Power

Prompt: Sacred

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Lily-Rose’s mother shook her gently. It was Sunday morning, time for church. The child had been awake most of the night, first for inspection, then on detention, when her father came home late from a night of drinking and needing to feel something, preferably power.

Her mother went to the closet and dresser and chose a pretty yellow and blue floral dress, and some white leotards, fitting for a little girl to wear to church on a Sunday.

But Lily-Rose wasn’t waking up. Her mother pushed her daughter’s damp, tangled hair away from her forehead. The child was frowning in her sleep.

Lily-Rose’s mother felt a drop in her chest, a drop in her life’s breath, like free-falling from the top of a tall building. My child, she thought, my beautiful Lily-Rose.

“Wake up, darling,” she whispered in Lily-Rose’s ear. “Wake up, we’ll go to church, and everything will be better.”

Her mother didn’t mean to, but her mother told a lie.

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Where Rage Lives

Prompt: Subdued
Warning: Offensive Language

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Jeremy’s father started to have tantrums as if he was a toddler, except he was a grown man, advanced in age but still strong, and so was a danger to himself and others when he flew into these blind rages.

It was probably a kind of dementia, his doctor told Jeremy. Jeremy disagreed. He was just a selfish, violent asshole, and the older he got, the worse he got. “Right,” said the doctor. “He loses the filter. He can’t help it.”

So Jeremy tried hard not to hate his father. He tried hard to understand him. He generally failed to do both. It was much better since Xavier moved in; Xavier had a serenity about him, or perhaps it was just an indifference to the insults and rantings of an old man. But with Xavier around to look after him, Jeremy all but abandoned his plans to get his father into a nursing home and out of his life. Working two jobs was not the brilliant savings plan Jeremy had envisioned. There was no way to fast-track his father out of the apartment and into an institution far away from him.

Jeremy resigned himself to the unforgivable plan of cohabiting with this father. He felt terrible about it, and realized it was not a good solution for either of them. Unless, Jeremy realized, he could arrange schedules with Xavier and the airline so that he rarely had to see his father face to face.

He worked the late afternoon shifts and the overnight shifts as often as he could. For a week at a time he would not see his father at all, arriving home when his father was in bed and leaving again before they had time to confront one another.

The tantrum came one afternoon towards the end of that quiet (for Jeremy) week. He was awakened from a dead sleep, having returned home pumped up from a bomb scare at the airport. He’d played video games in his room until he literally fell into bed unconscious.

“Don’t you— don’t you talk to me like that, you spic!” His father. Jeremy put the pillow over his head.

Then some furniture scraping, and finally, something picked up and hurled against the wall. It sounded like the building was imploding. Jeremy dragged himself up and into the kitchen, where he was startled to see blood streaming from his father’s nose.

Xavier stood near the back door, a frying pan in his hand. A loaf of bread had been emptied and scattered around the room. Blood covered the front of his father’s shirt.

“See what he does? You leave me alone with this… thing, day after day!” His father wiped blood from his nose with a shirt sleeve, and then kicked over a kitchen chair. “Faggots, both of you, abusing an old man, both of you!”

“Xavier?” Jeremy said quietly.

Xavier shook his head. “I did nothing. He requested his lunch, I prepared it. He did not like it. He threw it.”

“Fucking teenage faggot!”

“I said, ‘Why do that Mr Connor? This is what you say you want.’ I don’t know, he forgot? He—“

“Call the police!” said his father. “Get this wetback deported.”

“You didn’t hit him,” Jeremy asked.

“I did not,” said Xavier. “The plate he threw hit me, though, so…” He held up the frying pan, indicating its purpose was to shield himself from flying objects.

“Are you seriously going to believe that filthy foreign thug over me?”

“Dad, go lie down for a little bit. Really. I’ll bring you some tea.”

“Shut the fuck up,” said his father. He suddenly looked at his sleeve, and the knocked over chair, and Xavier by the door with a frying pan. “Just leave me alone.” The blood seemed to have stopped flowing and Jeremy handed his father a fistful of paper towels.

