The Lesson – A Short Story

By Richard Wallace

The Lesson


In most short stories there is an element of truth. Truth gleaned from life’s experiences and our perceptions of the larger world around us.

In most short stories there are enough grains of truth and snippets of reality to make the story work. In most stories there is enough to allow the reader to identify with the theme of the story or to simply enjoy it for what it is.

I wonder what snippets the reader will take from this story? In short, what is real and where is the fiction?

I wonder?

The Lesson

The kitchen was not unusual. It was not unlike a lot of other kitchens in the village. A wood stove and a sink with a hand operated pump.

The pump brought up water from a cistern under the house. When the handle of the pump was at work it rattled and squeaked in protest. It was not an unpleasant sound and the water from the pump gushed out into the sink in spurts.

There was hope that someday the pump might be replaced with taps and running water but on a list of priorities that idea would be listed under ‘someday’. The same could be said of the wood stove.

The wood stove was a somewhat multi-purpose fixture in most of the kitchens in the village. It cooked the food, heated the kitchen and boiled water for washing dishes. It heated the water for washing clothes and provided hot water for the weekend bath.

None of this was unusual. As for the bath, it took place in the living room in a wash tub. News papers were put on the floor to soak up any water that splashed out over the sides of the tub but the floor was such that it really wouldn’t have mattered if it did.

This simple wash tub served the whole family. The smallest child went first, the older children were next and the adults were last. The bath was marginal at best and modesty always a premium.

The kitchen and the bath situation, like the rest of the house, were rustic to say the least. Calling the house rustic would be kind.

The kitchen cupboards were going to have doors, someday, the battered walls were going to be painted, someday, and the torn and scuffed linoleum was going to be replaced, someday. Someday never seemed to come.

Where was this village? I can’t tell you that. Why not use your imagination? It could be anywhere; anywhere your life’s experiences might have taken you. I wonder if you would go along with the idea that this could have been a village just about anywhere in the world?

I wonder?

“Your Dad will be home tonight.”

“I know. I didn’t get the wood split like he wanted.”

“You did your share.”

“Is sister going to be all right?”

“She’s never going to be all right but she’ll survive, they all do.”

“But she doesn’t even have a boy friend.”

“I know.”

“Then how?”

‘I don’t know. I don’t know and she won’t say.”

“She’s only in Grade Nine.”

“I know.”

“Does Dad know?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t know how. He’ll find out soon enough.”

“Does Dad like working in the woods?”

“I think so, it’s a job.”

And so it was. A conversation between a mother and her young son. A conversation about his sister who would soon be front and center in the family. Not an unusual situation in this not unusual village.

“I did the chores and put fresh straw in the horse stall. I should have done the wood.”

“That’s all right. Your Dad will be coming down the road soon, why don’t you go and meet him?”

“Hi Dad.”


“How was your week?”

“My week? It went.”

“How long will the mill be running?”

“Not long. You get everything done?”

“Pretty much. I did all the chores and put fresh straw in for the horse. I’m doing real good in school and I need you to help me with a project.”

“Like I have time for your school work!”

“It’s easy Dad, it’s about different kinds of wood and you’re good at that. And I did my homework every night.”

“You get that wood split like I told you?”

“No, I tried to get it done but every time I started it something else came along.”

“You should have done it. I wanted it split and in the shed.”

“Dad, I’ll do it next week. It’s only September, we have lots of time.”

“I told you to do it this week and I meant it.”

“Dad, next week, I promise.”

“You should have done it this week like you were told. You’re gett’en the barn.”


“You’re gett’en the barn. Right after supper.”

“No Dad, come on, it was busy.”

“Don’t ‘come on’ me. I’m working in the woods all week and you’re telling me that it was busy. I’ll show you busy! And don’t give me any of that ‘come on.”

“But Dad, I had a lot of homework and stuff. I’m going to make it into Grade Eight next year, easy.”

