“What is a knife, Neda? Your best asset. You are the finger wielder. Hold the butt, throw the knife, nail the point in the target. Hold the tip, throw it, you nail the point again. The point strikes the target. The trick is how to create art out of the knife’s rolling fury. Each throw starts a journey. It has to be swift, sharp, nice and riveting.” Marko’s words captured her thoughts. The recollection rushed through her mind.
Marko was watching her at the other side of the stage. His eyes tightened. You could see the waves coming in the iris. The scent of a storm caught his breath. This tall figure, in a black tight suit, stood piercing the space between him and Neda with his look. He held the palm over his head with the knife hanging at the tip of his fingers. Marko was enviously waiting for a display of his craft. His touch of the blade was safer than the comfortable chairs in the audience. His determination spoke through the gasping looks of the beholders. The spot lights broke at the tops of his wrinkles and face folds. He had the blade by its tip. And it was this millisecond before he made the sway that Neda read a terrifying prospect. A massive store of pain and frailty buried inside was about to rise again.
Neda was tied motionless to a big wooden target. Her green dress was stretched and her breasts made almost invisible, heavy breaths that softly touched the edges of her neckline. Elegance rested on intimidating symmetry. Outward feebleness blended into dominance enthralling from the eyes. That is what she was. Her skin flashed a no-aging delicacy. Smaller than her ominously observing partner, she leaned on the round board with arms and feet outspread. She carried all the vigour lacking in da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man yet she resembled his proportionate excellence. She could foresee the ruin of the man moving the knife backwards.
And there, the hand released it so you could only see the shining iron in a circling madness. And the first hit was right next to Neda’s neck. It was so accurate it cut the silence. Waves of sighs in the audience overlaid one over the other. The edge of the blade caressed her soft epidermis. Her eye lids and brows did not make even a slight move. They did not tremble, not even a second. And again another knife spun, jealously stealing and tearing whirls of air. It is how it made its way right beside her right shoulder. The point of the blade stuck on a tiny piece of her cloth, gentle enough to draw a ghostly, impalpable red line on her surface. Still the line was already gone when a third knife flew over to push this one from its spot. The second knife shook fast hopelessly trying to keep its place on the board but it fell to the ground. The iron thump echoed throughout the crowded theater hall. The people did not have time to live through all the emotions at a single hit. They came arrogantly quick and they already got into a mad pace. Marko was hurling the knives attached to his arms, legs and chest with black bands. His movements were rapid and surgically clean. First he pulled the dagger and slashed the bands with the cutting edge, then he made a backward sway of a Death Adder ready to seize, he thrust it ahead and then he let it go at the right time to arrest the spectator’s glance. He knew exactly what time of release makes the throw a stunning piece of mastery. Both, his left and right hand, were firing an arsenal of daggers. Still Neda remained intact and unrealistically calm. Her eye pupils stayed static, pointed directly at the savagely busy thrower. There was something ominous in her tranquility, something she noticed in Marko’s gestures, something terrible slowly taking over his face. It was painfully and secretly reflecting on the transparent erected hairs in her skin. And as if her stillness woke his rage, Marko started spitting out gushes of breath as he cast four knives one after another. He reminded her of a wounded soldier having the last touch of his rifle. One knife went under her armpit, the second hit a millimeter close to her ear, the third trimmed a small piece of her hair and stopped above her head and the fourth seized its place between her thumb and the index finger. And just before he discharged the fifth, a sudden fever rummaged through his body. His hand shivered. The knife struggled to withhold this quake over his muscles. Marko dropped before the knife. His eyes shut. The bang of the blade stirred everyone. It slowly faded away while Neda kept a drop of water at the edge of her eyelids. We tend to call them tears, but for her they resembled every single bit of memory about him. She would not sell them out.
“What is life if not a series of flashes? Some are simply exhilarating, some just vanish in emptiness but some occupy brain holes with immortal sadness.” Neda was absorbed by this introspection while adjusting a light jacket over her green dress. She still would not give up the drops of memories keeping their balance along the rim of the eyelids.
A vague, malaise pale remnant of Marko was now vegetating in a hospital bed before her. There was, even then, a sign of his perseverance instinct. His palm was over Neda’s neck and his thumb was lying fixed on her ear. He talked with a voice striving to find a ground to stand on. Marko roared but his roar was mild and desolate like the sound of a dog losing a fight, avoiding lethal bites from the opponent. And the opponent had already crawled inside him and was irreversibly mutilating his being.
“I want you to tell me how I look? How do I look, Neda?” Marko spoke, unable to overcome his fear.
