FridayFlash: Cutting

FridayFlash - Cutting

by Tony Noland

"Mr. and Mrs. Eckston? Come right in." The counselor was petite and happy looking, not at all what Paul had expected. His own guidance counselor in high school had been a fat, dumpy woman who'd been killing time until retirement. She'd been as uncaring and useless as all of his teachers, a complete waste of an office. This woman, though, seemed much more committed to her job. He still didn't know why she'd called them in.

"Please, sit down," she said. Amanda Parlemente, that was her name. The sign on her desk had a sticker of a smiling bullfrog on the upper right hand corner.

"Mr. and Mrs. Eckston -" she began.

"Please, it's Paul and Allison," said his wife. She was always the one to insist on first names. Paul would have been just as happy to keep things professional, but whatever.

Ms. Parlemente - Amanda - smiled.

"Paul and Allison it is." She turned serious. "I know you're wondering why I called you and asked to speak to you about Janice."

"I’d say we’re wondering a bit, yes," Paul said. "Jan's grades are fine and her scores on the SAT and ACT were pretty good. Is something going on that we should be concerned about?"

Amanda paused, then folded her hands in front of her.

"Mr.... I mean, Paul..." She stopped. She looked down, opened a folder on her desk, then looked up at them both. Paul was getting a little worried, and he could tell that Ally was, too.

"Janice is doing very well in all of her classes. Her grades are good, her teachers like her, she has lots of friends and gets along with everyone. The articles she writes for the school paper are really quite good. She hasn't mentioned journalism as a career option, but I think she would do well to consider it, or another field where she could use her gift for writing. There are any number of colleges that she would really thrive at."

Good news first, Paul thought. She's giving us the good news first. Oh, Christ, here it comes, whatever it is, here it comes.

"However..." Amanda paused again.

"What is it?" Ally's voice was calm, but very measured. She was worried, and he could hear it.

"I noticed something that, well, it bothered me. I wanted to talk to you about it. I spoke to Janice in a roundabout way, but she said there was nothing to it. I'm not sure that's really the case. I thought you should know."

"Well, what is it, for heaven's sake? What are we talking about here?" Paul was worried, too, and unlike his wife, he didn't bother to hide it. "Is she pregnant?"

Both women stared at him for a moment, Amanda in surprise, Ally in horror.

"No, no, nothing like that!" Amanda said. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be elliptical. What I saw was some... well, on her arms, I noticed... Mr. and Mrs. Eckston, is Janice, well, happy at home?"

"Happy?” Paul said. “Yes, of course. I mean, I suppose so. No, that's crazy, yes she's happy. What is this? What are you talking about?" Paul was getting scared.

"The fact is, her arms have a series of cuts. On the forearms, just below the elbow. Her shirt sleeve was open and I noticed them this past week. I've noticed in the past that Janice always favors blouses with long sleeves, although the tees and tank tops are more the fashion with girls these days."

"Cuts?" Ally sounded confused. "What do you mean, cuts?"

"I mean shallow cuts. More like deep scratches. She said it was from her volunteer work at the city gardens - pruning roses and the like. I’m not sure that’s the whole story.”

“What are you talking about?” Ally was still very controlled, Paul thought, so she must be freaking out inside.

“Some girls develop a, you might call it a kind of addiction to harming themselves. I'm talking about cutting or scratching themselves. It's more commonly associated with girls who suffer from bulimia or anorexia. I don’t see any evidence of either of those with Janice, but cutting can be a standalone issue. Is there anything that you've seen in her home life that would suggest there's a problem?"

"In her ‘home life’? You sound like she's in a mental institution!" Paul said. "No, everything is fine at home. I mean, I wouldn't let her have the car last weekend, but that's just a normal thing, right? I mean, for a teenager to not get what she wants all the time?"

"I don't mean normal things like that." Amanda said. "I mean, and traumas or major concerns. Things that might push her to seek some kind of solace with cutting."

