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By Brian Conlon


The Montréal Review, September 2011


"Composition VIII" by Wassily Kandinsky

(1923; Oil on canvas, 140 x 201 cm)

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York




I wanted to write something Tolstoyan. Something so heavy-handed you, dear reader, would gnash your teeth and roll your eyes. "Why is your way the only way?" you would think. "How can you be so certain?" you'd cry out. And my implied response would be, "You know, you've already read it." But what to write about? In this post-Twitter world, what could be known with such certainty that thousands and thousands of characters could be devoted to showing just how obvious it is? Already I am being unfair to both Tolstoy and Twitter, excellent. I've got it, here's the story, I apologize if, and only if, you are not outraged by it.


There was a man who beat his children. His name was Hans Holder. Everyday after working at the steel mills, steel mills, which he resented only insofar as there used to be many more of them, Hans would come home and beat each of his three children mildly. He never made them bleed and was always sure to avoid their faces and other sensitive areas. He, in fact, had no desire to injure his children: he only wanted them to believe the world was fair.

The beatings began at age three. To begin any younger would have offended the sensibilities of his wife. His wife, Hyett, a fine woman of strict Northern European breeding and delicate taste in furniture, knew going into the marriage that Hans was going to beat their children. She did not entirely approve, but so dearly wanted to have children, and moreover, have them with Hans, that she acquiesced.

"I want you to be the father of my children," she said enraptured, after they had been dating for four months.

"On one condition," he said.

"Anything, anything at all."

"I must be able to beat them, everyday."


"This is not negotiable."

"Anything, anything at all," she said.

This, of course, was when Hyett and Hans were in the early stages of their relationship, when the puffiness of Hans' cheeks appeared an attribute and Hyett's rice allergy an endearing quirk. After eleven years of marriage, the daily grind of having her children beaten by her husband was starting to wear on Hyett. But there was nothing to be done; she still loved Hans and Hans was not going to give up his daily beatings.

Their children were named Terra, Gretchen and Stueben. Terra was older than Gretchen, who was older than Steuben, each separated by two years. The first beating of Terra was the most difficult for Hans. He had imagined what it might be like to beat his beloved little toddler, but he could not foresee the melancholy he felt after he delivered that first slap on the arm, which made her wail and wail, seemingly for minutes and then stare ahead rubbing her shoulder and admonishing Hans with her little brown eyes. "This is going to be altogether unpleasant," thought Hans.

But it got easier as time went on. Terra became accustomed to her father bruising her arm or leg, or back, or stomach and rarely wailed, unless Hans struck a spot sensitive from a previous encounter. Hans eventually took note of this and devised a schedule so that no part of Terra would be struck more than twice in any given two week period. It took hours to devise the schedule initially, but soon Terra was helpfully reminding Hans, "The left elbow today, Dad," for she had no reason to mislead her father.

Gretchen and Steuben were each initiated when they reached age three. Gretchen did not even wail her first time. The night before her third birthday, Hans brought her in to observer her "big, brave" five-year-old sister Terra, who took her strikes in stride, and only rubbed her right knee after the final blow was delivered. Gretchen, wanting to be nearly as "big and brave" as her sister, the next night, on a distended stomach filled with cake and ice cream, endured her first beating without shedding a tear. Hans told Hyett, "That Gretchen's a tough one," as Hyett washed the dishes and licked the knife that was used to cut the cake. "My little Gretch," she said and picked her up, letting her lick the knife. Terra was nonplused. "My cake will be chocolate, won't it Mom?" she insisted. Hyett reassured her that it might be and Hans fell asleep on the beautiful antique couch Hyett had picked out at a police auction.

