Memory tangles itself in the knots of time and childhood, and makes me believe my grandfather’s knives were sharpened proportionally to the slivers of flesh that were shaved from his index fingers.
He was a butcher, and his hands, wrists and forearms were scarred by a lifetime of work. He would slaughter animals with deep respect and gravity, once allowing us, the grandkids, to witness the act, standing as we did at the bottom of the slaughter yard where the blood would soon run down in an unexpected torrent, coming to a trickling halt near our shockingly childish — now, in the cast of memory — bare feet.
When I spy — secretly, unexpectedly — the hands, wrists and forearms of those who now slice into themselves to relieve the pain of their own lifetime — a self-butchering that I’m sure would have confounded my grandfather — I am reminded of him.
My grandfather’s index fingers — in my memory — were pointed, like his knives. With battered bone handles and blades honed to a slim crescent of metal, those knives, by the time I was old enough to notice them, reflected the waning of a once full moon. Why did he not simply buy new ones? I often wondered, imagining the day that the finest point of the crescent would snap off, unable to be ground any further upon the sharpening steel which paradoxically brought the blade to its full, true self while whittling it to its eventual nothingness.
Sometimes when he was more effusive than his natural shyness would allow, my grandfather would let me look at his scars, souvenirs of not paying attention, of working too fast, of being in the vicinity of a razor sharp blade each and every day, and tell me stories about them.
But it was those index fingers that intrigued me more than anything else. They echoed his knives, drawing up as they did to a fine point. I swear he told me this was because he cut them so often. But grandfathers and fathers and uncles, I now realise, have a habit of telling children things with a subtle twinkle in their eye that the child — yet to learn the art of guile — digests as gospel. Just as I learned at the knee of my uncle — on the same farm where I would later watch my grandfather shoot an animal plum between the eyes so that he could carve up its body to feed the six or seven scattered grandchildren, hungry and curious at the bottom of the milking shed, watching a torrent of blood trickle down to their childish bare feet — that the difference between a male and female horse was the length of their eyelashes.
And so I don’t know if my grandfather’s index fingers were pointed because he had shaved them off incrementally over fifty years of butchering, or if it was simply a weird quirk of birth that needed a better story.
I like to think it’s the former.
A guy on Snapchat sent me a photo of his own knives, sharpened by another guy at the local farmer’s market. I met this Snapchat guy on Tinder. He told me he had been to the market with his mother to get fresh produce. He told me ‘fresh produce’ was a much sexier way of saying ‘fruit and veg’.
I stood today in front of a class of sociology students and talked about Tinder. I watched their earnest faces as they wrestled with thoughts of love and sex and intimacy and gender and inequality.
I didn’t talk about my grandfather and his knives sharpened proportionally to the loss of his own flesh.
I didn’t talk about the boy I met who thinks saying fresh produce instead of fruit and veg might be a short cut to getting laid.
I didn’t tell them that someone I was once close to is in a bed across the road from me dying of cancer.
I didn’t tell them how my grandmother would clean banks and offices in the early hours of the morning while my grandfather lovingly walked his greyhounds, and how they would both return home so that she could cook sausages and steak that he had taken from the body of a beast he respected more than a boy from Tinder will ever really respect fresh produce, despite its ability to serve as some sort of bizarre postmodern aphrodisiac.
Or how after breakfast my grandmother would make a pot of tea in what I think was a faded, mint-green teapot and how my grandfather would eat Sao biscuits with Vegemite before putting on his butcher’s apron and going to his shop to slowly slice away tiny pieces of his flesh with the sharpest crescent moon of a knife you ever did see.
I didn’t tell them any of that.
Because all they really wanted to know about was love.