“Good. You look fine. Stop asking me nonsense.” Neda responded in almost mother-like confidence.
“You’re a liar.” He looked her straight in the eyelids.
“And you? Last night I asked you if you could perform. You said yes.”
“Because that’s what we are. Performers. Listen, I have the contact of this… This man. It’s right in the jacket on that chair. Check the left pocket… He’s a good teacher, probably the best there ever was in this area. We are performers Neda. You have to be good at this, you have to!”
Neda pondered at each word he said and was shocked by his fading tone. She stunned and despised him when he mentioned this man. “How does a man deserve to be more important than you? Look what’s happening to you?” – She gulped down her question with irritation and discomfort. Then she barely cracked a word: “A man?”
Marko was now overtaken by fatal panic. His eyes opened wide. He grasped her face tightly regaining his final reflex. Once again he proved he was a man of strength and decision yet malicious shade cast over his sight.
“The time… There’s no time anymore. When you go home… The bedroom! Cut the marionette under the floor in the bedroom! Our savings… Neda, in the pocket… the jacket… this man!”
“What man?” The question simply slipped her mouth. She was completely perplexed just like in that microscopic part of the second before the evil arrives in our lives.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s good… Anastasia… Mother… Mother…” And then he lost the grip of her humble skin. His arms, his legs, his head, his body wrapped in. It seemed like someone had let go a marionette from its ropes.
Neda was defeated. She gave up her drops. It was all happening inexplicably fast and unjustly severely for her. Days and nights intertwined an exhausting pace. Her recovery was far. Unaware of the true ache of the loss and unawake of what had struck her, she decided to meet that man.
The sun shone with teeth that bitter afternoon. Early autumn wind was hollowing out spots in the dusty ground. Here, in the middle of the vast plain in the city outskirts, Neda gazed around in her tight black dress and boots. Her black apparel distinguished a posture of exquisite sorrow in the heavenly lightness of the horizon. She was expecting the man. The thud of a few hard steps came from behind. Her head turned aside. A huge benevolent figure stopped a few feet close to her. She scanned its black shoes, bleak jeans torn at the knees, a tight black shirt and a leather jacket. Her focus was on the head now. He had these sharp lines on his face and his wrinkles were scattered around but there weren’t too many. You could see by the shaded beard and moustaches he was in his elderly years. Yet age had not got him, he upheld youthfulness with his good natured smile. A drop of rain on the lips after a draught, his smile was such. It did not mean a thing to Neda, it just made her more aggravated. She stared at him without saying a word. Though he was a complete stranger to her, he strangely appeared as someone familiar. He grasped a belt with the whole set of knives he carried on his shoulder and kept it in his hand.
“How’s your father?” It was evident he needed the answer. Neda felt it in his quick, tensed movement of the hand.
She spotted his pupils tightening and investigated the shift of contractions and lines on his face. Anxiety was gradually overcoming him. She then spoke to him.
“What is my father to you?”
“Didn’t he tell you?”
“Would I ask stupid questions then?”
“What happened?” His smile turned into folds of grief.
“An awful coincidence, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.”
“Back at the hospital they said it gets one out of a million.”
The man made a heavy bow with his head. It looked like he received a life sentence.
“I’m Simon… Did he say anything?” His words came out with loads of anguish. The smile was gone.
“He said you’re good at this. He said you’re the best teacher around. Those were his last words.”
“I see. My condolences… We start at that wooden board over there… Neda, right?”
Simon raised his head instantly. A politician playing his role of a mourned compassion-giver would have held it down longer. No, he brought it up yet he carried the agony within. Neda perceived it through the sudden, occasional side motions of his eye balls. This intrigued her but also gave her confidence to follow his guidelines. They went to a place where a wooden round target was set. There were leftovers of an iron fence and pieces of old tent fabric down on the dry soil. She looked around, wondering about the origin of the objects but Simon came to her, caringly put her head up and set her body twenty feet from the target. In his touch she recognized the stability and protectiveness of someone she knew for years.
He picked a knife from the belt, took it out carefully and gave it to Neda. He smiled, barely covering the mess boiling in his chest.
“Let’s see what you’ve got so far.”
Out of his pocket Simon drew a marker and started drawing a human silhouette on the board. The routine of his swift, assertive movements changed her melancholy into harmony. Then the words he uttered initiated a spark of self-recognition in his trainee.
“Now, I’ve been informed you haven’t tried a live target. So we have a lot to do then, right?”
“Why? This is a dying art.”
