When we had the fire blazing, and our sleeping bags laid out, we unpacked what we’d brought for the trip. I brought out package of hot dogs and a can of beans, Bobby pulled a pint of Cutty Sark from inside his jacket. It was a chilly night in early April, and we’d ridden our motorcycles all day along the service road that ran beside the RF& railroad tracks. I reckoned we were somewhere between Ruther Glen and Doswell, probably close to a little shanty-town called Buzzard’s Bottom. It was one of many camping trips I’d take the summer I was fifteen.
I took a slug off the bottle and tried to open the can of beans but the ring-pull lid snapped off. Bobby reached into his pocket and tossed me a small pen-knife. “Try this,” he said. After I’d pried off the top of the can, I inadvertently slipped the little knife into my heavy, army jacket. The knife stayed in my jacket pocket, in my closet, all summer and I didn’t think about it again until late November.
I slipped on the jacket one chilly morning in November and set out on a twenty-mile ride to Fredericksburg. My hand came to rest on the knife in the pocket and remembered the bottle of scotch. My stomach gave a twist, still does when I smell scotch, and I told myself to return the knife to Bobby when I saw him.
Just past Penola, the railroad service road ends high above the Mattaponi river and I had to lift my motorcycle up and across the rails onto the tracks. Once on the tracks, I had to drive as fast as possible across a two-mile railroad trestle before a train came. My engine drowned out the sound of the oncoming train and the trestle curved at the midpoint, making it impossible to see the locomotive barreling toward me until it was almost on top of me. I had no choice but to lay the bike down on the opposite side of the tracks and jump the thirty feet into the Mattaponi river. I broke through a thin layer of ice when I hit the water and the mind-numbing cold enveloped me. As I tried to swim for shore my boots became entangled in a nest of fishing line and all I could do is tread water and let the river carry me away. Then I remembered the knife in my pocket. Over the next twenty minutes I managed to cut myself free, all the while being carried along by the current. After the freezing ride home, I decided to keep the knife as a memento and tossed it into a box where I kept souvenirs and assorted flotsam and jetsam of a lifetime.
I didn’t pick up the knife again for fifteen years. I’d bought an old Victorian house in Richmond which needed lots of work. While trying to scrape the paint from under the bannister, I went hunting for something small and sharp enough to do the job. I rummaged around in my box and found the knife. Over the next two months the knife and I managed to pry and scrape 13 layers of paint from that bannister, even breaking the tip off at one point.
I didn’t touch the knife again for another fifteen years until last summer when I heard that Bobby had hung himself one lonely night on the outskirts of town. I went to the box, found that knife and set it on the coffee table before me as I poured myself a glass of Scotch and toasted Bobby.
Mark Covington is the author of four published novels; Church of the Path of Least Resistance, Homemade Sin, 2012 Montezuma’s Revenge and Heavenly Pleasure, and three plays, Shakespeare in the Trailer Park, Writer’s Weekend and All In. He lives in Richmond Virginia where he writes novels exploring the cosmically comical nature of the universe, the purpose of which is to create someone who lives in Richmond, Virginia and writes novels exploring the cosmically comical nature of the universe.