Matthew Hobson

Real Guts
Flash Fiction 2014 Winner, as judged by Elizabeth Stuckey-French


           My father was a lawyer and a regional Toughman Champion known in the ring as “The Power of Attorney.” I was ten years old the first time I got my ass kicked, and my father took it as an opportunity to school me in the basics of boxing—slips and dodges, parries and rolls, jabs and crosses, uppercuts and rabbit punches, roundhouses and haymakers. But, when I came home three weeks later with a plum shiner, it was clear I’d retained only the colorful words, nothing of practical import.

           “Same son of a bitch?” he asked, icing my eye with a can of Coors. “Yes, sir.”

           “You catch his name?”

           “No, sir,” I lied. “He’s older, maybe high school?”

           My father told me to get in the car. As we cruised the outlying neighborhood, he said, “Speak up if you spot him.” He didn’t say what would happen after that, and I didn’t ask. By the time he threw in the towel, the sky was purplish-yellow like a fading bruise.

           On the way home, we stopped at 7-eleven for cigarettes and Slurpees.

           At the back of the store, a tall, skinny kid was playing an arcade game. His blue letterman’s jacket read “Dan-O.” Standing beside him was a girl from school named Sandra Wagner. My eyes must have flashed fear, maybe shame, because when we got outside, my father said, “Was that him?” He probably thought I was too scared to tell him the truth. He was right, but not in the way he imagined. Sandra, not the boy, was the bully.

We waited in the car. When they exited the store, Sandra went one way and Dan-O pedaled his bike the other. Headlights off, we tailed him through a neighborhood, then onto a blind stretch where no houses faced the street. We zoomed ahead, bumped over the curb. My father intercepted Dan-O. As my father cross-examined him, Dan-O kept glancing at me in the car, shaking his head.

           The kid must have sworn he didn’t know who I was, but in my father’s mind Dan-O was a lying bully. My father motioned for me to get out. When I didn’t budge, he came to fetch me. Dan-O was cemented to the sidewalk.

           Then my father stood between us like a referee. “Go ahead,” he said.

           Go ahead? Had he offered Dan-O the first punch, or warned him not to fight back? What lesson was this? I balled my fists, braced for whatever was to come.

           “I’m. . . sorry,” Dan-O said.

           “It’s okay,” I said, trying to sound magnanimous.

           My father made us shake hands. Any guilt I felt faded before Dan-O had even reached the end of the block. We sat for a while on the hood of the car, bathing in the streetlight’s pink glow.

           My father smoked a cigarette, his arm draped over my shoulder. “Forgiving people is hard,” he said. “That took real guts.” I smiled and sipped the Slurpee. It was cold, sweet cherry.



Matthew Hobson is the winner of the 2014 Driftless Review Flash Fiction Contest as judged by Elizabeth Stuckey-French.