Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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Old Walter's Butter Knife

By Patsy Covington

That was the year we lived out on Old Walter’s farm. He lived in the main house and we lived in the converted barn. I was four years old. Old Walter couldn’t get out of bed anymore. His widowed daughter lived with him, but she also had her own house so she’d feed old Walter and make sure he was okay, then she’d go home for most of the day. She said her grandkids made the old man nervous so she kept them away from his house. But my mother said she knew Old Walter would love to see his grandkids. She thought his daughter just didn’t want them over there for some mean reason. I heard my mother tell Daddy that, but she saw me listening and shut up. I never found out what the mean reason was, although I asked over and over.

I guess I was a pesky kid, because Mama also used to talk to Daddy about how exasperating it was when she’d look around for me and I’d be gone. She knew just where to find me. I’d be sitting on Old Walter’s bed talking to him. My mother’s face would turn red and she’d say she was sorry to Old Walter and yank me off the bed and threaten to spank me when we got home. The last thing I’d hear was Old Walter’s weak laughter as we went out the door.

One day my mother found a butter knife under my bed. She was cleaning my room and she found other silverware and a delicate tea cup with dainty pink roses on it and a matching saucer in my closet, which was really just a corner of the room with a blanket nailed to the walls. She marched me back to Old Walter’s house and made me say I’m sorry three times to Old Walter’s daughter—who glared at me with mean eyes. I tried to tell them that Old Walter had given me those things, but they knew he couldn’t get out of bed so my words fell on deaf ears.

Old Walter backed my story up though. He said he’d told me where to get the stuff and that I could keep it.

His daughter sputtered, “Daddy! That’s my mother’s best silverware and china! When you… someday they’ll belong to me. You can’t give them away.”

Old Walter told her he could give it all to me if he wanted to—the land, the barn, the house, and everything in it—and then he said he was going to put it in his will that I could have it all. His daughter’s lips trembled and tears started forming.

My mother said, “No, Sir!” She gave me a ‘don’t argue with me’ look so I kept my mouth shut.

Old Walter’s daughter said, “Please, Daddy, don’t give my mother’s precious things away.”

So Old Walter told me I could have the butter knife and he wouldn’t take any arguments about it. He told me to use it to dig up worms and he’d take me fishing just as soon as he could get up. And that made me happy, but his daughter didn’t smile. My mother yanked me out of the house and said I’m sorry a few times and old Walter laughed weakly and I clutched my butter knife tightly to my chest all the way home.

Patsy Covington was born just west of Natchez, Mississippi, and grew up in New Orleans. Her stories can be found in The Story Garden, Gator Springs Gazette, Wild Violet, Right Hand Pointing, and Riverbabble. Other stories are forthcoming in various places, including Prairie Dog 13 and The Dead Mule.

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Bottom photo "Elisa 3" courtesy of Anna Kovalieva.

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