"What is Domestic Abuse anyway?"

Jaime pondered this every day in his cell, over his cafeteria lunches, during his vigorous weight lifting sessions, and his walks around the prison yard.

He thought about it as he pounded the concrete walls with his fists. He thought about it as he laid in his bunk and heard the creaking sounds of rusted bed springs and snoring from an obese former motorcycle gang leader sleeping in the cell beside his. 

All hours of the day, all summer, all winter, he wondered the answer to that question. After all, it’s why he was locked in there to begin with. After all, he should know. 

But he didn’t know. Jaime couldn’t understand how he ended up where he was. He never got a hearing. He was never able to give his side of the story. Even if he could, he knew no one would believe him. 

Domestic Abuse, he'd decided, simply depended upon the person from whom the story had been told.


Rank and file, Jaime served his time. He stamped license plates. He ate the overly salted cafeteria gruel. He watched over his shoulder in the shower.

Five years was a long time. It was a long time to keep inside everything he did.  But, he had no other choice. Jaime kept it all locked away.

He wasn’t allowed a pencil. He was deemed dangerous by the courts. His wife Tanya Anthony, was stabbed in the hand with a pencil.

It wasn’t Jamie’s fault her hand was there on the table.  His hand was already slamming against the table with the pencil in his hand. He had only wanted to break the pencil. 

Instead he broke his Tanya’s  skin and a tiny bone fragment. He broke his clean record. He broke five years on his precious life clock. 

Tanya found it funny that Jaime was taking a creative writing course. She found it childish and silly and she made no point of hiding that fact. 

“What’s this, another one of your stories?”

Her voice poured out like venom one evening while Jaime was in the kitchen eating a cookie. Jaime liked to reward himself with a cookie whenever he finished a story. 

“Indeed it is” 

Said Jaime with his mouth half-full

“Oh, great. I have Mark Twain for a husband. Now, Isn’t that terrific?”

Suddenly the sweetness of the cookie left a bitter aftertaste in Jaime’s mouth. 

Since he had registered for his writing courses and had been spending most of his time and money towards his literary pursuits, Tanya had had a lot to say. 

Jaime had up until that point, taken the brunt of her jabs without ever defending himself. Each time the topic of his writing came up Jaime inflated himself with an imaginary force field. 

On this particular occasion, Jaime felt a tiny pinhole poke through his defences. 

“What the hell does that mean?” 

He said. 

“Whoa, relax there. Don’t get all...DRAMATIC.” 

Said Tanya with a coaxing grin. 

“I’m tired of this bullshit with you constantly attacking me, Tanya. I don’t make fun of you for your hobbies.” 

“Maybe, that’s because my hobbies don’t involve me venturing off into some childish fantasy land”

Tanya fired back. 

"Childish? Im childish now?"

Jaime said with a choke in his voice.


Said Tanya

"You're little make believe fantasies aren't childish, at all, Jaime."

“Whatever, I’m done with this conversation.”  

Said Jaime, regaining his composure.

He turned his back and gulped down the remaining milk from the bottom of his mug before putting the milk carton in the fridge and going up to bed. 

The tensions between the two boiled for months onwards. Tanya pestered and taunted Jaime endlessly, while he struggled to maintain his sanity and produce his amateurish stories. Slowly, the leak in Jaime's defences grew bigger with each passing remark.

Until one day, Tanya’s attacks became too much for Jaime to handle and Jaime finally broke his pencil. 

Jaime had been writing on his mahogany desk one Friday afternoon.  As a supply teacher, Jaime often was home during the days when there wasn’t any teacher to replace.  

Tanya had just came home from her job at the DMV. As a government worker, she got off early on Fridays. 


She called as she walked in the front door. 

“I’m in here, honey” 

He said from his desk 

When Tanya entered the room, Jaime could almost sense without even looking at her, that she was on the verge of blowing up at him. 

“Oh, writing away, I see. What a surprise” 

Jaime looked up from his papers but didn’t say anything. 

Tanya walked closer to the desk. Her face was red and her jaw was clenched. Her eyes were alight like burning candles. 

“You can’t ignore me. Jaime. “

“You can’t ignore this anymore...“ 

“The bills are piling up...”

“Im not gonna be the only one paying them.”

“You think I’d let you be father of my children?” 

She slapped her hand against the desk. 

“When you’re not even a Goddamn MAN?” 

As she spewed the words from her mouth Jaime felt the slow leak of his defences suddenly gouge open and deflate immediately. 

His defences gone, with brute force Jaime brought his fist down against the table. The pencil he was holding jammed directly through Tanya’s hand. 


Five years had past. Jaime had served his time. Now, he wanted one thing more than anything else. More than revenge, more than money, more than five years of his life back, Jaime wanted to write. All he wanted was to write.

Jaime had his story, too. He had an entire novel almost pouring out of him. Maybe even two, or three. He wouldn't let all those years pass in vain. The entire time had simply been an incubation period.

Now, he was aching to finally put the words to the page. Jaime almost didn't make it back to his home without stopping to get paper and a pencil and writing it all down at a cafe.

But, Jaime maintained his patience. After all, he had waited five years. He could manage a little longer, just to make it back to that mahogany desk where he had spent all those priceless hours before his prison sentence.

The court had granted him permission to return to his home. Jaime had worked it out with Tanya and she had agreed to let him into the house on a temporary basis, but within two weeks, it was agreed he would need to find somewhere else.

Jaime walked inside and after calling, he realized Tanya wasn't home. Jaime made a beeline straight towards his desk. The hours flew by while he wrote as though he were in a state of near manic ecstasy.

Finally the front door opened, and Tanya entered inside.

Jaime was so deep in focus he almost didn't notice her enter the doorway.

"Tanya?" Said Jaime.

Tanya stood at the doorway, shaking her head with disappointment.

"Of course.."

She said, throwing up her arms.

"He's writing, again. Of course. He just couldn't wait to finish his goddamn masterpiece."

All during those five years, Jaime had thought a lot about the past. He had thought a lot about himself and his writing ambitions and the kind of life he had wanted to lead when he was finally on the outside.

The one crucial thing Jaime had not thought about, however, was rebuilding his imaginary forcefield once more.

June 20, 2020 02:44

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Cyndy Reads
19:07 Jun 26, 2020

Hi Matt! I've been given your story, "The Pencil", for Critique Circle! I really like the idea of Jaime's imaginary forcefield- it's a good visualization of someone's patience and outer defenses. As he and his wife argue I can feel the deterioration of it, the little holes appearing, and feel his frustration! I think one area that could be improved is the focus. The first section seemed leading towards a story about the definition of domestic abuse, but as the story progressed it seemed to flip between that and Jaime's wish to write a...


Matt Render
19:14 Jun 29, 2020

WOW, Awesome feedback, I must say. Thank you very much. If I ever do come back to this story, I will certainly take these things into account. It seems like you're spot on with your advice. Thank you for all your kind words.


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