canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


The Tough Cookie 

by Salvatore Difalco

My cousin Josie comes walking down Barton Street with the glasses on her face busted and her yellow blouse ripped at the shoulder. Sheís crying so hard she canít talk, hiccoughing and such. Iím with my buddy Fat Pat and weíre headed to Mattinaís for pizza slices. Iím treating because Iíve got a few bucks left from my birthday moneyóI turned sixteen last week. Itís a nice August evening and weíre buzzing from a spliff we smoked an hour ago. Good shit, I scored it from this Portuguese dude who lives around the corner from me. He told me his uncle grows it on a farm somewhere up north. Itís good shit all right, but now weíve got the munchies big time.

"Josie, what the fuck happened to you?"

She sobs.

"Someone beat you up?" Fat Pat asks.

I elbow him in the guts. He has no sense, Fat Pat. Says whatever comes to his head. I give his red fat face a hard stare and then turn to my cousin. Josieís only thirteen, all skinny legs and arms, but sheís a real tomboy who gets into scraps all the time. I put my arm around her shoulder to comfort her while she sobs away. Fat Pat watches with his mouth hanging open. I know heís my friend, but I just want to hit him sometimes.

"Josie, okay cuz, calm down. Itís okay. Youíre okay now. Tell your cousin Roy here what happened. Go on. Take a deep breath and tell me. Who was it? Was it that cocksucker Wilf? Tell me it was him and Iíll go burn his fucking house down right now."

She shakes her head. No, not Wilf.

Not that I would burn his house down, but Iíd like to do it. Wilf Leblanc is the biggest bully in the neighbourhood. He thinks he can get away with anything. Yeah, okay, his brothers ride with Satanís Choice, but that donít bother me. My Uncle Pep hangs with Ricky Mandola, and Ricky Mandola is connected. If Wilf did hurt Josie, Uncle Pep would expect me to do something about it. He sure would. Heíd say it was only right.

"Josie. Come on. You gotta stop crying, cuz. Else how am I gonna help you?"

"She ainít talking, Roy."

"Shut your hole. Sheíll talk when sheís ready to talk. Isnít that right, honey? Here, let me try to straighten up your glasses." When I take them off her face they come apart in my hands, the lenses popping out in my palms.

"Theyíre fucked," Fat Pat says, trying to hide his smirk.

Right thereóI almost let him have it, man. Ball up my fists and tense my arms. Oh yeah, Iíve had to hit him a few times. Heís just such a fucking stooge. I mean no one will hang with him but me. No one. Especially when Fat Pat drinks, he makes me sick. I put the boots to him good one night down on the docks. Weíd been drinking straight rye, a forty-pounder, and Fat Pat almost fell into the scummy water, then he tried to push me in. Thatís when I let him have it, man. I showed no mercy. We laughed about it later, when he got out of the hospital. He broke a rib that punctured his lung, among other things. He deserved it.

Josie calms down a bit. Her eyes look funny without her glasses on; sheís one of those kids who look more normal with glasses, if that makes any sense. The lenses in my hand look like classic pop-bottle bottoms. One is cracked. The frame is shot.

"Josie, who hurt you?"

She looks at me and takes a deep breath that gets stuttered by a hiccough.

"Go on," I say. "Spit it out."

"It was Brenda."

"Brenda Haddock?"

Josie nods.

I look at Fat Pat and he shrugs. I give him a quick cuff on the cheek and he winces as if Iíve hit him with a hammer. When he winces like that I wish I did have a hammer handy. Now, as for Brenda, thereís a problem here. And Iím sure Josie understands how big that problem is. I mean, I can handle myself, no doubt. Iíve lost a few scraps, who hasnít? But I win most of the time. Just last week I kicked Ed Burgerís ass right in front of his house. And heís bigger than me, much bigger. He called me a wop from his verandah. Thatís right. And then he came off the verandah pounding his fist in his hand like he planned to punch me out. Well, I punched him out. So Iím no pussy. I donít back down from anyone. But Brenda knows judo.

"Hey," Fat Pat says. "Didnít Brenda kick your ass once?"

I stare at him and point my finger in his face. "She did not kick my ass, you fat fucker. She did not kick my ass. They broke up the fight. They broke it up before it was finished, okay? Before it was finished."

