Bread Knives by Mandy Alyss Brown

Mar 01 2013

Aunt Bianca treated her nails as though she were a typist, as though the sound of her nails against the keyboard was important to the harmony of the world, but she didn’t work. She kept her nails filed perfectly and painted them the same red color every Sunday morning before church, taking the previous coat off first before applying the paint again. When she looked at them, each nail aligned with the other, they used to scare me.

If I wanted to be close to Aunt Bianca, I had to be close to those bread knives at the end of her hands. When I held her hand, they dug in, creating half-circles in my skin. When I laid my head on her lap while she watched TV, they’d pop my pimples during the commercials, inspecting my pores. When she did my hair, they scraped the scalp as she wove the locks into braids.

They were sharp and precise, and I don’t ever remember them breaking except for one time when Aunt Bianca picked me up from school.

I was in middle school and had decided Chase Murphy was the boy I was going to marry, even though he didn’t know my name yet. He was tall and had red hair that he spiked up. He always wore button-up shirts with ties and his brother’s old letterman jacket. Chase was a part of the football team, honor society, and debate team. He never spoke up in class, but teachers left him alone because he always got straight A’s. He was perfect.

I had joined the debate team just to be near him, though I wasn’t very good at it. We met after school every Thursday, and often Chase and I were the only ones left waiting for our parents in the afternoon. We’d sit on the grass on the side of the building and do our homework in silence. I’d count the spikes in his hair when he wasn’t looking.

One afternoon he caught me. “You want to touch them?” he asked, pointing to the spikes.

I nodded.

He stood up and walked over.

I stood up too and touched the spikes. They weren’t as soft as I had thought but hard from too much hair gel. I pulled my hands away and looked at the sticky substance on my fingers.

“My turn,” he said. He pushed me into the brick wall, and I felt his erection against my legs. His whole body covered me up in shadow so no one could see me from the street. His hands went up my blouse. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. His hands moved lower.

Aunt Bianca’s cutlass nails dug into Chase’s shoulders and collarbone, and she threw him with momma grizzly force onto the ground.

“You ever touch her again, and I will kill you,” she said calmly.

She put an arm around me and practically pushed me to the car. I looked at my fingers. Gel stuck under a fingernail.

Aunt Bianca sat in the front seat and drove us home. Turning the steering wheel, she noticed her hands. “Damn it,” she said. “Damn bastard broke my nail.”

I wanted to say I was sorry, that I didn’t mean for that to happen, that the nail would grow back. But I didn’t. I looked at the back of her seat and thought about the rough spikes, working to get the gel out from under my fingernail. I reached too far, and my finger bled under the nail.

When we got home, Aunt Bianca sat me at the table and gave me some orange juice. I choked. “What is this?”

“Knox gelatin powder and orange juice.” She put her nail file, buffer, and nail polish on the table next to me. “It’s time you got yourself some claws,” she said.

Mandy Alyss Brown earned her BA in English at Texas State University. Her poetry and fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, 4’33”, The Stray Branch, Extract(s), and more. Mandy is the Managing Editor for eSteampunk and loves being a work-at-home mother. Follow her progress at

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