What Toads See by Jonathan Berger

We were hanging out at Jordan’s house Friday night, playing video games, eating fast pizza his mom picked up after she got off work.

His dad always wore a beefy camo jacket with jeans that had dried deer blood on them. He brought us down into the basement, old wooden steps, skinny like a tunnel to a dungeon. The basement was cold and unfinished. Cement floor, light bulbs hanging from the wood rafters. Jordan’s dad spit brown streams of chew spit on the basement floor that you had to try not to step in. He yelled and swore and was a corrections officer. Toads trapped in the window wells outside watching us like an audience, the glowing light bulbs probably making them cozy before they died.

There were these old reddish-brown boxing gloves bigger than our heads, tied on so tight that our hands were falling asleep. Me, Jordan, Chris and Brian. We had to fight each other under the center bulb in the basement. Jordan’s dad told us how to fight and called us pussies. His friend Larry sitting on a metal folding chair drinking a beer. He had a glass eye that looked like he bought it at the dollar store.

I was small with short arms but I could punch fast and was strong for my size. Jordan’s dad set up the fights. I fought Jordan first, it was good fight, my nose was stinging from getting punched and I had a dull headache. But I punched Jordan in the stomach and he fell over groaning, his face red.

Then Brian and Chris fought. Brian was bigger than all of us. He beat Chris pretty bad, slugging him in the back of the head as Chris turned away. Jordan’s dad had me fight Chris. We started fighting, Chris couldn’t do it. His arms were so skinny that he could barely hold his mits up, looking like a flopping clown. He would hop away, his arms swinging. Jordan’s dad grabbed my shoulder and shoved me at Chris. I stumbled and fell into him, both of us falling to the ground. I got on top and started punching Chris in the face. He’d put his hands up and I’d punch his hands away and then punch him in the face and head with my other fist. I don’t know why. I think I was scared of getting yelled at more but I felt pissed at Chris for some reason. Chris’s face was red with purple welts. His nose was starting to bleed. He was trying to roll away from me so I stopped punching him. Jordan’s dad grabbed my arm and yanked me up. I thought I was in trouble but he just patted me on the back, saying good job.

Chris was crying. I felt this feeling in my chest that could’ve been a knife because I didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t think I’d hurt him that bad until I saw it.

Jordan’s dad went over and untied Chris’s gloves. Chris’s arms were like floating noodles in a pool, waving around with every lace of his boxing glove being untied. Jordan’s dad pulled his gloves off and slammed them on the floor. Chris’s face in a big messy frown of tears. Jordan’s dad didn’t seem to notice that Chris was crying because he yelled at him for not fighting right and then made Chris sit in the corner facing the wall. Chris started to cry more saying he wanted to go home. Larry was laughing, slapping his lap, shaking his head and saying “Oh boy.”

Jordan and Brian fought. It was close but Jordan won. That settled it. I was the best fighter, Jordan was second best, Brian third best and Chris was last.

After fighting Chris just sat in the corner and cried for a while. Jordan’s dad and Larry went outside to the shed. We hung out in the basement and talked nearby until Chris went upstairs, drops of blood on his shirt. We followed him. He kept his head down and wouldn’t look at us, putting on his shoes and going out the door. Me and Brian left too. Brian lived next door but me and Chris lived down the street. I got on my bike, it was dark out because the clocks had just been changed back or forward. I don’t know. I don’t care. I saw Chris’s shadow going down the side of the neighborhood street like a ghost that should’ve been wailing and haunting but wasn’t. I rode my bike up the street, pedaling as slow as I could without falling over. I didn’t want to pass him. I wanted to say sorry but I didn’t know how to. I wanted to give him my bike so he could ride it home, get home faster, and keep my bike if he wanted to because he didn’t have one. But I didn’t know how. So I just kept coasting behind him, my wheel hub clicking until he made it home.


Jon Berger lives in Saginaw, Michigan. He was Anti-Heroin Chic’s featured poet for the month of October. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Five 2 One Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Occulum, Faded Out, and elsewhere. He tweets @bergerbomb44.

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