Sentenced by Joy Manné

My father sentences me to compose long sentences, but, for me, a long sentence is a life sentence which deprives me of my usual brusque manner: blunt utterances; abrupt expressions; swearwords hissed under my breath; yes-or-no answers; grunts, hrumphs, and other sounds; and even of my silences, all of these evidence of my childhood among Short-sentencers for indeed my late and deeply mourned mother was the renowned Justice Emily Kindly famous for saying, “Brevity is the essence of compassion,” and brevity too was her practice in daily life and her maxim: “Tell me what you want me to know in no more than nine words because I know beyond a question of doubt that what cannot be said in nine words doesn’t deserve saying,” was much quoted by Short-sentencers (until they forgot it, in the way that everything that has ever been said has also been forgotten with the passage of time, memory and lives), but he, my esteemed father, deprives me of that wonderful brevity practiced by my late mother (sadly, she died when I was thirty-one), and with his heartless and vindictive demand for a long sentence, a vile abuse of power, he imposes upon me continuation: those endless prayers he chanted in his droning bass before meals when he’d perform feats of memory that ranged from listing the Twelve Apostles in several different orders: alphabetical, reverse alphabet, Biblical, in order of the third letter in their names, in order of recognition by the different Christian creeds according to a points system of his own devising, to singing the chapters of the Old Testament to the tune of a Verdi or Wagner aria, depending on his mood—the Ride of the Valkyries being his favourite when he had imposed an unusually long sentence (you can hear Furtwangler’s interpretation here: for my father was also a judge and was a Long-sentencer, a man without compassion (his name was Justice Lionel Stern)—I tell you, if I as much as licked his favourite chocolate en route when I carried up the piece he demanded, having fetched it from the gold and silver box in which his precious chocolates were numbered—and he kept a note of their numbers so I could never steal one and get away with it—as I was saying, I brought him the chosen piece of chocolate laid on a white paper doily (which I was not allowed to colour in beforehand), on the small silver tray he insisted upon, and then he’d sing va pensiero from Nabucco by Verdi (you can hear it, sadly not attributed, here – because in his view it represented his position that all children should be enslaved until they reach middle age (you may have guessed that he didn’t understand even one word of Italian), and with me he succeeded, for I am thirty-nine and still bringing him his daily chocolate (still unlicked) while I long for the day of my liberation, only 179 days away now, after which, according to his own principles, he can never ever force me to write a long sentence again.

Joy Manné is the author of several much-translated books in the relationship field. Her flash fiction has appeared in print journals including Lakeview Literary, 100 Voices, The Ham, and Sleep is a Beautiful Colour (the UK National Flash Fiction Day collection 2017) and online in The Airgonaut, Cafe Aphra, and Chicago Literati among others. Joy won the first Flash Fiction competition in Writer’s Forum and the Geneva Writers Group 2015 prize for Memoir. Her first short story, made up of linked flash fictions, will be published in The Write Launch in November. Joy has published three children’s picture books.