On Steuben's third birthday, he was likewise subjected to Hans' abuse. Unlike Gretchen, he had been shielded from the beatings of his siblings, because as Hans said, "I don't want it to lose its effect." Steuben was a particularly rambunctious little boy; he even refused to part his hair. After failing to pin the tail anywhere near the donkey, despite Hyett's attempts to steer him in the right direction, Steuben was led into the den where Hans had been performing his nightly ritual on his sisters for four years. Steuben had never been in the room before and stared with wonder at the steel mill wallpaper that lined the walls. "Puff, puff," he said as he observed the gray blobs floating out from the gray cylinders, set against the slightly lighter gray background. No sooner had the spittle which accompanied Steuben's observation dissipated than Hans had grabbed him and struck him with his left hand open, his palm jutted so that his youngest child would be sure to feel its force. Steuben's eye watered and his knees buckled as he collapsed onto the sofa bed Hans always made sure to pull out in case one of his children fell. Steuben buried his head into the soft, pretzel-filled crevasse where the bed came out, bit the mattress and screamed. Terra moved quickly to console her younger brother, but was told to stop and come over so she could get hers. She did and Gretchen followed, each falling head first onto the couch and nearly smiling at their brother to try to assure him that, "Middle back night, isn't so bad."

And it went on, in that same vein for the next four years without incident. The occasional tear was shed, the occasional cry of "why?" and "what for?" was uttered if their gym class had been especially taxing that day, or Hans mistakenly struck the wrong wrist. Hans never responded to these inquiries, often just shrugging his shoulders, or proclaiming, "I'll have to have a talk with Mr. Eop. He must be running you guys ragged." Upon which, the children generally bucked up, took their beating, and pleaded, "No Dad, please don't."



As much as Terra loved her father and respected his authority, after eight years of daily beatings, she had had quite enough. On her eleventh birthday she planned to inform her father in no uncertain terms, "Today, I will not be beaten."

Hans and Hyett threw a lovely party for Terra, giving each girl in attendance a mini-makeup set and letting them make each other over with Hyett's supervision. Terra even got to practice her cosmetology on Gretchen and Steuben who agreed to be their sister's guinea pigs. She plastered both her siblings with eye shadow so blue Terry Hawthorne's family dog noticed through the window of their minivan when her mother dropped her off at the party. Gretchen and Steuben laughed as each caught their reflection in the window. Steuben then rubbed his eyes only to find the blue transferred on to his hands, which he then used to pet Gretchen's hair. Hyett tried to stop her son, but was too busy placing gummy bears strategically on Terra's cake, eating the gray ones. Gretchen, for her part, now with a blue streak in her hair, declared that "Steu has outraged me! It's an outrage!" "I like it," said Terra smiling wickedly and directing her brother to the sink.

After everyone had washed up and all the neighbor children were sent home with various degrees of skin irritation, Hans ushered the children into the den as Hyett washed dishes and sang merrily "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top." As the door shut behind Steuben, the children heard, "Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry, when I take you out in the surrey."

"What's a surrey, Dad?" asked Steuben.

"It's a wagon son, the ducks don't want to get run over by the wagon," said Hans.

"Good move," said Gretchen.

Terra did not pay her siblings much attention, focusing intently on her father and how she was going to break the news to him that she was not going to be beaten any longer. She wondered if it might be appropriate to stand up for her younger siblings as well, but soon concluded that would only complicate things and they could always follow her lead if they wished.

It was right calf night and Steuben was selected to lead off. He laid down on the sofa bed, his face and torso pressed to the mattress while his boyish, almost spindly, legs dangled off the edge. Hans took the boy's right calf in his left hand and gave three quick closed-fisted jolts to the spot where Steuben's calf muscle seemed to dissipate into an area with just bone and skin. Steuben winced as the two girls stood in the corner, Gretchen twirling some gum around her index finger and Terra thinking about what she would say, purposely staring at the gray of the walls until it turned to black and then gray and then white and back to gray.

