Housebound and alone, it was only ever on the final day of the week that the septuagenarian felt this way; when all the meaning in his life departed and his soul filled with emptiness.
On such days he would prowl the garden, armed with cutters and thumbs that were not green, stalking weeds and slashing at dandelions or ferns that grew tall or fat. He would read newspapers and novels, road maps and short stories, only to pass into sleep and wake, at 5 o’clock, feeling groggy and insignificant. He would switch on the radio and listen to people not knowing why their snow peas wouldn’t grow. He would build bookshelves and buy cabinets, erect birdbaths and mend the handles of unused doors.
All this, though, meant little to Mr. Flinchfin. He didn’t mind if the undergrowth ambushed the garden path; he cared not a jot that most of his books sat in an untroubled heap on the floor of his bedroom; it did not perturb him if the birds could find no water to quench their thirsts here. He was simply, in a word, bored.
Mrs. Flinchfin, on the other hand, breathed for weekends. Her Friday nights, invariably involving neighbourhood house parties and attendant cocktails, heralded two days and nights of easy living that also included, variously, bingo, bowls, Gin Rummy and Tupperware. On this particular Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Flinchfin was attending a local secondary school’s dance matinee.
Mr. Flinchfin, in the meantime, had found himself, through no conscious resolve, surveying the kitchen and its gathering of utensils straight and curly, long and short, wide and narrow. But all, it occurred to him, old: the knives and forks had been acquired on a whim shortly before the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977; the spoons were even older, a wedding gift, unboxed in the fiery wake of Sputnik; countless more had gathered over the years like meteorites to a celestial new-born. Mr. Flinchfin, surprised at himself, suddenly detested all of these glistening little histories. They told him he was old – very old.
So Mr. Flinchfin, in a bitter but muted rage, assembled the ancient silvery limbs and chestnut kindling of his kitchen in a large black bag. He then sealed it shut with a length of twine, chiming screams sounding from within as things clawed at the bags’ insides, some so successful as to pierce it. But Mr. Flinchfin only heard a clamouring of the things he now loathed, not screams, and did not pause to consider the growing tide of lacerations that now threatened to free his prisoners from their dim custody.
He went out, through the laundry, and bulldozed the bag into the rubbish, where finally the protestations stopped and a few bold items spilled out amongst sweet wrappers and fruit gone furry.
Mr. Flinchfin, smiling for the first time all day, went inside to make tea (he had spared a newly purchased teapot) in a kitchen now free from the things that had dared remind him of his ever-mounting years. But as he reached for the pot, something caught his eye. It was a cheese knife that had known Stiltons three decades since consumed, now lying upon the floor by the bin.
‘How dare you!?’ Mr. Flinchfin roared and then burned red with embarrassment; had he just, in all seriousness and indignation, reprimanded an item of cutlery? Perhaps, but the fact remained that is was there, and somehow Mr. Flinchfin felt as though it had ignored him; as if it could hear him but had elected not to. ‘How dare you?’ he repeated, ‘I’ve taken all your friends away and yet you’re still here. Frankly, I don’t like your attitude. I am in control here. You will do as you’re told.’
Now crouching before the offending knife, Mr. Flinchfin felt his hands gathering into fists. ‘You will obey,’ he hissed.
And, so suddenly that Mr. Flinchfin toppled to the floor with a loud exclamation, the knife took to the air of its own volition and proceeded to hover menacingly about his hairless head. Then, having precisely positioned itself, the knife nose-dived, missing a tumbling Mr. Flinchfin by little more than an inch and embedding in the vinyl floor. It then, having freed itself, returned to the air, a hysterical Mr. Flinchfin seemingly unable to curb its rage. ‘Stop this!’ he bawled, ‘for the love of God, stop this!’ The knife positioned itself for a second strike.
‘No, no! Show mercy! Show mercy!’ Mr Flinchfins’ increasingly despairing appeals went. The knife then launched itself at the old man a second time, once more missing and planting itself in the floor. So deeply embedded on this occasion was the knife however that it could not, try as it might, extract itself.
