeding like it was.” Blaze walks a few feet from the trailer, and Wade hangs back by a lawnmower overtaken by weeds. “It must’ve missed the artery–it ain’t squirting. We tell someone and we’re all in shit. I’ll go in there, pull it out, and wrap it up. If it don’t seem right, then we’ll go tell.”
“I don’t know–“
Blaze pushes by her, not waiting to hear their protests, and the aluminum door slams behind him. Bristol drifts towards Wade.
“What do you think?” she asks.
“I think he’s right.”
Bristol chews her lower lip. Wade watches as she eases it from her teeth, each millimeter exposed more inviting, until her mouth forms a full pout. His chest feels as if it will split open as he walks to her and, without hesitation, puts his mouth to hers. She gasps and then relaxes. He tastes her tongue, alkaline and raw, and their teeth touch. His hand settles on her hip, the warmth of her exposed skin between her tank top and shorts fueling the desire in the pit of his stomach. Despite never kissing anyone before, and with his head swimming, he is lost in some primal urge that’s been swelling inside him.
The door of the trailer swings open, and Bristol pushes Wade away. Blaze hesitates for a moment at the threshold and walks over. Wade searches Bristol’s face for any hint of her feelings, but she’s focused on Blaze. Already he can feel in the air around him that the relationship has changed, like when he walks into his house and knows right away if his mom and Cole have been fighting.
“Good as new,” Blaze says and holds up his arm. The arm is bruised and angry, but the gauze is tight and there’s no blood. Blaze hands Wade the knife, blood on the handle.
“That’s enough for the day,” Bristol says as she pushes between the boys. She walks to the trailer without a glance back.
“See you tomorrow?” Wade asks in the general direction of both siblings, a slight tilt at the end making the question seem more urgent.
“Sure, whatever,” Blaze says as he staggers to the trailer. Bristol never looks back.
Wade watches the door shut and licks his lips, trying to encapsulate the memory, to protect it from his normal life. He tries to decide if he’s made a mistake but forces himself to think of anything else because he’s feeling sick to his stomach. He makes his way to his trailer. Inside the wood-paneled living room, the odors of stale cigarettes and spilt beer are overwhelming in the heat. He walks to the kitchen to wash off the knife but stops. He closes the knife, blood dried on the hinge and clumped on the bright yellow handle, and puts it back in the cigar box.