Face So Mild
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Hunt used to bust Jeff’s ear raw with his fist. I watched him do it. I watched him bring that clenched thing down, sledging the lobe against his skull until blood made spray his face and shoulder blades. This was all some years back in high school. Incarnate Word—where the nuns hid their beyond-burgeoned bodies in loose-fitting habits, and their cheeks filled flush when the students muttered fuck. Hunt would strike him every day at lunch, but Jeff didn’t mind it. He’d sit smirking on the lowest bleacher in the gymnasium, and I’d collect the dollar bills that folks would pay to see. Jeff couldn’t feel much. He’d a name for the condition, but at last it escapes me. He could take most brutal aggressions in stride. You could kick him in the balls while he lit a cigarette smiling. “I felt it,” he’d say exhaling smoke, “but it didn’t faze me.” We’d take in a killing on the show Monday through Thursday, and, come Friday, we’d skip out toward North Padre Island and catch the ferry to Port Aransas where we’d sip beers at the Sea Drift and look for trouble to find us.
On those Friday afternoons Hunt and Jeff would run amok. Jeff didn’t hold ills against Hunt for the bludgeonings, but after imbibing he’d find it funny to chuck fists against Hunt’s shoulder and ribs, and they’d go to tussling, and once Jeff, who was broader than Hunt by some inches, pitched Hunt off the port side of the ferry toward Turtle Cove as we made our drunk way home, and we spent the night in Nueces County Jail in drenched clothes because Jeff had jumped in after Hunt, and I had jumped in after both of them, and we were soaked when the cops showed. We got cited with public intoxication and disorderly conduct, and some months later we worked off community service hours at Sea Side Cemetery digging and dirting the graves, and I’ve got a picture somewhere of me doing a handstand aside an open grave with Hunt and Jeff leaned against shovels on either side of me grinning.
Hunt and Jeff and I distanced after high school. Hunt’s a millionaire’s son and he went up to A&M College Station and studied business or marketing and went into real estate and I hear he makes a killing. I stayed at the A&M in town and studied art appreciation for three semesters before I realized I didn’t appreciate much, dropped all my classes and got a job tending bar at a place downtown I’d rather not mention by name. Jeff got work on a deep-sea boat grabbing fish for amateurs and clubbing sharks to death. It’s one of those vomit-cruise catamarans, where thirty some odd tourists pay to be bobbed out deep, and they sit single file on either the port or starboard side facing the gulf with a short pole between their knees and a bowl of chopped mullet by their feet, and they drop their lines until they hit the floor, or until their bait gets gotten, and then they reel up whatever it is they’ve lucked into, but they’re not allowed to unhook the fish, it’s a liability, the boat’s always tossing, there’s fear they’d catch their fingers on the hooks, so they holler to Jeff, that’s his job, he couldn’t feel it if he set a hook to his bone, and he comes running down to pull off their snappers, or beat dead their sharks, and he hauls the fish aboard, holds them for the fishermen to see, and tags them and drops them in a live well to be redistributed once the boat makes shore. It’s not a romantic occupation, but he claims it pays well. He says they make good tips, because they sell beer, and those who go out and catch both buzz and fish are prone to be generous.
“The worst part’s not beating the sharks by a long shot,” he told me. “That’s fun,” he said smiling. “The problem is seasickness is infections. One of those fucks goes green and the whole tour turns. Thirty some odd losers loafing up on the decks. It stinks unimaginable. The dead bait and vomit and diesel fumes off the engines. You get back and have to hose everything down. The puke and dropped bait gathers like a raft being pushed toward the stern, and it clumps like some dirty dune, and splashes to the bay like a turd toward a toilet.” He told me he could get me on a cruise if ever I wanted some years back, but I can’t take him up on the offer.
Recently I’ve been watching a lot of videos. I’m not sure what’s into me. I’ve had internet in my house for years, but recently I’ve been looking at things. Things maybe I shouldn’t mention. I’ve liked girls all my life, but I’ve always been shy on them. I didn’t take a date to prom even. I just went by myself real casual, though there were girls who would’ve gone with me, had only I asked. I’m not much in conversation with them, but I do like their form. Sometimes I’ll wear my sunglasses to the shopping mall, and I’ll watch them as I’m passing, and they can’t see my eyes. I like when they slide the clothes hangers as they’re browsing or when they sip soda through straws. There’s a lady at work I’ll have drinks with on Sundays when we close early, but there’s a difference with her because I’m not sure she likes men. But lately the videos have been different. Not women, not girls. Not sex or sexual nature.
I found this site that shows fist fights. It’s all videos that high school kids take on their cell phones. They’re never high quality, and most aren’t even a minute long. Sometimes they’re on trampolines, and sometimes they’re in bathroom stalls, and sometimes they’re in fields of grass, and there’s one that’s in a gym. It’s only twenty seconds. I watch it when I’m able. A lanky kid walks up to a broad shouldered guy real casual and sends a fist to his face. The punched kid just takes it. His face so mild. It’s as though he’s receiving a blessing. I wonder if he has the same condition Jeff does? I wonder if he feels a thing?
Sometimes for no reason I’ll drive out toward North Padre and catch the ferry back and forth and stand at the spot along the guard rail where we all three went over, and I’ll sort of smile there remembering. I miss a hunk of that time we had. Sometimes I even think about letting myself slip just to recreate it. Letting myself go face first down against the salt water. I know I could still do it, so long as someone went before me. But I was never much for leading. I was always scared of throwing a fist at the moment. I was always stuck worrying about how bad it would sting.