“Dying is what keeps it alive. It’s these seconds of uncertainty before you throw the knife that leaves everyone in the seats awake. Their bodies produce more adrenaline. One minor slip may cost your partner a life, but a timed release turns violence into art. And they know it, and they want it. We play with the possibility of dying, we own this game and they will always be wondering about the outcome: dead or alive? Hit one!”
“What do you do anyway? You’re not only a trainer, right?”
“I’m a talent scout. I do assignments for several TV and film productions. Come on!”
She tossed the knife into the air arrogantly, caught the handle, made a thunderous sway and pushed it forward. It whirled abnormally, giving the impression of some creature that had just appeared from outer space. The point stuck a few inches below the silhouette’s imaginary left chest.
“Oops, there goes the spleen.” Simon’s smile was now entirely back.
Neda remained silent for a second. She furrowed her brows as if she was going to make a statement to insult Simon. A complete humiliation of the teacher was at the verge of her tongue, waiting to break out. Yet her out-bursting contagious laugh gave them both a moment of relief. The alienation between them was suddenly wiped out. They seemed to have been maintaining this kind of training sessions for a long time.
In fact, this had the potential to become mere reality. Neda and Simon started meeting three times a week till Neda felt she needed to practice every other day. And soon they had training sessions every day. The speed and determination were not an issue of her throwing. What she lacked was accuracy. She would go through the exercises with Simon and sometimes she really pushed the limits. An insatiable craving to reach her father’s supremacy was driving her in rebellious march ahead. A parent’s will and a child’s competitive side had never been so attached in a single effort. Which of these dominated was another thing to be reconciled. After a day of painstaking training she would not rest. She used each hour to work on her flaws because her sole ambition gradually became an intense fervor to display the true talent in front of her teacher. When he pointed out her mistakes, she sensed spikes drilling her stomach from within. When he made even a slight humble acknowledgment of her trials, she lived through the same joy of the ovations at her first performance with Marko. His quick nods of approval gave her meaning she could not compensate with anything else. The teacher became a reason to go on. So the teacher also began to like his status. And this had the potential to become ongoing reality, yet it only had the potential.
Arriving earlier one day, Neda found Simon wiping off tears with his leather jacket sleeve. An overwhelming sadness was pouring out from a somewhat lifeless body. Mild contractions in his jaws and chests were still a sign he was alive. Neda would have never pictured him like that not even in her wildest, most lucid dreams. She gave pace to her steps and started running. Her black dress stretched all over her torso and her boots beat the ground like drums warning of unknown threat.
“Simon!” The name echoed in the distance. He would not turn, he would not even lift his brows.
Neda was now standing right before him. Her eyes tried to spy out the source of his mental weight. He focused on a spot ahead at the round target. She followed his look and stepped aside.
“The right armpit…” His arm raised slowly like it carried a whole cargo container and not the regular light knife. It moved back and forth with a supernatural effort. Once it catapulted the knife, it suffered a harsh strain. Simon could not resist the pain and fell on his knees holding the arm right below the shoulder, at the side. Neda bent to help him get up but was too frightened she could hurt him and simply sat next to him. All she could do was to deliver her warm touch on his palm. Then Simon passionately surveilled her refined skin and her proportionate long fingers. The tears dried out and turned into tiny wax-like fragments.
“Is this why you’ve never swayed to show me a throw? How long have you had this injury?”
“A long time, really… Look!” Simon gave a glanced at the target. “The right armpit.”
The knife had struck a spot a few inches below the right armpit. A smile shyly formed on her face. Simon was looking at a torn piece of a tent fabric on the ground.
“I know it is difficult for you but tell me, when did they discover his disease?” He hastily cleared the salty drops descending on his cheeks.
“Too late. It can’t be diagnosed in an early stadium. He started having the symptoms but they discovered it when they became too intensive.”
“What kind of symptoms?”
“Just 8 months ago he became unreasonably depressed and he suffered insomnia. He was driving me mad with his overnight exercises. We both couldn’t sleep. Then he had these sudden muscle seizures, his muscles twitched … He sometimes lost coordination, I held him so he could walk…”
“And you went on with the performances? He could’ve butchered his own daughter.”
“It was a shifting disease, at times he was back, all fit and at times he really struggled. You knew Marko, he would never give up his knives and the bills started to pile up. That night before… I asked him if he could perform. He was so persistent. The seizures were strong. He lost his sight and then his heart… His heart just stopped. His body parts strangely clustered. The muscles…”
“We’re running out of time. Get up!” Simon obviously avoided listening to the last part. The emotional load he carried withheld volumes of unspoken facts. Neda was figuring this out since the moment they met. However, she still thought it would eventually come out and Simon always found a way to protect his hidden reasons. “We’re starting with this pair of knives”. He pulled out two small daggers from his belt and he gave them to her. At first, she was astounded at his reaction but she quickly realized she was attracted to the sympathy he had for her father’s death.
