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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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