She wrote the single word at the top of the blank, unlined page in elegant cursive script.  Stared at it.  A single word, and yet one that held such power.  Even just seeing it there, transcribed from thought into reality, made her stomach clench with a faint, raw revulsion.  Nausea.  The urge to wipe it from existence with the scribbled stroke of an eraser or the maddened scratching of the pencil’s tip.


She drew a line under it instead, and began giving other words their lives.

Huisdier   Pet
Gehouden   Kept
Gevangen   Caught
Gevangene   Prisoner
Gevangenis   Prison
Hulploos   Helpless
Hooploos   Hopeless
Dood   Dead
Los   Free

And stared at them, her breath coming unevenly through parted lips as tears pricked in the corners of her eyes.


A single word.

Sticks and stones may break my bones…

She didn’t write that line down.  But the torrent was started, and the lyrics and quotations that she collected like precious gems began spilling into her thoughts.  She tried to shove them back, grabbing each stone as it was cast and hurling it back in a rage.  One, though, refused to go.  It wasn’t a song lyric.  It wasn’t even music.  It was a line from a children’s book, about a young girl’s adventures in Wonderland.

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean. The question is which is to be master, that’s all.

The  words stared up her, bleak and accusatory; a list of insults and degradations that shouted in the silence.  The chorus was joined by others that clamored forth from her subconscious: Worthless.  Whore.  Hoer.  Slut.  Slet.  Slecht.  Slave.

The question is which is to be master, that’s all.

She didn’t have a master anymore.

Don’t you?

This was different.

Is it?

“It’s different.”

Then why are you so afraid?

The pencil’s tip returned to the paper.  Pet, it wrote once more in the same stylish flow.

A deep breath.  She stared at it.  And then began writing once more.

Cared for.

These words came in English.  Why, she didn’t know.  It was a miserably short list, compared to the army gathered opposite it on the page.  But it was a start.

The question was which was to be master, that’s all.

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