excerpt from “Bad-Asses”
By Mark Leidner - Jul 2, 2018
The following excerpt is from “Bad-Asses,” the first story in UNDER THE SEA, Mark Leidner’s new book of fiction, available now from Tyrant Books.
I was lying on the couch watching a cartoon about ants on TV when there was a loud-ass knock. Rawls walked out the kitchen with the butter knife he’d been packing dimes with. He looked at me like I knew who it was. Whoever it was knocked again and he frowned and went to the door. For a second I went back to watching the ants killing a caterpillar in a swarm, but I could tell by Rawls’ silence that something was wrong. I got up and walked to the window. Casey Bentley was out in the yard in his jersey like he’d just come from practice.
“The fuck do you want?” Rawls shouted at him.
“You,” Casey said, “to come the fuck outside. I ain’t tryna beat your ass in your own house.”
A couple of Casey’s friends were in our driveway. I knew they wouldn’t jump Rawls because he was friends with them too. Everybody in Oak Park was friends with Rawls… except Casey. They’d hated each other since day one.
“Get the fuck outta my yard before I do come on down there,” Rawls said.
Casey Bentley’s glare broke into a smirk. “Heard you was up at school the other day.” He glanced at his boys. “Thought you’d dropped out.”
That was their cue to laugh, and they did, even the ones who had also dropped out.
I pressed my cheek to the window screen to see Rawls’ reply. He was giving Casey the same go to hell look he gave Daddy when Daddy was wasted, which he always was, which is why Rawls always had that look on his face.
Rawls’d quit school because Daddy couldn’t work and Momma was gone and somebody had to buy groceries. He worked nights at the fertilizer plant and sold weed on the side. Casey was still in school, supposedly to play football, but everybody knew it was more about them amphetamines. As long as we made the playoffs, which we did every year, nobody cared that Casey had a monopoly in the form of tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade. I figured he must’ve heard Rawls had been swinging by the school to sell dime-bags to band kids while Casey was hitting the tackling dummies at practice.
“You think you’re a bad-ass, Casey,” Rawls said, pointing the butter knife at him, “but you ain’t shit.” He looked at the others. “I got bills to pay. That’s why I dropped out.” Then he looked back at Casey and said, “And I gotta pay em however I can.”
“You ain’t the only one struggling, mother-fucker,” Casey spat. He pointed at the gathering crowd, which now included nosy-ass Keisha and Amy smoking by the road. “We all got ends to make. But I done told you too many times, school’s mine.”
Rawls held up a tiny blue ziplock full of weed. “It ain’t nothing but green, man,” he said. “It’s fucking gas money.”
“Don’t care. I cut you a break, I gotta make exceptions everywhere.”
“Go the fuck home,” Rawls told him. “Before I pull that jersey over your head and whoop your fat ass.”
There were some oohs from the driveway. Casey lowered his eyes. Now some old people with barefoot kids had walked up, one in just a diaper. I got scared. It felt like folks wanted to see something go down. I guess everybody had been waiting for Casey and Rawls to hash it out for good. My brother was a bad-ass, but Casey was big, and their history was long, and I was afraid of what they would do to each other if it went to war.
Casey had taken a step forward, and I thought it was on, but then our phone rang. Rawls and I turned to look back in the kitchen. He’d have to answer it, and that would defuse it. But then he just let it ring.
“Better get it,” Casey said, wiping sweat off his face. “Might be your crackhead-ass momma looking for money.”
Casey smiled at the driveway boys and they all laughed again.
Rawls looked like a statue now.
“Rawls, don’t,” I whispered. “Daddy’ll be home soon.”
Casey looked at me through the screen. “Daddy’ll be home soon!” he mocked, his voice even squeakier than mine. Then everyone in the whole yard laughed. Casey pointed at me: “After I beat your brother’s ass, I’m gonna come inside and make you make me a sandwich. Then when your daddy gets home I’m gonna beat his ass too, and then me and you gonna play pattycake.”
More whoops of laughter. I was so humiliated that I didn’t realize Rawls had jumped off the porch.
Casey was caught off-guard, and Rawls got in a ton of quick licks, bloodying Casey’s face right up. Hell, I felt bad for Casey for a second, but then he flipped Rawls over and slung him like a rag doll. Rawls was small but it was a shock to see him bounce across the dirt like a toy like that. Rawls got back up and they circled each other, Casey towering over him.
A feeling of dread spread out from my stomach. I left the window for the door to see better. By the time I got there, Casey had Rawls in a headlock. Rawls was gut-punching Casey, but Casey was too fat, plus he was cutting off Rawls’ circulation and working his face. They spun and kicked up dust and I caught a glimpse of Rawls’ open mouth and eyes covered in black blood, helpless.