She stood up leaning on him and quietly consenting to his instructions. Simon positioned her body and arms. The moment he set her wrists free of his imposing and unhesitating grip, she dropped a knife and put her fingers on his lips. They slowly caressed his mouth and chin. He was allured by this gift of affection.
“You were good friends? You knew him for a long time?”
“She was exactly your age… How old are you?” Simon pretended he did not hear her questions.
“Twenty-seven,” whispered Neda.
“Yes exactly your age,” He got hold of her palm. “I know this scent… I know this touch.”
It was a sign for Neda to nestle herself next him. She cleared his thickened tears attentively. A nurse, trained to sweep dirt from a wound, lacks the precision and diligence she gave to him. Their mouths drew in a tight, liberating clasp. Neda and Simon kissed zealously bound one to another. Their heads trembled in a long-fancied exposure of attachment. Her hands were reaching the top of his back. Simon’s palm rushed through her wide neckline going down her close-fit dress to the inner thighs. Caressing them viciously and smoothly he was nearing Neda’s perineum. She was ready to give in with her head bent backwards and her mouth open to welcome the joyful relief. His thumb rubbed the soft surface between her legs. Neda sighed. This sound or perhaps something dreadful that crossed his mind distracted Simon. He stepped back and looked around as if someone had woken him from a nightmare. Apparently horrified he turned his back and left in a hurry.
“The session is over.” He disappeared in the distance after he coughed out the last word.
“Don’t just walk away now… Simon!” Neda stayed aroused with her breasts uncovered, hastily exhaling disappointment. The sight in front of her was already empty. The sun was setting over the barren horizon.
The next day, they just gaped at each other at start. Their expressions were of soldiers who have just crossed their paths a battlefield full of corpses. Though belonging to opposite sides they keep silent with their wasted ground-stuck looks. Just two of them have survived and after the bloodshed, each pretends it did not happen. Each wants to get on his way leaving the insanity of war far behind. And so it was, Simon went on preparing the equipment and Neda rehearsed different kinds of sways with her hands. As he was selecting knives and observing the sharpness of the blade, he finally picked one. Approaching her he thought of something old, something he had been clinging on from his days of youth. Now, he was going to say but Neda was the first to break the silence.
“I want to try a live target. I’m ready.”
“How long have we been practicing?” Simon wondered.
“More than three months.”
“I can still give you some more time. Maybe you should…”
“We’ve given it too much time. I need to make this test.”
Simon just nodded and she took the knife. As he was heading to the target and then calmly leaning his body backwards, she rolled the knife in the air impatiently. A shadow of vengeance slowly fell on her forehead. Her anger from the previous day and her intuition that gradually revealed Simon had been concealing things reached the melting point.
“More than three months we’ve been meeting, rehearsing, talking, sharing the same feeling, getting close and yet… Why am I getting the impression you’re still not telling me something?”
At that moment, Simon got back to his old thoughts. He stretched his arms on the target with twinges and sighs. Then he spread his legs and once again he tried to cover up issues beneath his mask of serenity. He was completely unaware he was putting out the fire with gasoline.
“What is a knife, Neda? Your best asset. You are the finger wielder. Hold the butt, throw the knife, nail the point in the target. Hold the tip, throw it, you nail the point again. The point strikes the target. The trick is how to create art out of the knife’s rolling fury. Each throw starts a journey. It has to be swift, sharp, nice and riveting.”
Word by word Neda anxiously listened to Simon’s little theory. The sound of became distorted and blurred in her mind because it left her bewildered.
“It’s something I made up to help me figure out this craft. I started believing this since I was your age. It worked when…”
“Those are my father’s words. You have the courage to say it’s yours, goddamn plagiarist!?” She blasted his sentence and gave him no chance to finish it. And the other knife flew in air once again, she seized it by the blade, set the point at the tip of her fingers and raised it above her head. It was Marko’s typical posture. Simon put his hand up in a second. This was the last warning he had to come to terms with past and present. Neda was all starving for the truth like a jaguar waiting for its prey’s next move.
“Neda, your father learned the craft from me. It’s time you should know. He was my brother…”
Neda’s jaws started to shake but she could still maintain her posture.
