artwork for Sarah Cipullo's short story The Wilful Child

The Wilful Child
Sarah Cipullo

Once upon a time there was a child who was wilful, and would not do what her mother wished. The child grew without emancipating herself from her bestial instincts, and she swallowed food with greed, she drank alcohol blindly, she sought pleasure among animals, she found a den in the bed of sleep for long seasons.

Her mother was afraid of her and yet she told herself: “My daughter is not bad. I must not be fooled by her brutality. She follows her nature and therefore the plan of God, who is merciful.” But Adam and Eve were born of God’s blood as adults, for he never tolerated children.

It was fall when the child’s mother walked into the forest to hunt and came across God, who had the features of a big animal. She squinted her eyes when she saw him and recognized him immediately. Stones turned into diamonds under his paws.

“I’m going to take the life of your daughter so you can get yours back. You’ll be happy again,” he told her.

The mother looked dizzy, but felt a sense of light coolness in the very center of her chest.

“Would you really kill a child?” she asked, a sudden hope wandering onto the surfaces of her voice. She couldn’t guess that such was God’s ill-tolerance towards children that he had already drowned clots of infancy in the incessant rain. He had exterminated them in Sodom, had demanded from others their murders, and had punished the sins of their fathers upon the children. Many of his curses had slipped as if along an inclined plane for generations, and the children, trapped in the web of their family DNA, had waited with open flesh for the hatred to stop pouring down.

“I could kill my own son if I believed it served a purpose,” he answered.

The child soon fell ill, and no doctor could find a hidden gap in the divine plan. She died unshriven. They lowered her into her grave, but the child’s arm emerged from the earth and stretched upwards. They put it back in like a lever, and it came out again. So her mother got closer to the grave, grabbed her daughter’s arm firmly, and with a precise movement, showing no hesitation, she broke it.

Sarah Cipullo’s Comments

Last February, a friend of mine said: “You write love stories,” and at first that statement annoyed me. Eventually I accepted that my pen would give me love words and I had no control over that. This doesn’t change the fact I live in “the Estimo,” though.

I found out about it during a writing class I attended in October. “The Estimo is something that makes you tremble, that excites you, an anecdote that you would not necessarily feel like sharing, because what’s Estimo is not always socially acceptable.” This is what my writing teacher said, and I immediately thought of the Estimo as a space full of stories that are true and honest, and that therefore are beautiful. The more he explained what the Estimo was about, the more I understood that’s the place where I am most of the time, the place where I feel close and faithful to myself.

“The Wilful Child” was born last March after I read a German folktale collected by the Brothers Grimm. You can easily find it online. At the end of the original tale, the mother beats the child’s arm with a switch after it emerges from the earth.

I have an internal prosthesis. It replaces one-fourth of my elbow and almost half of my radius. When I read the tale, I immediately thought: “I’m gonna give the child something of mine,” and I started writing this short story from the end, first breaking without hesitation the child’s arm. It just clicked with something that lives deep in my Estimo.

Table of Contents

Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 60 | Fall/Winter 2022