Frances Lefkowitz

The Snug Way

When I was a girl with long stringy blonde hair, my father would remove our splin­ters with his exac­to knife. He sat at his draft­ing table, more moth than pony, sur­round­ed by cig­a­rette smoke andcof­fee cans over­flow­ing with pens and pen­cils, and we held our palms out and he did the job with the most effi­cient tool he had. I was not at all sure that the cure was bet­ter than the dis­ease, and so I tried to hide this par­tic­u­lar sliv­er. But it began to fes­ter and he noticed the thick­en­ing as I looped my hair over my ear in between bites of pan­cake, and soon I was sit­ting on the wood­en stool in front of his table and that indus­tri­al-look­ing blade was head­ed my way. My father did not drink beer, he smoked pot, and he bought his pot from a magi­cian, a man with a trim gray goa­tee who made things dis­ap­pear in the clubs in North Beach when he wasn’t home sell­ing pot. So my father’s hand was steady with blades; he was very focused, and I had no rea­son not to trust him, as he knew how to do things the prop­er way. I turned my head, but I peeked back at the pierc­ing of that met­al tip into my fin­ger, the dig­ging into the tun­nel, the peel­ing back of the skin, the lift­ing out of the tiny shaft of wood. The magi­cian also did some­thing unwatch­able with thin, sharp met­al. One of his tricks, my moth­er told me, was to spice up razor blades with salt and pep­per from lit­tle shak­ers and then chew and swal­low them, even­tu­al­ly pulling a string of them, whole, from his sim­per­ing mouth. There was no blood on my hand, and none, pre­sum­ably, on the magician’s face, though I nev­er saw him do this trick. My father slid the splin­ter into the trash bas­ket and wiped his blade on his pants. I hopped down from the stool and swished out. I tell you all this with­out an ounce of snide. But there is a buf­fa­lo in the room and I have not mas­tered the ignor­ing of that enor­mous, grunt­ing, ani­mal. The magi­cian is dead, because not even magi­cians know the trick for avoid­ing the end. My father has turned old; he has had parts replaced, he is swelling and with­er­ing at the same time. I have not yet met the man who can step in, who can be trust­ed to wield, with con­fi­dence, these dan­ger­ous blades. Some things die out. I say, some things die out.

Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010″ by She has been nom­i­nat­ed for twice for the Pushcart Prize, once forBest American Essays, and once for the James Beard Award for Food Writing, among oth­er near-awards. She is at home here.