As Steuben hobbled to his feet and took two steps towards his sisters he said to Gretchen, "You're up, Ms. Outraged." Gretchen's calves were less well-defined than her brother's, so Hans simply decided to strike midway between her knee and foot. He drew his hand back and measured out three blows trying to make sure they were of the same magnitude as those he'd dealt out to his son a moment earlier. Gretchen sucked her teeth on the second strike, which indicated to Hans and his two other children that perhaps that blow was too strong. Hans relented slightly on the third and Gretchen rose, bending her right leg back and forth as if she were getting ready to kick a soccer ball, "Birthday girl," she said.

Terra did not move and simply stood with her arms crossed looking downward and scraping the back of her teeth with her tongue to try to loosen bits of slightly used cake. "Come on Terra, you know the drill," said Hans.

"No," said Terra, shaking slightly.

"What do you mean no? Of course you know, get over here," said Hans.

"Today, I will not be beaten," she said steadying herself by placing her hand against one of the steel mills on the wall.

"Yes you will. You think you turn eleven and you can just opt-out. No, we're not done here," said Hans.

"No, but I won't be beaten today," she said.

Gretchen and Steuben took a couple of limping steps away from their older sister, trying to distance themselves from the doomed dissenter. Gretchen began to sweat and some of the make-up which had not yet been washed off ran down her face.

"Insolence. Get over here right now, or I'll be forced to grab you and it won't be pleasant," Hans said.

"Dad, I will not be beaten tonight," said Terra, softly. Her arm went limp as she melted against the steel mill.

Hans silently grabbed his oldest daughter around the waist, lifting her off the ground with both hands; the purple and orange embroidered "Local Girlz" t-shirt her friend Sandy got her for her birthday rode up and forced Hans to grab some skin along with the fresh cotton. Hans set his daughter down face first on the couch and when she started to struggle, he pressed his hand against her back so hard that she felt the frame of the sofa bed against her ribs and nearly swallowed a penny as her neck stiffened uncomfortably against the crease of the couch.

"Dad, stop!" cried out Steuben, loudly and then immediately looked away at the gray carpet.

"She has to learn son," Hans said, keeping his left hand pressed hard against his daughter's upper back and striking Terra's right calf with his right hand with much greater force than he had struck his two younger children. Terra squirmed on the couch, trying to free herself, but this only made Hans push down harder and strike her so hard that the redness that began on her calf started to wander up past her knee and her leg throbbed as if the bruised muscle was going to seep right through her skin.

"Mom, Mom!" she tried to scream, but was muffled by the mattress.

"Just one more," said Hans. Terra stopped struggling and resigned herself to the final blow which came down less harshly, but directly on the spot of the other two, so no less painful.

"Now that wasn't so bad," said Hans, taking his hand off his daughter as she lay inert on the sofa bed, her toes scraping the mashed gray carpet.

"All right kids, time for bed," said Hans as he opened the door. Steuben and Gretchen sheepishly followed their father, stepping over their older sister who still did not move.

"Come on now, I'm sorry, but you know the rules," said Hans to Terra gently nudging her shoulders.

Terra turned her head slowly, "Why?"

"You know I can't say. It would ruin the whole point," said Hans, letting go of his daughter and leaving the room.

Terra remained on the couch and began to weep silently. She thought this can't be right. This can't be how children are meant to be treated. No one at school had ever mentioned to her that their parents hit them. Sure, there was the occasional hushed murmurs of spankings and wrist-grabbings, but wouldn't at least one of her classmates have brought it up if it were a normal part of life? Wouldn't the teachers have asked alongside, "What is your favorite color?" "Which Dinosaur would you be?" and "Why don't you floss?" "What part of the body do you like to be thumped on?" Wouldn't it come up at lunch? Wouldn't her insecure friends have showed off their "best bruises" the same way they compared the relative speed of their parents' cars? She thought of Gretchen and Steuben and how they would have to suffer nightly long after she had left the house. This depressed her further, but stirred her to get up as her mother's voice could be heard singing, "Noddin', droopin', close to my shoulder, till it falls . . . kerplop."

