The Sort Of Man…
The Sort Of Man Who Was Kicking My Ass
He kicked my ass good and I knew I was wrong so I pretty much let it happen. All things considered, I got off pretty easy. I was sleeping with a colleague’s daughter, his eighteen year old daughter, and all I got was a few bruises, a wickedly awkward day at work looming ahead, and a bleeding lip. I would taste the blood in my bourbon later that night. It wouldn’t be too bad.
He got me at home. I parked my motorbike next to the house and walked up the path as I tried to get my house key out of my pocket, it was always a hassle to do. I put the house key in my right pocket as I left home every morning because the bush to the left of the path was overrun. I barely scraped past it, and for some unknown reason I refused to walk around it onto the lawn. It wasn’t that I cared about the lawn, if I was any sort of weekend horticulturalist I would trim back the bush. But every morning I eased by, contorting my body into a bent spoon just to avoid the touch of the annoying green fronds, and I put my key in my right pocket. Then when I got home I tried to disco dance past the bush and get my key out as fronds and bushy branches blocked my manoeuvrability. It was a frustrating daily dance. Life always was.
I was Winnie the Pooh banging my head on every step, knowing there’s a better way but still unable to slow down enough to see what it was. And once I stumbled out of the ride that was life I ran away and forgot about the steps, until I tumbled down them again.
I smelled the smoke, it was like someone had lit a tiny bonfire of car tyres on my little porch. I would have thought more about the acrid tang if I wasn’t struggling so hard to obtain the key from my tight leather pocket. Maybe if I invested in one of those tags that hooked your key onto your belt, or had a jacket with pockets that could be trusted, or just learnt to think ahead when planting my keys on me, I could have avoided that first punch.
Instead, I took it right on the chin. The surprised look on my face must have made Barker feel even better about it all. One hand jammed into my pocket, the other dangled uselessly by my side like I was some sort of stroke victim. My face barely had time to squint before I took the fist on the left side of my chin.
The force of the blow sent me back and slightly to my right, straight into the bush that I had spent months successfully avoiding since I had first moved in. I had no chance to stop myself falling straight into the heart of the offending shrub. I could feel the branches poking into my face, like a boy on his first date trying to subtly probe his date’s defences and not noticing how obvious, and slightly painful, he was being. It was confirmation of why I had been avoiding the plant’s caress this whole time. It was uncomfortable.
“Get up, Macbeth,” he grunted as he reached over to lift me to my feet. The cigarette that dangled from his lip was like an expert tight rope walker who was positioned between zeppelins, and juggling chainsaws. You only looked on to wait for the fall. But there was no fall, no matter how much he talked.
“You fucker, you’ve got this coming,” he said, the red ember punctuating his sentences like a band conductor. I could see that he was going to hit me again. I didn’t want to be hit, so I tried to at least soften the blow. I tried to talk him down.
“What for?” I asked. I shrugged and winced and honestly had no idea, at that moment, why Barker, a fellow teacher at my school, was jumping out of the darkness to beat me up. My question only infuriated him more.
“What for?” he replied. It was interesting to note that the same two words could sound so different and mean so much more when spoken by someone else. He drove a meaty fist into my stomach. He was quick. For an old guy, and he was certainly over fifty, he still kept his agility. It probably didn’t help that for a young guy, only twenty eight, I was surprisingly slow at times. A few bourbons at the pub on the way home would do that to me. I should have gone home straight from work and marked those In The Skin Of A Lion papers. It was the first time in a long time that I had thought that the action I should have taken was to work. It had been a long time since I had been a conscientious and diligent teacher.
“Ooph.” It was a clichéd response, but it was all that my lungs would give me.
“For Elina, you fucker,” Barker continued. Then I understood, always knew he had a reason to attack me, I just didn’t know that he knew he had reason. “You think I wouldn’t find out?”
I had no idea of how he had found out. Maybe she had told him, but that didn’t seem too likely. Puzzling over the whereabouts of his procured information was not the first of my problems. His fists were priority number one of my list of things to spend time worrying about and trying to avoid.
