Steak Knife by Brittany Howard


My weapon of choice is a steak knife. Quite different from a regular knife, steak knives have a sharp, rigid blade, particularly to cut meats, such as steak. While they don’t always make the neatest and cleanest cut, each little ridge along the blade helps dig deeper and deeper into the meat, just as a hand saw cuts and grinds deeper and deeper into the trunk of a tree.

I lift my weapon from the kitchen drawer and walk back to my seat on the couch. The house is empty and quiet now; my mind envies it, full of angry patched-together words, images and door slams. I prop my feet on the coffee table, covered in used tissues and yarn with a half-made baby hat sitting next to me.

I look at my right thigh, freshly shaved, slightly tan and still a little too fat, but today it is my blank canvas. Like every good artist, I don’t rush, starting out gentle with light strokes. I greet my skin with the flat part of the blade, easily trailing the tip of the knife across my leg. After a few strokes, I introduce the ridges. I watch my skin pool between each ridge as I glide across the top of my thigh. Each time I press the blade harder and deeper, the ridges catching on my skin, now leaving an indention but still no blood.

I start trailing closer to my hips where the skin is more sensitive but still tough. No blood, just lines and lines. I guess there’s more than one problem to having tough skin. I take a moment and realize that I’m not crying anymore. The words in my head have stopped; there’s no sound. All I can think about is the sensation of my skin, now turning a light, blotchy red, my lines a bright white.

I trace back over a few lines, trying deeper. I want to see the little red beads, but they still don’t appear. I tenderly trail my fingers over my leg. It doesn’t hurt, it actually feels good, like massaging a sore muscle. It’s then that I notice another blank canvas—my left arm.

I assume this skin is less tough, finding the flat, white area of my forearm, right below my elbow crease. I draw a few lines, each a different length with a different sensation. It stings a little more, good but no blood. I move down my arm to the cliché area of my wrist. I don’t necessarily want to kill myself; I’m just exploring, creating.

I turn my wrist thumb-up so that the hard bone beneath glides to the surface. I cut four small, short lines on the bone. The last one I trace and redraw three extra times, each time harder and deeper, my last chance to see the red beads. I stop after the third time and pull at the edges of the line, waiting. I see the line turn red, but the skin is not severed, no beads.

And that’s as close as I want to get tonight. I place the steak knife in the sink and walk into the bathroom to clean up like a good artist. I see myself in the mirror and this must be what all artists feel like: to see their finished work all together, to feel their thoughts in their skin—beautiful and proud.


Brittany L. Howard was raised in the very blue state of Kentucky where she attended Eastern Kentucky University and obtained her BA in English. By day, she is a receptionist at a veterinary hospital where she loves working with and helping animals. By night, she is an experimental creative nonfiction writer inspired by the works of Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs. Her creative nonfiction and poetry have been featured in the Gonzofest Literary Competition of LEO Weekly and in Aurora Literary Arts Journal.