The tiny, cast-iron knight was about as tall as my arm when I was seven years old, its head the size of my fist. It stood atop my father’s bureau, a word that sounded exotic, foreign, left over from his southern childhood and carried with him up north. Surrounding the knight were lottery tickets and empty matchbooks, receipts and bottle caps and broken watches, set forever at some twilight hour.

When my father worked the night shift at the plastic factory, the knight became his double. My sisters and I would tiptoe into our parents’ bedroom to grab the statue off the dresser, as the knight watched us through his plate-mail mask, guarding the room as if it were someplace sacred and inviolable, not the way a palace or church is inviolable but the way the goop and junk and tangled innards of a human body are protected by skin, fiercely hidden and untouchable. Once we got him, my sisters and I lugged the knight to late dinners, bounced it on squeaking couch cushions in front of the fuzzy television, and brought it upstairs to our parents’ bedroom where we’d rest its head on the stained, bare pillow, where, when my mother lay down hours later, it inclined toward the perfume of her hair.

But before the knight was, for me, my father’s double, it was, for him, his father’s double, and before that his grandfather’s double. It was the stand-in for generations of men who would come and go, wandering men who couldn’t hold a steady job, who returned home reeking with the stink of the world, carrying the smoke of nighttime and train whistles and Marlboros in the fibers of their coats.

My father’s father gave the knight statue to him before he left, before he crossed oceans in search of a new life. For years the knight waited by the window for his return, until one day my father’s mother moved it to the bookshelf, where it stood beside the broken spines of cheap paperbacks like guarding a graveyard of words. Decades earlier, my great-grandfather had given the knight to my grandfather when they arrived in America as a reminder of where they came from. I imagine my grandfather didn’t understand what the gift meant. We descended from knights? No, no. He was bequeathing to him the shape of a man, preserved, the stoic figure a guardian of the past, the unchanging past, the past we so desperately want to believe is unchanging.

The history of the knight, though, is not so immutable. Where did it really come from? Of its origin, there are no passed-down stories. Only the knight’s blank metal face. This is what I always imagined as its beginning: it simply appeared, showed up for duty on a cobblestone walkway outside a doorway in Germany, like an orphan, an infant, ancient in the way babies carry their ancestors with them into new worlds. And the knight did carry into our house and my hands something ancient: the cast-iron of its body, which could have held traces of fallen meteors.

But if this is the story of where the knight came from, it is also the story of where it went. The first time I picked the knight up I almost dropped him. I thought it was the heaviest thing I’d ever felt, its weight in my hand like all the objects of my father’s past condensed into one small, faceless man. It was heavier than my backpack on the first day of second grade, heavier than bags of groceries I helped my mother drag into the house, heavier than boxes we carried from one duplex to another, moving two houses down the street because rent would be fifty dollars cheaper there. During the move, I took the knight from its place on my father’s dresser and carried it down the sidewalk, a dumbbell, a lodestone, something heavy and always on the verge of slipping out of my hand.

And then it did. I dropped it, and it crashed onto the sidewalk, chipping its armor, its sword snapping like a bird bone, its arm breaking at the elbow, its feet loosened from the pedestal. Carrying it into the new house, it was lighter than it used to be, and I was afraid I had ruined something precious, something irreplaceable. But no one was angry with me. My father simply put the knight in a box and stuffed the box with old newspapers, years of illegible, insignificant, forgotten history.

Jacqueline's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Avery Anthology, Berkeley Fiction Review, Necessary Fiction, Pindeldyboz, Prick of the Spindle, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University, where she served as an assistant editor of Mid-American Review.


History of the Knight  is the second part of a triptych that focuses on three objects that serve as touchstones for my childhood. (The third part,  The Gift of Mourning Imagined Losses,  was previously published in Necessary Fiction). While the objects in the triptych are themselves real in the autobiographical sense, everything
else is strictly fiction. The inspiration for this piece was my fascination with the tiny, often forgotten, objects that clutter our childhoods, how those objects were made, and where they end up after childhood ends. By focusing almost exclusively on the (imagined) origin and ultimate fate of the knight, the history and future of the speaker and the speaker s family are subtly inferred by the reader. The knight is meant to be the stone that drops in the pond of the fiction and becomes invisible while sending out the ripples that comprise the rest of the story.




Copyright 2009