Breakable Bones

By Connor Thompson

On summer Sundays my father played golf with his pal Chippy. After drinking and fighting, golf
was my father’s favourite hobby, in no small part because it combined so easily with drinking.
Combining it with drinking and fighting had earned him lifetime bans from three local courses.
All three fights had been with Chippy over score discrepancies. One time he came home in
sodden clothes because Chippy had thrown him in a water hazard.

The day my father died, Chippy was not with him. They’d had a falling out over an
unpaid debt, so my father played his final round of golf alone. At the clubhouse they paired him
with a mother and son, but by the third hole he had frightened them off with his boorishness. By
the time the storm hit, mother and son were sheltered in the clubhouse, and there was no one to
suggest to my father that riding out a thunderstorm under a tree on a golf course was a bad idea.

At my father’s funeral, Chippy gripped my mother’s shoulders and begged her
forgiveness. “I should have been there!” he sobbed, swearing he would forever regret the
pettiness that kept him from the course that day—some nonsense over a harvester part that
Chippy acquired on my father’s behalf that my father never paid him for. Chippy was convinced
he could have persuaded my father to shelter inside. At Chippy’s hysterics my mother stared
back coolly and said nothing, knowing as we all did that had Chippy been there he’d have been
under that tree too.

The police were careful to distinguish the cause of death. My father had not been struck
by lightning; lightning had struck the tree, causing a branch to fall and strike my father. Killed by
the final thrashings of an oak, itself mortally wounded. My father would say: “It’s the wounded
man you gotta watch out for. A man isn’t dangerous until you’ve drawn his blood. That’s when
the fight really starts.” My father might have expected a wounded man to one day get the best of
him, but not a wounded tree.

The policemen who came up the driveway on the day my father was killed were known
to my mother. The one with silver hair was Beersma. The younger, blonder one was Pinkley.
Pinkley had nosed out Beersma for a promotion a couple weeks past, and Beersma was mulling
over just how much he cared about that. I didn’t know this; from my bedroom window, where I
sat and blew cigarette smoke into the outside world, I saw only how they lingered in the squad
car before climbing out and plodding to the door. But my mother knew. Information had a way of
finding Pam Pollock. She gathered gossip like seeds in her palm, there to be doled out or hidden
in a closed fist, whichever was to her benefit. So from the kitchen window she might have
clocked the tension in the two police as they shuffled up the walk, dead-headed dandelions
poking through the flagstones to brush at their polished shoes, and mistakenly attributed it to
professional jealousy.

Beersma had been out to our farm a bunch of times in a number of capacities: as
chauffeur to my drunk and disorderly father, as chauffeur to my drunk and disorderly brother, as
intervener in one particularly memorable domestic brawl. (“Goddamn it you two, you’re better
than this!” he yelled, as my parents sat bloodied and shamefaced in the kitchen. It was their
eleven-year-old son, cowering upstairs, who’d called the cops, the one and only time I did so.)
Every now and then Beersma came out to ask my father about this or that incident that so-and-so
had reported the night before, and had he been at Duffy’s and had he seen anything and—just be
honest—was it him who committed this or that petty crime? And my father would laugh and
Beersma would laugh, and with their eyes they’d say to each other: You sonofabitch, I know what
you’re up to.

Pinkley had never been out to the farm but no doubt he’d heard of Cal and Pam Pollock,
and probably Danny Pollock too. He might have come across my father in the drunk tank, or
been called down to Duffy’s to pull him off someone, or someone off him. He might have caught
wind of Danny’s shenanigans, like his hamfisted attempt to grow weed in the basement of his
girlfriend Lauren’s house. Likely he’d just heard the way people talked about us, had filed the
name Pollock away as one to watch for, as a family from which he could expect some trouble.
The front door was ajar, and when Pinkley gave it a respectful knock my mother cried,
“Just come in for Christsake, I opened the fucking thing!”

