Fifty drunk teenagers in a backyard. The girls pair off by height: tall with tall; short with short.
The night is balmy, blameless. Jonah Tate, whose backyard it is, makes a ring with white masking tape.
Becky Brady stands in her corner, gloves limp at her sides. A boy whispers something in her ear and she nods slowly. She wears a striped pink tank top and her sterling silver monogram choker from Tiffany. Sometimes I wonder if that choker is the only thing weighting Becky Brady down, keeping her from drifting into space like a lost Macy’s parade balloon.
You’d think girls wouldn’t want to fight their friends. But the inverse is true. The more inseparable the girls, the more we want to punch each other’s lights out.
Example: I love Becky Brady. We’re sixteen years of friendship bracelets and passed notes and afternoon boredom in refinished neighborhood basements.
I gulp down something sweet from a red cup and let Jonah Tate slide heavy gloves on my hands. Mike from chemistry class kneads my shoulders.
Jonah Tate shouts go and we go. Me from my corner, Becky Brady from hers. She has a sweet face and has gotten kind of fat since she started taking the pill. Her middle yields like a sponge. We’re the same height, but I’m taut from soccer practice. I punch and she sort of swats back.
I land three for every one of Becky’s and after a while my arms start to ache. Becky Brady’s bangs are plastered to her forehead with sweat. She rests for a second, hands on knees.
“Pig fucker,” she pants under her breath and looks a little sad.
Becky Brady can’t hang in honors English and our teacher Mr. Jenkins knows it. One day during vocab he asked her too pointedly what “bovine” meant and eyed those Ortho Tri-Cylcen boobs of hers. I took a month of Saturday detentions for standing up and calling him a dickhead bully and then seeing myself out of the classroom. Becky just looked confused and laughed.
Becky Brady’s feet are milk-white and veiny, sliding around on the dew. Under them the grass looks blue. There’s a damp spot on her tank top, smack in the middle and spreading.
My dad always says to go half-speed when you’re facing off against someone weaker than you. That goes double in a battle of wits. And one thing you don’t do is punch a soft, dumb girl in the neck as hard as you can.
But Becky Brady suddenly connects with my jaw and maybe knocks something loose, because that’s when I punch her right in the stupid Tiffany choker. There’s a hard-soft crushing sensation that I can feel through my glove. Becky’s eyes bug out and she makes a sound like hawking a loogie and staggers to one side.
I hear a boy shout, “Yes!” and another shout, “Stop!” and a third shout, “Holy shit!” Or maybe those voices are inside of me and the boys are stunned and silent.
I watch Becky Brady stumble around for a second. The moon is so bright I can feel it like the sun.
I know I should stop. But what if I don’t? What if I shove her down, and straddle her like a lover and hit her until her nose lays flat against her face? What if I make it so her eyes can’t see and her mouth drips blood and tissue? What if it gets all over the gloves so that Jonah Tate’s got to throw them out altogether or else sneak down to the kitchen later tonight after his parents go to bed and stand hunched over the sink in the dark, scrubbing Becky Brady off of them?
Erin Somers‘ writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, One Teen Story, Gigantic, Slice, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of the 2013 Neil Shepard Fiction Prize from Green Mountains Review. She lives in Brooklyn.
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