“You listen to me. After supper you go out and get the horse out of the stall and take the belly strap off the harness. You get in the stall and wait for me there. You got that?”

“No Dad, please.”

“Don’t argue.”

“Dad, I can do the wood tomorrow, it’s Saturday, I can do it, easy.”

“You’re a little late.”

And so it was. A conversation between a father and his young son. A conversation about working in the woods, wood that hadn’t been split, and oh yes, gett’en the barn.


I wonder?

“Hi, you’re home. Supper’s almost ready.”

“Boy’s gett’en the barn!”

“What! What do you mean, gett’en the barn?” What’s he done?”

“Not what’s he’s done. What wasn’t done.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Didn’t split the wood like I told him.”

“Oh my God, we had a terrible week, dreadful. Wood was the last thing we had time for.”

“I told him to do it and I wanted it done.”

“Don’t be so crazy. That wood can wait for a month.”

“He’s gett’en the barn and that’s all I want to hear out of you.”

And so it was.

Welcome home.

“You have a good week girl?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Why’d you look at your mother when you said that?”

“No reason. I didn’t know I did.”

“Look at me when I talk to you.”

“Sure, Dad.”

“You’re getting to be quite a little woman now aren’t you, all filled out and lady like.”

“I guess.”

“Look’en like your mother when I first came around, took her out.”

“I guess.”

“What Grade are you in this year?”

“Grade Nine Dad.”

“That’s just about where your mother was when I came around. See that you don’t grow up too fast. You know what I’m talking about.”

“Yes Dad, I know what you’re talking about, you should know.”

“What! What did you say?”

“Nothing Dad.”

“There you go, looking at your mother again, What the hell’s going on around here anyway? Why did you say that?”

“I don’t know Dad.”

“You looked right at me and said I should know.”

“I know I did, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t give me sorry, what did you mean?”

“Dad, it’s just that you said that I look a lot like Mum when you first took her out, when she was young, that’s all.”

“I sure hope so.”

And so it was.

Supper eaten in silence.

Mostly silence,


“That sure was a good supper mother. Beats the hell out of that slop they serve up in the woods.”

“Good, I thought you’d like it. I thought camp food was pretty good.”

“Not this camp. That sure was good pie, any pumpkins left in the field?”

“Of course, there’s a whole field of them.”

“Girl, cut me another piece of pie. You sure are look’en grown up.”

“Dad, I’m just growing up, that’s all.”

“Boy, get to the barn.”

“Dad, no, please.”

“Get to the barn or I’ll do it right here!”

“Dad, you don’t understand.”

“I’ll give you don’t understand. Get to the barn.”

“My God, don’t do this to your son. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s a good boy.”

“You shut your mouth!!”

“No, don’t do this. Don’t start on him.”

“It’s started, get to the barn.”

“This isn’t right! You just got home. We had a nice supper. What’s the matter with you? You chased one son away, isn’t that enough?”

“I made a man out of his brother and I’ll make a man out of him.”

“No, no you won’t!”

“Watch me! Call it a lesson in life.”

“A lesson in life; and when was the last time his brother came home?”

“I don’t care if he ever comes home. Boy, I told you, get to the barn!”

And so it was.

A lesson in life.

And there we sat. We sat on the bank of a slight elevation above the road. It was a narrow dirt road that ran through the village; a narrow dirt road that separated this cluster of houses. At the time we didn’t know just how narrow it was. None of us were old enough to drive.

The narrowness of this road meant that secrets were hard to keep. Loud voices coming from a house didn’t stop at the road. Voices in anger and rage. All kinds of voices, some frightened and crying. Others hurtful and hard to forget.

Opposite to where we sat on the bank was the barn. A rural version of ‘a great hall of justice’. It was in this barn that one of the great lessons in life was about to play out.

And there we sat, transfixed. We sat there in some kind of perverse anticipation. Why not, we didn’t know any better.”