They found her at the sink in her nightshirt, back to the door. My mother rarely got
dressed on summer Sundays. They were her only days to herself, and she spent them smoking
and cleaning. When my father was present she was indifferent to tidying, but as soon as he left
she attacked the house with a fastidiousness that as a child I found embarrassing and unlike her.
Depending on how the golf went and how much he’d had to drink, upon my father’s return the
order she’d restored in his absence would either be remarked upon kindly, ignored, or met with
derision, which might mean words or fists—but my mother was always prepared to fight for
what little part of the world she could control.

Pam Pollock, Pinkley noted, was a woman with thin, flaxen hair, a face ruddied by
alcohol, and a body the shape of a hay-bale. If he guessed her age he guessed ten years older than
the truth. Seeing her, he might have understood some of the stories he’d heard, that if it came to
it Pam Pollock could give as good as she got, that Cal Pollock didn’t get all his black eyes from
Duffy’s. Maybe then he knew why Beersma had volunteered to do the talking, and when
Pinkley’d insisted that as the superior officer he be the one to break the news, Beersma had
shrugged, run a finger over his mustache, and said nothing.

Upstairs in my room I heard my mother cross the kitchen to open the front door, her call
for Beersma and Pinkley to come in for Christsake, the linoleum creaking with their footfalls, the
shuffling of chairs as they sat, the short overture of pleasantries, my mother offering a drink.
After that my interest waned; their voices were too quiet. So I didn’t hear Pinkley clear his
throat, didn’t see him glance at his notes (struck by BRANCH, not LIGHTNING), didn’t see him
force himself to meet the eye of the anvil in a nightshirt sitting across from him. And I didn’t
hear it then but I would hear it in the coming days, what my mother said when Pinkley delivered
the news, the only eulogy for Cal Pollock she’d ever give: “That stupid motherfucker. What a
stupid way to die. Of all the ways to die he had to die like that. What a stupid way to die.”

*

The same storm that produced the lightning that struck the tree that killed my father had
rolled over the house. Sally and I spent it submerged in bed, tracking the storm’s approach, Sally
tapping the seconds between lightning and thunder on my cast.
Flash-tap-tap-tap-tap-boom!
“Getting closer,” she said. I moved my face closer to hers.
Tap-tap-tap. “Closer.”
Tap-tap. “Closer.”
Until the storm was overhead and we stopped counting.

She barely looked up when I told her a cop car was coming up the driveway. On the bed
she read The Guns Of August. She was doing this thing where she only read books with the
current month in the title. It had proven harder than she’d anticipated (and in her words she’d
been forced to read some “real rubbish”) but so far she was eight for eight. Even explained to
me, the project was one of the many things about Sally I had to accept without fully
understanding, like her use of the word rubbish instead of shit or trash. We were both eighteen
but she lapped me in every measurable category of maturity. Her father owned a car dealership
and she’d appeared in some commercials for it on local TV, would even on occasion be
recognized in the street. She was accustomed to being looked at, comfortable holding eye
contact. For pocket money she worked the counter at the diner in town, charming tips by the
fistful from stingy farmers. My family regarded her with a coolness bordering on suspicion, but
that was only because she steadfastly refused to be fazed by them.

On the surface, we’d passed a typical teenage summer: getting drunk on beaches and in
fallow fields, making out around bonfires and in darkened cars. I’d done my part and pretended
there was no such thing as a future beyond these moments. But now September loomed. Sally
would be off to university across the country. The thought of it sent a surge through my guts.
I lit another cigarette. Sally put her book down spine-up and stretched. “Gotta work in an
hour,” she said. “Those milks won’t shake themselves.”

She went to the bathroom and I looked to where she’d lain in the sheets. Later, alone, it
would thrill me to inhale the remains of her sunscreen and shampoo. Did I linger with her the
way she lingered with me? And when summer ended, what would linger then? The night before,
we’d sprawled in the grass and watched the Perseids. Out of a prolonged silence she’d sighed
and said, “Sometimes beautiful things aren’t meant to last, and they’re all the more beautiful for
it,” which had ruined my night. The metaphor—if that’s what she’d intended—seemed apt in
another way: to me, Sally was the meteor, and it was all I could do to snatch a little dust from her
tail.

