by Sachiko Sprenger

A youth sits on park bench, shaded by the last-day-of-September-flame-brushed oak trees, eating an apple with a penknife (though in her head, this utensil, as harmless as it appears in its unremarkable size and relative bluntness, is a poignard as they call it in the pulpy mid-century French pirate-adventure paperbacks that she loves so dearly and consumes in hungry fifty-page gulps – consumes in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that her French is shabby at best, and her imagination and mistranslations supplement the novels’ many faults). This is how the youth eats her apple on that meteorologically indecisive final day of September, moodily watching the park-goers as she carves away another half-moon of fruit flesh with her poignard, eating it directly off the blade as she imagines her idol, the badly-written-though-buxom-buccaneer-française Josana, would.

The youth’s eyes follow the passersby with half-attention. This partially interested ocular stumble transmits fragmentary details that tumble through her mind. A scarf becomes a badge of unrequited love, a twitching eyebrow the mark of grandiose ambitions involving no less than seven silver galleons, and so forth. Her mind so replete with these intricate possibilities that she has not noticed the way the wind has disturbed her scarf, or that a bird has speckled her blue jacket with white.

Do her eyes linger a little too long on the woman with the belly like a full moon and the rosy nose, sun-kissed as they say? Does the youth’s poignard hesitate a hair’s breadth too long above her apple so that the perfectly innocent pirate poserism takes on a dimension of menace? Apparently, the round-bellied-woman’s companion, a dour type, all prickle and proudness, seems to think so, and has much to say regarding the youth and her habits of brandishing small, pointy objects in public parks.

“You!” he accuses. “What are you trying to prove with that Knife-waving Nonsense? Can’t you see that This Is a Public Place? With Women and Children and Women Expecting Children? Not to mention Peace-loving Citizens who want to Stroll in Peace without worrying about some Nutty Knife-loving Kid?”

This diatribe yanks the youth out of her milky fantasy world of buccaneers and bravado. She blinks, startled. What is the proper response to such an outburst? Perhaps the average so-and-so would apologize, but would Josana? Never! The youth fixates on her accuser’s irritating mistake.

“It’s a poignard.”

“What is?”

“It’s a poignard, not just any old thing, you know. I found it at a yard sale and I’m rather fond of it.” She holds up the poignard for illustrative purposes. Evidently, this gesture is grossly misinterpreted.

“How dare you threaten me and My Poor, Innocent, Expectant Wife! And don’t try to justify yourself with Fancy Foreign Words. A Threat Is a Threat, and I Won’t Stand for It!”

“Oh, Gerald, not again.” The round-bellied woman chides with a laugh, but she is already distracted by an apparently ravishing specimen of late-season dandelion that is particular to the park and pays no attention as her companion lunges for the youth in a maelstrom of self-concocted hatred.

What would Josana do? These thoughts illuminate the youth’s brain and travel into her fingers as she registers the enraged Gerald lurching in her direction. And it is these thoughts that cause her to brace herself and her penknife – sorry, poignard – which may be no bigger or sharper than a nail file (then again, even nail files have had their moments of dereliction) but is now tilted upwards. What would Josana do if she were to be found in such improbable contrary-to-genre circumstances? Naturally, there would be the cry of “Allons-y!” to her blustery crew of buccaneers as they swashed and buckled their way through any offending Geralds with a singing cry (written originally as cri du sang, but as the youth has never bothered to look up the meaning, her mistranslation has canonized her idol’s form of expression as more musical than bloody).

But there is no singing and only a little blood in the pathetic carnage that is more akin to kitchen catastrophe than the battle of buccaneers. Certainly, a penknife in the obliques is no laughing matter. But though it is an inarguably lousy thing to happen to anyone, producing a considerable amount of pain, the wound is not fatal. Gerald gasps, but not loud enough to catch the attention of his wife, who is still examining dandelions. 

As for the youth, she makes an awkward and stumbling retreat, still holding the poignard now spotted with Gerald’s blood. It is not the first time some inexplicable calamity in this vein has occurred in a rather too-close-for-comfort vicinity, nor is it the only time she has made a sheepish exit. But as she has always reacted to those other yet-to-be-elucidated misunderstandings, her mind is soon wandering again, and she forgets the matter in the overwhelming haze of a much more important question that has dominated her consciousness ever since childhood, a question so large and weighty in its ponderous bulk that it overshadows everything: Why doesn’t anything exciting ever happen to me?

Gerald remains doubled over in agony on the bench next to the oxidizing half-consumed apple for at least ten pathos-dripping minutes before someone eventually has the good sense to call the paramedics. By this time, the youth and her poignard are long gone, off to a quiet corner to carve up another apple, barely pausing to wonder what the brownish speckling on the blade could be as she finishes Volume IXX and yet another adventure of Josana and her blustery crew.

Sachiko Sprenger is a young writer of mixed Japanese descent. She is interested in a wide variety of genres, including science fiction, verse, the grotesque and the surreal, and has written poetry, short stories, plays, and articles. She is currently working on a surrealist novella about hyper-consumerism and mixed-race identity, inspired by the Gombrowiczian interhuman church.