Girl Fight by Will McMillan

The flesh on his arms, like an overripe banana, peels as I drag my nails upward. Ribbons of crimson appear – thin, jagged trails on his skin. He doesn’t just yell – he shrieks. Not my older brother at all anymore but some strange, feral creature, crying in outrage. His knees spring back from my chest, taking his weight and himself off my body. My breath returns in a wave. This round of fighting is over.

“God!” he says, cradling his welted arms as if freezing. “Why do you always fight like a girl?”

Unless I punch, I fight like a girl. Unless I strangle or pound or clobber or crush, I fight like a girl. Unless I’m fighting like him, I’m a “her.” But what else can I do? He’s three years older, my brother. An entire head higher, at least 30 pounds heavier. And we hate – oh God! – how we hate one another. So, he punches me down to the ground like a boy. He pins his knees on my chest like a boy. Hocks stinking globs of spit in my face, tells me to quit crying like a boy. So I do what I have to. I pinch, I gouge, I scratch bloody canals through his arms…

“Like a girl,” he says over and over. “Only girls fight like that. Only girls scratch and pinch.”

Outrage boils into steam through my body, flooding my eyes with blistering tears. And I hear it, he sings it, again and again. Like a girl…like a girl…


Much later, my brother’s arms shake as he speaks. Three years older, an entire head higher, but time has shaved countless pounds from his body. He’s talking me through the past two years of his life, in the Army, in the Gulf, in the war. He was deployed to fight at 19. Now 21, he’s home for a brief leave of absence. He lifts his shirt to show me a scar – a bullet he caught in the guts. Like a swollen black eye in his belly.

“Hurt like a motherfucker,” he says. “But the guy who shot me? I fucked him up worse.” He shapes his right hand into a flesh and bone pistol, and with his thumb as the hammer, fires two angry shots. “Pow! Pow!” Then he winks, his chest swelling with practiced, self-assured pride. Yet my brother jumps when a truck rumbles outside. He jumps when the bathroom door slams, when he hears footfalls coming up from behind. But the guy who shot him? My brother fucked him up worse, I think, while watching his arms, arms that won’t stop shaking and shaking and…

He sleeps on the floor in my bedroom that night, and when a car alarm blares somewhere away in the darkness, he shrieks, and then all I can hear is his shrieking, all I can feel is his body pushing back against mine as I throw myself on him, holding him, trying to keep him from thrashing. All I feel are his nails digging into my skin, peeling my flesh, pinching me, gouging me (like a girl!, like a girl!), and all I can do is take it and keep taking, holding my weight on this strange, feral creature, waiting until this round of fighting is over. 

Will McMillan was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon, where he still lives today. His essays have been featured in The Sun, Hippocampus, Atticus Review, and Redivider literary journals, among others. Twitter: @willmcmn | Web: