“The thing about fatherhood, Robbie,” says John, leaning over me, breathing the supermarket sushi he’s just polished off into my fucking fizzog and up my nostrils, “is that it changes yer.”
His eyes wander across my features, taking a steady stroll like, pausing to admire the scenery. The bruise on my cheek, my chin, my nose, my lips – pursed into a harsh pucker, since he’s got his stinking fingers pinched tight around my mouth – and my eyes. I presume he’s waiting for me to respond now. I can feel the heavy breath squirting from my nostrils, against his fingers and then back across my face, tickling the light layer of stubble I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to maintain at ‘cool’. I say nothing.
“It’s like, everything changes,” he says. If he’s annoyed at my failure to play the game I can’t tell. He’s a calm fucker though.
“Like, you’re this boy, all yer life. Don’t matter how old you are. Twenty, twenty five, fifty fuckin’ five. You’re a fuckin’ boy. Then yer missus pops some scrotey little ratbag out of her cunt and it changes you. You’re a man. The one thing you’re put on this fuckin’ shitty planet to do, and you do it. Yer bollocks work. It’s a great feelin’, it really is.”
I know where he’s going with it, but I let the charade play out, dangling awkwardly from the beam above me. Where the punchbag usually hangs, there’s me. He lets his fingers loosen from around my mouth and he steps back.
“Now, the thing about when you’ve got this scrotey little shitbag in yer life,” he says, pulling his arms back one at a time. Limbering up. He’s definitely got a taste for the dramatic, “is that you’ll do anythin’ to protect ‘em. I mean, anythin’.”
“Look, John,” I start, but he leans in hard and jabs the wind from my gut. He caught me good too, no doubt about that. He dances back, light on his feet for a tubby cunt.
“It’s like, squirting yer fuck muck into yer missus and makin’ the scrotey little ratbag is only part one of this big play,” he smiles, “part two is where the real fun starts, ‘cause you’ve got to raise the little fuckwit right.”
“I-” is all I can manage before he catches me on the fly with a snotter to my chin. Firm, but he doesn’t follow through, like the fat fucker is toying with me. Mint.
“But no matter how hard you fuckin’ try, the insolent cunt always fucks you over,” he says as he pauses, and takes a step closer to me. He holds my chin up with his left hand, inspects his handiwork before letting it drop to meet the uppercut he swings up with his right. Cheeky fucker. My top front two teeth snap off inside my gum as they meet the bottom, and an agonising pain rips across my face. I hold it in though. He wants to see the sting register. I don’t let it. Instead I move the teeth around my mouth like two jagged boiled sweets. Sucking the metallic blood from them. I try to spit them out onto the floor, clean and cool, but the snottery stringy blood phlegm steals my moment and they arc back in some bungee jump kind of motion, and stick to the wool in my jumper. Fuck’s sake. He punches me again.
“Where is it?” he asks. I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“Where’th what?” I lisp through the goal posts that my teeth have become. I’m rewarded for my efforts with a breeze block of a punch to the ribs.
“Don’t play fuckin’ daft wi’ me Robbie, just answer the fuckin’ question.”
“Theriouthly, I don’t know what you’re on about,” I say, shaking my head. The string of blood/snot spit tugs at my chin as it refuses to release its grasp on the two teeth stuck on my jumper. I’m willing him to show a little mercy and pick them from the stitching and chuck them on the floor, but he’s not that thoughtful. His face reddens. He’s losing his cool now. Like, his actual cool. Before it was just par for the course. Now it’s a whole other level. John lets an animalistic, guttural roar go. If you listened carefully you’d probably have picked up some words in there to the effect of ‘Fuck’s sake’, but if not, if you’d just been passing on the street and you heard it, it would have just been noise. A scary, don’t-go-in-there kind of noise, but still, just noise nevertheless.
“WHERE,” he says, punching my gut to punctuate, “IS,” another punch, “IT?” He finishes with a hefty blow to my lower ribs.