She came back from the bathroom and leaned on the doorframe. I opened my mouth but
the words weren’t ready yet; I turned them into a sigh. She laughed and arched an eyebrow at my
seriousness. I stubbed the cigarette on the sill and followed her downstairs.
In the kitchen, Beersma and Pinkley and my mother turned as one to look at us. It was my
mother who told us, her voice not shocked or broken but angry, incredulous, that my father had
found such a stupid way to die.

*

After Beersma and Pinkley took my mother to claim the body, Sally led me to the living
room. We sat on the couch where my father would yell wrong answers at Wheel of Fortune. I
stared at the fibres in the carpet and Sally stroked my back, as if to churn my feelings to the
surface. What broke me was the image of my father that afternoon, swinging his clubs into the
bed of the pickup, whistling tunelessly to no one, barely an hour from death. In the lead-up to
golf he was always at his most benign. Sally held me as I wept but never shed a tear for my
father, ever, and the only other person to do that was my mother.

Sally got her shift covered and that night we lay in bed and listened to my mother get
trashed with the Flock. One by one they’d careened up the driveway in their station-wagons: a
hairdresser, a receptionist, two cashiers, and a beautician. They shared with my mother their
proportions, tastes, and rough edges—everything but their hair, bottle-blonde, where my mother
kept hers natural. Otherwise they were so similar that Danny called them once a flock of pigeons,
and the name stuck. Their slurry cooing echoed through the house.

Upon seeing my father’s body, scrawny and impotent on the metal slab, my mother made
a decision: she would not linger in grief for such a paltry thing. When she returned from town,
my mother called the Funeral Home and made the arrangements for as soon as they could get
him in. It was as if in dying my father had committed an embarrassing faux-pas, like farting at a
dinner party or asking a fat woman if she was pregnant, and my mother was keen to move on to
other subjects. She allowed no maudlin displays of sorrow, that night or going forward. Of the
voices wafting up to us we heard my mother’s the least, lost in the shrill, gravelly chorus of the
rest of them. But when one of the Flock spoke too fondly of my father, my mother’s voice could
be heard telling it not to waste her time.

Sally ran her fingertips over my cast. Underneath, my arm itched. We listened as the
Flock took turns listing the ways my father could have died that wouldn’t have been so
humiliating to my mother.
“Coulda gone through the ice on his skidoo like Bryan Fullerman.”
“Coulda flipped his ATV like Harry Harvey.”
“Coulda had a heart attack in the drug store like Andy Salmon.”
“Coulda wrapped his truck around a tree like Ben Sykes.”
“Coulda shot himself with his own hunting rifle like Reg Ulridge.”
“Now that was a stupid death.”
“Not as stupid as Cal’s,” came my mother’s voice. “Not as stupid as getting killed by a
tree in a fucking thunderstorm.”
It was after midnight when Sally disentangled herself.
“I’ll walk you down,” I said, sitting up.
“No, no,” she said, and with her hand on my chest guided me back to the mattress.
I listened to her show herself out—the fussy overtures of affection from the Flock, all
under the illusion that when they were her age they were as pretty as she, and Sally’s goodnight
to my mother, answered if at all with a curt nod.

An hour later the Flock was still at it and I went downstairs for a glass of water. They
sprawled around the table, bottles of beer and wine and vodka coolers scattered about like weeds,
the conversation one sustained chord of cross-talk and interruption. At my arrival they stood to
smother me in fleshy hugs, their bodies sluicing from under their clothes, red where the sun
could find it, pasty where it couldn’t. Only my mother remained seated. I managed to get to the
sink and run the tap and when I looked up there were lights coming up the driveway.
I turned to my mother. “Danny’s home.”

After the Flock and the Funeral Home, my mother called Danny. He’d been holed up
lately at Lauren’s, too ashamed to come home for what he did to me. No answer, so Danny didn’t
know yet. The Flock looked unsure what to do. My mother put up a hand and they arranged
themselves around her like a Renaissance painting, white trash cherubs attending their patron
saint.

