by Tom Mahony

My boys love sticks. In particular, they love turning sticks into swords and attempting to stab each other. Or they will thrash something with the sticks, especially any type of living vegetation. As the father of the stick wielders, the whole thing is disconcerting to watch. I can't relax and read the newspaper while vaguely monitoring them in the distance. I must remain vigilant for the inevitable escalation.

And it always escalates.

But this morning, as they dodge and parry, I can't help but think: that is some good fencing technique. As they methodically whack the hell out of a shrub, I feel proud of them. That kind of skill and determination will take them far in life. Part of me wants to join in. After a tough day at work, I would love to come home and beat the hell out of a shrub with a stick.

And then, on cue, one of them gets hurt. I snap from my admiring daze and say something like: "Put down those fucking sticks." And I say it with self-righteous indignation, as if I hadn't just failed in my parental oversight. Only I don't actually say the curse word aloud, just in my head, because I never curse in front of the boys. But I do enjoy cursing on a semi-regular basis. It's an underappreciated art form, and it makes me feel better about the world and its inhabitants.

But I digress.

The stick wielding always produces the same outcome: tears from one boy and insincere and cagey denials from the other. I comfort the injured boy and scold the instigator. And then we move on. But the stick wielding will return soon enough.

It's ingrained.

BIO: Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an M.S. degree from Humboldt State University. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in Flashquake, The Rose & Thorn, Pindeldyboz, In Posse Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Verbsap, 34th Parallel, The Scruffy Dog Review, Void Magazine, SFWP, Kurungabaa, Cantaraville, The Flask Review, Foliate Oak, Decomp, The Oddville Press, Bewildering Stories, Long Story Short, Flash Forward, Six Sentences, Laughter Loaf, and Surfer Magazine. He is looking for a publisher for several novels. Visit him at tommahony.net.