The second punch to my stomach bent me over. He let go of me and stood back. I let my legs buckle and leant backwards to land on my ass. Mid-flight I realised my hand was still in my pocket. I didn’t cushion the landing as much as I would have liked. I took a moment and then looked up at Barker. His face was not what you would call wrinkled, it only held some character lines. It was the face of the uncle who had served in a war but could still be the life of the party when everyone got together. He could also be the one to pull a gun if any kids decided to be smart and try to steal your letter box or toilet paper the big tree in front of your house. It was an unpredictable face with eyes that were hard to gauge. But they looked like they were gauging you just fine.
“To be fair,” I started, “you didn’t find out, so when I first thought that you wouldn’t find out it was pretty true.”
Sometimes I talk just to buy some time and let my brain catch up with what’s happening. In those moments I am not always accountable for what I say. It doesn’t help that I’m a born smart ass who doesn’t usually tolerate any sort of authority; you could blame my father for both of those traits. Not that my words mattered, he seemed pretty convinced he was onto some secure and trustworthy intel. I wasn’t going to be able to dissuade him if I tried, which I wouldn’t. I’d rather absorb the blows like a plant synthesising light and create something out of it. The tiny speck of feeling like I was better than Barker would have to do. I might sleep with a young girl, but I didn’t ambush poor unsuspecting men just trying their best to procure keys from tight pockets as they wove through a daily dance with an overgrown bush.
“Don’t you be smart,” Barker scowled. I waited for the hit. “I’ve found out now, that’s what you’ve gotta worry about.”
Barker drew in on his cigarette, the red tip tilting towards a supernova, then he flicked the moist butt into my garden.
“Do you mind? Can’t you see I’m working on this garden,” I said. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but I also knew that there was no right thing to do. I was stuck. There was no good explanation for why I had been sleeping with his eighteen year old daughter for the past three or more months. It would be like trying to explain why you had to sleep with someone’s wife, or had to steal someone’s car. Barker and I didn’t get along as it was. This was the sort of thing to turn an office acquaintance who you begrudgingly acknowledged into a bitter rivalry to challenge the likes of Tesla and Edison, or Harding and Kerrigan. Might even be worse, I’m pretty sure that Tesla didn’t stain the innocence of Edison’s first born.
I didn’t really get the chance to say much more.
Barker took his time. He set me up for each punch, each kick.
“You stay away from my daughter.
“You stay away from me.
“You’re lucky I don’t get you fired for this.
“Don’t you even look up at me.”
It wasn’t what you would call a fair fight, but I wasn’t about to try and even the stakes. Barker was a big man, or better put, he was a solid man. Each blow seemed to confirm my long held suspicions that he might have indeed been carved from wood at inception. Whatever counter-offensive I mustered was only going to put me into a worse beating. I let him have his fun, let him vent, and tried not to speak, knowing I would only infuriate him more. My talking had that effect on people.
There was a small stain on the breast of Barker’s shirt, only a few spots, but I was pretty sure it was my blood. Must have come from my lip when he gave me an uppercut. There were small graces to be found everywhere in life.
I knew he was finished when he slung another cigarette into his mouth, a packet of matches emerged from the back pocket of his jeans. This was the sort of man who kicked my ass, someone who still lit up with matches. He took his time striking the head and lifted the flame to the tip.
“This ain’t over between us, you got that, Macbeth?” Barker puffed. “But for now, you just keep your mouth shut.”
Seemed like an easy enough proposal, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that uppercut had fused my jaw closed.
There was no heavy breathing, Barker hadn’t even worked up a sweat mopping the grass with me. I was an entrée in what I’m sure was a solid history of square meals. There were enough marks and scars on Barker’s knuckles to show anyone that he knew how to handle himself. If you were looking for the tough guy you didn’t look for the cool scar down the face, you looked for the man with worker’s hands. Someone who had done some damage barehanded in his time. How Barker had ended up as a high school science teacher was beyond me. He probably had some sort of clandestine fight club in the senior toilets that I didn’t know about. Spent his free periods looking for kids with pot to bust, and then bust up.
As strangely as he had appeared on my door, he then took his departure. I watched his large boots track around me and through my grass, expecting one to rapidly come up and put me to sleep on my front lawn. It didn’t, but he did take the opportunity to drop his cigarette down the back of my shirt as he passed me. I was proud that I didn’t squeal as I shuffled around and either put it out on my back or got it to thankfully fall out and onto the cold, wet grass.
I laid back and looked at the night sky. There were only clouds, how fitting.
My night was nowhere near over, but I had to go in and change. I sighed as I plunged my hand into my pocket, again trying to retrieve my house key.