I wasn’t in the mood to hear it. I went upstairs and lit a cigarette by the window, leaving
them to ambush Danny with the news. He came inside, made some crack about the tableau in
front of him, and I heard my mother’s quiet voice.

The door slammed and the motion light flicked on and I watched my brother sprint to his
car. Before climbing in he paused and looked up at me with the face of a man feeling the first
tremors of the world shifting under him. His mouth opened and closed. Taillights like unblinking
eyes receding into the night.

*

When I was eight a boy named Derek Kirby singled me out on the school bus for the
scruffiness of my clothes and haircut. The laughter from the onlookers hurt more than the
punches. I came home with a split lip and a torn shirt and eyes red from crying.

My father found me in the kitchen. At the sight of him I wept again in fear of what he
might say or do. Even then I knew that violence was his most fluent language. As I blubbered, he
watched my face. More than my words, he listened to my bruises and tears and the blood
crusting on my lip. When I finished, he said, “Come with me.”

He led me to the barn. The stink of manure and the dusty, metallic reek of straw hung in
the heat. Filaments of sunlight slipped through the slats onto the floor. We sat on overturned slop
buckets. Before he spoke he gave a heavy sigh, like a priest mustering the wisdom to save a
sinner.

“There’s no shame in losing a fight,” my father said. “But I can help you so next time you
can give a better account of yourself. You listening?”
I nodded.
There are three rules to fighting, my father said: hit first, hit hard, keep hitting.
The winner of the fight is the one who gives up last.
There’s no such thing as fighting dirty or fighting clean. Only fighting to win.
If possible, break a bone. Fingers, toes, nose. Those break the easiest, but with the right
force you can pop a wrist or a forearm and then you’re golden.
If you can’t break a bone, gouge an eye or strike the balls.
You can’t always count on pain to subdue an opponent because of the adrenaline, so you
have to debilitate.
“Stand up,” he said. “We’re gonna spar.”
For the next hour I flung my little fists at my father. The more I swung the more his face
softened into a grin. On account of his own life of violence my father’s face was chiseled from
rock, but the effect of his smile was to tuck away the scars and blemishes; when my father smiled
you saw what remained unbeaten.
“This,” he crowed, my knuckles smacking his palm, “is how the men fight!”
Later that night my father did something he almost never did and came and sat on the
edge of my bed.
“Now,” he said. “Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re gonna wait. You’re not gonna
go find this kid tomorrow and pop him. You’re gonna wait for him to come to you. He thinks
you’re an easy target now. He won’t know what to expect. And when he does come, what are
you gonna remember?”
“Hit first, hit hard, keep hitting.”
I did as I was told and waited for Derek Kirby to make his move, and when he did I
remembered my father’s rules.

*

I told this story at the funeral. Behind me the officiant shuffled his feet. Twenty-seven
mourners swayed in the heat by the graveside, rough men and women chafing against their
formalwear. The funeral home provided roses and we clutched them in our fists like medieval
weapons; most of my father’s friends (including the inconsolable Chippy) looked like they’d
never held anything so delicate in their lives. But they grinned at the mention of his fighting
manifesto, an ideology they’d heard him expound upon for years down at Duffy’s.
Afterwards a few of them came up and pointed with rueful smiles at my cast, said things
like, “Still following your father’s rules, I hope.”
And I said something like, “Can’t win’em all.”
And they chuckled and nodded and said something like, “He sure didn’t.”

My mother didn’t speak at my father’s funeral except to rise before the interment and say,
“Don’t waste your roses. Dumb sonofabitch wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway.”
A few cracked smiles, who knew my mother the least. My father’s friends who knew my
mother best threw them into the grave to spite her. Others stared down into their blooms,
uncertain how seriously to take my mother’s instruction.

My mother didn’t linger. She stomped off towards the car, head up, eyes dry, into
whatever future lay before her.