"But she had you in a headlock when they broke it up. Your nose was bleeding too, eh?"

Josie nods, for she had been witness. "Yeah, she gave it to you good, Roy." She turns to Fat Pat. "Itís all right. Iíll be all right. What are you gonna do? Brendaís tough. Sheís a tough cookie. She can kick both your asses. And I donít know, maybe I deserved the beating. Maybe I should have just steered clear of her, know what Iím saying?"

"Josie, look. I gotta do something. I just gotta do something or your old man will think Iím a fucking pussy and a wilt. And if he finds out it was a girlóyou gotta keep it hush, Josie. Donít say anything to him. Tell him you fell or something."

Josie squints and shakes her head vehemently. "I ainít gonna lie to my Pop. No way. Donít worry about it. Fairís fair. I messed up. Took my shots. Now Iím going home."

I donít want her to go yet. This thing has to be resolved now. But she takes the pieces of her glasses from my hands and walks away without looking back.

For a few minutes Fat Pat and I just stand there.

"Yeah," he says. "Just leave it alone."

"I canít. Sheís gonna tell my Uncle Pep and heíll think Iím a pussy."

"But Brenda will kick your ass."

I say nothing.

We walk to Mattinaís Pizzeria. Fat Pat downs three pepperoni slices but I have trouble eating one. I know where Brenda hangs out. After I finish my pizza I tell Fat Pat he doesnít have to come with me if he doesnít want to.

"Iíll come."

"Yeah? She hangs out at Eastwood Park with those glue-sniffers from Marina Towers."

"Theyíre nothing. I can kill them."

"Donít talk big, Fat Pat. Donít talk big at all. Theyíre fucked up. Someone told me they carry knives."

Fat Pat digs into his pants and pulls out a decent-sized blade. "If those assholes want to cha-cha with me, Iím ready."

"Put that away, you stupid fuck. Get serious. They hang out by the monkey bars. Weíll walk right up to them. Iíll walk right up to her and hit her so fast she wonít see it coming. You just keep six on those dudes. If they jump in, do what you gotta do."

"You better connect, man, or sheíll fuck us up."

"Donít you worry about it."

So we walk down to Eastwood Park. My legs are shaking. Thereís so much on the line. If I donít do this thing, what will Uncle Pep think of me? And if Brenda kicks my ass? I will not be able to live it down. I wonít be able to walk around my own neighbourhood. As we near the monkey bars I see several figures standing in the shadows, swaying, laughing. Brendaís probably telling those glue-heads how she kicked my cousinís ass. I can make her out from the others, bigger, smoother, moving from foot to foot like a boxer or dancer, shrugging her big shoulders like an athlete. Fat Pat glances at me, his lips twitching. Brendaís silhouette suddenly freezes.

I stop. Fat Pat continues for a few paces, then he stops and turns.

"Come on," he says.

When I think of what I have to do and the risks involved, I hesitate. I recall Brendaís powerful headlock with a wince. Fat Pat hit the nail on the head: I was lucky they broke it up when they did. I feel like a chicken. Then I picture Uncle Pep in his brown fedora with the little feather, looking at me sadly with his grainy brown eyes. What would he think of his nephew the chicken right now? But the fear of getting my ass kicked by Brendaónot the fear of pain but the fear of embarrassmentóparalyzes me. I find my feet rooted to the ground, to the soft August grass under them. Above me the stars twinkle and the universe goes on without concern for my situation, but I am concerned, very concerned.

Brenda starts for us, swinging her arms in a leisurely way, followed by the loping shadows of her consorts. Her mannish face comes into view, smirking, jaws clenching, her broad shoulders swaying, her shaved head sitting on a short thick neck like a big lightbulb. She wears a blue flannel work-shirt and denim overalls, and only the swell of her enormous breasts gives away her gender. Fat Pat retreats to a position first beside, then behind me.

"What brings you boys here?í she asks, kicking the turf with her steel-toed boot.

My mouth feels glued shut and when I do manage to open it nothing comes out of it but clucking sounds. I clear my throat and try again. "Hi, Brenda."

