You enjoy the motion of the knife cutting, the smooth sweep of the wide blade as it meets the chopping board, your fingertips curled against the onion’s domed back. When you are done the dome is transformed into a heap of translucent cubes alongside a stub of woody stem. Soon the smell of heated onions will fill the kitchen, the first tangible sign that dinner has begun.
You turn the knife flat to press the heel against a garlic clove, crushing the skin away from its body. There are few things you crush with the knife. Cardamon pods to release their pungent flavour, but you can think of nothing else. You wonder if the knife is surprised by this turn of events, its blade ready for the slice, only to be laid flat as if ready for bed.
If your knife presses down on a tomato and does not cut through its flesh like butter, you know it needs to be sharpened. For now, you make a neat incision with the tip and with this beginning the blade can do its work. You’ll then wash the blade and sharpen, wash the blade again of its steel shavings. You cannot tolerate a blunt knife.
You have a friend whose kitchen knives are all blunt. She had a difficult boyfriend who would pick up a knife when angry or drunk, and even after she left him, the fear still remains. You will tolerate a blunt knife at her house, but whenever you are chopping in the haphazard way of bladeless steel, you always think of him.
You never learned the fast chopping of TV chefs, although you did train as a chef many years ago. One of your first lessons must have been how to use the knife, but you don’t remember this. You do remember the sweated heat of cooking food, your hair damp under your chef’s hat. You remember the fatigue of hours on your feet. The clatter of spoons in pans, the slam of oven doors, the obedient call of ready chef hanging in the expectant air at the beginning of service.
Cooking then became the food-making of motherhood, and your knife the enabler. You taught your children at a young age how to use the knife, their soft little fingers curled against the dome of an onion. They have both become good cooks and you feel glad that they can feed themselves, and they can gift their food to others.
Now your knife is like a good friend, working with you to create from the elemental. The onion, the garlic clove, the tomato. The slice is the beginning of something new.