*

In the weeks before my father’s death we’d seen less and less of Danny. He’d moved in
with Lauren and came back mostly to do laundry. More often than not the laundry would sit
forgotten and Danny would spend the night drinking with my father in the barn. Sometimes they
fought, and I’d hear them come into the house to ice their knuckles and staunch their bleeding
noses and laugh and keep drinking.

We didn’t see Danny at all in the days before the funeral. My mother organized the
service with bureaucratic efficiency. The Flock was enlisted for various tasks, their primary
assignment being to keep my mother as drunk as possible at all times. I volunteered to root out
some pictures from the albums but was told there wouldn’t be any of that bullshit. I was asked
only to make sure my suit still fit.

The morning of the funeral I asked my mother if she’d heard from Danny.
She shrugged. “He said he’ll be there.”
He was, with Lauren, standing at the back, his lanky frame draped in blacks, face
obscured by aviator sunglasses. Lauren gripped his arm with two hands and leaned her head on
his shoulder. As I told my story she blew bubble gum.

One night in early summer Danny knocked on my bedroom door and said, “Come on,
we’re drinking.” Outside, the sun hung on for dear life over the treeline, the infant corn glinting,
soaking it in. My father was already in the barn, reclined in a lawn chair. A cooler next to him
filled with bottles. The doors wide open to let the evening in.
“There he is,” my father said. “Danny go get us some more chairs.”

I drank slower than them but they didn’t say anything about that. My father spun us a
story about when he was a kid and they stole a goat from a neighbour and rowed it to an island in
the middle of a lake, how for weeks everyone in their cottages wondered where all that bleating
was coming from. We laughed, even though we’d heard the goat story a thousand times before.
Danny mentioned that I had a new girl, this Sally chick, said she was a smart piece of ass,
that those kinds of girls were the wildest in the sack. He asked for details. I told him to cool it
with that shit. My father sat smirking, swigging his beer, staying out of it.
“Or what?”
“Or what what?”
“Cool it with that shit or what’ll you do, Petey boy?”
“Shut up, Danny.”
“No, I wanna know. What’ll you do if I don’t cool it? You gonna fight me?”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head.
“Man, the things I would do to that Sally if I had the chance…”
Danny stood and humped the air, moaning my girlfriend’s name.
My father chuckled. “Easy Danny,” he said. “My money’d be on Pete.”
Danny laughed. “Oh yeah? When’s the last time you threw down with someone, Pete?
When’s the last time you threw a punch?”
“Fuck off Danny.”
Danny bounced on his toes, raised his fists. “Come on, Petey, let’s go a few rounds. It’s
been a while since I beat your ass.”
I shook my head and swallowed the last of my beer. “I think I’ll go in,” I said.
“No, no, you can’t go in,” said my father, holding up a hand. “Not when it’s getting
interesting.”
“Come on Petey boy, tell me. When’s the last time you had a scrap?”
“Jesus, I don’t know, what does it matter?”
“Was it when you kicked the shit out of Derek Kirby? That was what, ten years ago?”
“I remember that,” said my father.
“Oh, you told Dad about that, did you?” Danny paced around the barn, grinning at me.
“How Petey stood up to mean old Derek? Went out to the trees behind the school and beat him
good, didn’t you?”
“Damn right he did,” said my father.
“Did he tell you how Derek started crying? Begging Petey to stop? And Petey got off and
walked away and the kids, oh, they thought he was a hero, standing up to mean old Derek Kirby
like that.”
“Fucking right,” said my father.
“Bet he didn’t tell you what he did after that, did he?”
I felt the heat crawl into my face. “Shut up, Danny.”
“Went down to the little ravine behind the school and tough-guy Petey started crying too.
Then he puked his guts out. Our little warrior. Puking and crying all by himself, saying how he
was sorry.”

