By J.J. Landry
A pair of brass knuckles hangs from a gold chain around my neck, beneath my dirty, tattered tee-shirt. I’m not really looking for a fight, per se, but I’m not going to walk away from one, either. That’s just not who I am and it damn sure isn’t what I’m about.
I turn the corner onto 5th Street and see them standing in front of the arcade, crowding the sidewalk like a bunch of entitled jerks. An elderly woman, who looks to be about 80 years old, has to step down off the curb and into the road just to walk around them. I shake my head in disgust and keep heading their way as they point and laugh at her.
They see me coming and start making rude comments about this and that, insulting my clothes and my appearance. One makes a nasty comment about my younger brother, Timmy, a scrawny 14-year-old boy with glasses they had picked on and smacked around about an hour earlier when he had gotten off the school bus. He had come running home crying and was scared.
I walk straight into the middle of their group, completely unafraid of every single one of those punk-ass rich kids. I bump several out of the way as I approach their leader, Brad, a smug 18-year-old whose dad is a shady lawyer and whose mom runs the local country club. I remember him from when I was still going to school, but that was back before I dropped out to get a job last year after our parents died.
“Nice tee-shirt,” Brad says with a condescending chuckle.
I roll my eyes and reply, “Nice salmon shorts.”
“What the hell do you want?”
“I want the two dollars you took from my little brother.”
He shakes his head and laughs again, this time while pointing at me.
“I’ll tell you what,” Brad says as he starts getting into a more aggressive posture, “I’ll let you walk away now while you still can, but if you think I’m giving you anything other than a smack across the mouth, well, then you’ve—”
I had already sized Brad up during my approach and decided right away I could take him, fairly easily, too, and without the brass knuckles. I brought those with me just in case any of his friends decided to jump in once we’d gotten the party started. I couldn’t stand the sound of his shrill voice anymore, and since he had already threatened me and had taken an aggressive stance, I could only assume he was getting ready to attack, so I swung at him first while he was still running his mouth.
A solid right hook connects with his jaw and red spittle flies out from his mouth. I hit him fast and hard, just like my daddy taught me to. Brad stumbles back and trips over one of his buddies’ stupid boat shoes. I kick out his skinny legs as he’s falling backward and smile as he crashes down. He lands with so much force he nearly shakes the pavement.
His little group of minions starts to get rowdy. A few of them begin to form a circle around me. I reach up into my shirt and jerk the chain from around my neck. The brass knuckles slip nicely onto my fingers. Brad’s friends see the glare of the afternoon sun reflect off of them, and it’s then, in that moment, they know—I’m for real. Sure, our family might be dirt poor, but we have our pride. We don’t have much money, but the money we do have, we intend to keep and I am more than willing to throw hands to ensure that happens.
Timmy is still out front sitting on the only patch of grass we still have in our small yard of dirt. I walk over to him and extend my hand. He looks up at me and smiles. I can see the sadness still lingering in his eyes from behind his broken glasses, his shame and embarrassment. He takes the two dollars from my outstretched, bloody hand and says, “Thanks, Morgan.” I sit down next to him on the grass and put my arm around his shoulder and say, “No problem, little brother, that’s what big sisters are for.”