Subdued, Jeremy’s father shuffled out of the kitchen.

“How often has this been happening?” Jeremy said.

“Just a few times,” said Xavier, placing the pan carefully on top of the stove. “He just goes off like a firework. Boom. Pop. Pow.”

“His nose?”

“I think is a nose bleed,” said Xavier. He started picking up pieces of bread from the floor. “Your father is angry.”

“He is always angry,” said Jeremy.

“Why?”

That is a good question, Jeremy thought. It wasn’t all dementia, or lack of filters, or a vile temperament. He knew this for a fact, because he himself was full of anger towards his father. Rage, suppressed. He understood how anger felt, but was ignorant about where it lived and how it flourished.

He helped Xavier clean up the kitchen. He ate a grilled cheese sandwich that Xavier prepared. He took a cup of strong tea into his father’s room. His dad lay under the covers, in his clothes, blood clotting around his nostrils, sound asleep. Jeremy put the cup on the bedside table. His father, he knew, would awake and be enraged by cold tea.

 


Truth or Dare

Prompt: Daring

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They were playing the game of Truth or Dare, where you take turns answering a question truthfully, or fulfilling a dare.

She was the unrequited love of his young life. Unconventional, curious, passionate, not like the girls he met at school or dance class. He couldn’t understand why she found him interesting— it would remain a mystery until he died, thirty years later. He felt like he was walking a tightrope with her, that at any moment she would discover he was a fraud, a bore, an imposter.

“Truth,” she said when it was her turn. “Go ahead, ask me anything.”

“Truth. Why do you like me?” he asked.

She had the grace to laugh, and then to think about it. “You are not very nice,” she said. “But I think you have such a great heart that you could do anything. Don’t ask me how I know, I am very intuitive.”

He had the grace to blush. He had no idea what she meant. Then, in a moment of reckless courage, or reckless cowardice, he said, “For my turn, I pick dare.”

“Wow, you are brave,” she said. “But I want to know something, so I dare you to tell me the truth.”

She took a sip of her lemonade, and he found himself staring at her. Her thin blonde hair, long to her shoulder blades, and her dark eyelashes surrounding pale grey eyes.

“Tell me,” she said. “Why did your mother leave your father?”

“What? That is your question?”

“It is. Tell me the truth, double truth, since this is actually a dare.”

“Nothing to tell,” he said. “They lost interest, got divorced.”

“Liar,” she said. She held his gaze. “I need to talk to someone. Tell me why she left.”

He stood and fetched his jacket, and put it on as if to leave, but then sat down beside her on the couch. “He was an asshole,” he said. “He belittled and humiliated my mother, and hit her sometimes.” He looked at his hands in shame. “She tried to protect me, and I did nothing. I didn’t help her at all.”

“You were a child,” she said. “And chances are, she left because of you. Which is good, right?”

“I don’t know. My stepfather is ok,” he said. He felt he didn’t deserve this almost peaceful life with this new family. He was the one who had provoked his father, made him angry, made him lash out. So how was it a good thing, really, that his mother was forced to escape because of him?

She said, “My father hit my mom. He assaulted me. I have never told anyone.”

“Me either,” he said.

“That’s why I asked,” she said. “It’s time I said it out loud. You too.”

“It will be hard,” said Harrison.

“Dares are the hardest,” she said.

Normal

Prompt: Joke

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“It was just a joke,” Harrison told his father.

“It was no joke, it was a stupid act of a stupid boy,” said his father.

“Donald…” said his mother.

“You spoil him.”

“You abuse him.”

“Abuse him? I’ll show you abuse.” Harrison’s father struck his mother in the face with the palm of his hand. She only took a step back, but her face turned crimson.

Harrison wasn’t expecting the kick in the stomach. His father was more agile than he thought. He gasped for breath and fell on his knees. It didn’t hurt yet; it was such a surprise, but it would hurt later when Harrison was in his bed trying to sleep.

