Fighting in Public Places

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3.

Jester Mitolo Cabernet Sauvignon from McLaren Vale, South Australia.

She never loved you.  

Further down, Kaysler Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley.

She never loved you.  

In the next rack, Saltram’s Barossa Shiraz.

She never loved you.

I opted for the Kaysler.

Ten minutes to close and there were three girls and one guy queued at the checkout. I read the back of her license as she passed it to the cashier; her birth date was 1996. When I was in second year university.

…Things I didn’t want to think about. The girls had all bought pre-mixers, and the guy carried a slab of beer. He wore R.M. Williams boots; two-hundred dollar horse-riding boots that wouldn’t have seen any dirt, other than what might have been on the nature strip when he left the house to climb into the Range Rover.

The girls all wore loose tracksuit pants, Ugg boots and rugby jumpers with the colours and names of their private schools emblazoned across them. On a Saturday night.

I went to the same schools, but I don’t bear any of the marks. All my tattoos are covered, as are most of the scars – except for the couple on my face, and if my hair is long enough, you can’t see the biggest one.

I like to think that people don’t know what I am until I open my mouth and say whatever it is I want them to know me by.

The cashier had hair that was way-up-there, the kind of thick-rimmed glasses that make the wearer seem intelligent and lots of tattoos. I didn’t look at any of them specifically, but they were those little ‘Sailor Jerry’ tattoos that have come back into vogue.

‘Hi mate,’ I said, ‘Do you mind if I take this with me?’ I asked, indicating the whiskey catalogue on the counter.

‘Of course,’ he said, in an accent I would guess was Spanish. ‘It is for you to take.’

The four boys that came and stood behind me were laughing amongst themselves in that ambiguous way where you may or may not be the subject of it. I tried not to look at them.

Then I looked at them askance. Varying sizes. Sloppy, obnoxious. They were just beginning to fray; a shirt tail here, a shoelace there.

‘How’s your night, mate?’ asked the one in front.

I met his eye and said nothing. At that moment all kinds of things leapt into my head. Describing them here makes them sequential, and therefore, they appear to take up more time than they actually did. At the time, it was instantaneous, liquid, synaptic.

I was probably twice their age. I felt the pain in tendons and ligaments, elbows, knees, ankle and shoulder. Things that future surgery may or may not return to function.

Blurry eyesight from a broken bone in the right eye socket. All the fights that made me strong had accumulated over time to make me weak.

The question, ‘How’s your night, mate?’ was intended to draw me in and make me subject to their dynamic. I have to capitulate to their joke, the larger joke that has them all guffawing as a group. The joke that is youth and strength of numbers and you’re the butt of it.

He eventually caught up to me. He and his four friends; he wouldn’t have had the balls to try it on his own. Afterwards, I was in the hospital until five AM, waiting to get my face stitched shut. I emailed her photos of the injury. I never heard a thing.  

More than two decades of professional fights, not to mention hundreds of street fights with all kinds of animals, mostly idiots and occasionally cops, has added up to right now.

‘How’s your night, mate?’ was Little Alex, the other fools were his droogs and I had become the old man in the railway tunnel at the start of A Clockwork Orange.

“He doesn’t like the conversation, boys,” he said, turning away towards his audience.

“It’s not a conversation,” I replied. “A conversation requires the participation of another person. So far, you’re just talking on your own.”

“Now that’s a practiced line,” he said.

“No, that’s the sound of a brain in motion. I don’t imagine you hear a lot of it.” I reached out and tapped his wrist as he turned back to his friends. “You wanted a conversation, you’re getting one. Come here. Don’t talk to them; talk to me.”

“Don’t fucking touch me!” he said, sidling forward to the cashier, nose turned up. “Fuck off!”

“Make me,” I said, trying to find his eye. I had nothing more to say; I wanted him to look into my eyes. I saw the other three beyond him clearly. Height and distance, as well as relative position.

“Make me,” I repeated. He refused to meet my eye.

The stare-down before a fight is an essential part of the ritual. In a ring, it occurs while the referee is giving his instructions, but the fact is, those fighters know the rules like they know the patterns set into the ends of their fingers.

The referee’s instructions provide the opportunity for the combatants to look into each other’s souls. They see you, but they also see themselves. I was squashing ‘How’s your night, mate?’ between the walls of his fear and my willingness.

There was nothing to say.

“You’re done,” he said, wearing an offended and disgusted expression, fidgeting in his wallet, eyes down.

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