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Flash Reprint: Lucinda Kempe’s “Children of Suicides”

Children of Suicides

Lucinda Kempe


The children of suicides were running for their lives. They'd witnessed the wrath of god. As they ran, they passed a grove of trees.

The straighter, darker trees called out to the children of suicides. "Come," they said. "Come and climb!"

"No, no," said the children. "Heights we can't abide."

And off they ran, paying the trees no heed. The children laughed and tossed their arms to heaven. Their arms sprouted into long-fingered branches. The branches clicked and popped. Their skins turned white then cracked to reveal an inner coat of brown. They remembered the cries of Io as she watched her newly cloven feet. Daphne's memory danced through their fingered leaves. Low they bowed, their backs arching towards the caverns of Persephone.

"Are we never to right ourselves?" they cried. "We don't want to go to hell!"

They tried to close their eyes, but their lids were bark. They tried to speak, but their tongues had disappeared. Their toes grew into tendrils that burrowed into earth and stones. The trees prayed to the only gods they knew.

Argos Panoptes appeared in a burst of wind.

They trembled in the breeze.

He set his one hundred eyes upon them. "Zeus has sent me to keep you still," he said.

"We are still!"

"Zeus wants you to be good."

"We are good."

"Zeus does not believe."

"We've lost our eyes and tongues, or we would say we're sorry for whatever it is that we have done."

"Ah," said Argos Panoptes. "You lie. You do speak."

"Our leaves speak for us. Set us free."

Argos was lonely He gazed at the horizon. He pondered the truth of his condition then approached. "What will you give me?" he whispered.

"It will be a surprise, just touch us with your lashes."

Argos's lashes fluttered on their bark. A storm thundered from under heaven's dome. Hail bouted on the plains around them. Zeus roared, "Argos, subdue your father's trees. Cut them down!"

The trees quaked, but Argos didn't listen to Zeus. His eyes rained tears. The tears ran down the leaves and pooled around their once-toed roots. Their toes unwound from dirt. Tongues touched teeth and eyelids loosened from the bark.

"You are now our father," the children said to Argos and formed a circle around him.

"I am tired of so many eyes upon me."

The children laid their fingers on his eyes and closed each lid, leaving only one.

Argos crumpled to the ground in the middle of the circled children.

The winds subsided. The earth rang with the sounds of the father with the one eye weeping. The children clasped hands and tightened the circle around him. They hummed in accompaniment to his sobs.

They were happy too.


Note: Originally published in Fall 2012, Reverential Magazine.


Author's Note

The title "children of suicides" came first. Then the first sentence, "The children of suicides were running for their lives." I am a child of suicide. I was fifteen when my father hanged himself with a belt nailed to the jamb of his bedroom door in his mother's house, some six blocks away from where I lived. I have what Andrew Solomon, the psychiatrist and writer, describes in his book Far from the Tree as a "horizontal identity" with other children of trauma. The next idea was that the trauma transformed the children into mute trees. Then they'd need rescue and the idea of a hero arrived. One of my favorite books as a child was D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths.

The piece originated in the Flash Factory at Zoetrope. It was a response to a fairy tale prompt. Referential Magazine (edited by Jessy Carty) published "Children of Suicides" in the spring of 2012. At Referential Magazine, each piece "refers" to another published on-site story. I chose "The Man Who Lived like a Tree" by Dan Powell to refer to. Gay Degani originally suggested Referential Magazine, for which I remain grateful.


Self Portrait with Relics 004.jpgLucinda Kempe's work has been published at Jellyfish Review, Summerset Review, Matter Press's Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Corium, and decomP. She was the recipient of the Joseph Kelly Prize in Creative Writing in 2015 and is an M.F.A. candidate in Writing and Creative Literature at Stony Brook University.


FF.Net Editor Commentary (Randall Brown)

I'd say the wonder of this piece is captured by the author herself: "In my flash, the injured (children of suicides) are rescued by hundred-eyed Argos, who weary of all that looking needs rescue. By the end, the children have found their father, and Argos, no longer in need of all those eyes, has been freed from his terrible former duty (guarding Io)."

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