"Where's the birthday girl?" asked Hyett, as Hans and the other children approached the kitchen.

"She had a bit too much excitement today, it went to her head," said Hans, "She'll be up in a minute I'd guess." Hans retreated to his bedroom and the two younger children followed him up the stairs, as Terra made her way to the kitchen, limping noticeably.

"There's the birthday girl! I'm so proud of you Terra, you're becoming a real little woman," said Hyett, "Are you alright? You seem a little sore."

"I am sore Mom, I'm very sore," she said.

"I'm sorry honey. Do you want another cupcake? A cupcake might help," said Hyett.

"Can you stop him?" asked Terra.

"Stop who?"

"You know, Dad, from hitting us. Why does he hit us?"

"No . . . I don't know . . . he should stop, but you're not seriously hurt though, right?"

"It hurts Mom, it hurts every time and it hurts to know it will hurt every time and that little Steuben hurts and even Gretchen can not conceal that it hurts, Mom. Did Grandpa do it to you?"

"No, listen, it's for a reason you know. You're father he's trying to do what's best for you kids. He loves you dearly."

"I know, but, what if he's wrong? What if it hurts and it's not best?"

"I can't start second-guessing your father; you are as much his kids as mine."

"Yes, exactly."

"I can't, please don't . . . It's your birthday!"

"Sing that song again, won't you Mom, for me?"

"Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry."

Or else they'll get run over by the wagon, thought Terra.


The next day, Hans left his cell phone at home. Hans did this from time to time in order to reassure himself that he could be weaned off the technology if absolutely necessary. Terra saw it, dull gray, shining, only slightly scuffed. She picked it up, went up to her room and shut the door. She began flipping through the contacts list until she found "Work." She reached an automated system.

"For questions or complaints about Storied Steel, press 7. For complaints not directly related to manufactured goods, press 3. For complaints about specific employees, press 8. Please hold."

"Hello, you've reached Storied Steel, my name is Antoine. How may I help you?"

"I'm Terra. I'd like to lodge a complaint against Hans Holder," said Terra.

"Are you sure you have the right number, little girl?"

"Yes, I have a complaint against an employee," she said.

"Very well, Hans Holder you say, ah yes, so what's the complaint?"

"He's my Dad and beats me and my brother and sister, every day."

"Is this some sort of terrible joke?"

"No, he beats us, and I don't think it's right."

"It's not, no, of course not, if he does beat you, but that's more of a government thing. Storied Steel can't do much about it."

"I have complained so you can tell his boss. Don't you have to tell his boss?"

"Well, it probably is worth bringing up. Image matters . . . Are you sure little girl that you want your father . . ."

"I'm sure."

"Very well, I'll pass along the complaint, I guess. I'm really sorry about all this. Is there anything else Storied Steel can do for you today?"

"No, thank you."


Later that afternoon, Hans was called into his boss's office. His boss, Jed Glaus, was a lifelong steel man with a neatly trimmed mustache and chunky protective goggles he wore at all times. He was generally considered a fair man, but had been known from time to time to inhibit certain workers from playing their radios loud enough so they could hear them over the casting machines. He never discriminated consciously based on the type of music.

"Hans, something potentially disturbing has come to my attention," said Jed.

"I don't understand, we met our quota, actually exceeded it," said Hans.

"No, no, the work is fine. We all know you're a hard worker and loyal too."

"Well, that's good," said Hans, relieved and leaning back into his chair.

"Your daughter called today. She called customer assistance in fact," said Jed sitting up and clasping his hands together.

"My daughter? Strange . . . which one?" said Hans sitting up and echoing the posture of his superior.

"Your oldest, Terra, right? Anyways she called to complain about you, said you were . . . beating her and your other kids too. Apparently she insisted I be informed."

"What? That's, that's nonsense, I don't beat my kids. Why would she . . . I can't believe she would . . ."