Word had spread quickly. One young boy had heard the exchange between the dad and his son. The word was out and all of us knew what ‘gett’en the barn’ was all about.

We really didn’t know what was about to take place. We had only heard about it. We didn’t know what this deranged monster of a father was about to do.

So we sat there, waiting for justice.

The barn was so close to the road that we could hear the harness being lifted from the hooks where it hung on the wall. We could hear it being taken apart.

We could hear the horse being taken out of the stall. We didn’t know about the fresh straw.

And so it was.

It was time.

“Grab the manger!”

“No Dad, no!”

“Wait, I told you to get your shirt off!”

“No Dad.”

“Get it off; that’s more like it. You had better learn to do what you’re told.”

“Dad, please.”

“Grab the manger! Boy, this is for you!”

CRACK…..The sickening sound of leather on skin…..silence

“That was for you boy!”

CRACK…..More leather on skin

“That was for the pile of wood you didn’t split!”…..more silence

CRACK…..More leather on skin

“That was for your useless sister!”

This time the silence was shattered.

A single scream.

A scream of pain.

CRACK…..One last leather on skin

“That one was just for good measure!”

“You learning boy?”

This question was followed by one God-awful drawn out scream.


The boy had been brave. He had taken the belly belt from the harness and led the horse from the stall. Then he grabbed the manger, just as he had been told to do. He held onto the manger and waited. He only waited for a few minutes but it must have seemed much longer than that.

He waited for what he knew was about to come. Waiting for his lesson. He knew all about it. He fixed his eyes on a nail in the wall, just above his head. Then he waited.

As ordered, he bent his head forward and as he did his young shoulders lifted up towards the nail. It wasn’t long before the waiting was over.

CRACK…..The first laying on of leather on skin.

Driven to his knees he picked himself up and waited. He did not cry out. He didn’t have to wait very long.

CRACK…..The second laying on of leather on skin.

This time the boy was driven in to the manger but still, he did not cry out.

He pulled himself up and waited. If silence has a sound, that was all that was heard.

CRACK…..The third laying on of leather on skin.

This time the boy was driven further into the manger. This time a single scream shattered the silence.

CRACK…..The forth and last laying on of leather on skin.

This time the boy was driven to his knees and he could not get up. He did muster up enough energy for one last scream. One God-awful drawn out scream, a primal scream, a scream for survival.

We heard all of this and we were frozen in fear. We were not ready for what had just taken place. Not ready for the lesson just administered in the ‘great hall of justice’.

There were four ‘cracks’ in all. One for the boy, one for the pile of wood, one for his useless sister and one for good measure.

Four cracks in all.

Four cracks of leather on skin.

Two screams from this young boy.


Screams far too old for his age

Primal screams

A scream to survive.

And a mother, pounding on a window, pounding on the glass, pounding too hard, don’t break, don’t break the glass…..and then the sound of breaking glass.

The sound of shattering glass melded with that one last scream and blended into the evening air; the sound of shattering glass playing its part in this madness.

And a mother crying,


“Stop cruelizing that boy!”

All of these sounds came together

as though choreographed in a

cruel musical score.


The dad left the barn and walked back to the house. He ignored the crying of the mother and told her to stay where she was.

We never knew if the young boy cried or not. We supposed that sooner or later he did.

And so it was.

A lesson in life;

cold, stark,


You do note

none of the participants

have names.

What would it matter?

What can be said of a dirt road

other than

dust in the summer,

muck in the spring.

What could be added

to a sound like ‘crack’,

leather on skin

to make it hurt more?

And silence?

What of silence?


why embellish silence?


And now dear reader, what exactly did you take from this little story?  A lesson in life?

What did you really take from this lesson?

What made you turn the pages?

I wonder?


