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"The Fight Is Real," short story excerpt

Wednesday 1/5/22

The full story will be in Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives.


***

The new boy would battle. He was new in the way that boys who last moved to town would always be new. Newness beyond the reach of time. He’d get in close and absorb every blow, diluting their strength with the proximity of his body. His ribs could be gills that fluttered with impact, not breakable like bone. The other children would cheer, including those who hated him, the ones who thought he had no chance, and everyone who agreed in their studious cabals that he wasn’t even going to show.


He was prepared to bleed. Knew what he’d do with the blood, depending on from where it came. Possessed a blood plan. Blood from his nose he’d wipe away with the back of his free hand, mid-right-cross. Blood from his mouth, he’d swallow, after spitting that which wouldn’t fit in hollow of a cheek on the ground between volleys. Mark the turf. Like a pissing lion. Let his adversary know he wasn’t going anywhere. We can do this all day long. We can do this until the Fourth of July. Until the end of time.


Blood from his ears would coagulate in his hair. He’d pass his hand through it, caked grains like the dust of bricks. Could even absorb the moisture from his fingers for a better grip on the other boy’s throat, if it came to that. Blood from his eyes he’d shake away. See through. Squint past. The kids who hated him for reasons he could never understand would start to cheer him for reasons that now made perfect sense. That he had stood up on this day. Taken this field. Said “yes” when asked if he was ready, which wasn’t how he expected the thing to start or had ever heard his voice sound.


He’d never been so afraid. Not when the police had come to the door in the town where they used to live and said that his brother had died. Saw how wilted and wan the police officer looked in the excrescence of his own fear, as if a giant spike hovered over his head, and the emittance of certain words and news from his mouth would cause a hammer to drive it through his skull.


“There’s been an accident,” he said to the boy, but it was not really to the boy, because by then his mother had joined him in the opening that led to the outside world which would never be the same. She’d been laughing the moment before. Talking on the phone. Hadn’t even hung up. It didn’t mater that the car was new, but it seemed like it should have.


A girl in whom the boy had confided so that they might go easier on him, and because she was a pretty girl, watched the fight. The two of them once sitting on the floor across from each other after school, the whoosh-whir-whir-whoosh of the janitor’s vacuum in the distance, but coming noticeably closer so that he was conscious of needing to speak then and there, or risk being drowned out forever.


“What your damage?” she asked because she was one of those girls who talked that way. When he answered it felt like he was shouting across a canyon.


“Your brother probably burned to death,” she suggested, upon receiving the report. “That’s what happens in most car crash fatalities.”


The boy wanted to agree with her, but all he could manage was a “no, he didn’t,” which she didn’t seem to hear.


He’s being pummeled. He can’t tell if any of his blows are landing. Probably not. His hands don’t hurt. Or maybe that’s just how it is in the moment. So many afternoons after school alone and he doesn’t trust his ears. How they process sound. Do they want him to die? Are they rooting for him not to get up again? His adversary feels incidental and elemental. It—he—could be anyone. The person whose turn it was, if there were turns. He could also be the earth. The dirt. A creature of soil and sod, with clumpy, grassy fists clutching rocks, swinging hard as the fading sun cast its beams through a scrim, a scrum, a skein, of limbs.


If the boy falls once more, he’s not sure he’ll be able to stand up. Or is there any way they want to see him succeed? Has he finally turned them in his favor? Some of them? One or two, maybe? One. One friend.


He plays the TV too loud at home, like it might serve to summon someone to join him, but it’s just his mother coming in again.


“Can’t you turn that down?” she’ll say.


And under her breath, but louder than the TV: “Can’t you make a single fucking friend?”


She apologizes. Wilts as well. Bends down, a dandelion stem unable to bear the flower head. Sees that he doesn’t want her to hug him. She’ll sit and watch, pretend it is like how it used to be. She wants to call him “baby” and he’d let her, but he’d hate her as well.