Everything, Then Silence by Justin Herrmann
Sipping floats at an A&W in Marion, Indiana with a son I hadn’t seen in a decade, my top incisors were stuck in another man’s foot, I presumed being extracted at the local ER. It was my third knockout loss in a row.
Son poked around in his float with a fat red straw like he might uncover answers deep in his glass to questions I pretended not to hear.
Feeling was coming back in parts of my face. I realized I hadn’t touched my float, and wouldn’t be able to. I could feel, however, each curve of a pill bottle pressed thankfully against my thigh. Son asked about my nickname, Sausage.
Nicknames. His mother shouted plenty in the single-wide he was conceived in—though none were as original as Sausage, where neighbors covered their windows with foil, where neighbors felt safe enough within their thin walls to weep loudly.
Sausage was anointed by a commentator the only time a fight of mine was televised. Said I string together garbage techniques nobody else uses: triple jabs, crescent kicks, standing elbows. It was meant, briefly, as a compliment. First round, everything I threw landed. Everything, including me, was covered with someone else’s blood. It ended as my first time getting knocked out.
“Everything,” I said, “makes us who we are, whether we want it or not.”
If my son was pleased with that answer, he showed it by taking substantial sips from his float, then said, “What’s it feel like? Going out cold?”
I laughed hard at that, which caused everything to hurt, including my hands, which best I recall didn’t land a punch.
The only employee darkened the open sign. A rag, sanitizer, and ancient hands waiting. I started saying that pretty well answered his question, but by then he was slurping loud just like his mother used to, so I said, “Feels same as raising you.”
I dropped son off in a subdivision near a reservoir, one that submerged an entire town. Houses, graves, roads, all buried. I reckon there’s not a single truth remembered from the world below.
I drove all night towards Tampa, though I knew my next fight wouldn’t be medically cleared. One eye had swollen in a way that traffic coming at me looked like a laser light show, like one I saw at SeaWorld when I was small, Alabama playing in the background.
Justin Herrmann is the author of the short fiction collection Highway One, Antarctica (MadHat Press 2014). His stories have appeared in journals including River Styx, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Crab Orchard Review. He lives with his family in Alaska.