More Truth Than Fiction: Richard Wallace


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14 replies »

    • Eamonn, thank you for your reply. Yes, it is dark, a dark side of mankind. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was more fiction that truth, thank you again, Richard

  1. What to say, Richard? More than a grain of truth, and far too far from being unusual.
    How many will this story resonate with? I know them, I’ve known them – the woman whose father said she looked so like her mother, who was dead – that had been what he said to her, as the reason why he was doing, what he was doing, once she turned 16.
    And beatings – there was worse than the strap, for some.
    I needn’t be saying this – you tell the story, or, should I say, the stories.
    And so often – the mothers ‘let’ it happen. Some say – how could they stop them? Well, the abuser has to sleep, sometime. It’s alright for me to say that, who was brought up not to take shit from anyone, or to give it, either. But – they get into their heads, too, so that they don’t think they can do anything. Then, the child feels betrayed, doubly betrayed, as they are too young, and too hurt, to understand that. Layer on layer, of hurt.
    I knew someone whose mother used to go into the next room, when her father started on her – I met her mother – and, what it was, with that particular mother, was that, as long as she was ‘comfortable’ that was all that mattered. Too much effort, too much to take on, to do anything about it.
    I say that I knew them – I did, and do, and it makes me thankful, night and day, for my Mum and Dad. I didn’t realise how fortunate I had been, until I got older, and heard these tales of cruelty and hurt.
    This is strong material , Richard. It gets to the very core of it, of many of these situations, and, as you say, that house, that village, could be just about anywhere – that’s part of the trouble – it’s all kept behind closed doors, and who’s to know? I asked the lass whose mother simply left the room, what was her dad like when they were out and about? He was lovely to her – held her hand, just like any Daddy would – no one had any idea……….except the mother.
    I have to stop – I’ve spent a lot of time, talking with and hoping to help those who have gone through these things – I don’t need to read of it, and it’s just making me well up with anger and hurt. It’s worth telling of this though, as some don’t have any idea that these things happen – why should they? and thank God their lives have meant that they don’t.
    On the other hand, it’s worth getting people to realise this happens, and to pay attention, and, if they think it’s happening to someone – do something, even if it’s only talking with the person it’s happening to, to maybe help them to take steps away from it, if they can.
    And………… those have had gone through these experiences – I have also known those who have been able to overcome what life had put into them, and to take a hold on their life, and work on what was in them, to better deal with what had happened. Seriously, I have known it. The woman I mentioned, whose father abused her, because she looked like her dead mother – she was in a terrible state, for years – then – got help, changed her life around – last heard from – new job, getting on better with her children. It can be done – maybe not by everyone – she is a strong person – but – it can be done. There is hope.
    My God, Richard – this should be published more widely. You know what you’re talking about.
    But – I will add – what was the story, of the father? Very often, it’s that the perpetrator has experienced something similar. Children learn what they see, and it continues , down generations, until someone learns that it can be different, and breaks the pattern. That‘s not an excuse, but it can be a reason, and by seeing the reason, a better understanding can be reached, which can also help with resolving how a person deals with it.
    This may seem trivial, after your strong, excellent piece of writing, but I wrote this, years ago………..

    “A ‘spoilt’ child, will ‘spoil’ their child
    If no-one tries to right ’em.
    And that child, ‘spoils’, another child
    And so, ad infinitum

    I will stop now. You’ve said it – the layers and layers of inhumanity, to those nearest to us, that we should be most care-full of. Why?

  2. PS You have a true gift for dialogue.

    The more I think about this piece of writing, the more I see there. The father has been away all week, working. When he gets home, he feels that he has to ‘assert his authority’. Even if the boy had cut and stacked the wood, the father would have found something else to find fault with – to beat him for. He asserts his authority – his ownership – of the females, through sex, and the males through beating. He’s a mess. And I think he knows he is. I hope that, if any one like him, is reading this – they recognize themselves and that they seek help – they need it, too.

    From being seen as a possession, as a non-person, the person gets to see themselves that way too. One big step in stepping away from it, is to firmly grasp the knowledge that you are a person – you are you – and whatever a messed up bully did – you can counter-act it, as best you can.