Harrison’s mother screamed in horror. Before she could reach her son, Harrison’s father picked up the glass of whiskey and threw it on the tile floor, where it shattered into a million pieces.

“Clean it up,” he said to his wife, and left the kitchen. They could hear his footsteps on the stairs, and then the loud bass of the television.

“He didn’t mean it,” Harrison’s mother said, as she knelt and pulled him into her arms.

“He didn’t?” said Harrison. It was like his mother was speaking in a foreign language. The whole house now looked alien to him. Was it his house? Did he belong here?

All his friends played jokes. He thought it was normal. Things were confusing, especially today, now, with his mother holding him so tightly, another angry welt on her left cheek.

“He was just not in the mood,” his mother said. Not in the mood? thought Harrison. Then I will try the salt joke again. Jokes are normal. He should learn to be normal. The world needed to be normal.

He asked his mother if he could go outside and kick the soccer ball around.

Harrison kicked the ball, hard, again and again, against the brick fence in the back, until his mother called him for supper. Only once did it go over the fence. Their neighbour’s daughter, who was visiting from France, tossed the ball back with a smile and a wave.

Hope and Promise

Prompt: Cowardice

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For many years, when Lily-Rose Roades watched The Wizard of Oz, she did not identify with Dorothy. She saw herself in the Cowardly Lion, the character who recognized his timidness and cowardice and sought courage from the Wizard in the Emerald City.

Lily-Rose never stood up for herself as a child. She let herself be bullied and abused. She felt rage and injustice and pain but did not fight back. She should have shouted at her father-impostor, or run away from home, or somehow been clever enough to make things right for her mother and herself.

But she never did. She was a coward. She failed. This knowledge was a large dead animal that she dragged behind her for nine years, until she met a teacher, or a teacher met her. A person who saw worth in a cowardly young girl past hope.

But what did the Wizard of Oz say to the Cowardly Lion?

As for you, my fine friend — you’re a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate delusion that simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage. You’re confusing courage with wisdom!

That’s what her teacher, the Wizard of Lily-Rose Roades’ life, told her. You did what you had to to survive. And you did survive. You are here now: smart, independent, and still brave in the face of a world that tries to tear you down. I know you. I know you are worthwhile, that you matter, and that you have a lot to give this world.

Lily-Rose didn’t watch The Wizard of Oz anymore. It reminded her too much of a time when she was vulnerable and in pain. She liked watching the trailers for it, with Dorothy setting off on her quest, so bright and full of hope and promise. She understood at last, thanks to a teacher, what that felt like.

She would never, ever underestimate the power of a kind word, faith, and humanity. It is good advice for everyone.

American Nightmare

Fifty people murdered, and currently another fifty-three injured in the worst mass murder in American history.

Why? Why do angry men commit mass murder?

While the answer is not simple, there is an answer. The answer lies in a combination of factors (often cited: the U.S. gun culture, the glamorization of such murderers in the media, the failures of the mental health system) but most important— because this kind of violence is often preventable— is that such disturbed, angry men are allowed to flourish in a society that turns its back on abused families, and refuses to acknowledge that there is specific violent behaviour that virtually every American mass murderer displays before he takes up his weapons and slaughters five or ten or fifty people.

Look at any of the multiple murderers— I won’t name them, but you know them— they either grew up in extremely abusive households, or displayed previous violent and threatening behaviours, or both.

Children need to be protected, not only because they are our future and deserve love and protection, but because abused children grown up to be abusers.

Abusers need our help, not only because it is the humane thing to do, but because abusers can become murderers. They need to be taken off the street, away from their families, put into treatment, and not released until their health problems are addressed and they are no longer a threat to the rest of us.

Stop the glorification of violence, stop minimizing the effects of domestic abuse, stop enabling violent offenders, stop defunding programs that protect children and care for adults. Not just in the U.S., but everywhere. Stop.