"No!" Ally's voice was indignant.

"Well, that's reassuring. I just wanted to explore the possibility, to bring it to your attention in case there was something going on that needed to be addressed." Amanda's voice was placating. "Janice is a great kid, and I just wanted to be sure. I felt that I should discuss this with you, let you know what I saw, and what it might mean. If there were any real reason to be concerned, I'd ask you to ... keep an eye on her. Maybe discuss things, have a heart-to-heart with her about how things are going. But if there's nothing going on, then we can just go forward."

She doesn't believe us, Paul thought. And she knows that we WILL keep an eye on Jan, and WILL have a talk with her. Sneaky, aren't you, Ms. Amanda Parlemente?

After some final conversation about more mundane matters, all three of them said goodbyes that were forcibly relaxed and cheerful. Ally had to visit the ladies' room on their way out of the school. Paul stood in the hall, waiting.

He was so confused, his mind so muddled. Jan? Hurting herself? Why? It didn't make any sense. What could possibly be encouraging her to do such a thing?

He closed his eyes. It was all too much. He just couldn't seem to think straight. He reached into his pocket, took out the car keys and gripped them, tight.

Tighter. Tighter. The keys dug into his palm, and the familiar rush of pain in his hand rose and rose until his eyes flew open at the breaking of the skin.

As always, the pain cleared his mind, and he was once again master of the situation and master of himself. He put the keys away and dabbed at his palm with his handkerchief. He would talk to Janice as soon as they got home and get this nonsense cleared up.

No daughter of HIS would do something so foolish as to cut herself!

Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here


  1. You'd think the wife would be aware of his predilection for cut hands, even if he's not. They've lived together for how many years?

    Nicely done.

  2. Excellent! So true as well - parents in denial, and someone not a million miles from here may have been known to punch her own leg during exams occasionally :)

  3. Mazzz: I know a guy who used to pull his hair out while studying. I know him very, very well.

  4. Scary that he doesn't consciously see it in himself.

  5. Great story, well told!

    Love Amanda's last name, with its ancien régime flavor.

  6. I was done with my reading break (back to work!) when I saw the title of your #fridayflash and had to read it NOW. I read the memoirs of those who have bipolar disorder for my dissertation. One of the memoirs is written by a woman with a predilection for cutting (she was also had bulimia and anorexia--bulimia, then anorexia). And I'm familiar with it from other contexts. Love the description at the end of the relief the father feels with the pain. (And love that this was an unexpected turn!) Is this part of a larger piece? Or will it be? I'd like to see this play out.

  7. I wonder if the mother is in the bathroom inflicting a little pain herself. Interesting subject and well handled.

  8. Chris: Excellent! That's just what I wondered.

    Melissa: So it sounds like I got it right? Or at least accurately?

    I wrote this as a standalone flash piece; I hadn't intended to continue this or make it part of anything larger. You never know, though...

    Good luck with the dissertation!

  9. Tony, I'm not ashamed to admit it - this hits so close to home my mouth is hanging open. My step-daughter went through this very thing in her teenage years; indeed, now in her early 20s she's still having problems. I won't invade as it's a long story, but you are spot-on throughout.

  10. Deanna: I wish all the best for your step-daughter. I won't go into it all, but I knew a girl once who had some issues, and what's described here is just the merest taste of what this disorder can do.

    From a writer standpoint, I'm glad I got it right. From a personal standpoint, I hope this wasn't too painful a thing to read.

  11. Like father, like daughter, eh? Great story. I wonder if they'll ever figure out the solution when it's right in front of their eyes, if under the surface a tad bit.

  12. Close to home, indeed. The only thing I would offer is that the Dad's sense of "not being able to think straight" is better described along the lines of racing thoughts. Images thoughts, raw emotions, fear, danger, horrible visions of his daughter, catastrophizing the situation, all those things come crashing down in an uncontrolable fusillade.