"My thoughts exactly Hans. I've always seen you as a real family man, you know. I just couldn't believe it," said Jed. "All the same, we can't take this type of thing too lightly you know, we'll have to investigate. Shouldn't take longer than a week, but in the meantime, you're gonna have to take unpaid leave. I can't say I approve of this, but it's company policy you know with such a serious allegation. She's eleven, right?"

"Turned eleven yesterday."

"That's a tough age. Sometimes parents are just demons you know and there's nothing you can do. Just lay low, talk to the investigators and this will be over before you know it."

"Do I . . . really . . . I mean, do I have to? Can't you just take my word?"

"I wish I could," said Jed.


The investigation started with individual interviews of the three children without the presence of their parents. Terra, Gretchen and Steuben were honest with the investigators (a feminine man and a masculine woman). The investigators assured the children that they were not in trouble and simply had to answer a few questions about their father. Gretchen and Steuben were not sure how to answer the question "Has your father or any other family member beat or abused you?" They both answered no, but when asked if they'd ever been hit or struck, they confirmed Terra's story in its entirety, Steuben editorializing, "Of course he does, didn't your dad?"

During the week of the investigation, Hans continued his regular routine with the children and did not attempt to coach them in any way in answering the investigators' inquiries. Hans only comment to Terra was, "You really shouldn't use my cell phone. Your abuse has demonstrated that we're a long way from getting you one."

By the time the investigators spoke to Hyett, the matter was virtually settled. The children's stories were so similar and so vivid that a coordinated plot between a seven, nine and eleven year-old to oust their father had to be ruled out.

"Ms. Holder, does your husband abuse you and the children?" asked the male investigator.

"No, he does not abuse them."

"And you?" asked the female investigator.

"He's never struck me."

"Your children say he hits them," said the female investigator.

"Well . . . yes, he does, but . . ." Hyett started to cry.

"And you allow this?" asked the male investigator.

"I allow this," she managed to get out, her voice trembling and her hands shaking.

"I'm sorry Ms. Holder, but why? Why do you allow this?" asked the male investigator.

"I can't say, they're fine, my kids, they're good, he doesn't hurt them," said Hyett.

"With all due respect Ms. Holder, he does hurt them," said the female investigator.

Hyett got up from her chair and laid on their antique couch, curling herself up, her back to the investigators. She was asked six more questions, she said nothing, moving her face up and down against the pillows until her face burned and she thought, "This hurts."


The Storied Steel investigators had enough testimonial evidence to conclude that Hans beat his children and filed an official report with Child Protective Services which issued a restraining order, forcing Hans to move out of the house and remain at least 5,000 feet away from his children at all times. Hans did not fight the order and found himself a motel room about a mile from his house. The same day the restraining order was processed, Hans received an email from Storied Steel:

To Whom It May Concern:

Due to recent personal problems, you are hereby released of your employment with Storied Steel. Any personal items you may have at our facilities will be shipped to you at our earliest convenience. Please do not come to collect them.

We thank you for your years of loyal service and take no stand on whether or not you find successful employment elsewhere.


Colton Randal


Storied Steel

New investigators, both male, employed by the government and wearing plaid, came to Hans' motel room to interview him. Hans never conceded that he "abused" the children, but otherwise fully cooperated with the investigators, until they asked him the following question, "And why have you been hitting your children?"

"I can't say, it would ruin it," said Hans.

"Ruin, what? You know you could go to jail for this. As it stands, you might not ever be able to see your kids again," said the investigator in the blue plaid shirt, he had a beard, it was not a pleasant one.

"They can't know why, or else it ruins it."

The bearded investigator dropped this line of questioning, turned to his partner, who shaved earlier that morning, and nodded. "We've got all we need," they said in unison.