I ran to the kitchen and took the butcher knife out of the drawer. I put it behind my back and ran back to the porch. The crowd had grown, and everybody was chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Casey let Rawls out of the headlock as a trick, because when Rawls tried to run, Casey tripped him. Rawls fell. Then Casey dropped a knee into his back. Rawls screamed. The knife handle was slippery in my sweaty hand. Rawls clawed backward at Casey, but Casey rolled him over, then reared back and slugged him. Rawls’ neck flopped like rubber. I screamed for them to stop, but no one heard me. Casey slugged my brother again, and this time I jumped off the porch and, after a hop-skip to get where they were, I swung the knife down into the big white number on the back of Casey Bentley’s practice jersey. I must have closed my eyes though, because I don’t remember seeing anything. I just remember shouting, and then being knocked silly across the yard, and then my mouth full of dirt and blood. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the sky with Casey’s fat face filling it up. He yanked me off the ground, ripping the neck of my shirt, and I heard Keisha screeching above everybody, “What the fuck did you do, April!?”
Rawls was still on his belly, cheek covered by a blanket of blood. The knife was sticking out of his back. I’d accidentally stabbed my own brother. My first thought was that Rawls was dead, and in my mind, my whole world ripped apart. I felt like the horrible dark destiny of my life had finally come to pass. Because he wasn’t moving or saying anything. I’d killed my own brother. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think of anything but the weight of everything, and it nearly broke me in half. Then I saw him move, and groan, and it felt like light from the heavens. Everything wasn’t fucked, I thought. Maybe it would be okay.
Casey was looking at the knife in Rawls’ side. Then he looked at me and shouted, “You coulda killed somebody, you dumb bitch!”
He squatted and pulled the knife out of Rawls, almost like a doctor. Rawls writhed and coughed. I ran to him, but before I got there Casey grabbed me by the shirt again and shook the knife in my face. “That’s fucking murder, bitch! If he dies.”
Staring into Casey’s big, dumb eyes, I was paralyzed, mostly because he was right. He waved the knife at our trailer. “What you waiting for? Call a fuckin ambulance!”
I ignored him and ran to Rawls’ side apologizing a million times. I put my hand over the wound, then stopped, not knowing if I shouldn’t touch it or what. The blood was trickling out, mingling with the dirt and making mud. “Rawls!” I screamed.
He blinked at me between busted eyelids and lips and said, “Call 911. I got this.”
He grabbed his side and rolled onto it and curled up like a baby.
I ran inside faster than I’d ever run in my goddamn life and grabbed the phone with his blood on my hand. The last thing I remember seeing and hearing before the operator picked up was Casey grinning like a maniac and pointing at our trailer with the butcher knife and saying, “That bitch is crazy!”
Summer passed and Oak Park went back to normal, but I changed dramatically. I was hanging out with different people, and had formed a fast friendship with a girl named Sasha Shaw. Sasha had big eyes and big boobs and round white teeth and any boy she even looked at got hypnotized. She lived a county over, but she worked at our Applebee’s so she crashed with us a lot. Her and Rawls almost had a thing but Rawls was so quiet and distant after the fight with Casey that he never went for anything like he used to, and he had quit partying. Daddy finally lost his job for real, and so except for his government checks, what Rawls got from watching the fertilizer plant at night was our only money. After Sasha came onto him and he didn’t do shit, I asked him why because she’d asked me to ask him, and he told me that he didn’t want anything to do with any young-ass girls, though that had never stopped him before. I had also started partying and smoking weed and doing coke and X and me and Sasha had shot up a couple times, but we never did meth. Casey got kicked off the football team and then dropped out with only a semester and a half left to graduate. He was around Oak Park a lot more, but he and Rawls kept a wide berth. Rawls had had to put his emergency room visit on a credit card, which by the way I didn’t even know he’d had, so I had tried to find a job to help him pay it off, considering I had stabbed him, but the Baskin-Robbins was the only place in town that would hire me, and I quit after three days because my boss was a fake-ass Christian who liked to stand behind me and rub himself on me pretending it was just the tight space between the wall and the freezer. Plus it was only five bucks an hour and I spent almost everything I made on the cigarettes it took to get me through a shift. I also hated all the rich-ass church bitches who were the only people who ever came in there. One of them tried to get me to come to some revival. He was kinda cute, too, but I couldn’t even picture myself holding hands and singing songs and shit like that without busting out laughing. By day two of Baskin-Robbins, I had probably the first actual idea of my life. I realized I could make more money in half an hour selling weed than I got in a week scooping ice cream, so that’s what me and Sasha started doing. There was this cool dude named Reggie who had a Cadillac and sold weed on the other side of town who worked with Sasha at Applebee’s. Sasha would hook up with him occasionally in exchange for a discount quarter-pound, so we sold it in Oak Park and all around town. I was selling it at school, and making bank. Don’t get me wrong, life still sucked a million asses, but I could go to McDonald’s or buy cigarettes whenever I wanted for the first time in my life. Sometimes I wondered if stabbing my brother had changed me, or if I’d always been this way and it just took something that fucked up to wake me up to the fact of who I was.
Read more about UNDER THE SEA, available now from Tyrant Books.