I remembered how it felt to thrash Derek Kirby. Blinking through the tears, the squishy
thunk of my fists landing. One by one, as if summoned by my anger, they’d appeared in place of
Derek’s face—my father, my mother, my brother—and I thrashed them all until it was Derek
again, sobbing, pleading, squealing in pain and fright. And afterwards, retching in the dust, my
trembling hands streaked with Derek’s blood, the revulsion and shame of being the instrument of
another’s hurt.
“Honestly, what does that Sally chick see in you, anyway? Fucking pussy.”
The dim light of the evening mixed with the yellow of the barn incandescents, casting
Danny’s angular face in shadow, teeth popping from behind his sneer. My father looked at me,
his face inscrutable. I stood up.

It was not a long fight. I landed no punches. Danny had beat on dozens of men bigger and
tougher than me. He laughed as he hit me, and then I slipped on some straw and fell on the
concrete. I cried out and Danny stopped, frowning, the fun of it ripped away by my writhing.
“Shit, come on Petey, we’re just fucking around,” he said. “You’re alright, come on.”
Tears seeped from my eyes and I tasted blood. My father’s shadow fell over me.
“Goddamn it, Danny,” he said. “You broke his fucking arm.”

We went into the house. Danny muttering apologies, saying he was just fooling, just
busting my balls. I puked on the lawn from the pain. When we came in my mother rolled her
eyes, put her drink down, and went to get the ice. My father beckoned for Danny to come close
and then punched him in the gut. Danny doubled over, gasping. My father turned to me and said,
“Come on, I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

On the way into town, I rolled the window down and shoved my face into the rushing
world. Over the din my father said, as if picking up the conversation, “You see? Break a bone
and you’re done. Debilitate. You gotta debilitate.”

*

My mother never returned to my father’s grave. “Why would I visit that stupid
motherfucker?” she’d say. “Dying the way he did.” Still, even long after his death, the only day
she ever cleaned was Sunday. Asking whether she thought this ritual was in some way a
consequence of my father’s continued presence in her life would have gotten me told to shut the
fuck up, so I didn’t bother.

I returned to my father’s grave only once, years later, because my own son had asked
about his grandfather, and he was old enough to know about his family. Another time someone
from the cemetery tracked me down because some kids had vandalized some of the graves,
including my father’s, and asked if I wanted to press charges or to replace the headstone. To both
questions the answer was no.
I don’t know if Danny ever visited.

When the cigarettes and drinking finally got around to killing her, my mother asked to be
scattered in the woods beyond the house, a request we granted not fully understanding its
significance, since as far as we knew she’d hardly set foot there. Afterwards, in arranging her
affairs, I came across a photograph of my mother and father strolling among the trees at the
height of autumn. Young and unscarred, smiling wide, a single yellow leaf clinging to my
mother’s flowing hair, strangers to me.

*

After the funeral we went back to the house and my mother got drunk. In the living room,
mourners circled a folding table covered in finger foods. The Flock enveloped my mother like an
atmosphere, deflecting anyone foolish enough to attempt condolences.
Sally and I went upstairs. Sally sat on the bed, twirling her rose between her thumb and
forefinger. The sun came through the window and struck her hair and she looked so lovely and I
felt so raw that the words that had been building in me finally broke apart.
“If you want, when you go off to school, I can come with you.”
The rose stopped twirling.
“I know you’re staying in a dorm but I could get my own place, and get a job, and we can
be together. If you want.”
“Pete, listen, we shouldn’t talk about this now.”
I swallowed. “Why not?”
“But let’s talk about it when this all settles.”
“It’s just—I’m ready to go. I think I’m ready to go now. Like, tonight.”
She laughed but behind her eyes I saw the machine she’d spent the summer building for
the express purpose of handling this moment begin to turn its gears.
“Well, I won’t be there for a couple weeks yet, so maybe hang around for now.”
“But do you think you’d like that? If I was there with you? I love you. You know how
much I love you.”
She turned a flinch into a smile. “I love you too,” she said. “I do.”
I heard my father’s voice: keep hitting.
“We’d be happy, we’d be so happy. Far from here, away from all this bullshit.”
“Yeah. Sure we would.”
Some tears came up and I wiped them away with the back of my hand.
“Let’s just talk about this later,” she said. “You don’t need to make any decisions right
now.”

