Sunday Stories: “Knees”


by Emory Harkins

I told my brother, Paul, he didn’t have to break the kid’s knee but Paul didn’t listen. He never listened. I was only ten, Paul was sixteen, and he didn’t care. He didn’t care that I told him not to do it. He told me if someone wants to steal from his brother then they best not be doing it with him alive. I told Paul the kid was sorry. I told him it was fine. It was okay. That the kid only stole a fiver and what did we care? I looked at Paul and told him I wasn’t hurt. I told him the kid knew it was wrong, that we didn’t have to go through with it or nothing. The kid looked at me with sorry all over his face. The kid looked at me and said he didn’t mean to. He kept saying it out loud and I could tell he was being honest. I told this to Paul, too. But still, Paul didn’t listen. He only asked how do you mean not to steal? Paul asked this because when Paul steals he knows what he’s doing. Like when he robbed the taco joint on East Smith. He knew where to point the gun and how to take the money and what tone of voice you have to use. Anyways, I told him again not to do it. But I was also curious. I was curious to how a knee sounds when it breaks. If it’s the same noise you get from snapping apart two halves of a chicken wing—but louder. And the more I thought about it, the more curious I got, the less I tried to stop Paul. The kid looked at me, his eyes saying come on, really? Then Paul lifted the bat from his hip, and the kid, the kid screamed for his mother. And years later, when we were in our twenties, Paul still broke knees. He still didn’t listen when someone told him not too. And he never thought about how one day he, himself, might beg a stranger not to hurt him. He never thought someone else wouldn’t listen when he said no, please please please don’t. And maybe it was like they say—karma. Or maybe it was bad luck, that whole wrong place wrong time deal. So I think about the day that kid stole my money. The day Paul broke a knee. Maybe I could’ve tried harder to stop him. Maybe I could’ve said no, not this time, and Paul would’ve listened. He would’ve gone home and really thought about his decisions. And later, eventually, he’d go on to get a job and have a family. He’d stop breaking knees. But I was ten. I was curious. I didn’t know Paul would get caught up all this time later. I didn’t know he would end up shot while pumping gas at an ARCO in Tucson. And that day, it felt like our lives were just beginning. How wrong I’d been. His was already over whether he listened to me or not. It was only mine, mine that was still young.


Emory Harkins is a writer based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Joyland, Malibu Magazine, and has won second place in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. He has received a fellowship from the Disquiet International Literary Program and holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Pratt Institute. You can find him online at or @emoryharkins.

Image source: Wikimedia via Creative Commons

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