You know they called the Son of Sam the .44 Caliber Killer until he was caught and they saw what he really was.
You know there is this part in the movie Gangs of New York, directed by Martin Scorsese, where the leader of the Dead Rabbits is walking Monk’s body down the street, and he stops and looks at the leader of the Natives and says, “Challenge,” and the leader of the Natives says, “Challenge accepted.”
You know Denzel Washington is one of the greatest action heroes who ever lived. He is capable of so much more, but as far as action and death, Denzel is one of the best.
“Leave no doubt.” It’s a quote from a movie called Remember the Titans. This is a movie about the first mixed race high school football team. I think Virginia. Denzel and Will Patton. Two coaches trying to make it work. Well, the defensive coach keeps saying this phrase over and over again. “Leave no doubt.” “Leave no doubt.” “Leave no doubt.” About your supremacy, about your intent, about who you are.
I am here tonight in my office still slightly tipsy from a night of drinking to leave no doubt in your mind as to who I am, and where I come from. Because I am ushering you in to The Progenitor. The final dice have been tossed. The last of the truths have been found. I know who I am now and who I was supposed to be. I have had a revelation and you will hear about it here. I have found the root of my soul, and all that I am comes fashioned in this last bit of story.
We have a lot to do. I have a long day ahead of me. So let’s stop tickling and get to the first punch. Let me show you the face of what I was growing up with and the things I was being taught.
She shoved me with a laugh and a light in her eye. Rose giggled. “Come on.” Again another shove and she is giggling again.
I stepped back. “Come on and what?”
“Fight me.” Another shove, and while I stepped back, she stepped forward.
I looked at my feet, and she gripped my chin and lifted my eyes to hers.
“It’s time you learned how to fight. So you’re going to fight me.” Smiles and she shoves me again.
At this point I had been in countless fights. Shadow, Guardian, even Assassin had been in numerous fights. But how many of them did she know about, and how often had she told me never to hit a girl?
“I don’t hit girls.”
“I’m not a girl. I am The Mom, and you don’t have to hit me. We aren’t boxing here. I am trying to teach you how to fight, so get your hands up.” She gripped my wrists and lifted them to my face, “and let’s fight.”
She slapped me. Servant stepped back. She slapped me again and punched me in the stomach.
Servant took it with a grunt.
“Come on, fight me.” Still, all giggles. Still, we are playing.
The next slap comes in and Servant blocks it at the forearm.
“That hurt. Don’t hit so hard,” she said. Then she punched me in the stomach again. “Come on.”
Servant took hit after hit. He took punches to the stomach, but when he moved to hit her in the stomach with a light tap, she stepped back.
“Too hard. We aren’t in the street here. Come on, hit me.”
But she didn’t want me to hit her. She just wanted to hit me. What she was trying to teach me or to prove, I had no idea. She knew I had grown up with Tigress and Cage. She knew I had gone to 20Th Street School. She knew I could defend myself. I think it was the frustration in her eyes. The desperate need to dominate. I had disappointed her in some odd way I could not name and she wanted to fight it out.
Tangled limbs, and now I am being pushed to the ground. Tangled limbs, and she is yelling that I am hurting her and not to go so hard as she forces me to the ground and climbs on top of me. Rose sits on my chest and pins my wrists to the ground with every bit of force she has. I can’t buck her. I can’t lift my hands. She giggles as she leans over me and laughs.
“We gotta toughen you up. This is ridiculous. How are you supposed to defend yourself if you can’t even pin a girl?”
That was the first one. Let’s fast forward to the last.
“Okay,” she said, standing from the rocker. “Get up. It’s time.”
I looked up from the rolling credits of the movie we just watched and I smiled. “Dishes.”
“You’re going to do my dishes later. Now we fight,” she said with a laugh. It was a guttural thing. A bit of a cruel wind to it.
“I don’t want to do this.”
“Come on, it’s fun,” she said. “And I am trying to prepare you for if you get in a fight. I don’t want you to get crushed out there if the worst should happen.”
By the worst she meant Char. We had talked about him so many times. I had told her that I feared him. She told me of his cowardice. I had told her that I needed to be ready for him. She told me I already was. I had spoken in the dark with the living room lit only by an antique oil lamp that I just knew he was going to show up at the house one day to get Less.
This night, when she said worst, she knew exactly what fear she was invoking. She knew what button she was pushing.
Shadow stood. He shook his arms at his side and grinned. “Don’t want to do this,” he lied.
“Well, you don’t want to get your butt kicked either, but that is what will happen if you don’t learn how to fight.” Her first jab was to my stomach, a hard one aimed for the belly. She wanted a grunt. She had gotten one so many times before.
This game started when I was fourteen and had continued until now. Fifteen, maybe fifteen and a half, and I was growing into my body.
That hand came out fast as a viper and, like a snake charmer, I snatched it up. Perfect grip around the wrist. She pulled it back and Shadow held it fast.
“That’s too rough!” She grunted as she swung her fist for my face. This was out of bounds for this game, but this hit was aimed to be punitive. She wanted to land a hard hit here so she could tell me it was punishment for gripping her wrist. Wide swing, a lot of force caught, snatched out of the air by Shadow’s quick hand and perfect aim.
