(approx. 12 minutes to read)
by Chris McGinty
A person could only be pushed so far, and the punch to the face proved that. Noel stumbled backward. Momentarily, he was unable to comprehend what just happened, but by the time he had his balance he knew what was going on. Nathan, the boy who punched him, stared at Noel with loathing, but he noted that he was also rubbing his hand. That hurt you more than it hurt me.
The other kids in the gymnasium stared in awe, like they didn’t know what to make of one kid hitting another. This school was filled with weaklings of mind, body, and spirit. Fights never happened. They never played dodge ball, because it was too much like bullying. There were rumours that a kid was expelled last year for cyber bullying, but most of them found that hard to believe. You just didn’t do that kind of thing. But I got you to, Nathan, didn’t I?
Noel stepped forward and pushed Nathan back on his ass. This was going to get him expelled for sure, but it might get Nathan expelled too. One could hope. He also hoped that Nathan would get up again. Pushing him to the ground felt nice, but this kid deserved so much more. Get up, you asshole.
This was on a Monday morning.
It had started months ago though. Nathan stole Noel’s bike and when Noel found out where it was, he tattled. Of course, he tattled. He wanted his bike back. Anyone would tattle in that case. It wasn’t that Nathan had taken some crayons or something from the classroom to use at home or pulled a little girl’s hair. He stole his bike. Those things were expensive, as Noel’s dad had made sure to point out many times.
It only took two hits into the fight, and some kid was already calling for a teacher. Nathan couldn’t let her interfere. Noel pushed things too far this time and so Nathan walked into the gym and punched him square in the jaw. It hurt his hand. He clearly didn’t know how to ball up his fist. Noel deserved it though. He deserved more. Nathan got up from the floor and rushed Noel. If it’s a fight you want.
Noel was ready and swung. Nathan ducked it and swung his own punch. He was pretty sure he broke a finger this time, but the way that Noel’s face felt like an old punching bag was satisfying. The fact that Noel looked briefly like the punch might have caused a concussion, even better. Noel’s daze cleared and he squared up. There would be at least one more punch in this fight. Make it a good one, asshole.
Nathan was grounded for stealing the bike, which was completely unfair. It was the first and only time he was ever grounded. He drove his parents crazy with his whining the whole time, so maybe they would think twice before grounding him again. He wanted to let the whole thing go, but he was furious that he spent three weeks confined to his room
Noel was hurt and angry now. He was also a little worried. That second punch to his face was harder than expected. Before now he didn’t think Nathan had ever been in a fight, and wouldn’t be much of a foe. That hurt bad though. He would do more than shove him on his ass this time. He would grab him by the hair and push his face into the floor of the gym. He could imagine a blood stain that would be there until they replaced the floor.
There must have been a look on Noel’s face, because Nathan moved away like he was going to run, and because of this he was unable to get another blow in before Coach Perkins got between them. She held out her arm and stopped Noel’s advance, and Nathan was already out of range.
“He’s going to get away, you witch!”
Noel felt happy, perhaps even smug, that Nathan was grounded for stealing his bike. Noel’s father had even offered up a few bucks to buy a strong lock and chain, so that it wouldn’t happen again. Everything was fine until Nathan’s brother, Axel, walked up to him one day and said, “You’re going to regret tattling as soon as Nathan is done being grounded.” The anticipation of what would happen ruined the next week of his life.
Noel could see Nathan backing away still, but as Nathan turned to run the view was obscured by Coach Perkins’s breasts. This might normally have been a nice sight, but she was going to let Nathan get away.
“What did you call me?”
Noel looked into Coach Perkins’s face. She looked mad, like she might lose her cool. Noel never expected to be afraid of a teacher getting violent, but she looked like she might shake him until his brain bled. She had him by the arms and squeezed so hard it hurt.
“He’s going to get away!”
Noel’s voice was whiny and he hated himself for sounding so weak. It wasn’t fair though. Nathan had put him through hell for so long now. He needed to know what it was like to be fearful. Nathan needed to know he could be violent. Let me by, you witch.
The day that Nathan was off restriction, Noel walked outside to play. He wasn’t even planning to ride his bike that day, but he did look at it chained to the tree and something was wrong. As he approached, he saw that both tires were cut beyond repair.
Nathan searched his gym bag, and then turned, half expecting Noel to be on him already. He’d been vaguely aware of yelling, and now he understood it. Coach Perkins held Noel by his wrists and he was flailing wildly. Coach Perkins looked like she might finish Noel off before Nathan even had a chance to get back into the fight.
“I know who he is. He’s not going to get away. Now stop fighting me!”