    THe pain from the cutting brings that control back, brings order from the chaos, and relieves the emotional pain through the physical. Yeah, I'm rambling, I read it last night and had to walk away. Which, of course, means you did your job regardless of the minutae of details I can offer.

    I thought, at first blush, that it was somewhat making light with cutting, something I know far more about than I would ahve ever wished, but I see that it is really the mechanism through which parental hypocrisy comes to light. Our children's problems do not simply exist ina vacuum, and they speak as much of us as parents as they do of the children.

    Well done.

  13. this is so very spot on in many ways..people just don't want it to be so..they look the other way especially with children, hopefully someone spots these instances and acts..a well crafted tale that should be heeded for the lesson within..

  14. Another brief thought for the Mom... Maybe have her watch her husband pull out his keys and then look away? Be in denial about both?

  15. I really wasn't sure where this was going. . .but wow, once again Tony, you have my jaw dropped over a perfect, heart-grabbing story.

    Well done.


  16. As a mother with a young daughter (and having once been a young daughter), the fear is not "ever present" but your story highlights what could be. I'm thinking of other things that I say and do which I would worry if my daughter were struggling with on her own behalf.

    I agree with D.Paul in that the mother would know very well the father's habit and turn a blind eye. If they've been together a long time, this would not be invisible to her. This tack might show her up to be weak or could lead to a further development of confrontation - who knows?

    Good short story. Deserves more attention.

  17. Brilliant! Parents often have no idea of the extent of their influence.

  18. D.Paul and Meg: You raise an interesting question... does the mother know? Or is she turning a blind eye, being willfully obtuse to avoid confronting it? Even worse, as Chris suggests, does she have the same disorder? Would confronting someone else mean having to face up to your own problems?

    How is it possible that the parents could be unaware of what's going on? Unfortunately, it's no fiction that people delude themselves all the time.

    What is this story about, anyway? It's not about cutting. It's about blindness and self-deception. It's about weakness and addiction. It's about... hell, you guys know what it's about. Every one of you does.

    For you and your family it may not be cutting. It may be drugs or alcohol or domestic violence or video game addiction or shoplifting or some other form of self-destructive behavior.

    What is this story really about, anyway?

  19. I see parents that don't see themselves in their child. Of course things are hereditary, or even learned from example.

    Good story. Nice depth to it. Like a proper sandwich.

  20. Tony, this is absolutely one of your best (and they're all 'best'). Having Paul be the parental 'cutter' was a fabulous and unexpected twist. And yep, you got the pain right, and the denial. Spot on. Peace, Linda

  21. Oh, and what is this story about? Pain. And to control it. Or not.

    Peace, Linda

  22. Ha, kids always pick up on what we do, not what we say. How does it go? "Your actions are so loud I can't hear what you are saying."

    I also wondered what the mother was doing in the restroom. The ending was great.

  23. You did a great job of building up suspense and showing parents in deep denial. Great story and I really enjoyed your writing. Thanks for sharing it.

  24. Very nice flash, Tony. it's broaching tough topics like this that are the real challenge in writing. i'm finding it w/ my nano novel as well. you dealt with this difficult topic in a very realistic way - well done.

  25. Sorry I'm just now following up--just saw your response. I agree with Linda-from what I know it does seem to work that way--the relief. I also know people who've cut themselves to FEEL because they felt so numb emotionally--but this also seems to bring relief (albeit for different reasons). I don't know a lot about this (I'm in religion ;), just what I've read in memoirs or from people I've known. I'm just interested in it...and I'm interested in what the act means symbolically...(pure speculation of course). Thanks for the good wishes for the dissertation! I need all the good energy I can get. :) Oh--I do like it as a standalone piece, but definitely think there's potential for more story...

  26. Horribly accurate portrayal.

  27. Oh, good grief. That was well done. Parents in denial about their child, but the father in denial, himself, about what he's doing - and how it might at all relate to his daughter.

    What a complex little tale, told so simply.

    Very, very well done.

  28. Great peice. Didn't see it coming.


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