    This is just too well written, Richard. I’m going to try to stop thinking about it, as it’s taking me down roads which I’m well aware of, and which it does me no good at all to go down. Very, very well written. Layer upon layer. Many lessons to be learnt.

    • Bernie, thank you so much for your comments and for sure your poem is not trivial, I copied it down. It is beautiful and so true. This was a tough story to write and I actually rewrote it in the form of a play. If you send me your e-mail I’ll send the play to you. I never wrote a play before so what you see is what you get. My e-mail is
      I was not the object of the lesson but it seems that we are all too well aware of the horrors that one human can inflict on another. You can shoot this story around to your friends as an attachment and I’ll send it to you as soon as I get your e-mail. Again, thank you for your kind comments and let me know if you get this reply…I’m not much on the computer. Also, I was so interested and taken by your insights and personal knowledge and taking the time to share them with me….Richard

      • I’m going to witter on a bit, again. This is where your gift for dialogue comes in. How do we manage, to do this, how do we humans, manage to carry on being good-hearted when faced with monstrous treatment? That man, had beaten that boy, in that way, before. Yet, when his Mam says to go and meet his Dad, he does so, and greets him with a cheery “Hi Dad”. Then, eager to please, asks his Dad to help him with his homework. Instead of help with his homework, he gets another beating. And yet, he will greet his dad again, as he comes home from work. He doesn’t say to his Mam – “Why should I go to meet that ****** ?” No, he carries on, doing his best, trying to please. And that is it, that is what they do. It is truly heart-breaking.
        That is what happens – again and again, trying to please, the un-please-able. The resentment, anger and hatred, may come later – sometimes, not at all. Maybe it’s best that way – the anger and hatred, rots the person it happens to, as well as the perpetrator. But …it is heart-breaking. But…maybe there is hope there – that some do manage, to keep their good heart. I have known those, too.
        I just realised that I can send this to you, on your email. I’m a bit random in my relationship with the Internet – haven’t quite caught up with it all.
        I do tend to dive in with my responses. Could be said that maybe that’s because I was treated in a way which encouraged response, connection, and love, in my family. I’m nearly in tears, writing this – thinking of my Mum and Dad, and how good they were. Not the most conventional of people, far from ‘usual’! but….good folk. My folk.
        Once again, I’ll try to get it out of my head. It’s one thing to get involved, to try to help, it’s another thing let it into my head to no purpose. Doubt I’ll manage it, though! So many layers, Richard, so many layers, and other aspects to the tale – the little boy greeting his Dad, as he did – set me off on other lines of thought.
        Thank God for good folk, just, thank God, for good folk. And there are plenty of them about. There are. Note to self – repeat as a mantra – There are plenty of good folk about.
        By the by – something I often say to people – I’m not being kind – my idea of being kind, is when I refrain from saying what I’d like to, as that would be….unkind. In this case I’m saying what I honestly think of a very good piece of writing – one in a series of which you have sent to TON.
        I see the ‘lesson’ or lessons, as being – there is hope – people can be inhuman to each other, but, there is hope. We can hold onto our good hearts, and we can learn that there are ways to take on this treatment and turn around the hurt. I’ve known folk do that. I could go on and on. To me, the main ‘lesson’ here is – that there is hope – that little boy……….. is hope.
        I’ll send you my email.

    • Thank you for your comment….yes, tears, this is a sad story and falls into the category of More Truth Than Fiction. Thank you, Richard

    • I am sure, I find it hard to read myself. So many people carry such burdens and I don’t believe they can ever put those burdens behind them. Thank you for your comment….Richard

    • I did send you a reply but I don’t think it went through. Yes, a hard story…hard lessons .. lessons that people can never forget or get over. Thank you, Richard

  3. That’s an incredible piece of writing Richard – reaches right inside, gets to the heart. What made me ‘turn the pages’? To turn away would have felt like a betrayal.

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