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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

I have a switch blade that I can't close and, for that reason, it demands attention. The knife, which I store in the garage, has a quick-release feature which I either have forgotten how to activate or that no longer works. The knife is locked in the permanent open position. I try not to make any sudden moves around the knife. No reason to get sideways with it.

I cut off the tops of the ripe pomegranates with the knife and then quarter them.

The pomegranate crop is light, but the seeds are sweet. Last week, looking for a fruit boost in the late afternoon, I walked from the backyard to the front where the pomegranate tree is. I was carrying the knife in my left hand, the blade extended as it has been for weeks.

As I strode through the gate, a young mother and her two children walked on the sidewalk heading in the same direction I was. She pushed a double stroller; however neither the boy, dressed in cowboy gear, nor the girl were seated in the stroller. They were skipping ahead.

This was awkward. I was wielding a large knife, a knife that looked as if it were capable of butchering an elk or Moby Dick, should I have been so fortunate as to have landed the great white monster.

Two innocent children -- both under 5 -- were about to confront an armed and dangerous pomegranate-seeking madman -- Anthony Hopkins comes to mind.

What should I do? I didn't want to alarm the mother or frighten the children, even though the little man's cowboy getup suggested that he might be expected to confront this sort of thing on the open plains. So rather than drop the knife -- "Your Honor, at this point the psycho before you dropped the knife" -- or toss it over my shoulder into the backyard, where it might give the blind dog a haircut she was not expecting, I thrust the blade in my pocket.

Years ago, when I was in the wine business, I had opened several boxes of wine in order to make a display. In the process of opening a case of wine with a box cutter, I slashed my right leg on the down stroke, ruining a pair of pants and drawing some leg blood.

This went through my mind when I slipped the knife into my pocket. Anything could happen down there and most of the things that could happen were not good.

When I did not feel blood dripping into my shoes, I knew I probably got lucky, so I turned my attention to greeting the mother and her enchanting children.

"Do you think the kids would like a pomegranate?" I asked.

I didn't complete the question, which could have ended with "because I have a sharp knife in my pocket in the open position that should prove helpful in the pomegranate-shearing process."

"Yes, they would," she said, as we walked toward the tree.

I picked two pomegranates for them and one for me and pulled out the knife, which I happened to have in my pocket.

I cut the first pomegranate. I was almost giddy that I had escaped the whole "this crazy guy walks around the neighborhood with a knife" rap. However, in my state of neighborhood bliss, I cut too enthusiastically and slit my thumb.

"Would you excuse me for a moment?" I said. "I've cut myself."

I went inside the house and fetched a Band-Aid. The blood was running clear and red. It looked like pomegranate juice.

The pomegranates were a success. The two children and their mother continued down the street. I wiped the purple juice off the knife and put it back on a shelf in the garage but not before I unsuccessfully tried to snap the blade shut again.

My thumb is still tender but not in a bad way. It reminds me of kids, sweet pomegranates and a broken knife that may leave a scar and a memory.