The complete absence of physical evidence doomed the criminal investigation from the outset. None of the children were bruised by the time the government thought to check and there was no indication of abuse in the gray den. Hair on an old couch was not sufficient. However, the testimonial evidence was enough for Hans to be perpetually enjoined from seeing his children until he demonstrated to Child Protective Services that he was ready for supervised visitation. The blue-plaid investigator attached a sticky note to the cover sheet of Hans Holder's file. It read: "No access, until he says why."


Terra knew where her father was staying. Hyett had posted an advertisement for the motel on the refrigerator, highlighted the number and wrote "Your Father" next to it. Hyett had called Hans every night since he moved out and even went to visit him twice in the two weeks since he left. Hans always asked about the children and Hyett always reassured him that they were doing well and they all missed him and wished he would come back. Hyett was not misstating her children's feelings; they did miss Hans. Steuben, particularly did not understand why his father could no longer see him and routinely was found in the den staring at the walls. Gretchen did not seem terribly affected, but frequently asked her mother and Terra, "When will Dad come back?" The answer was most often, "Someday," but occasionally, "I don't know."

Terra second-guessed herself constantly. She wondered if it was now better without the beatings, but also without her father. She never stopped loving her father, even when she called the first time, she simply wanted him to stop. Could she have made him stop without reporting him? She thought, maybe if I put up a fight every night he would eventually give up. But, no she took the easy way out. Maybe she could have just run away, at least that way everyone else would be happy. Selfish, selfish Terra, she thought. You are less than worthless; you destroyed your family for your own comfort.

These thoughts haunted Terra in the two weeks since her father left and made her arrival at his motel inevitable. She had heard her mother say and write down "5A" on the advertisement on the refrigerator. She knocked delicately at the door. At first no one answered, but then she rapped harder, remembering her father's fists and scrunching her nose. Hans opened the door.

"You shouldn't be here, I could get in a lot of trouble," Hans said, after he recovered from the shock of seeing his oldest child.

"Shh, let me in, I won't tell," said Terra, smiling at the sight of her father, who was wearing a slight beard she had not seen before.

'Terra, get out of here," said Hans.

Terra slipped in the door and closed it behind her. Hans did not help her, but did not force her out either.

"Why are you here? Terra, you know I can't see you," he said, wrapping his arms around her gently.

He let go of her and she took a step back so that she would not be staring straight up, "We all miss you. Mom is going crazy. Steu doesn't know which way is up. Gretch hasn't smiled."

"She never smiled much," said Hans smiling.

"We need you Dad. We really do," said Terra.

"You know I can't come back, it's the law. You shouldn't be here . . ." said Hans sitting on the sofa bed, his head in his hands.

"What if you stopped and promised you'd never do it again?" said Terra.

"That wouldn't be enough. They think I'm a monster, maybe I am. I don't think so," said Hans.

"You're not a monster Dad."

Hans looked up and grinned at his daughter, not opening his mouth, but causing his eyes to squint and his cheeks to rise. Terra looked away, and the two remained silent for a moment.

"Why, why did you do it?" asked Terra.

"Was it really that bad? Was it really so horrible that you could not trust me that it was for the best?"

"It hurt Dad. It always hurt and you never told us why."

"It had to hurt a little at least or else there would be no point," Hans said, exhibiting some frustration in his voice. "You ruined it, I still love you, but you ruined it."

"I know, I'm sorry . . . but it hurt, and you wouldn't tell us," said Terra tearing up.

"You want to know, you really want to know? You won't understand, you just won't, you're too young. You were never supposed to know," said Hans.


Hans sat up on the sofa bed, grabbed a pillow, looked up at his daughter and then back at the pillow to avoid her suddenly unclouded gaze. "Your grandfather, he beat us, your Uncle and I. He beat us terribly. He beat us till we bled. He beat us till he bled. But it was always for a reason. He'd always say why he was beating us. He'd say 'This is for breaking the window, or that's for eating candy before dinner.' The reason was almost never important, but it was always tangible and the lesson was, supposedly, 'Don't do x, or else you'll be beaten.' You never met him, but your grandfather could be very strict."

