Whittle Me This: My Brother’s Defeat

Carving my birthright

Daniel Williams
8 min readJul 23, 2022


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My brother Joe and I were weapon boys.

BB guns, slingshots, bows and arrows, jackknives.

Armed and harmless and dangerously happy.

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Where we went, our weapons went. In the woods, when there were hornets’ nests to obliterate with slingshots, we slung. When walking past stop signs, we BB-gunned, signing our names. At birthday parties when someone had trouble opening a box, grampa said, “Knife,” and we produced so fast we almost blew out our pockets.

But not at school. We knew the rules: It’s school, leave your happiness at home. And we did.

Until, one day, Joe didn’t…

I don’t know for sure why he brought his jackknife to school that day, but I can guess, and it’s a guess that’s so good, it’s 100% the reason.

He brought it accidentally because back in those days, if you were caught without your knife in a time of knife need, you felt a special kind of shame. A belovèd relative required assistance. “Knife!” said the relative. Joy filled your heart, for there was a call, and you had the means to answer. But occasionally, you reached and found in your pockets only lint and beef jerky dust, and then you got to experience the great pain of watching a knife fly across the room, flung from another relative, a youth like you, carrying the same blood, but worthy. Then you vowed a vow:

“Never again shall I forget thee, my knife.”


“Forgive me, my sharp, little love of my life.”

Joe sat at his desk, dragging himself to summer one long second at a time. He reached into his pocket for beef jerky dust, for a taste of goodness to take the edge off, and that’s when he found it:

His knife.

Joe’s heart hammered and thundered and so forth, and suddenly the room was a swamp of suspicion full of fate-leeches and doom-toads. All the kids could sniff the…



Daniel Williams

A poverty-stricken, soft Batman by night. Illustrator and writing teacher by day. Previously: McSweeney’s, Slackjaw.