When Dad stretched to grab another Stag from the cooler, I brought a 2x4 down on his head. I expected the sound to be juicy, the squishing of an orange, but it was more the sharp clink of pool balls. The board vibrated like an organ pipe in my fingers until falling and lying still.
He didn’t flinch. Dad cleared his throat and kept reaching into the cooler. He lifted the last golden can, chips of ice sticking to the hairs on his arm, sat on the lid and drew the cold metal across the skin of his forehead and eyebrows that collected beads of sweat. Condensation ran over his face as he pressed where the board had struck, his fingernails hard and dark like bruises. He lobbed me the can, underhanded and slow. “Drink up, boy.”
The Stag hissed, and I watched foam float onto the top before licking it off. Heat pressed on the back of my neck, cicadas rattling up and down in waves. I put the can to my skull, tried to feel the slightest bit numb.
Dad picked up the 2x4, both hands choked on one end like a bat. “You hit like a bitch.” His eyes never left the wood. Dad rubbed his thumb along the point of contact where a dent might have been. With long strides he walked off around the shed. I downed the beer.
Dad came back with the new hound, brown and soft, small enough to fit in the crook of his arm. He tossed it into the grass. The puppy whined and curled around its own loose skin. Dad stood over me, swayed and nearly lost his balance. He pulled me up by my shirt collar, shoved the 2x4 into my hand, pointed at the hound. “Lesson one.” I could see the bloody veins running over his eyes, smelled hot beer in his words. “After today, whenever you take a swing, you pretend it’s me.”
CALEB TANKERSLEY'S work appears in CutBank, Gargoyle, Storm Cellar, and others. His chapbook Jesus Works the Night Shift was published in 2014 by Urban Farmhouse Press. He is a PhD candidate at USM’s Center for Writers, where he is an Associate Editor for Mississippi Review.