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"Coward" by John Henry Fleming

Imagine being six with a knife held closely to your throat. Not by a stranger, but by your father. One slight move would ensure your throat would be sliced. This arresting image, one that will forever haunt the protagonist, opens John Henry Fleming’s “Coward” from the winter 2011 issue of Carve.

Fleming sharply and sure-handedly limns a story about a mother and son that have physically, but not psychologically, survived an abusive father and husband; the son, unconsciously or not, finds himself following in his father’s footsteps. The story touches specifically upon his lifelong battle between cowardice and (feigned) courage. In the protagonist’s life, the idea of courage is front and center, it having been the centerpiece of his father’s suicide note. He repeats the cowardice of his father’s suicide, not by committing the same act, but inexactly via his own dishonorable discharge from the Army.

Of note in the story are various elements that return in unexpected and touching ways. The lines “If you ever so much as…” and “I’m fine and I know you will be, too,” reappear at different points in the story, rendered poignant simply by being uttered in completely different circumstances. The story’s ending in particular brings back a recurring element throughout the story ever so beautifully.

Read, comment on, and share “Coward,” our latest Story Spotlight.

Also read John Henry Fleming’s ongoing serial novel, “THE BOOK I WILL WRITE” on the Atticus Books website.