“Marko was a puppeteer, yes, the fearless knife thrower played with marionettes along with Anastasia, your mother.”
The image of a marionette cut through the body with money sticking outside flickered in her head. “Our savings…” She barely spoke. Simon was resolved to give out everything.
“I presume you’ve been spared the reality they didn’t get along well or more precisely they didn’t get along at all. You see, your mother was never satisfied with her choice of spouse. She was your father’s nemesis. She always had a thing to say about his ideas, about their performances and she kept pursuing only her ideas. Anastasia was driven by a force your father couldn’t comprehend. In her attempt to… In her attempt to…”
“My mother is deceased. How can you speak of her… You’re a lunatic, a fucking lunatic!” She pointed the knife towards him making nervous gestures with her hand.
“Neda, please, he told you that to save you from something, perhaps, you were not meant to know. I did the same and I tried to understand what is right but it was obviously pointless. Now, in her attempt to find a match for her aggressive nature she started showing affection for my talent. I was at my best years, twenty-seven, and your mother too. And we all managed to keep our place in the circus… Yes, 25 years ago there was a circus here. You can see the torn remnants all around. We managed thanks to my performances. The marionettes did not work as your father imagined. So one night she came to me, begging me to leave Marko and start our own business abroad. We got too close and intimate but I soon found out it is a kind of evil I didn’t like to have in our family. She was slowly creating a mad man out of your father, always humiliating him, and I chased her away. There was no more room for her malicious ambitions. I first lied to your father she had left. I acted surprised and shocked too. I even searched for her with him. We never found out where she settled. You were at two years of age.”
“And?” Neda was now facing Simon’s confession both with a pain and a will to know everything. Her gaze stopped somewhere in the distance.
“Your father was 30 when we started practicing. He believed that by acquiring my skill he would draw her attention back. I said I would teach him and he was an ardent student. He had problems with accuracy but he got better and better just like you. Still, he deserved to learn what happened. He was already full of envy about my knowledge of the art and Anastasia had already stuffed his head with stories of his well-doing brother. We had a session, I made comments on each mistake, he got furious and admitted that he believed I was involved in Anastasia’s running away. I told the truth trying to apologize, I had to… Your father took two knives, threw them and made surface cuts on my deltoids, right below the shoulders. He did it to leave me with a permanent injury so I could never sway or perform again. I thought I almost lost my voice. I was not even able to cry out… I was tied to the target. He set me free, he left and we never saw each other till he called me one month before he passed away. Marko feared what was in store for him and entrusted me to assist you.” Simon was holding the sides of his arms. The expression on his face disclosed agony and remorse.
Neda bowed her head. Indifference, enmity and misery had all lured her look down on the torn fabric.
“Go! Go away!” She yelled out and Simon simply obeyed her wish. Her shadow crept on the barren ground.
At home, in a small dusky attic, Neda was sitting down leaning her hands on a table. A plate with an apple and a knife stood in the middle of it. The walls, the table, the whole place seemed to narrow down to suffocating proportions. Every single thing merged towards the apple. This was Neda’s perspective at the moment. And yet, as she was indulged in her reminiscence, she listed through Simon’s words and paused at: “One minor slip may cost your partner a life, but a timed release turns violence into art… violence into art.” She picked up the knife and the apple, and all of a sudden, she cut the fruit with fierce strokes. The result was a small knife, an apple figurine, it was not ideal but it was hers. Her prints, her work were all over it. The next thing she did was to bring vegetables and more fruit to the table. She emptied the fridge and every basket she could find. Then she began peeling and carving with ingenious ease. The artwork had its flaws, but soon the little sculptures started getting their desired shape. Animals, flowers, miniature fruits, bicycles, boots, knives, targets, all sorts of forms sprung out of Neda’s meticulous and hasty hands. Day by day she devoted herself to a fresh, encouraging way. Month by month the creations rose in numbers and designs, and she soon decided to exhibit. Videos of her authentic fast carvings of food were shared and posted on the net. People bought her works and took classes at her little fruitful attic. Simon pulled the strings so she could perform in front of the cameras. Neda started her very own show for food carvings and decorations. The sways with the knife were displaying a different kind of craft. For the first time in her life she could undoubtedly say she would never be a knife thrower. This thing was certain. The knife was truly her best asset. Marko’s will was fulfilled, but the finger-wielder carved an unfamiliar, illuminated path. Her happiness was a timed release of her genuine tendency. Violence was just a tool to achieve peace with the craft. “There is nothing evil around. We have eyes to look forward”. Those were Neda’s thoughts.