Fighting in Public Places

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Final

I don’t believe in threats. A threat is specific, and knowable. It comes from you, and it’s contained and bordered by words. Fear, however, is personal. It’s amorphous and endless. Like a gas, it expands to fill a space.

“You’re done! You’re done!” said the others.

“I’m done when I say I’m done,” I replied, trying to find his eye.

Real humiliation requires two defeats. The first is psychological, and the second is physical. The first conjures the reality and the second nails them to it.

“Good on you,” he said, finally looking up as if he’d found something he was looking for among the tram tickets and ATM receipts. “Picking a fight with twenty-one-year-olds.”

“Why would I pick a fight with you?” I asked. “There’s four of you and one of me.”

I was well aware that the numbers would work in my favour, but I’d have to antagonize them into attacking me in order to get away with it.

There were video cameras all over the store, and while they wouldn’t record the conversation, they would record the numbers – four against one. There was also the fact these idiots had been drinking.

I leaned closer, but ‘How’s your night, mate?’ kept his eyes down. The light in the store was like a perfect midday; no shadows anywhere. I felt like I was falling down an elevator shaft and cresting a hill in a Rally car at exactly the same time.

The cashier turned the white disc of his face from one of us to the other. “Come on guys…”

“Goodnight, mate,” I said, then turned and left the store.

Once I was outside, I looked at my bright yellow coupe and thought, ‘If anyone came outside of their house because of the noise, they’d easily be able to describe that car to the police.’

The street and the car park beside the store were bathed in light. I’d have to lure them away, further into the suburb.

I got in my car and did a slow, sweeping U-Turn. ‘How’s your night?’ came outside into the street, excited, looking one way and then the other. I wound down the window and said,

“Goodnight, Dickhead,” before I drove away.

 ***

When I got home, my eyes were caffeine-wide and my hands opened and closed compulsively, like I was trying to find something to hold. I got a shot of vodka from the freezer to try and rinse the adrenalin out of my mouth and then put on some music.

Something loud, fast and heavy filled the room like a piston fills a cylinder. After the last cymbal decayed, it left behind it a keening silence that was full of something; something that was reverberant against the glass and ran in rivulets down the plaster walls.

It was the sound of the outer shell of that small, private universe grating against the something greater beyond it.

That reverberant silence takes on a volume and intensity of the kind a child hears when it cups a hand over its ear and believes it’s listening to the ocean.

As an adult, you know better. You come to recognize that sound as the rush and susurration of your own blood.

A missed call from Monkey, and a text: Are you home?

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