A Capacity for Violence

My shot missed. Dust rose in a miniature mushroom cloud.

Donny drew back his slingshot and held a rock steady. The chicken stood still. Donny released. His rock struck the chook’s head and sent it scrabbling into the red dirt of my yard.

I watched as it rose and tried to escape, hoping it would make it. But the piece of rusted fencing wire Donny had wound round its leg and secured to a star picket stopped it from getting far. Sweltering in the afternoon heat, I wiped my hand across my forehead. Sweat and dust to ran into my eyes. I blinked it away and loaded my slingshot. I missed again.

“You’re fuckin’ useless,” Donny said.

A metal bar lay on the ground nearby, left over from the shed Dad had started to build. Another project that got too hard for him and remained unfinished. The shed leaned to one side and barely stayed upright when the winds howled.

I picked up the bar and advanced on the chook. “I’m not useless,” I said, and swung hard. The chook somersaulted through the air, then sprawled on the ground. Still twisted in wire, its leg pointed like a finger of accusation. I wiped my eyes, then raised the bar for another blow.

“Stop,” my mother said, emerging from behind the half-finished shed. She didn’t yell—she rarely did—but her presence was enough to make me lower the bar, and my eyes.

“Go home, Donny.”

Mother walked to the chicken, still flopping around on the end of the wire. With a quick motion of her hands—a pull and jerk—she ended its suffering. She turned and looked me in the eyes. “Untie it. Bring it into the shed.” Without another word, she walked away.

I entered the shed with the limp, bloody bird, and lay it on the bench my mother indicated.

“Sit down.”

I didn’t look at her.

“I said sit.”

“I can’t.”

She tilted her head to the side. “Turn around.”

I did as she asked.

“Now drop your strides.”

Face burning, I complied, knowing my bare arse was crisscrossed with red welts the same width as Dad’s belt. She placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me back around to face her.

“Please don’t tell Dad about the chook.”

“The true measure of a man isn’t his capacity for violence, but his ability to contain it. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

She handed me a hatchet.

“Cut off its head and pluck it. Then bring it in for dinner.”

Ryan Stone

Runner up Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction 1000, June 2018

Published at Flash Boulevard, September 2019

Daybreak

“Not everyone will like you,” she said.

“Why not?”

“That’s the way of things. Never show them it hurts.”

I looked at the iron gate before me and thought of spears. A phalanx of invisible soldiers clutching towering spears.

“When can I return?” I said.

“You cannot.”

“Never?”

“You must always look forward. Behind lies naught but ashes and dust.”

“Once I step through, you’ll be behind.”

She said nothing.

“I’ll miss you,” I said.

“As I will you.”

“You could come with me.”

She smiled. “The price of your freedom was more than I have.”

I looked from her face to the man in the shadows. A glint of gold flickered as he opened his mouth. “Time to go.”

“Ashes and dust,” said my mother, and shoved me into the light.

Ryan Stone

Dull Roar

One month from now,
a dull ache
is all you’ll be
to me.

Six months on
if I hear your name,
I might pause
to remember your face.

Once a year has passed
if I see you on the street,
more likely in a club,
I may smile or give a nod.

But tonight, right now,
a thousand men with knives
couldn’t cause the pain
you have.

Ryan Stone

The T-Shirt

She stares at the t-shirt draped over her chair. A replica Eames deserves better than Metallica. Of all the things for him to leave behind!

Clasped like Excalibur, a knife thrusts up from a toilet, Metal up your ass written beneath. Who would think of something like that? Who would print it? Worse still, who would wear it? She knows the answer to the last, having argued with him before countless dinner parties, Sunday barbecues, visits from her mother.

She swats at the shirt as she would a spider, gets slapped in the face by Armani as it falls. Now it lurks on the floor, one more dead thing in a week of dead things, until her kick sends it skidding under their her bed.

Hours later she listens to it whisper as sleep refuses her haven. If she lies just so her mind can ignore it, until a stray breeze blows a trace to her nose. She climbs from bed to hunt naked in the fragmented moonlight. The shirt is a cool breath on feverish skin, and she surrenders to heavy metal dreams.

Ryan Stone

The Walk

I wake a full hour early
for the rare gift
of a walk in the woods
with my father.

He is a silent giant
among misty ghost gums.
I tell him, Watch!
See how fast I can run.

He doesn’t yell when I trip
and fall, but lifts me
with unfamiliar,
calloused hands.

At the end of the trail
I study my grazes—jagged
and bloody. He tells me
he’s leaving my mum.

On the walk home
I gaze at the gum trees
and fragmented clouds, thinking
they should look different somehow.

Ryan Stone

first published at Poetry Nook, 1st place Week 185

Leaving Violet Town

The boy sits alone
while the carriage fills
around him. It’s a V-line,
a long haul, thundering
into morning.

Barely legible,
a chipped sign fades
and Violet Town falls away.

He retreats to a paperback
kingdom, while oblivious
wheels devour miles.
Sometimes his eyes rise
to watch the landscape
grind from here to there.

Terminus halogen holds the night
at bay as a voiceover calls
passengers awake.

At journey’s end,
crisp air whispers
possibility. Behind him,
doors hiss shut. Ahead,
a turnstile beckons.

Ryan Stone

First published in Writers’ Forum Magazine issue 159, December 2014

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Self-portrait

And these are my failings:
a wild smile always leads my mind
to the kiss hiding behind it
and sometimes to plot
the shortest route there.

Did I say sometimes? I lie a bit, too.
And I tend to zone out to small-talk
like there aren’t already
enough idle words in the world.
I often wonder – where do they go,
those wasted words once they’re spoken?

And I can’t warm to people,
despite how I try.
I’m lying again – I don’t try at all.
I’d much rather hide
with The Boss or Miss Del Rey,
alone in the dark
drinking vodka;

ignoring that night
in my fourteenth year
when my father got drunk,
made me drive his ute home –
the soft bump and loud bark,
the crimson accusation,
coagulating on his tyre
next morning.

– Ryan Stone

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Written for National Poetry Month 2016 @ The Music In It – Failures

First published in Poppy Road Review, May 2016.

Rhyme of the Kingdom

Over the mountains
and down to the sea,
you must come now
if you hope to break free.
No time to mourn
for Autumn’s red bowers;
the light we once made,
now darkness devours.

I can play you
the rhymes of the kingdom,
I can sing you
the songs that you know;
but we must take wing
from this darkened halo –
we must take wing
for a devil wind blows.

Break from your prison
of urban malaise;
run to the ocean,
fly from your home.
I can’t promise you
that we’ll make it –
but take my hand
and I’ll never let go.

Ryan Stone

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