We lay together on the bed in silence. My head spun at how quickly it had ended, my
impotent plea. Sawdust in my throat, eyes prickling. Her fingers stroked my cast. Forever fixated
on the hardest part of me, the least penetrable, the most temporary. We would not speak again of
decisions.

One by one, the mourners downstairs found they could stand the awkwardness no longer.
They slid into their cars and exhaled, assured their partners they weren’t like those Pollocks, no,
that when it came to it there would be proper grief. My father’s closest friends made noise about
heading to Duffy’s where they’d honour Cal the right way. We heard a male voice raised and
then my mother’s telling it to fuck right off then. Unfettered, the Flock kicked into high gear
around the kitchen table. Sally lifted herself from my shoulder and kissed me goodnight. I moved
my hand to where she’d been and found her rose, wilted and forgotten on the pillow.

*

It was past three when someone shook me awake. My mind filled the silhouette with my
father; my heart lurched and I lifted an arm to protect myself. I blinked and it was Danny,
swaying in the darkness, jabbing his finger into my shoulder.
“Come on,” he said, and stomped out of the room.

The Flock had called it a night. The kitchen was dark. A galaxy of empties glinted in the
moonlight. Danny sat in my mother’s chair. When I came into the kitchen he stood and headed
for the door.
“Take a drive with me,” he said.
I followed him into the yard. Dew already up on the grass, the shrill thrum of crickets
from the fields. My father’s truck was tucked next to the shed. Danny tossed me the keys.
When the cab lights flicked on I saw how terrible he looked. His face puffy and red, eyes
bloodshot. He leaned his head on the window. The reek of booze and sweat. He still wore his suit
from the funeral.
“Where are we going?”
“Town.”
“What for?”
“Just drive.”

It was ten minutes into town. The glistening bodies of insects danced in the headlights
and spread their insides on the windshield. My brother, with considerable effort, straightened up,
laid his skull on the headrest.
“I never knew that story,” he said.
“Story?”
“The one you told at the funeral. Of him teaching you how to fight.”
“Oh. Yeah.”
The truck needed work. We had to speak up to hear ourselves over its effort. The lights of
other farmhouses drifted past, the peace of their rest broken by us careening through it.
“How’s your arm?”
“Broken, thanks.”
“When’s the cast off?”
“Couple more weeks.”
Danny put his head in his hands. “I ruined your whole fucking summer.”
I shrugged. “Nah.”
The shining eyes of a rabbit in front of us. I took my foot off the gas and it scampered to
safety. Danny followed its path into the darkness.
“I never wanted to be like him.”
I looked at my brother looking at the road, his face made ghostly by the dashboard light.
“You’re not,” I said.
Danny laughed. “You’re the one who got away.”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s put it this way: he never had to teach me how to fight.”
The orange lights of town came into view.
“Just make sure you do,” said Danny.
I slowed the truck as the first houses slipped past.
“Do what?”
“Get away.”

I opened my mouth to tell him about Sally, how I wanted to go with her, how to her I’d
been the meteor, bright and pretty and brief. But Danny was rolling up his sleeves, saying, “Pull
over here.”

I parked the truck and cut the engine. Ahead of us, one long stretch of yellow brick and
plate-glass storefronts under darkened apartments. Lonely streetlamps standing sentry. A few
slumbering cars next to the curb.
Danny opened the door. “I don’t know if you should get out,” he said.
“What are you doing?”
“Maybe just stay here.”
“Danny?”
“I just need to hit something.”

