Art Pact 233 - Duel


"No offence," I told Donnie, "but you couldn't win a fist-fight with toddler."

He stared at me, shaking his head.

"I.. what's going through your head?"

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, where's the part of your brain that imagined me having a fist-fight with a child? That's just sick. Ridiculous and sick. You"--he poked me in the chest with a finger--"are ridiculous. You're sick. You have a sickness."

I gave him a second of silence.

"Are you finished?"

He nodded.

"Well," I continued, "the part of my brain that's doing the imagining isn't imagining you fighting a toddler mano-a-mano. It's imagining the aftermath of that little encounter - which is to say, you lying supine on a nursery floor while a three-year-old girl stands with one foot one your chest, with her arms like this." I shook both fists out in a triumphant gesture. "That is ridiculous, I grant you. But it's also quite plausible, and I don't think the ridicule is flowing the way you think it is. I think I'm the producer of ridicule, and you're the subject. I think the ridicule is about you, and there is a big audience watching, and they're clapping."

"Clapping?"

"Yes, they're clapping. They're not clapping you, though, don't get that idea in your head. They're clapping the high production values of the ridicule, and the way that it seems so real. I think people that wrote the dialogue for this ridicule have achieved a touchstone in realism. I wouldn't be surprised if they were put up for some kind of award for screenplay writing." I nodded, and gathered up my pens.

Donnie kicked savagely at the foot of the desk next to him. When I stood up to go I could see that his right arm was still under the folded loop of coat. What I hadn't noticed before was that the other end of the coat was trapped underneath the front-left leg of his chair. I thought about saying something to him, but a malicious spirit came over me. I nodded towards the door, took a few steps, then turned back just in time to see him try to get up, strangle his hand between the trapped fabric and his own leg, then tumble sideways before catching himself awkwardly. He dropped his bundle, the papers spilling out all over the floor.

"Fuck nuggets," he said, and as he turned away I let myself laugh silently. He scrabbled around, collecting his belongings. When he'd gathered everything together and freed his trapped clothing from beneath the chair, he followed me moodily to the door. I'd just grabbed the handle when I felt his hand on my shoulder.

"What?"

"Wait a minute," he told me.

"Wait for what? We'll be late for the next session."

"Just... just wait. Listen to me for once."

I rolled my eyes, then turned back to face him.

"Ugh. Fine. What?"

"Fight me."

"What?"

"Fight me. If you think I'm so easy to beat, why don't you fight me and prove it?"

"I'm sorry, have you gone mad or something? You're already looking forward to one major beating later on today, are you thinking that somehow if you're already beaten up you're going to go all the way round and come back uninjured? Because that's not how it works."

"I'm not going to get a beating," he told me.

"Oh, no, of course not. He's just going to give you a little light massage, maybe rub some oil into your feet. You are going to get the beating of your life, the worst beating you've ever had. Possibly the worst beating you ever will have, unless he's learnt some self-restraint during the last two weeks and I haven't heard about it."

Donnie looked at me blankly.

"What I mean is," I said slowly, "that there's a slight chance you might die."

"I'm not going to die," he said huffily. "I don't die."

"Yeah of course, like everyone else makes a habit of it. Of course you're going to die. Someday. And that someday could be today, if the rest of us have played our cards right. Sorry," I added, struck with a sudden burst of remorse. "That was a shitty thing to say."

Donnie didn't answer. Or rather he did, but his answer was less verbal and more in the form of a fist swinging towards my face.

I'd like to say that it took me by surprise, but it really didn't. I've seen people telegraph their attacks in fights before, but Donnie's was the first punch that I was notified about via a handwritten letter. If there had been any chance that it would have hurt me I would still have had time to compose my will, call my parents, and change into more comfortable clothing before having to dodge it. As it was there was no need, because all I had to do was put up a hand, catch his wrist as it came towards me, and divert it into the doorframe. It must have hit with all the impact of a mosquito colliding with a goose-down pillow, but it was enough to cause Donnie to yell out as though I'd broken his spine.

"What the hell?" I asked him. "You see? This is what I'm talking about!"

His other hand swung at me, and this time I had to turn slightly to take it on the shoulder, not having a hand free (between his wrist and my pencil-case) to stop him. The punch bounced off me, leaving a mild stinging sensation. If anything, it looked as though I had over-estimated his ability to fight. He couldn't have KO'd a mouse with that punch.

"Cut it out, you moron."

He reared back, took another swing. I could see quite plainly that he had his thumb tucked into his fingers, and that tipped the balance. I let go of the hand I was holding, stepped around the incoming punch, and pushed him against the door.

"I won't do it," I said.

"Won't do what? What are you talking about, you fucker!" He tried to kick back at me, but I barred his legs with one of my own.

"I'm not going to beat you up so that you can avoid the duel. You got yourself into this, you can get yourself out of it."

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