HEIRLOOM • by Richard Nunez

When I was a boy, my father showed me a hunting knife that once belonged to my grandfather. The knife was serrated, hefty, meant to saw through muscle and bones. My father told me my grandfather had killed himself with that very knife. He slit his wrists one winter and bled to death in the woods outside our home. He was found slumped against a tree, half frozen, his arms spread out on either side of him, as if asking for divine forgiveness.

I loved playing in those woods, but after my father’s revelation, I could never step foot in them again. Years later, my father would stand for long periods of time in front of the kitchen window, staring out into the woods. He was silent at first, but after a few days he began to whisper to himself. His words sounded like a pencil scratching on paper. Sometimes I stood in the doorway, unnoticed, trying to hear his words, but most of it was unintelligible. Soon, he began losing weight. Dark circles formed under his eyes. I wanted to pull him away from the window, and sometimes I did with a request for lunch or supper, but he always returned to his vigil.

One day, he went to the riverside a few miles away and tossed his father’s hunting knife into the water. We both stood at the water’s edge, watching the current sweep driftwood and detritus downstream. I wondered where the debris had come from, how it had been worn or washed away, how far it had traveled. My father coughed, glanced at me, and then got behind the wheel of the pickup. I thought that was the end of it, but soon he began standing vigil by the riverside, for hours on end. One evening, in the middle of winter, he walked in.

Years later, I was crossing a bridge that spanned the same river my father drowned in, except it was hundreds of miles downstream from where he died, as I had moved to another state by then. I stopped in the middle of the bridge, feeling neither happy nor sad, and stared out at the water flowing south to the sea, and I thought to myself that somewhere in this river is a knife that no one else knows exists.


Richard Nunez teaches English at Front Range Community College-Larimer in Fort Collins, CO. His fiction has appeared in CutBank, Puerto del Sol, The Front Range Review, Grassroots, and the Santa Fe Review. He also maintains a blog, The Hippocampal Hijack, which chronicles his adventures in Kenya.


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