Koan

Having tackled the greater problems of asymmetric hands and lonely trees, Hiroshi was ready to advance to level ten, leaving behind the acolytes to join the full-fledged monks.

“This exam will test your resolve. You must not cease your meditation under any circumstance. Do you understand?”

Hiroshi nodded. “I understand,” he said, and felt the sting of the keisaku on his back.

“Let us start again. Do you understand?”

Though ignoring a master was flagrant disrespect, Hiroshi kept still. His back was perpendicular to the floor, his shoulders relaxed. In every breath, he felt the stillness of winter and the great purpose of fall. Other seasons would follow.

He heard movement around him. Footsteps of others. An audience.

“Yes, step right over there. Come forward. Now, you two are the most promising candidates for advancement, but we can only accept one right now.”

Hiroshi was almost startled by the clatter of the wooden sword in front of him, but made no reaction.

“Let the battle begin!”

He maintained his focus, even as he watched the bouncing martial footsteps come closer. His head was still, his eyes locked. As the distance between himself and his rival shortened, he did not adjust his focus. A pointed wind passed through him.

“Um, Master?” The voice belonged to Takashi, another acolyte, two years younger. “I can’t attack if he doesn’t defend himself.”

“If you do not attack, you cannot win.”

The boy moved in circles, asking questions, but Hiroshi could not negotiate. Takashi stopped in front of him, and with a bow, apologized.

Hiroshi did not react to the blow that followed, though the pain was great.

“Congratulations! You’ve won!”

As the audience cheered for Takashi, Hiroshi stayed still. The feast that followed smelled amazing.

He told himself he didn’t notice.

And the concussion felt like spring.

#cryptic, #games, #koan, #meditation, #monks, #no-right-answer, #passivity, #patience, #violence

Deathbed

Waking up had never felt so important. As David Blanchett gasped himself awake, the crowd around him murmured in relief. They had thought he was gone, and he had been.

“Dad, we thought we lost you.”

“It’s a miracle.”

They crammed around the bed, trying their best to hug him through the wires and the tubes. They touched his hands. He tried to squeeze back.

“Give him some space. He’s had a long day.” The doctor pulled away Kaitlin, the youngest, and the rest of the family dispersed behind her and out the door. Kaitlin lingered another moment, and as Timothy, the oldest, grabbed her shoulder, she took a deep swallow. “I love you, Daddy,” she said, and as though she’d said something wrong, scampered off into the hallway.

A few days later, he left the hospital. The kids were at school, but his wife drove him home. “What do you think it’s going to cost?” she asked.

“I don’t know. You can’t really put a price tag on your health.”

Regina seemed to contemplate this premise until they were home. She opened up a can of beans and emptied it into a plastic microwavable container. When it was hot, she set it in front of him and made to leave.

He coughed. “I thought we might celebrate later.”

“But darling, you hate celebrations.” She kissed him on the forehead and got in the car.

When the kids came home, they rushed past him to the living room, where they had an Xbox. He followed after.

“What’s that you’re playing there? Some game?”

“Nothing,” said Timothy, shutting off the console. The rest of them scampered off behind him. “Please don’t be mad. It’s my fault.”

David said nothing.

“Aren’t you going to hit him, Daddy?”

#abuse, #family, #father, #microfiction, #parents, #patriarchy, #second-chances, #terrible, #violence

Advertisement

The children are outside, playing a game of rock, paper, scissors. They say the words with great concentration as they beat their fists into their palms. The little boy wins more often than the little girl does, but is more frustrated when he loses.

The girl is frightened of his emotion, and because she only wants to have a little fun with her brother, she is trying her best not to win.

“You’d do better if you threw something other than paper,” he tells her. All the same, he throws rock in their next round and loses. “God damn it! You’re not even trying!”

He slaps the air in front of her face, and she backs away.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

Kicking the ground, he mutters, “Paper shouldn’t beat anything.” He seems to get an idea, and runs to the house, and back with a pair of scissors and a sheet of eight and a half by eleven. He sets them down in front of her, and picks up a rock.

“I dare you to choose paper,” he says, winding up with the stone in his hand.

The girl crouches down, watching the boy carefully. She picks up the pair of scissors, and when the boy comes charging to break her, she swings the object toward him. It grazes his cheek, and he stands back, shocked.

“You lose,” he says, and takes the scissors from her. She turns and runs.

From inside, they look as though they’re playing a game of tag. Their parents see them running out of the corners of their various eyes and take symmetrical sips of Coca-Cola.

“It’s good to see the children playing,” the father says.

The mother doesn’t say anything, only carbonated gulps.

Coca-Cola: Your Only Responsibility

#advertisement, #anger, #children, #coca-cola, #microfiction, #misogyny, #sore-loser, #violence

Teenager

He stared at his hands in disbelief. He hadn’t even been angry, not very. Not enough. Only a psychopath would act as he had acted, but he wasn’t a psychopath, he knew.

“The asshole had it coming,” he told himself, but he didn’t believe it. He tried again. “I didn’t have any other choice.”

The house was dark when he came home. Experience had taught him how to sneak through the back door. It made less noise than the front, and was closed off from the rest of the house.

The seventh and thirteenth steps creaked. He counted and stepped over them.

As he entered his room, he turned on the light and started to remove his shirt. The blood was his, from the struggle, but he didn’t want to explain. He didn’t have a lie prepared.

He jumped when he saw his dad sleeping in his bed. The light hadn’t stirred him, but the brief exclamation from Noel’s adrenaline-poisoned body had, and the man woke up asking questions.

“So you’re home. Where’ve you been?”

Noel’s body shook, and he shook his head. He couldn’t push his tongue against any part of his mouth. All that came out as he tried to talk was a slow stream of dribble.

His dad shushed him. “You don’t have to talk. I know. It’s okay.”

Noel looked up. He started to shake his head again, but his father went on. “Just tell me. What did you do with the body?”

Noel gasped. He wouldn’t explain. He couldn’t.

“Never mind. I’m proud of you, boy. I was a few years older than you when first took a life. You’re a man now.”

Noel nodded. He didn’t believe it yet, but he nodded.

He would be a man the rest of his life.

#male-aggression, #male-bonding, #microfiction, #murder, #rape-culture, #society, #teenager, #violence