But Noel wasn’t going to stop. It’s not like Coach Perkins could really hurt him. Nathan couldn’t see Noel’s face, because Coach Perkins was blocking the view, but when Noel finally got one arm free, their eyes met from across the gym. Noel intended to hurt him. Ok then, come and get me.
“I cut the tires on Noel’s bike.”
It was the first day after Nathan was no longer grounded and this news made him fear another three weeks confined to his room. He pushed Axel hard.
“Why did you do that?”
Axel grabbed Nathan in a headlock. Nathan struggled. Much like every time before, it would do no good, but Axel seemed unaware that Nathan was getting stronger. Soon it wouldn’t matter that Axel was the older brother. He would no longer be the big brother.
This was all Axel’s fault. Axel stole the bike. Nathan took the punishment and didn’t say anything. Now Axel cut Noel’s tires and Nathan was sure he would take the blame for that too. Axel was going to get his one day though.
Noel could see Nathan across the gym. Noel had one of his arms free from Coach Perkins’s grip and he could see Nathan now. He wasn’t running. He was just standing by the benches, watching. Noel was just a third grader and Coach Perkins was an adult. If she wasn’t required to keep her temper, she could have knocked him out by now or pinned him to the floor. He wouldn’t be free from her grip for long and he wouldn’t have the strength to get free again.
He kicked her thigh and the hit was effective. She lost her balance and collapsed to the ground. He was free from her grip and he stood. Nathan was in his line of sight as he began his advance. He didn’t get far. He was tripped by Coach Perkins; whether accidentally or not, and he fell forward.
Noel would have let everything go after the tires. His dad got a bit crazy about the cost of buying two new tires, so he wouldn’t have his bike for a month, but things were already getting out of control. He would avoid Nathan and hope that in a month, when he got his bike back, everything would be normal.
A few days later, Axel came by again. Nathan wasn’t going to let things go. He said Noel should watch his step and if he kept his nose down there would be no more trouble. That sounded ok. It’s what Noel planned to do anyway. Then as Axel was walking away he said, “And next time your bike goes missing, you just keep your tattling mouth shut, or I’ll help my brother beat your ass.”
Nathan was surprised for the first time since this started. He knew when he started the fight that things would go poorly. He knew that he and Noel would fight until there was a clear winner, so when Noel kicked Coach Perkins it made a weird sort of sense. He knew that an adult would try to stop the fight if given the chance, but would have never expected her to sweep her leg and take Noel down.
Noel’s hands might have stopped any other fall, but his arms didn’t hold, and his face collided with the floor. As angry as Nathan was, he couldn’t help just a slight bit of sympathy. It wasn’t enough to stop him though.
Axel had a hunting knife that he used to cut Noel’s tires when all this first began. Nathan had the knife now. He told himself it was for protection, but still fantasized about using it. His sister, Monica, was in the room with him. She was sitting on the bed with her crutches beside her. She was begging him not to carry the knife, and kept apologizing, as though it was her fault. It wasn’t her fault.
Noel had heard the phrase “break your face” before. He was sure he knew what that felt like now. He could see only one thing, the floor. It was hard to raise his head. His right ear was ringing and all his left ear could hear was shouting from all around the gymnasium. One boy kept yelling, “He has a knife!”
The thing that finally caused the fight was on the Thursday before, when Noel approached Monica at school. She was in first grade and used a wheelchair when she was at school. Noel didn’t feel right about this, even on that day, but he didn’t know what to do. It was no longer about his bike. Who needs a stupid bike anyway? This was because Nathan and Axel were ready to gang up on him. He thought he could take either one in a fair fight, but he couldn’t beat both. So he walked up to Monica and told her, “Tell Nathan that if he comes near me that I will beat the shit out of you.”
Nathan lifted Noel’s head by his hair. He sliced Noel’s face.
Noel, for the first time, realized that Nathan had light bruises on his face from sometime before this fight.
The Friday before the fight, and the night after Monica told Nathan about Noel’s threat; Nathan walked into Axel’s room and told him to stand up. The fight was quick and orderly. There was no clear winner, but Axel did concede near the end. Nathan demanded that Axel admit the things he did to their parents, but only after he had a chance to deal with something at school. Axel agreed.
Nathan held the knife in Noel’s face, “My sister did nothing to you. You stay away from her. You understand?”
Noel, his face now covered in blood, could only say, “Yes,” and barely nod.
Nathan let go of Noel’s hair, threw the knife toward the benches, and walked out of the gym.
Chris McGinty is a short story writer who got into a lot of fights when he was a kid. I guess I can now claim it was all just research.