Choke.

Manny Lopez looked at his hands. A bit of blood on his knuckle, a little scraped skin. His fingers were throbbing. The voices rang in his head. Manny the Tranny. Man-ny the Tran-nnyyyyy. He felt his blood spread in his mouth from where the baseball bat had clocked him on the cheek, causing him to bite down on the tender flesh. Metal. As if he were a robot. Images of Will Smith‘s iRobot flashed in his head, and he chuckled, morbidly. If only he could be that powerful.

Frustration slammed into him like a stone wall, and he rose up off the toilet seat he was sitting on, pounding his fists into the cracked-tile. This is what I’m worth. It’s my mother’s birthday, and I’m hiding like a coward in a bathroom stall. What would his brother say, if he could see his boy now? He would spit on my face is what he would do. Manny could almost hear the disgust in Juan’s voice. This is what I raised you to be? A spineless chihuahua? Nobody disgraces the Lopez family! 

But Manny new better than that. His brother had been dead five years, surrendering his life to the same cheap liquor that he bought in place of his family’s dinner. A drunkard, full of pride and bravado, quick to throw punches and take offence, but the last man to ever whisper a sweet word to his wife. Manny had grown up watching him disrespect her, throw her around like a common road-side woman, and vowed never to let that monster come alive in him.

When Juan was angry, the heavens be damned, there was nothing words could do. He was a man possessed, his eyes blank with hatred, so that even if there was no retaliation, it kept escalating, and died out only when doused with a six pack of strong stuff brewed at Mulligan’s bar.

It’s so hard. Manny felt hot tears run down his cheeks and fought violently to hold them back. The memory started playing in his head, and he slid to the floor with a groan, whimpering. He was leaving the movie theater. The girl sitting next to him had forgotten her wallet. He caught up with her at the corner, handed it to her and started the long walk home, enjoying the cool darkness of the night.

They had caught up to him the next night, six of the Maloney boys, bandannas holding their curly hair out of their face. The leader, Jacob, was the girl’s betrothed, and he was here to teach this little shit a lesson, he said. They were all stronger than him. Jacob had held him back by the thick of his ponytail and kicked hard at the pudgy flesh of Manny’s belly. Hey you little fatty. Hey tranny boy. You trying to mess with my girl? I just thought I’d come say thank you. The softness under his shirt was slashed with invisible ropes of pain, and he was pretty sure it would start to swell. He would only see how bad the damage was tomorrow, when the welts and bruises would start to show.

It was hard to control the monster inside him. Manny had felt it raise its head, had felt it pushing against his control, yearning to be let out. The devil in him was as wild as his brother’s. And when he was angry, he was foolish. The shock of being ambushed, caught completely unaware, punished for a sin he had not committed, Manny was enraged. He had swung a few punches initially, one of which had made contact with a Maloney’s jaw, with a satisfying crack. In those moments, Manny was ready to kill. They forced him into a corner, and Maloney swung hard at his head, knocking him to the ground.

When his head hit concrete and the sidewalk seemed to turn to rippling liquid before his eyes, realization dawned. Mama. He was all she had in the world now, frail and weary of the world. She had lost her husband to another woman, her son to the drink, and Manny was her heart. At that moment, the devil was subdued. Manny knew. I am no good to her dead.

For what seemed like an age, Manny lay curled up on the ground, defending himself as best he could from their kicks and punches. He took the hits without complaint and resistance, silently biding his time. When they left, he wiped the spit and blood from his face and lay there, feeling the ache in his bones.

It had been two hours now, and he had dragged himself to a gas station bathroom to go home to his mother looking presentable. Groaning, he forced himself up and looked in the mirror. Almost immediately, his lips curled into a sneer of disgust. A cracked lip, bleeding a river down to the lake of dried blood on his shirt collar. A gash on his temple, covered in dirt and more blood. He was a mess.

How could he go home to his mother now?

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