THE LESSON • by Avis Hickman-Gibb

I was six years old when I was branded a thief.

You understand that I don’t mean literally branded — I escaped that! I mean I was caught red-handed with stolen goods. There was no doubt but I was guilty. I was caught stealing a sherbet dab — for a dare by some older lads. And I ended up in the local police station, miserable: sitting on a wooden bench to one side of the sergeant’s desk, waiting for my mam to come. I remember looking down to hide my shame — watching my legs dangling above the dirty floor. My tears plopped dark, fat circles in the dust.

After the rare scalping I’d been treated to by that sergeant, I fully expected to be saying goodbye to her, not going home for supper. I was surely marked for the local Home for Delinquent Boys; they would straighten me out for certain, he’d told me. I remember hoping desperately that she would bring my old teddy; I’d never get to sleep without him. Maybe I’d be allowed to visit home sometimes — if I behaved myself and stayed out of further trouble? Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.

I vividly recall sitting on that hard, shiny wooden seat — eyes swollen with the tears I’d cried, my frame racked by a harsh sobbing I couldn’t stop. Would my mam remember me? Or would I fade from her memory? Would she forget that I liked chips, and chocolate, and a cuddle when it thundered? I sat there frozen, wretched — my teeth chattering uncontrollably. When mam did turn up, she swept one look at me, then glared ferociously at that sergeant, and without a word she took me gently by the hand and led me home. I can honestly say I’ve never in my life been as thankful as at that moment. Ever.

A bit drastic for the size of the crime? Well, as that sergeant told me then, you can’t be soft on first timers, you know. You might only have that one chance to make the lesson stick. Ask any bad ‘un, they’ll tell you that — straight.

I’m eighty-five now, and thinking back — y’know, that brand did stick? On the inside, where nobody but me could see it. And no matter how hard I’ve tried over the years, I could never fully wash it away.

It’s funny what you pick up when you’re six. It’s even funnier what you can lose.


Avis Hickman-Gibb lives in a small market town in Suffolk, England. She lives with her husband, son and two cats. She is the only female in the house and it makes her feel so special.


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 average 5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Great flash, Avis, it really captured the poor kid’s sense of impending doom, the spiralling consequences he dreaded. I liked the idea of the internal brand that nobody else could see – I’m sure many of us carry those around with us; a more subtle and insidious form of what is sometimes called ‘baggage’. Thanks for a great read.

  • Mark H

    Lovely story. Very good on the child’s eye view. Nice to have the variety of a character story rather than a twist-in-the-tale. (Though I like those as well.)

  • Oonah V Joslin

    The child’s fears are so beautifully drawn here as well as the observation that we carry the marks of our chidhood through life with us. I really enjoyed reading this, Avis. 🙂

  • Bonnie

    An excellent story! I was so afraid the mother would punish the boy AGAIN, the usual fate for my mother and her siblings.

    Loved the author blurb, too!

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Why thank you chaps – all comments very much appreciated!

  • Alexander Burns

    Excellent work. I can easily imagine the kid sitting there looking sullen and terrified. You never know what events, big or small, will make an impression that shapes a person’s personality for the rest of their life.

  • This really spoke to us. I think everyone gets a “lesson” like this at least once in their lives.

    • Avis Hickman-Gibb

      Thank you Jordan.

  • Kate Thornton

    Very moving story, Avis – thank you so much.

    • Avis Hickman-Gibb

      Kate thank you – I am glad to know it struck a chord

  • John Allen

    Nicely done, Avis. A great voice, brilliantly caught.

  • Lessons learned. I guess we’ve all had a few. Thanks, Avis, for a good story.

  • Great story,
    I liked it so much I sent it to a few of my friends,

    • Avis Hickman-Gibb

      Steven thank you so much for your endorsement!

  • I particularly liked the combination of childhood memories and the old man’s perspective. A touching story, which felt very natural and true to life.

  • Tootsie McCallahan

    Wonderfully written.

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Thank you one and all for your comments. They are wonderful.

  • Kate Shaw

    Beautiful writing, and a lovely character study that also tells a complete story–one of the best flash pieces I’ve ever read!

    • Avis Hickman-Gibb

      Gosh Kate – you take my breath away!! Thank you for your lovely comment – I’ll store it away.

  • Susie Freedman

    Sorry, but I don’t think is even a story. It’s more like an anecdote.

    Kid gets caught stealing something, mom comes and gets her. That’s it.

    Glad to see everyone else liked it, but heck they’re very easily pleased!

  • Sorry you didn’t like it, Susie. Perhaps this story might be more to your liking?

    http://www.everydayfiction.com/lolitas-lynch-mob-by-sarah-hilary/

  • Kathy

    I really liked this story. Some powerful emotions which everyone can relate to…Thank you!

  • Lyn

    I liked the story, but not certain as to “what you can lose” might refer to. This d’enouement turns this flash from a vignette (a la Susie above) to a story. Unfortunately (for me) I missed the resolution.

    • Avis Hickman-Gibb

      What was meant here was the old chap’s self respect. A precious thing to lose at any age – but crippling at such a tender age.

      • Lyn

        Ah, thanks for the clarification. And good point.

  • Susie Freedman

    Thanks for the link.

    That one worked much better for me!

    • Avis Hickman-Gibb

      Thank you Susie.

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