BY RANDY LOWENS
My scrambled eggs are so thick the drops of blood don’t spread like raindrops on a pond. Instead they appear static, expanding only imperceptibly, like cankers on the skin of a leprosy patient or lesions on an infected brain. I turn my head a little to one side, and the coffee turns pink.
All I said was, “I don’t like grits.” I suppose I could have said, “No thankee.”. Or maybe, “No ma’am, I don’t believe I care for any this morning.” But instead, when the waitress asked if I wanted grits, I said, “Naw. I don’t much like ’em.”
That was all it took for the good ole boy in the next seat to start some shit. He spun his stool around with the pointed toe of his cowboy boot and said, “Don’t like grits, huh? Let me guess: you from somewhere up north, ain’t you?”
I didn’t bother explaining I was from Barrel Head, West by-god Virginia. Well north of this podunk diner in Macon, Georgia, sure, but a far cry from Yankee town. Folks in West Virgina don’t cater to being called Yankee. Besides, I didn’t ask to come down here in the heat and skeeters to install an air conditioner in somebody’s dollar store. I’m just doing a job. So I answered his question with one of my own. I asked if his Mama knew about his boyfriend. That was when he hit me.
From somewhere behind me, a voice says, “Billy James just cold cocked that guy.” Now this moment has become my entire life. I’m standing up to the schoolyard bully and making my Daddy proud. I’m heeding my Mama’s advice, staying out of trouble and steering clear of prison. I’m facing down my big brother at long last. I’m looking the other way while my little sister gets her butt pinched by a bruiser with green teeth and tattoos. I’m trying to decide what the hell to do next.
My left hand goes to the side of my face, and Billy James’ shoulders relax. He straightens his back and hooks a thumb in his belt. At the same time, my right hand slips into my pocket and fingers the handle of a hawk-bill pocketknife. In a switch, my left apologizes while my right forgets mercy, brothers and sisters.
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Randy Lowens is a bitter old man who lives alone in a small apartment stuffed with books in Richmond, Kentucky.