Terra looked down upon her father, still staring at the pillow, hunched over on the sofa bed. He was rocking back and forth, gripping the pillow with such force that the stuffing retreated to the middle to avoid his hands.

"I thought at the time that this was unfair. I had only eaten candy, did it really merit such a harsh solution? But at the same time, I knew why I was being hit and this, and here's the important part, this made me think this is how the world operates. You are only hit when you violate the rules. As long as you don't do anything wrong you'll never be punished. This was the wrong lesson. This is not the way the world works. You can be minding your own business one minute and the next minute you can have your whole world stripped from you. And no reason need be supplied, no reason at all. Do you understand?"

Terra nodded silently, as she leaned up against the television behind her.

"It struck me that this method of parenting was not unique to your grandfather and that all parents, whether violent or not, reasonable or not, tended to give their children reasons for their behavior. It struck me that this is why people think the world is unfair; because their point of reference is from a world with reasons. A child knows why something happens to them, it is explained to them. "You did x, so you get y. You did x, so you don't get y.' You understand?"

"No," said Terra.

Hans' eyes widened as he let go of the pillow and looked at his daughter directly. "Yes, that's it exactly. Yes, I've succeeded! I had a theory, it was only a theory, but you've proven it's validity, maybe . . . wonderful Terra! My theory was that if a child were beaten from an early age mildly, so that they would not truly be injured, but routinely, for no reason at all, they would know how the world actually is. They would know there is no reason and never expect for there to be one. They would accept the world with open arms, take the unexplained devastation this world has to offer and know that that is the way it has to be, that is the way it must be, and it is therefore fair. My children would think the world is a fair place and would approach their lives with optimism and indifference to any setbacks, because they would know that you don't have to do x to be beaten. You can be beaten for both doing and not doing x. You can be beaten for never having been beaten. You can be beaten because it's your birthday." Hans ran out of breath, his eyes darting between his daughter and the pillow, the tempo and volume of his speech increasing.

"But Dad, it hurt and it wasn't fair," said Terra.

"Fair compared to what? Compared to what? Should I have started earlier?" said Hans.

"No one else is beaten. It hurts," she said. "Why should we hurt, when others don't?"

"Society, public school, society," said Hans.

"How is it fair to be hurt for no reason?"

"That's how the world is, that's how it is! If that's how it is, how can it not be fair? I wanted you to know how the world worked and then you would assume it was fair because your parents loved you and that's how they acted towards you. And later it wouldn't hurt, it wouldn't hurt at all, you'd expect it and if the world happened not to wound you for no reason, it would be a pleasant surprise. The world would be, to you, even more just than those who loved you the most. What could be better? You would be eternally happy. I had your happiness in mind! Your mom and I had to be trusted. It had to be that we were good to you. This way, this way, the beatings would seem completely unwarranted and inexplicable and would replicate the world. Your mom, she never knew, she doesn't know. Poor Hyett."

Hans caught his breath and scratched his beard.

"Mom is sad now," said Terra.

"See, through no fault of her own. Don't you get it, she has been hit for no reason, that's the world, that's the world," said Hans.

"It doesn't make it fair," said Terra.

"I wanted you to think what is, is fair," he said.

"I don't," she said.

Hans buried his head in the pillow, beaten and exhausted. Terra approached her father cautiously. She wrapped her arms around his sunken shoulders. Hans, defeated, looked up at his daughter, and she kissed his forehead. "We forgive you," she said.


Brian Conlon graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2011 and magna cum laude with a degree in Comparative Literature and History from the University of Rochester in 2008. He won a short story writing competition at the University of Rochester for "Telephone Bill" and has had two of his stories ("The XY Affair" and "Secular Caninism") published in EST magazine. He has given readings at the University of Rochester, Harvard Law School and at two release parties for EST.


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