La Docenza

by Salvatore Difalco

Honorable Mention – Flash 405, June 2022: “Inheritance”


My Sicilian father beat me one evening for failing to protect my kid sister, Angie, after two boys in her grade-four class attacked her. Upon seeing her fat lip and blood on the green blazer of her school uniform, my father wasted no time pounding me with his heavy hands. My mother tried to come between us, but he threw her aside and continued until he hammered home his point.

Later, my mother consoled me. “Are you okay?” she asked. She’d already berated my father—brooding now in the living room—for his actions. Luckily, he’d only bruised my back and ribs, though he’d taken a wrecking ball to my worldview. “Don’t do anything stupid,” my mother warned me. On the contrary, I felt bestowed with wisdom.

“What are their names?” I asked my sister. “Don’t embarrass me,” she pleaded. I promised I’d do nothing of the kind. “I’ll report them to Sister Claudia,” I said. She was the principal of our elementary school, St. Brigit’s. But I had no plans to report anything to her. “It was Joey Sullivan and Peter Gamble,” my sister admitted.

Next day I walked her to school and went to class. Mr. Dow droned on all morning about the line of demarcation in South America. During recess I scoped Joey and Peter skulking around. I smiled at them from across the schoolyard and they smiled back like two gimps. It crossed my mind that maybe they didn’t even know Angie was my sister.

After lunch, Sister Michael Anthony taught a religion lesson from the Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:19—give place unto wrath blah blah blah—and I feared I’d fall into a deep coma. I even forgot what I’d planned to do after school. But by last bell, I remembered.

The following morning, in Sister Claudia’s office, as she slid La Docenza—a yard-long leather strap as stiff as a beavertail—from its black silk sleeve, I explained that her punishment for thrashing Joey and Peter on school property would pale in comparison to what awaited me from my father had I not avenged my sister. “I will repay, saith the Lord,” Sister Claudia intoned, her sympathetic brown eyes and thick brow framed by her habit. Then with a gentle but firm grasp of my right wrist, she proceeded to belt my hand with La Docenza until it no longer resembled a hand.



Judge’s Comments:
From the first sentence of this story, I was hooked. I loved how this single episode of violence, protection, loyalty, religion, and siblinghood in an Italian family’s life hinted at a greater legacy that was on the page, both within these characters and the country’s culture. One where men beat children who beat boys for beating girls who then are beaten by women, creating a complex web of blood and bone. This story asks: What is violence? Who and when does it harm? Who and when does it protect? While the story doesn’t arrive at a single answer or conclusion, it certainly explores the question with rigor, shock, and fearlessness.

Salvatore Difalco is the author of five small-press books, including the story collection Black Rabbit (Anvil Press). He lives in Toronto, Canada.

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Photo Credit: Aaron Burden