This is when it happened – having just gotten a drink, in the middle of the school day, middle of the church service, mid-commute. In the middle of nothing. A gaze held too long, staring, leering, vulgar comments given like offerings, leading to the reach across – barstools, pews, lunch table, picnic bench. Ball volleyed across net, a backhand: open palm, back of his fingers, elbow-snap and flick of the wrist to the top of the head. “In the name of the Father…”

He came to. Had to peel himself off the sticky linoleum of his grandmother’s kitchen. Cat hair and Karo Syrup footprinted and adhesed to the vinyl tiles and now certainly on the back of his Slayer t-shirt, moth-eaten in the armpits. His vision fuzzed. Motherfucker had hit him solid. Under the left ear? In the temple? Square in the nose?

They were in the kitchen, or maybe a bar. A school? A church? They were in a church, drinking and praying. In a bar, asking God for forgiveness, confessing their sins of the last week and asking for strength for the coming. They were in school, hands over hearts.

What had the fight been over? His little brother was a little shit. Always sucker punching him. He rubbed his head and laid back down on the taffy soft tiles, just stayed there staring up at the popcorn ceiling, yellowed from years of Marlboro Reds creating their own weather system, cumulonimbus and see-through, low-level fog painting everyone’s lungs black and sticky sweet with tar, every cigarette a minute of conversation, of being told what to do and when to do it. Grandma choking them down a pack at a time and walking around the house with a tumbler of room-temperature gin, as if the cup was a leash she was tethered to, leading her room to room in search of a lighter, a TV Guide, her purse full of clipped out coupons, working her rosary one bead at a time.

It was her that was about the Cross. About Jesus. About earning It. But what did he and his brother know about that? Back-head slaps, cheek-pinches, ear-twists, head dead ahead before the wafer found its way to tongue? A bucket of beers and a woven basket of beer nuts, it was all the same, wasn’t it.

Blessings given, honoring all fathers, all sons. Allegiances pledged. To country, to holy spirit. To eight-hour workdays, no-hitters and stolen bases. For every action an equal and opposite reaction; for every shot there is a chaser; to every turn there is a season. For every “Amen” called, an “Amen” responded. Forever and ever.

Goddamn his head hurt. Hail Mary.


Aaron Burch is the author of the memoir/literary analysis Stephen King’s The Body, and the short story collection Backswing. He is also the Founding Editor of HOBART. He lives in Ann Arbor.

Blake Kimzey‘s fiction has been published by VICE, Tin House, Best Small Fictions, and McSweeney’s. He is the Director of Writing Workshops Dallas and has an MFA from UC-Irvine.