Fiction – Winner

Marcus, by Nancy Freund

I do not believe in physical conflict, and I never did. A man my size, a man my shade — some say I’d have the unfair advantage. Even when I was a little boy, before I towered over anybody, I guess there was something in my eyes they didn’t see, but sensed. This should be nobody’s business, but well, people talk. Chris got our mama’s good looks, and I’m the one who didn’t. Even in grammar school, the whites of my eyes were yellowish, which maybe grants extra power in a fist. But what does a person’s eyes have to do with his hands? I didn’t talk much – same as now – so there was nothing threatening I said. People just thought what they thought, and they told it to each other. But I was and I am opposed to physical aggression. Though sometimes a person’s called on to do something he opposes. That kind of conflict eats a man up, no matter his size or shape. Though you don’t often get long to consider it.

I did knock my brother flat one day. I was nine, which made him ten. People found out. But that was later so could have no bearing on what anyone said when I was little. I only did it because he told our mother (in front of her new boyfriend – pretty new, anyway), that her ass was fat, and we were not allowed to use that particular word in that context. Lord Jesus does not approve of that word unless you’re speaking of a mule.

He came to, about a minute later, and Virgil, the boyfriend, was never nicer to our mama than once the yelling all got done. I agreed with them all – l’d made a mistake using my fist. It was a disproportionate response to an inappropriate word choice (even if it was also fucked up what he said – she did like her angel food cake, though not today, she doesn’t, not any more, since she got the sugar diabetes). But I was already bigger than them all, almost even Virgil, and I should have used my words to express myself and not my fist. I said out loud that I was sorry.

Still, I like to think that day I was a peacemaker. Ultimately, I mean. Virgil bought our mom a bracelet. It’s true, it’s kind-of nice thinking back on that.

She still wears it too, even if he never did propose marriage like she wanted, and even if Virgil was discovered at the drive-in movie in the back of a station wagon where he didn’t belong. But Mama never said who was back there not watching the movie with him, though I’m pretty sure he wasn’t alone. She even refused to tell us who delivered the bad news on the telephone. The movie was Jaws, and you can’t tell me anyone would be not watching that movie Jaws in the back of their car unless there was something extremely interesting going on in the Oldsmobile. Maybe she was afraid my fist would disproportionately connect with somebody’s cheekbone, some brazen woman’s cheekbone, if I knew who deserved it. Lord knows my fist wanted to connect with Virgil, even if most of the time he had been a decent fellow up till then, and everyone says boys do better with a man in their house. At the point that he was not-watching Jaws, I was thirteen. Filling out side to side as much as I was tall.

But I had learned my lesson that day with Chris, knocking him out when I only meant to knock some sense into him. I have never hit a person again, other than on the football field, unless, you know, there was something extraordinary. Sometimes it’s not so easy to know what is and is not extraordinary.

I’m in college now, playing ball, and I do appreciate the opportunity. You know they pay for tutoring in any subject I take. Athletes need their grades, and I take advantage of all they offer – even if I started sharp and never needed what a lot of guys need.

But I see the way people look at me. Even when I hunker down and small myself, people see me coming – how can they not? They cross the street to give me room. My English tutor’s a smart little blondie, and people see us together and they laugh out loud at the sight of us, or else they stare, confused. Like how can the two of us both be human beings there on the sidewalk, plain as day, big and small like we are. Maybe she wants to save me, some guys say that, though I don’t know from what.

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