Conflicted

Responding to Reena’s challenge #114.
State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security, for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children whom you would be willing to kill. -Questionairre- A poem by Wendell Barry
https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2019/11/21/reenas-exploration-challenge-114/

Every evening my ma would sit me on a stool, run her fingers lovingly through my hair and brush with gentle downward strokes. Her tenseness and agitation would lessen with each stroke of the brush and each sip of Jack Daniels.

“You’re my little angel” she would repeat over and over as if in a trance ” my little angel”. After a while she would tell me about my daddy.

Your daddy was always holding up the wall besides Lucy’s convenience store, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, a permanent smirk on his face. I would pass that way every morning and afternoon going to and fro from school. He would shout ” Hi little angel, how ya doing” and I would keep my head down and rush by.

One afternoon on my way home from school he grabbed my arm and said “what’s your hurry little angel”. I pulled my arm away and tried to run but he was faster and pulled me into the alley behind Lucy’s. I struggled and kicked and punched but he was strong. He slapped my face twice and it hurt and I cried. Later on it hurt a lot more and I screamed. Then he was gone.

I made my way home ashamed and dirty. Grandma took one look at me and asked what happened. I told her between sobs that threatened to wrench my heart from my body. Walking to her bed room she came out with a gun and left the house. She returned a while later and said he was gone.

Every few weeks as I stepped out of the shower grandma would glance at my body. There was a time when that glance was followed by an announcement that I would be having a baby. I cried and screamed that I didn’t want the baby. It would be the spawn of Satan. Grandma told me not be silly.

” You were born a while later and it took me time to come around, but here we are my little angel”.

My ma would pause here, slowly sipping her whiskey, as my body tensed for what came next. She became agitated as the brush ripped through my hair.

“Your daddy was the devil incarnate. Not just him, all men are devils sent from the pits of hell to prey upon woman. Don’t trust them, stay away from them. They are here to pollute your soul and drag you to hell when they die. Listen to me. Are you listening.”

She would continue ranting and raging till exhausted. Her anger abated she would return to brushing my hair with those gentle downwards strokes, ” You are my little angel, my little angel. I’ll put a pink ribbon in your hair tomorrow. Would you like that.”

Mornings, grandma would come over as ma struggled to dress and get out the door to work. Grandma would stare at me, arching her eyes, asking if I wanted some eggs for breakfast.

There came a morning when grandma came over to cook me breakfast, ma was still in bed. Grandma went in the bedroom to wake her and came out with a sorrowful expression.

” Your ma’s dead. Guess you’re with me now. First thing we gotta do is cut that hair and make you look more like the boy your ma never wanted. You’re the man of the house now.”

————————————————————————————————————-

As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think. -Wendell Berry

45 thoughts on “Conflicted

  1. When I read this and I read the quote you included, what comes to mind is that parents don’t intend to “kill” their child, but the things they do to them kills them just as surely as a bullet between the eyes. I may be way off on the message you were looking to convey… Your story is very well-written, whether it has a moral or not. There’s a lot of this kind of thing going on in the world, which is a pity. We are capable of so much more as a species.

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    1. Thanks for your insightful comments JadeLi. You hit the nail on the head with one of the points I was making in that we force our own personas on to our children for better or worse. In particular I have been reading up on parents allowing their children to transition gender at such young ages. Their have been some very tragic consequences for the child because of this. The other point was that the unborn baby is the innocent party in cases of rape and should not be victimized for this horrendous action. There is adoption if the mother doesn’t want the child. Controversial subjects for sure.

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      1. You’re welcome, Len. I agree with refusing/delaying any gender transition, Len, especially for the situation where the child is intersexed (hermaphrodite). It isn’t talked about much, but I watched a movie awhile ago, where the plot was about a intersexed child whose father was firm about pushing the child into having a surgery that would keep them one gender, but it was the opposite gender that the teenager wanted to be (or something like that) and the results were not good.

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  2. We are not really independent beings, despite the soul we have. Genes, ideas, complexes, whims, insanity of parents- everything has an impact. They always think we owe it to be like them, because they brought us into the world. This assumption of owning grates on some children. We may develop independent ideas and personalities later on, but can’t get rid of inherited physical structures, diseases whatsoever….

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  3. You chose the ghastliest option, and did a brilliant take with several layers. Assault is not just physical. Somehow, I had anticipated that you would not shy away from this prompt. Thanks a ton, Len!

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    1. You’re welcome Reena. Thanks for introducing me to Wendell Berry. “The Questionnaire” in particular was a thoughtful take on how far we are willing to lose our sense of morality to get what we want. You give such interesting prompts that allows me to explore different themes. I would never have written a story like this on my own initiative.

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      1. We have a writers group that I go to and it’s the same thing. We all come up with completely different stuff on the one topic and what comes through sometimes is really eye opening to me – just proves that writing comes from beyond our ordinary minds. I think anyway.

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    1. Thanks Violet. While writing this I was wishing I had your talent for writing dialogue with accents/colloquialisms etc. The farthest I could go down this road was to substitute ma for mother…..and that was on the third rewrite.

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      1. I have had the luxury of living all over this country and learning first hand man an accent. I wish I could do your more realistically, I try my hand at it, but I’ve never had the pleasure of living anywhere in the UK.

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  4. This story gave me the chills, Len. So powerfully written and dense with emotion. Each stroke of the brush carried such intense meaning and significance. It was a ticking clock, a drumbeat leading to that dramatic revelation. Wonderful writing.

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  5. I thought your number was too high so I did some research. I found that 50% of women have reported physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives but could not substantiate that this number applied to under 12’s. It was an eye opener for me because I thought the number would be 1-5%. This 50% number is staggering. I also researched countries with higher instance of sexual abuse and was surprised to find countries like Denmark, Canada, U.S. Australia in the top 10. This does surprise and makes me suspect the way data is collected. I note that countries in the Middle East are not even mentioned despite their attitudes to women.

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  6. I was trained that “art and polemics don’t mix,” and your handling of these difficult topics showed you true to that principle. I don’t know how I feel about early decisions about gender transition because I have fortunately never been faced with the issue—nor has anyone I know. I imagine they’re wrenching. But it’s not even clear to me from the story that the child has bought into his mother’s obsession.
    You have a true artist’s ability to hit us with whammo surprise endings.

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  7. I was trying to unite art(writing) and polemics in a subtle way….not wishing to beat people over the head with my very strong views on child gender transition. Parents are supposed to be more mature then the child and should not give in to an an 8 year old’s fantasy of themselves. Happy Thanksgiving Annie will you be discussing art or politics at the family gathering.

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    1. Fortunately, we don’t have the political divide that appears to have necessitated any number of articles on how to navigate the often-hostile differences at the Thanksgiving meal. But I’d like to think that if we did have dramatic differences, we could have found our way through them with love and mutual respect.

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  8. You are such a fantastic writer. I was so tired today, having gone through an experience that re-opened the PTSD, and had gone to bed. But the TV was on and I could hear it , so I came back out to look up what is in the recipe for hoppin john, southern version. I really didn’t know. Anyway, I came out and somehow hit on your post, and it is so excellent and reads so true. I remember the movie of the young girl who was deaf and mute who was raped, and ultimately had to go to court against the man who raped her and she too, if I remember right, had a child. Life is full of strange stories, and you handled this one really well for such a difficult topic. Thank you kindly.

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