He hopped out. The slamming door echoed in the empty street. He fumbled in the bed of
the truck, emerged with something long and slim and shining. I turned to look and there they
were: my father’s golf clubs, the only witnesses besides a wounded oak to his absurd death.
Closest to us was a knitting store. Baskets of yarn on display, reds, oranges,
browns—autumn colours. Danny brought the club back and swung it through the window. The
glass exploded and fell to scatter on the sidewalk, nestle in the softness of the yarn. Danny leapt
back from the shattering. From inside an alarm sounded.
I froze. Danny shook his head and bounced on the spot, let out a whoop.
I opened my door. “Danny, what the fuck are you—”
He pointed the club at me. “Stay in the truck, Pete!” He pushed the door shut. “Stay in
here, goddamn it.”
He turned and went to the next storefront, the dentist’s office.
Smash!
Another alarm, another shower of twinkling glass. Danny growled and shook his left
hand. He’d been cut.
Next up, the Morningside Diner. Sally’s diner.
Smash!

The glass rained down into the window booth, where all those weeks ago I’d sat,
slamming coffee, mustering the courage to say hello.
Across the street a light flicked on in an apartment.
A car in front of the diner—the windshield took a few strokes, the side windows less.
Danny strolled across the street, the club over his shoulder like a parasol.
The pharmacy. Smash!
The sporting goods store. Smash!

More lights flicked on above us and an angry voice echoed, wondering what the heck was
going on down there. Danny’s arms were covered in his own blood.
I got out of the truck.
“Danny,” I called. “Come on, that’s enough, let’s go.”
Hardware store. Smash!
“Fuck this place!” Danny cried. “Fuck this whole shitty place and everyone in it, right?”
Down the street I saw them twirling, red and blue. The siren burped a warning and Danny
turned. A station wagon in front of him. He leapt onto the roof. Smash went the windshield. He
looked back at me.
“Get out of here, Pete! Don’t worry about me! Get out of this shithole forever!”
I climbed into the truck. The cop car bore down. I threw the truck into gear and swung it
onto the street, pointing homeward. I opened the door and called again for Danny to come, but he
shook his head and waved.
“Go!”

I closed the door and pushed the pedal to the floor. The truck screeched forward. In the
mirror, the cop car ripped to a stop next to the station wagon. Pinkley sprung out, hand on his
holster, shouting orders. I slammed the brakes. Beersma got out next, hands raised, telling Danny
to just take it easy, to put the club down.

Danny swung the club in front of him, egging them on. People were leaning out their
windows, gawking, shouting at him. Our father would say, “Sometimes the only way to win a
fight is to let the madness take over.” Danny raised his bloody arms above his head and howled
into the sky.

Pinkley drew his gun. Beersma told him to put it away for Christsake before he hurt
someone. Using the distraction, my brother leapt from the station wagon and ran up the street,
whooping, flinging the club in the air and trying to catch it like some deranged majorette.
Pinkley caught up to him and tackled him to the ground, breaking Danny’s wrist. Later, at the
station, Pinkley would write Beersma up for insubordination, and Beersma would use the
opportunity to voice his opinion of Pinkley to the Chief. In October, Beersma would be granted
an early retirement.

All of this I would learn from my mother. I didn’t see Pinkley draw his gun, or my
brother’s mad dash, or how the spectators gave a mocking cheer when Pinkley brought him
down. Didn’t see them linger in their windows to jeer as the paramedics loaded him up. Didn’t
see them slink back to bed lamenting that even with Cal in the ground they’d never be free of
those goddamn Pollocks and all their carrying on.

As the weary Beersma first climbed from the squad car, I slid the truck into reverse. My
heart roared, fingers tightened on the wheel, foot hovered over the gas. I knew what would
happen if I slammed it down. I closed my eyes and saw my father’s grinning face, heard the
distant smack of my tiny punches on his palms, in his eyes the satisfaction of knowing that with
each strike I was becoming his son.

When Beersma checked his shoulder to see where Cal Pollock’s truck was, he saw it
pulling away. He reached for his radio, hesitated, and then that dipshit Pinkley drew his gun.

About the Author: Connor Thompson is a writer and actor from Toronto. He has work published or upcoming at TL;DR Press, X-R-A-Y, and Interstellar. One time he was in a Kia commercial with Paul Anka. He can be found on twitter @cpethompson.

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