Thou Shall Not Kill (Kennedy Coyne)

My sister’s friend took my son to an art museum because my sister said that her friend thought her kid and my kid would get along. So he went and when he came home I asked him what he saw and he told me pictures. 

I asked him, Like photographs? 

He said, I guess. But also pictures. 

I asked, Like paintings? 

He said, Yeah, but also like. He made motions with his hands, gesturing to something in between them. 

I asked, Like sculptures? 

He said, I thought they were statues. 

I told him, Depends. I asked him if he ate dinner and he said yes, they all ate burritos. I asked him what kind and he rolled his eyes. I told him not to roll his eyes at me. And he said that I ask too many questions. I had one more for him, did you want some cookies? He nodded. I handed him a 4 pack of Lorna Doones. I watched him pull out a square and scrape the Lorna Doone name off with his teeth. I didn’t ask why. Then he brushed it with his fingers, wiped the cookie dust off, and used his fingernail to scratch ridged lines into the surface. 

When it happened the next day and the day after and one after that, I asked, A new ritual?

He asked back, What’s a ritual?

I told him it’s like a routine, but with meaning.

With meaning?

Or intent.

What’s intent?


Oh. He paused. Hm. Yeah, I guess. He shrugged and continued to scratch lines into what were now Oreos. I’m eating the commandments, he told me.

The commandments? I asked.

Isn’t that what they’re called?

We weren’t religious. He went to public school. I had grown up Catholic, culturally. He had been baptized. But he didn’t remember that, and we didn’t remind him.

Thou shall not kill, he said, and chomped on the cookie. 

He told me how he saw these tablets at the museum. And my sister’s friend’s son had said they looked like the ones Moses had and my son asked him who Moses was. And he told my son that Moses held the tablet that had the Ten Commandments. When my son told him he’d never heard of the Ten Commandments, the boy told him they were rules you follow. He could only remember one—thou shall not kill. 

I asked my son what he was vowing not to kill. He said he didn’t know yet.


Kennedy Coyne (she/her) is an MFA candidate in creative writing at Virginia Tech. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf CoastBULL, HAD,Moot Point Magazine, Michigan Quarterly Review Online and elsewhere.


image: MM Kaufman