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The Wooden Sword

Zafira Demiri

“He grabbed my arm, mom! He hurt me!” Half-expecting to be swept into the corner, to

be dealt with at a later time, the young girl made a more intense effort at putting her pain on

display. She gripped her arm fiercely, digging her nails in, and perhaps hurting herself more than

her younger brother had.


“Punish him! Momma, hit him!” the little girl shrilled. Her mother’s eyes moved to her at

last, sharp and quick like a bullet into her lung, collapsing it. Now that her breath had escaped

her, the word punish resounded in her skull. The inside of her head was hollow and dark—the

more the word bounced around it the less that it held any connotation with her brother. Now, the

word was moments away from being carved into her skin with a black, leather belt. 

Like most children who speak out of turn, Maude was quickly taught what a slippery

tongue could result in: a sleek belt pulled from fraying, denim loops in her mother’s jeans. The

belt was nasty and it burned, but it stung less than the TV extension cord or the stick her mother

would send her to retrieve from the backyard. Her mother would say something like, “Go out and

find a stick with the most thorns,” and Maude would drag her small feet across the grass,

wincing as she stepped on small pieces of weather-beaten gravel and wailing an ugly cry the

whole way. Picking a stick for her punishment was an integral part of the psychological torture.

It was worse, however, when her mother would twist and turn the beating-instrument in

her hand. She would gently drag it across her palm, caressing it with her fingertips as if petting

the leathery beast. She would roll it up into a tight coil before releasing it so that the end would

softly thud against the linoleum of the kitchen floor.

This was never done for her brother. The parents had divided up this work of disciplining

their children, and so Maude’s father took care of the boy. Her father thought that hands were

“man’s best tools,” that’s why he almost never used a fork when eating or why he beat his child

with his palms and knuckles. Alas, her father wasn’t home right now, so Maude would be the

only one getting punished.

In preparation for her beatings, Maude would sink to her knees as if praying. She would

grab onto her mother’s chubby ankles, pleading with her for forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t

cheap, and because Maude is a nine-year-old child with nothing to her name besides what her

mother gives her, she cannot afford forgiveness. She can only accept punishment at no cost,

except for blue blemishes on her soft, pale skin. 

So when Maude’s mother turned to her with frustration behind her eyes and heat in her

hands, Maude knew what would come next. She knew, so she did not wait for her mother to say

anything. She slowly trudged through the kitchen, out the backdoor beneath the maple tree’s

shade, avoiding the larger chunks of gravel that she had mapped out in her mind. She had walked

this path many times now, scavenging for a stick that was neither too skinny nor too thick. One

that had many thorns and branches, but that would not break within the first few whips. She even

cut through the hot, mucky air with it like a sword to hear the sharp whistle. There are no true

parameters for testing instruments to beat your children with, so Maude made them up as she

went along. She, like her mother, twisted it and dragged it along her palm.

She had found the perfect stick: thorny, thin, long, flexible, with an exceptional screech

when you beat the wind with it—this stick could bring the wind to her knees. This time, Maude

was filled with childish masochism. Her mother merely watched through the backdoor in a kind

of awe.

Zafira is an English student at Monmouth University studying literature with interests in ecocriticism, feminist theory, and Marxist theory. She is the poetry editor for her school’s magazine, The Monmouth Review, and in her free time largely writes poetry and some fiction. For her, poetry is a way to unveil her deepest thoughts through contemplation and deliberation and fiction is more of a way to address controversy.
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