Both wrists and she is struggling.
“You’re hurting me!” she shouts.
Legs swept and Rose is on the ground. She lands soft as Shadow eases her to her back. A bit of a slide and he is straddling her. He drops on her hips and she is pinned.
“My wrists!” she shouts. “Let go right now!”
I set her wrists on the floor and hold her down. The tips of my fingers are on the floor. I no longer have her wrists in my grip. But my hands still pin hers to the ground. She can’t escape my grasp. I am not holding her wrists at all, but with my palms and my fingertips, I have her.
“Get free,” Shadow says softly.
“Get off of me!” she yells.
“We are just playing. I got you this time. Now get free or admit I got you.”
“You look exactly like him,” Rose says.
Barb. And Shadow is pulling back. She gets to her feet but Shadow is still on his knees.
“You look just like your father. Do you like hurting women?”
Shadow’s eyes are on the floor. “No.”
She is standing over him now. She glares down at him and spits, “Well you looked like you were enjoying yourself. Real funny, hurting a woman. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are just like Char. Just like your father. You remind me of him every day. You look just like him and you act just like him. Char is a monster. You’re not far behind.”
I hear her stomp down the hall even though her feet are in slippers and the hall is carpeted. She slams the door to her bedroom and Shadow hangs his head and weeps.
As furious as she was, she was happy.
I was ready.
August is a brutal blade of a month. February leaves promising spring. March still has a few harsh words to say, and April will often spit a cold day at the Midwest on its way out, but from February on, it is building. Summer is coming after a cold winter and everyone is excited. I’m not sure what it is about summer that has everyone so excited. Kids, I understand. No school. Summer vacations in distant places, I get it. But summer in the Midwest can be as brutal as winter. And all of it is heading toward the monster of all months. August.
Everything is coming to an end in August. The next school year looms. All the vacations have been taken. All time off is exhausted. It comes in like the tip of the blade and August cuts. It is a month of dread. It is a month of sweat, and August, the year I turned fifteen, was the month I took it all.
It started off flippant. Just a word of sass. Not even a challenge, just a spit of a harsh word to Mumble. I laughed. Grasp was about nine and he laughed. Rose laughed, too, and spurred it on with an, “Oooo.” She giggled. “That was not okay, was it Mumble?”
“You had better watch that mouth of yours,” Mumble said with a knuckley finger. “Watch it real close.”
“Watch it do what, old man?” Shadow. And we all laugh. And you see where this is going. You could probably write the next words yourself.
“Not so old that I can’t whip your ass, punk.” And he laughs. But it is an angry laugh masking fear. This day has been coming. It is a day all fathers can see coming from years off. If you spank your son, if you hit your son, you are teaching him that might makes right. Always and every time that comes back around when the son gets bigger and better with his body. Always the father is spurred to wilder acts of violence, harder hits to his son’s body and ego to keep them down. Because every father sees this moment coming, sees this look hidden in his son’s eyes.
The time has come, because might makes right and authority has a fist behind it. The time has come, and Shadow is not even kinda nervous. Mumble, in his stories, has never told one about a fight he won. Mumble has only ever felt powerful when hitting his children. But he is fast. Mumble is fast, and he spends his time on his feet all day at Pizza Hut rushing around trying to get pizzas out the door as fast as he can.
One more threat, but we both know it won’t work. Rose slid the coffee table out of the way, leaving the living room floor bare. She stands back, her chest heaving as she watches it all rising before her.
“Wanna see?” Mumble says. “Wanna watch your ass get kicked again?”
Shadow grins. “Come on, old man. Let’s see how fast you are. Let’s see this train come to a stop.”
The first swing comes from Mumble. High fist straight for the face. Shadow snaps that wrist up in his viper-fast hand. The next fist swings wide, comes from a long way off, and holds a lot of power. It will be devastating when it lands on Shadow’s face. But he is moving already.
Shadow steps in. Fist goes wide, swing of the ankle, Mumble’s foot is swept right off the ground. Shadow lets him hit with a thud that rattles every knickknack and window. And Shadow still has that wrist.
Mumble hits the ground hard. He sits up as Shadow drops. He wraps both legs around Mumble’s torso. Shadow locks his ankles and, with everything he has, he squeezes.
He grips Mumble’s wrist with both hands and squeezes again. Mumble’s face contorts in pain as he fights for breath. One more time and Mumble sobs. He yells out, “Please.” And Shadow gets to his feet.
Mumble sits, holding his broken ribs, gasping for air. Shadow laughs and walks out of the house, out into the hot stifling air. He is trembling. He is gasping, though he is not tired.
It’s over. Shadow has taken it all. Mumble’s house is no longer his property.
From this moment on, we get the first plate brought to us by Rose when dinner is ready. We get the biggest piece of chicken. The largest steak. From this moment, when Grasp fucks up and needs to be disciplined, we will do it. When Rose grows angry at Mumble, she sends Shadow after him. This is all the territory of the Street Rat now. Billy’s Boy, X’s packmate, runs this house.
But always the guiding, ruling hand of his mistress. Always Rose gives him his commands.
And Shadow is her enforcer.
Shadow is fifteen years old.