I still don’t know what he’s talking about. Punching me isn’t suddenly going to magic up some prior knowledge that had been lurking in my subconscious. Through the pain and the breathlessness I notice that he’s snapped the spittle blood zip wire from my chin to my jumper. And also probably at least two of my ribs. Cheers, John.I say nothing.
Suddenly there’s the theme tune to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly coming from his jacket that’s dangling from the corner edge of the work top that runs along the back of the room. Seriously , though, who the fuck still has that as a ringtone? John grunts at me and spins on his feet to grab his phone from his jacket.
“Yeah?” he spits, and listens to whoever on the other end of the phone, “no,” he says. He listens some more. “I’m fuckin’ busy just now. Can’t go anywhere. No. He’s not talking. Leave it with me, I won’t be long.”
He disconnects the call and places his phone on the work top. Looks at me, pure venom in his eyes.
“See, now you’re making me late. Just tell me where it is Robbie, and I’ll let you down. I promise.”
His promises are as valuable as the nine carat Elizabeth Duke ring that’s shaped into the word DAD that sits proudly on his middle finger, next to the just-as-valuable Sov I nicked for him off Barnsley second-hand market. I know this, because he’s broken as many of these promises to me before as he has the necks of pissed up punters on the doors of Escapade.
“Theriouthly, Dad, I haven’t got a fucking clue what you’re on about,” I lisp.
“Don’t play silly cunts wi’ me Rob, you know exactly what I’m on about,” he grunts, and slides his hand into his trouser pocket. It re-emerges holding on to a brown leather glove. His strangling glove. One of, anyway. He slips it slowly onto his right hand. “Where’ve you put me other strangling glove?”
“I ha’nt theen yer thtrangling glove,” I say, shaking my head. I haven’t. Fuck knows where I saw it last. He flexes the gloved hand, his fingers outstretched, and then he crunches his fist in tight, to the point of his knuckles cracking and popping like gristle-filled bubble wrap.
“You think I like doin’ this? You think I like knocking my own son about? I don’t like it, Rob,” he mutters, and takes a step toward me, “but how are you supposed to learn about manners and respect otherwise? How am I supposed to teach you the way of the world?”
“Fuck off, dad,” I laugh, “you think thith ith teachin’ me rethpect? You thilly thod, thtick yer rethpect up yer fuckin’ arth.”
“Oh, Robbie, you never fuckin’ learn.” He’s already at me. Snaking his thick sausagey digits around my neck. The soft leather feels quite nice against my skin, for about a second, as he grips it tight. Within a few seconds I feel my face burn hot. My eyes feel desperate to pop from my skull and bounce against the sweating forehead of my dad. My lungs ache to take in more sweet sweet oxygen but they can’t. A few more moments later and my legs are losing the ability to hold me up. My skin wants to rip itself from my muscle and slither off into a corner. I don’t panic. There’s no point, because once my dad has his strangling gloves on, even if it’s just one of them, you know you’re fucked. My throat gives way beneath his grip and I can feel myself choking. Drifting out of consciousness. Out of existence.
“You fat, fuckin’ prick,” are my last, forced words as my dad eradicates my life. They’re what I hope will be the last words I’ll ever hear. But they aren’t. Are they fuck. Nope. The words that mark the ultimate sentence I’ll ever know on this fucked up planet in this fucked up town, and even more specific, in this fucked up garage underneath my mum and dad’s fucked up living room, they belong to my mum as she comes wandering into the room looking for my dad.
“John, I found one of yer strangling gloves in yer good trousers, won’t you be needing it tonight?”
Ryan Bracha is the 35 year old bestselling author of Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet and the acclaimed dystopian satire Paul Carter is a Dead Man, as well as the ridiculous brain behind the recent multi-author novel of stories Twelve Mad Men. He lives in Yorkshire with his wife, daughter, and inflated sense of self importance.
He can be found sporadically updating his website : Here and his books: Here