It is the summer of 1971, and Dave is ten years old. School is out, and he is being given very little to eat. He receives no lunch and gets dinner on only one day in three. One evening she grabs a knife and screams at him that if he does not finish his chores on time, she will kill him. It is not the first time she has made such a threat. He does not believe that she is going to strike him, but something happens to make her almost lose her balance, the knife flies from her hand, and Dave ends up getting stabbed in the stomach. He loses consciousness. When he comes to, he is sitting on the toilet and Mother is putting gauze on the bleeding wound. He loses consciousness again, and when he recovers awareness, his mother is wrapping his lower chest in a cloth. He expects that she will take him to the hospital, but this is not what happens. Instead, she tells him he has thirty minutes to finish washing the dishes. He struggles to get to the kitchen, although he is in pain, and blood is seeping through the dressing. He decides to go to the living room and tell his father what happened. But his father shows no interest, telling him to go back to washing the dishes. His father does not want to risk upsetting his wife. Dave is deeply disappointed; he had still felt that his father would save him, but now he loses all respect for him.
Despite the pain he goes back to washing and drying the dishes and trying to put them away. His mother gives him a glass of water but says she cannot feed him for a few hours until he feels better. She does not seem to care about him, allow she does allow him to go outside and play with his brothers. Her attitude softens, and she gives him a sparkler (it is the Fourth of July). Dave wonders why she is suddenly behaving differently.
Later, she gives him small amounts of food. He sleeps in the army cot but has nightmares and runs a fever. His mother applies a cold washcloth to his forehead. In the morning his shirt is covered in blood and there is dried blood on his face. His mother is unsympathetic and tells him to start his chores.
He feels feverish for three days but does not dare ask for an aspirin. His wound becomes infected, but instead of asking for help he washes it himself and improvises a bandage out of rags. He feels proud that he has accomplished all this by himself.
This one incident in which Dave is stabbed is given a chapter all by itself. It marks an important stage in Dave’s journey because he shows he has the determination and resourcefulness to survive whatever neglect and abuse he suffers. Once again, his mother’s actions are almost incredibly callous and cruel, not to mention risky, since she could easily have killed the boy unintentionally with the knife. Not only this, Dave obviously needed professional medical care after the stabbing, which she denied him.
How the stabbing actually happened is not entirely clear from the narrative. Mother has the four-year-old Russell clinging to her leg and seems to lose her balance, and then Dave sees “a blurred object fly from her hand.” Did she mean actually to throw a knife at her child or not? The truth cannot be known, although needless to say, the mere fact of waving a knife at a child and saying she is going to kill him if he takes too long to do a chore is deeply disturbed, indeed criminal, behavior. There is nothing Dave can do about it, of course. He is only ten years old, trying to deal with a crazy mother and a cowardly father. It’s not surprising that he feels a sense of triumph when he manages to clean his own wound and survive. He is learning how to survive—in a way that no child should ever have to.