The Crucible: Shawna Smart, Contestant #3



Shawna Smart is no stranger to A Word with You Press, having previously won one of our literary contests.  But while previous contests were designed to help participants become better writers, this contest is to help all of us become better righters.  In Shawna’s case, righting the wrong her father imposed upon her and an unsuspecting, unprepared victim of his racism.

Feeling gut punched?  I am.  Here is entry #3


by Shawna Smart


The human face is a landscape, and mindless hate it’s crucible.

My first taste of the poison racism came at four years old, little white girl in a Shirley temple dress and black leather patent shoes, long platinum hair rag-curled, hopping with the eager joy of a child carrying a tender treasure to a beloved friend.

God’s light streaming through stained glass windows to pool glowing on hushed thick carpet and gleaming woods, quiet organ chords and the low murmur of the congregation.

A glossy black monkey carved from imported African ebony in hand, exuberance exalting my soul, I rushed to my favorite church usher, Teddy. His beautiful chocolate skin smooth and sober, rich full lips flashing forth a kind, brilliant smile at me every Sunday, his pockets brimming with butterscotch and taffy.

My father’s scowl at these warm gestures a nervous mystery, the oddly curled smile that Easter Sunday he sent me skipping forward to press the monkey into Teddy’s gentle palm, a complex heat coiled like profane cruelty in his glittering, bitter eyes.

“Please Teddy, may I see it?”

Teddy’s face bent kindly to me, his wondering eyes passing over the monkey in his palm, and then back to my face, receptive and curious.

“See what my dear?”

“Your tail. My daddy said if I brought you this monkey, you might let me see it.”


Wishing I had been born with a tail to keep in a jar on my closet shelf, that my skin could be that lovely velvet brown instead of fish belly white, and that my eyes might be big beautiful pools of ebony too, like the lovely monkey, I nodded, bursting with anticipation.

Hoping he would let me see it, just once.

Teddy’s landscape crumbling, shining eyes drained of joy and filling with the hard film of harm, the deep lines of a lifetime of labor in the church collapsing into granite and shadow. His eyes tracking from my shining face and finding Daddy’s, malevolent with triumph.

Once more to mine, those pools of pain, then the shuttering, a sorrow behind which steel slammed down, imprisoning soul, reason and humane hope. Acceptance, quiet misery, and a weary patience peering now into mine from a barrier of stone.

“Your daddy just teasing, honey. No human being is born with a tail.”

A gentle pat on the head and he turned away, fumbling the monkey into his fine suit pocket as he paced towards the exit, calm and erect, never to return to aisle nor altar.

A bitter fruit, that first mission of apocalyptic cruelty, delivered by the purest hand of admiration.

Lifetime scar, never to be forgotten, a stage my soul will forever haunt, featuring the landslide of ruin crushing a gentle old man in the theater of the mind, my own trusting hand the culprit, and hate the ravenous postman.



Thanks, Shawna, for sharing this memory, and for being the generation in your family let the healing begin…Do you have a story to tell?  Tell it here:



12 thoughts on “The Crucible: Shawna Smart, Contestant #3

  1. Thornton Sully says:

    This is breath taking. Shawna, please in the comments leave the links to your website, and tell us what your current writing projects are. For the rest of you, please share this story on FaceBook, and perhaps google writing groups in your vicinity and send them an invitation to participate. Thanks!

  2. Sunny J. Reed says:

    That look of defeat, that crushing of a spirit already battered by blow and blow of unhidden hate…I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it, I’ve received that malevolent look. That cruel joke, that nice trick. An adult forced to explain away another’s wrongdoings.

    I’m crying now, thank you.


  3. Miryam says:

    Excellent piece Shawna. Superbly written. This story is touching, however, how it is written is over the top. Sad to think this mindset still exists within many races. Ingnorance is a tragedy.

  4. Bryan Stuppy says:

    Very powerful story. Thank you.

    The ugliness of racism erupting now, again, is a reminder the battle will continue and we must fight it and teach our children to fight it every step of the way. I know there is an awareness in much of humanity that everyone is equal and free. We just need to keep fighting and not give up in desperation.

    Thornton and I took a trip to Mississippi as an adventure when we were 19 years old in the 60’s. We got to view this malignancy first hand. We have been fighting it since, and will continue.

  5. Martin A. David says:

    What a magnificent piece of work. How much pain is sent into the world by hate and ignorance. Your story touches so many deep wounds.

  6. shawnasbasement says:

    I am so pleased that this story is touching hearts. I have never understood such mindless and eager cruelty, nor will I ever support such nonsense in my meeting with other souls. My website is much neglected and quite arbitrary but it may be found at

    I am very glad to be once more in the company of such passionate writers and of course the admirable Thorn, who so often produces the most excellent articles and content here on this site.

    I am currently (trying) to work on a series of fantasy novels, though I am challenged daily by an absent muse…

    Fond regards to all,

  7. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    Your innocence lost with plotted cruelly, gobsmacked me. My fervent wish is that your father changed in time or read this story & because of it grows, that Teddy forgave your father in time & you have healed or will as a result of letting go of emotions that will never serve you. Churches far too often remain segregated by more than religion still, but I as a spiritualist am resolved that my words are better expressed away from the choir of shared beliefs. I believe we each have “free will” to learn and that education towards decency is its own reward without any need for punishment. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  8. Melissa Plicque says:

    Thought provoking tale that seems too ambitious for the short format. I long to know more about Teddy. How old is he? What is his relationship to this congregation? Surely he has experienced racism before— how could he be so crushed that he disappears? So much from the child’s perspective and so little about this black man who remains but a symbol.

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