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Tough Act
by Steven J. McDermott

I flinch and swerve as a snowball flattens on the door window, sticks like paint. I work the steering wheel, keep the car from sliding into the aluminum lamppost as another snowball hits the hood. Glancing back I see the kids out in the open, defiantly refusing to hide behind the shrubs.

I remember throwing snowballs from the same place when I was their age. Getting chased by irate drivers had been the highlight of our day. I turn around in a cul-de-sac and head back towards them.

Off to my right I see a flash of red and black in the bushes. A kid in a red cap leaps out onto the sidewalk and starts sprinting, his breath gushing out of his mouth. I see a dark snowball clutched in his glove and thinking rocks, tromp on the gas. I glance in the rearview mirror and watch as he slides to a stop in the street and throws.

Expecting the rear window to implode with the impact, I hunch down. The snowball hits, the window cracks, but holds. The aluminum lamppost is just yards away and I frantically steer. The bumper crumples with a metallic whine. The car rocks to a stop. I feel nauseous, shake my head to clear it, then open the door and get out. My knees go weak and I slip on the snow and fall into the ditch. I hear the kids laughing. I scramble up and they take off running.

I'm thirty yards behind and losing ground when they duck in between two houses. I'm out of breath and slow down to a jog. I round the corner of a house and see six of them, all teenagers, waiting for me.

The kid in the red cap says: Looks like you’re outnumbered Pops.

The rest of the kids are laughing. They close in on me. This is not what I had in mind and I take a few steps back.

—What you going to do now, Pops?

I’d like to beat the shit out of the smart ass, but I don't think I can take on all six of them, so I bluff.

—You other guys can take off, I say, and point at the kid in the red cap. He’s the one I’m after.

—Yeah right, Pops, like they're just going to hand me over.

The other kids think he’s pretty funny. I keep walking backwards as they move towards me. One kid lunges at me and I knock him flying. Then they’re on me, grabbing and punching. A blow to my neck sends me to my knees. Through the dizziness I hear the kids’ voices:

—Come on let's get out of here.

—Danny, you okay?

—Billy! Don't!

A football-sized rock slams into the snow inches from my head. A hand pulls my hair back and I look into the glazed eyes of the kid in the red cap.

—Next time, asshole.

His kick into my ribs makes me retch and I double up as they run off.


***

It’s two nights later and I’m waiting for my friends, Mike and Scott, to chase the kids to their hiding place. I hear vague shouts, boots crunching on the crusted snow, and then clearly: "Hurry up, they're on our ass!" They come cussing and sliding along the path between the two houses. A red cap rounds the corner and I clothesline him. His feet go out from under and I slam him to the ground as two more kids skid into the backyard with Mike and Scott right behind them.

Billy begins to gasp and struggle against my arms. I hold him down and say to Mike and Scott: Get them out of here. I want to teach this one a lesson.

—Fuck you! Billy says and spits in my face.

He squirms and kicks. Just when I think I have him pinned, he bends one of my fingers, forcing me to let go. He lashes out with his fists. I duck, but still catch a punch on my left cheek. I’m momentarily stunned, and he rolls away from me, trying to scramble to his feet, but slips on the snow. I lunge and tackle him, wrestle him onto his back, punch him, then pin his shoulders to the ground with my knees. He spits in my face again. I spit back, and he arches, tries to buck me loose. I slap him three or four times.

—Fuck you! he says.

I slide my knees off his shoulders, grab his parka, start thumping him into the snow.

—You don't look so tough now, Billy.

—You're the tough one, he says, beating up on a fifteen-year-old.

—Oh yeah? Listen punk. From now on, any other cars get damaged by snowballs, I'm coming after you, whether you did it on not. So tell your buddies to lay off.

—Woooooo, I’m scared now.

I punch him, over and over, until I realize he’s stopped resisting. I stand up, feel the flood of adrenaline quivering my legs, and sink down to my knees. Billy sniffs, the sobs gurgling in his throat. His face is a mess, welts on his cheekbones, his lips split and bleeding. I grab a handful of snow and roll it into a ball.

—Fool, I say, and throw the snowball against the fence. Watch it disintegrate into millions of imperceptible flakes.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.



Steven J. McDermott is the editor of Storyglossia. Among the journals his stories have appeared in are Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature, Anthology, Carve, Passages North, Red Wheelbarrow, The Rockford Review, Scarecrow, Timbercreek Review, Westview, and The Angler. His story "Oxygen" received Honorable Mention in the Passages North 2002 Wassmode Fiction Contest. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and "Blue Jeans and Black Leather" was produced as a short film and shown at several film festivals.

Read the interview.
Issue Thirteen (June 15, 2006): A Foreign Woman by Roberta Allen «» Fetichismo by Christopher Battle «» How the Broken Lead the Blind Until They Both Become Something Else Entirely by Matt Bell «» See Odi Naked by Lisa K. Buchanan «» Memory of Sky by Jai Clare «» The Captain by Ron Currie, Jr. «» Bingham by Steve Cushman «» The Table by David Erlewine «» Daffodil by Kathy Fish «» Fishing by Mike Hagemann «» Real Estate by Jennifer A. Howard «» Emily Avenue by Jeff Landon «» Tough Act by Steven J. McDermott «» Cheering by Srdan Papic «» Something Blew by Ellen Parker «» Euclid's Elements by Mary Lynn Reed «» Miracle by Chad Simpson «» Her Lips by Claudia Smith «» Man and Dog by Girija Tropp «» Randomization by Joseph Young «» Interviews: Roberta Allen «» Matt Bell «» Lisa K. Buchanan «» Jai Clare «» Ron Currie, Jr. «» Steve Cushman «» Katrina Denza «» David Erlewine «» Kathy Fish «» Mike Hagemann «» Jennifer A. Howard «» Jeff Landon «» Steven J. McDermott «» Srdan Papic «» Ellen Parker «» Mary Lynn Reed «» Chad Simpson «» Claudia Smith «» Girija Tropp «» Joseph Young «» Cover Art "Despair" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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