Everybody knows Wayne Carroll is the toughest boy in the eighth grade. That’s me by the way, Wayne Carroll. So, when my little brother Deacon ran from a fight on his first day of junior high, I knew I had to do something.
I tried encouraging him, telling him that he’s not as little as he looks, but when Jake Fuller, one of the kids in Deacon’s grade, got mad at him, he ran away again.
I was hoping that it was just some sort of passing weakness that my little brother was showing and that it would wear off soon enough. But I was wrong.
One day, just as school got out, Deacon managed to tick off a new boy named Roy Werner. Roy was about to pound him, but right then Mr. Werner pulled up in his old black Caddy to take Roy home.
“Tomorrow,” Roy said under his breath. “After school!” Then he jumped into his dad’s Caddy and smiled as it roared away.
I watched Roy and his dad drive off and made up my mind. I was Deacon’s big brother, and it was my responsibility to teach him to fight.
Not that there was all that much of Deacon to work with. Not only was he short, but he was so skinny he could hide behind a telephone pole. But I hoped that knowing the right techniques would make up for his size.
I knew if I was going to teach Deacon right, we’d have to go someplace where no one could laugh at him. I turned off the road from school and headed into the woods.
“Where’re we going, Wayne?”
I didn’t answer. I just kept walking.
Deacon, always the curious type, followed me every step of the way. Finally, I stopped at a small clearing.
The first thing I had to do was teach Deacon to stand his ground.
“You stand right there and don’t move,” I told him.
He stood there.
“Now, pretend I’m Roy Werner about to fight you,” I said. “What do you do?”
“Run!” said Deacon.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” I said, grabbing him by the shirt collar. “You stand right there and look him in the eye.”
Deacon just stared at me like he thought I was crazy.
“OK,” I said, moving on, “what you need now is the proper fighting stance. Put out your right foot and hold up your right hand.”
Deacon just stood there some more.
“Move it!” I yelled.
I guess I startled him, because he jumped, and when he put his foot out he soundly stomped mine in the process.
“How’s that?” he asked, as he looked up at me.
I tried not to moan as I pulled my foot out from under his. I decided to get this first lesson over with in a hurry.
“Good!” I told him. “You’re doing it right.”
Deacon wrinkled his brow. “What am I doing?”
“You’re standing your ground,” I said. “You’re not budging an inch, and you’re staring me down. That’s how you do it!”
“I’m so short, how am I going to stare down at anybody?”
“Aw, it’s just a figure of speech, Deacon,” I said. “Now come on, let’s get to the next lesson. You’ve got to learn to block punches.”
“Block them!” he shouted. “Why block them if I can avoid them altogether?”
I sighed deeply. “You can’t avoid them if you’re going to stand your ground. Now come on.”
I stood him up with his back to a thorn bush.
“Deacon,” I said, trying to put some menace in my voice, “If you try to get away from me instead of blocking these punches, I’ll shove you right through that thorn bush!”
I had his full attention, so I began. I went slowly at first, “fake-punching” him and showing him how to block the punches. When I thought he had the idea, I started punching a little faster and aimed at his head.
He did really well, blocking a few punches, so I started punching even faster. Just when I thought Deacon was actually going to learn something, he ducked.
I had been leaning toward him, expecting his arm to stop the force of my blow. When my arm encountered nothing, I went flying forward. I tripped over Deacon and landed soundly in the middle of that thorn bush.
The bush cut me all over. I was a bleeding mess. I almost gave up on Deacon’s lessons, but the thought of everybody at school seeing Wayne Carroll’s little brother run away from another fight set my mind back to its task.
“All right then!” I shouted at him, wincing and clawing my way out of the thorn bush. “It’s time you learned how to punch!”
He just stared at me again. With new determination, I took his hand and started bending his fingers into a fist. Then I paused and tried a little reverse psychology.
“Hey, Deacon?” I asked.
“If I teach you how to fight good, you’re not going to go around picking on people, are you?”
His eyes brightened, and he looked at me like I was just about to reveal the secret that would make him the second toughest boy in Laurel County.
“No,” he said excitedly. “No, Wayne, I won’t pick on people, I promise. I’ll only use it to defend myself.”
“Good,” I said, satisfied that my plan had worked. “Because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for turning you into a troublemaker.” I squeezed his fist into a tight ball. “Be sure to keep your wrists straight. Now, punch me in the stomach.”
I braced myself for the blow, and while I was waiting I thought I felt a light breeze blow my shirt around. Then I realized it was my brother’s punch!
“OK,” I said, even though it was definitely not OK! I paused for a moment trying to figure out the best way to encourage him. “Alright, now, step into your punch and this time put a little more force behind it.”
Deacon tried again. Only, this time, he tripped over his own feet. I bent over to catch him as he fell and his arm flew straight up in the air. His fist caught me right in the eye. The force of the blow flung me backward and the side of my head smashed into the limb of a nearby tree.
I lay with my back on the ground and stared up at him. I could feel my eye swelling shut and a large knot forming on the side of my head. This, combined with all the scratches and blood from my altercation with the thorn bush and my still-throbbing left foot, made me feel like I had been trounced by a dozen boys. I had no doubt that it made me look that way as well.
“I think you’ve got the idea,” I managed to mumble. “Let’s go home now.”
I picked myself up and started limping toward home. Deacon followed.
On the way, we met a group of boys who were friends with Roy Werner.
“What happened to you, Wayne?” one of them asked me with wonder in his voice.
“Deacon beat me up,” I grumbled. I ignored their stares and open mouths and limped on home.
Well, Deacon never did have to fight Roy, or anyone else either. He’s got a reputation bigger than his brother, and no one wants to mess with that.
As for me, I decided never to give fighting lessons again. It’s just too risky. Besides, I’ve got more important things to figure out, like why Betty Lassiter winked at me during lunch yesterday.
Copyright 2017, Eric Calderwood
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