Taking a Punch
Half held back I still lost a loose molar though he broke a knuckle on the hard corner of my cheekbone and snapped back holding his hand. The rest fell on him and the fight turned into a dog pile then dispersed. I wanted to shoot out the tooth all cool like because at that point, the girls hadn’t yet left, but Steve said spit up into my hand— a mixture of blood and saliva the color of glue with the little thing swimming in it—in case his dad could fit it back in. Of course, his dad couldn’t so I kept the white nub for a while like a trophy bruise and whistled, sometimes, through the open hole, as if no one else would mess with a boy who could take a punch and keep his feet, a boy surrounded by a gang of dogs and Steve whose dad would clean my teeth for years after and ask, each time, about my mother. And I would dream, some nights, of snapping the neck of a beer bottle on the edge of a bar or wrapping the sleeve of my shirt around my fist before burying it in some guy’s stomach. And I wondered about that fissure of anger, what long crack it ran up my body until it bloomed through my fingers, until it took out my loose tooth because I couldn’t turn away. Because it would take years before I could leave off looking for the next someone slightly smaller than me, the image of Steve holding my tooth like a broken eggshell kicked from the nest. How gentle he was.