seventeen (relinquere)

by nike, September 26, 2014
The judgment of Solomon (painting on ceramic), Castelli, Italy: Lille Museum of Fine Arts, 18th century.

The judgment of Solomon (painting on ceramic), Castelli, Italy: Lille Museum of Fine Arts, 18th century.

The English verb relinquish comes from the Latin relinquere meaning to leave behind, forsake, abandon, or give up.

I first encountered this verb as a young girl, at Sunday School, where I learned the story of the two women who bought their custodial dispute before the wise king, Solomon.

The women lived together and had both recently given birth to sons. One boy had died in the night, and one survived. Both mothers claimed theirs was the living child.

Solomon, the great king, said: “Fetch me a sword … Divide the living child in two and give half to the one, and half to the other” [1 Kings 3: 24-25].

One woman was prepared to see the child cleaved in two; the other offered to relinquish the boy–whole and unharmed–into the care of the first, in order that the child would live.

I stood, once, in a parking lot with you. Our daughter was in your car, waiting to go to your house for the weekend. We were in the middle of negotiating a custody agreement. I had brought you the draft papers. You pressed me against the door of my car, your hand at my throat. You won’t get my child, you said. I’d rather see her dead. I’ll kill her. You can watch; it will be the last thing you ever see.

I have not seen my daughter in more than one thousand days. I have relinquished my claim, but there is no fairytale king, here, who will lay down the sword and declare it all a cruel, courtly game. Tell me, in your dreams, are you the wise king, holding a sword over your own child–powerful, brutish, wild? Do you still dream of the blade descending?

There was no need to cleave the child. No call to see her thus divided. But the blade still hangs over her pretty head. Just as it hangs over yours, and over mine.


[This microfiction was written after watching Helen Garner speak about her book, This House of Grief, on Jennifer Byrne presents. It is not about Robert Farquharson, or any other real person.]

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