The two glue-sniffers ease up beside her; I donít know their names. With their long black spaghetti hair and pointy, crusted faces they look like witches. Theyíre huffing as we speak, their plastic bags expanding and collapsing like strange balloons.

Brenda smiles, waits for me to speak.

"Youóyou busted Josieís glasses," I blurt.

"She disrespected me, Roy. Had to teach her a little lesson. Sheís a tough little chicky your cousin, give her that. Didnít back down, uh-uh. She has some pepper, bro. Took it easy on her, to tell you the truth, because she reminds me of myself when I was her age. You should sign her up for judo lessons."

"Well, you busted her glasses."

"Yeah, so? What are you saying, Roy?"

"Iím just saying, you busted her glasses."

Brendaís smile disappears. "Hey, Roy, did you come here to do something? Like collect for the glasses or something?"

I say nothing. She comes so close to me I can smell her breath; sheís been drinking. I can also smell something else coming off her, something female, strong, almost pungent. I glance at the glue-sniffers. Theyíre just huffing away, thatís their thing. God only knows what Brendaís thing is with them. I wonder what Fat Pat is doing but I donít turn around in case Brenda swings first.

"So, Roy," she says in a low voice, inching ever closer to me, so close her breasts touch my chest and I feel the heat of her body. "Roy, you wanna get it on, bro? You wanna finish up things, me and you? Come on." She licks her lips and sways a little.

Now her breasts push against me, firm, full breasts, barely giving as they nudge me back on my heels. She slowly swings her hips close to mine and a warm surge tingles into my groin and up into my stomach, setting off a humming, ticklish buzz that makes me short of breath and unsteady on my feet. I can feel the boozy heat of her breath on my face, and her wet lips getting closer and closer. I look into her eyes, green, feline, piercing mine, stopping my breath. And then the most fucked up thing happens: I pop a hard-on, stiff as a hockey stick.

"Roy," she says right into my ear, hot and breathy, rolling the r and stretching out the name with her mouth like a long wet kiss. "Come on. Revenge your cousin, Roy. Be a man. Sheís your little cousin, Roy, and I kicked her ass, I kicked her ass and I busted her glasses. I fucked her up. Come on. Do me, Roy. Do me, now. I want you to do me now, Roy."

And with my face burning, and my stomach full of bees I feel like Iím hanging from a cliff edge, my fingers tiring. The sky above me, glittering with stars, offers no solution, no relief. Iím alone with my affliction, weakened by it, taunted, and feel the night constricting me, squeezing me down like a giant, jeweled boa.

"Whatís the matter, Roy? Cat got your tongue?" She curls her own tongue and slides it along her lower lip.

My hands start moving of their own accord, coming together in a quiet clap at my chest then falling to my sides. I want to cover up the thing, slap my hands over it, and cringe and pray it goes away, but that would only draw attention to it.

But Brenda knows.

Glancing at my crotch, she smiles. She knows. She knows. Her nostrils widen and she takes a deep breath of air. Then her mouth opens wide and hard black laughter shoots out of it like cannon balls: boom, boom, boom. They come at me in slow motion, catching me in the knees, the belly, the heart. And her boys laugh in the shadows through their plastic bags, like they know, like they know, those rat bastards. I turn around and walk quickly, everything a blur. I walk for the street as fast as I can. I donít want to start running yet. But I will run when I hit the street. Iíll run all the way home. Fuck Brenda. Fuck Josie. Fuck everyone. Fat Pat catches up to me, huffing and puffing.

"Roy, slow down, man. I canít . . . I canít keep up with you. Roy!"

I stop and face him. "What the fuck do you want?"

"What . . . what happened back there? What happened, Roy?"

What happened? What happened? I turn around and start walking again, faster, faster.

Fat Pat follows, grabs my arm and swings me around. I stumble and hit the ground. I lie there stunned for a time, my hard-on aching. A dog is barking in the park. Fat Pat looms over me with his mouth open. I think I hear distant laughter. Flat on my back I look up at the audience of stars, quiet enough but winking and blinking like they know, too.


Salvatore Difalco resides in Niagara Falls ON. Anvil Press will soon release his collection, Black Rabbit & Other Stories (2007). He will also appear in Particle & Wave: A Mansfield Omnibus of Electromagnetic Fiction.

 

 

 

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TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

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