Mr. Flinchfin sprung at the knife, legs akimbo, and wrenched it from the vinyl floor so determinedly that he fell into a heap and bruised a shoulder. The old man trembled as his hands brought the knife close to his face. ‘You menace…you beast… you… thing!’
And with these words and others, Mr. Flinchfin set about the destruction of the knife. He beat it with a chair, hurled it at walls and into the floor, stamped upon it and burnt it, bent it and broke it, twisted and contorted it and, finally, breathless and triumphant, severed it in two and dropped these pieces into the rubbish where it sank into paper and plastic and was, by human eyes at least, seen no more.
This funeral, if it could be said to be such a thing, was not entirely without remorse for, unbeknownst to Mr. Flinchfin, a small but solemn party of mourners had gathered at the edge of the kitchen: one half cup measure, two dessert spoons, a grater, a butter knife and, most impressive of all, the kitchen drawer itself within which the now-dismembered cheese knife had once resided. All these articles were wet from droplets that emerged from their tips and fell to dampen the kitchen vinyl.
As if he had heard these wholly silent mourners, Mr. Flinchfin turned about. He jumped at the sight of the grim assembly and as he landed emitted a grotesque shriek, throwing his hands to his chest.
‘You…’ he gasped, breathing heavily, ‘you’ll be the death of me…’
At this, the kitchen drawer rattled forwards and in its wake followed the rest of the cutlery. Mr. Flinchfin fixed them with a troubled glare. ‘How did you get in here?’ he spat. ‘What do you want?’ The drawer lurched forwards again and again the other items chimed in heady pursuit. The grater, in particular, appeared restless and began to waddle determinedly ahead, swaying like a blank, drunken robot. It stopped scarcely two feet from Mr. Flinchfins’ bare ankles and arched backwards with great deliberation. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Mr. Flinchfin, panic having entered a voice more accustomed to bile and froth. ‘I am sorry…’
The wooden spoon began to thrash itself against the butter knife which, in turn, proceeded to drag its serrated lips across the rim of the drawer in short, violent strokes. The two dessert spoons clashed their mighty heads. Mr. Flinchfin was crying.
‘Please… you must believe how sorry I am. You can all come back. I’ll get you all out of the bin.’ There was a pause, full of the clumsy ragtime clatters of death. Mr. Flinchfin made a short step forward but the grater lunged, and cut his toes. Before he even had time to give voice to the pain in his foot, the grater had frisked upwards and smashed at Mr. Flinchfins’ face. Roaring with pain, the old man fell backwards awkwardly and, in mid-fall, executed a desperate swipe at the grater with his left hand. He connected, screeched indignantly and collapsed to the floor, red all over, as the grater crashed against the wall and clattered noisily into the sink.
The clamour of the cutleries, now incensed, rose to a near-deafening cacophony, the grater drawing itself up to its’ full height upon the rim of the sink impressively, its crimson-wet blades glistening. The amassed kitchen objects thrashed and flailed harder and louder, reaching fever pitch. Mr. Flinchfin shut his weeping eyes, his bloody hands outstretched and open, and –
Everything saw the 1966 13-inch Oriental Cleaver.
At half-past five that evening, Mrs. Flinchfin returned home with a smile upon her face, the music of the matinee still ringing in her ears. She discarded her complementary peach-coloured shoes and shawl and scuttled into the kitchen, pleasantly surprised at the sounds and smells of dinner being prepared, so it would seem, by her unusually magnanimous husband.
‘Oh, splendid!’ she chirped, upon seeing an enormous pot above a medium heat on the stovetop. Alongside that, sat upon the bench, was a steamer full of vegetables as well as bowls of white sauce and freshly grated cheese. Not only was dinner underway, however, but the kitchen itself appeared immaculate, every square inch of bench top and cupboard door sparkling clean. Every utensil was in its right place, just as they had been for more years than she could remember.
Mrs. Flinchfin swooped over the gleaming stovetop and within the pot there she perceived several large portions of meat. ‘Marvellous!’ she gushed, slowly gliding her tongue ’round her craggy lips. ‘Beef bourguignon!’
She then leant over the stove, plucked a wooden spoon off the wall, and gave it a little stir.