The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use the month of July and the picture below in our setting. Of note, R.B. Wood took this photo while hiking in Zion National Park, Utah. This is the beginning of the Narrows hike, where previous hikers sometimes leave their walking sticks for future hikers.
My story inspiration
The current state of politics inspired this allegorical tale, along with the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
You may recognize the boy in the story. 😉
You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 68 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.
The boy’s three-foot wiry frame is small for someone his age. Judging from how he is dragged along more quickly than he can walk, his arm must hurt. He seems unable to pull away, or perhaps he is afraid to let go of the large hand gripping his.
People around him are carrying walking sticks to navigate the stone-filled muddy river. Some even use two poles to help with their balance. Flash flooding is not uncommon on this leg of the hike.
The boy runs to keep step with his father and trips on a rock. He is wet up to his waist before Fred yanks him up by the arm.
“Look what you’ve done. You’re soaked!” The large man shakes the child like a wet rag.
“Oww, my arm hurts!” The boy appears on the verge of tears. “I don’t want to walk anymore,” he whines.
“Don’t you cry, don’t you dare cry. Crying is for babies!”
The boy stands in the river, his chest heaving. He passes his forearm across his face and swallows his tears. “I’m not crying.”
“Don’t ever embarrass me in public. You are not a girl. Only girls cry, you hear?”
Inside the Narrows, Zion National Park’s most popular trail, Fred pushes out an exasperated breath. The park is swarming with tourists. He thought he could avoid the crowds by catching an early shuttle—but not today. He can’t even visit one of America’s most beautiful parks without an infestation of foreigners.
Just then, a family of questionable background walks by single-file. They look Mexican or Asian, not American anyway. They speak to each other in some annoying language he cannot understand. Under his breath, he curses, “Fucking immigrants.”
One of the kids, a girl of about twelve must have heard him. She turns in his direction and stands tall. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Though each word is spewed at him with disgust, her eyes convey pain.
The girl’s mother pulls her away. She is less defiant than her daughter. “Kimmy, don’t cause trouble, come on.”
“But Mom, that man called us …”
“Never mind what he said, just leave him alone.”
Fred looks on as the family moves away from him.
“Dad, what did she say to you?” the young boy asks.
Fred takes some satisfaction in scaring off the foreigners. If he were not clearly outnumbered in this tourist spot, he would have happily told them to go back where they came from. He kneels until he is eye-level with his son. “You see, Donald, that girl is an example of a child who does not listen. In the old days, children who did not obey their parents would be beaten by sticks and stones. It broke their bones, but they learned to behave. Calling a child a name like idiot or stupid is not enough. Do you understand?”
Donald wrinkles his nose. “I think so.”
Fred picks up his son and continues on the trail. The July heat is relentless, but walking in the water cools him down. Even though Donald is only six, Fred has big plans for him. Donald will take over his business one day, but not before he learns the ways of the world. No way is he leaving his life’s work to someone who does not share his values or his love of country.
Fred will give his son everything he can, but more importantly, he will provide a strong foundation for him as a man. Like him, little Donald will grow up to be a confident ladies’ man, a strong negotiator, and a world-class leader.
That will be his legacy to this son.
Donald squirms in his father’s arms, and Fred stops mid-stride. “Do you want to come down?”
“Yes, sir, I feel better now.”
“Are you sure?” Fred says.
“Yes, I want to walk with a stick like everybody else.”
Fred lowers Donald until the child is ankle-deep in the river. “You will walk, but you are not like everybody else, you hear?”
Fred finds a large stick. “This should be the right size for you,” he says. “Not too big for my boy, right?”
Donald grabs the stick with his little hands. A wide grin stretches across his face. “No sir, it’s not too big. No stick is too big for me to handle.”
Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.