In My Hands

My grandfather’s sword looked far different in my hands than it had upon the wall, where it had hung for more years than I could count — for more years than I had been alive, in fact. I never knew my grandfather. He passed away before I was born. My grandmother always said it was because of the war, though he had lived through it.

The only memories I have of my grandfather are the painting of him my grandmother made, the stories my father tells, and this sword, which usually hangs on the wall like a piece of art rather than a weapon. It’s not beautiful. It was provided to him by the army, so it’s made to be functional, not attractive.

There’s an odd beauty to it now, with the moonlight turning the blade to silver and blood running in rivulets down the blade to where it drips onto the carpet.

I never thought I would hold this sword, or any sword, in my hand. I dreamed about it when I was young, of course. I pictured myself as the hero fighting off the bad guys with my grandfather’s blade, when i wasn’t picturing my grandfather himself as the hero. I thought it would be cool and exciting to defend myself, to defend others.

I didn’t think about the blood, or that horrifying thunk of the dulled blade meeting and then parting both clothes and flesh as I swing with all of my strength. No, my childhood fantasies were bloodless and exhilarating. I never thought about the fact that they involved hurting people, even though that’s what villains are. People. Real, walking people made of flesh and bones and motivations and blood. So much blood.

I never thought about what that blood would mean, or how much of a mess it would make as it spilled out onto my mother’s rug, which she treasured for its classical depictions of the Seasons in an imitation of an ancient style of art. I never thought that the man I struck with it, though he fell, might still be alive.

I couldn’t bring myself to strike him again, despite the terror he had brought to my heart, coming into our house in the middle of the night, unannounced and uninvited. He had his hands pressed to his wound, a wicked one, as he tried to keep the blood inside himself. He needed help, or he might die. And I — I had done this to him.

I tried to think, No, no, he did this to himself. After all, I did not tell him to break into our house. I had not wanted him here. I had not asked him to catch me be surprise as I came downstairs for a glass of water. None of my denials meant anything, however. I was the one who had grabbed the sword off of the wall, as I’d done in my childhood daydreams, and swung it at the man as hard as I could.

He couldn’t have expected us to have a sword, or any real weapon. He had one sheathed at his side. That’s part of the reason I’d reacted so quickly. I’d seen it there, hanging from his waist, and I had known that even beyond his mere presence here, something was wrong. Buying and selling swords had been outlawed after the war, though possessing them was still technically legal.

He probably hadn’t expected us to defend ourselves at all. He probably hadn’t expected us to know he was here at all. It was only be chance that I had woken up thirsty enough to want to come down for a glass of water. That chance had changed this man’s life completely.

I didn’t realize I was crying until I felt my mother’s arms wrapped around me from behind. I heard my father shouting, and my brother, and I heard the door open to the night as my father ran outside. I would later learn he had gone to find a member of the constabulary, but at the time, I didn’t register any of that.

All I saw was the man on our floor, bleeding on our rug, with his eyes closed and his breath coming in struggling huffs. All I felt was the cold, hard sword in my hand, so much less comfortable than it had been in my childhood dreams. All I wanted was to go back upstairs and go to bed, and wake up to find none of this had ever happened.

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