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Punching Bags

Jonathan Dittman | Daniele Murtas

There’s a frail woman with frizzy hair sitting in front of me at the coffee shop who I want to punch in the face. She hasn’t wronged me in anyway — she is merely sipping her coffee, inconspicuously nibbling on a blueberry muffin with bony, liver-spotted fingers — but I want to crack her nose with my fist. I know it’s terrible; the thought alone would make anyone find me offensive and cruel, but I would never do it. It’s just a thought. We all have them, right?

Alright, so it’s not the first time I’ve contemplated it. I had the same thought about my grandmother when I was younger and my own mother about a month ago. Don’t tell me I need help. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for three months and he keeps telling me I’m fine, that we aren’t our thoughts. But I don’t get it. If our thoughts don’t constitute what we are, then what does? He says it’s our actions. But aren’t our actions just an extension of our thoughts — the point of origin for our behaviors?

By his logic, if I keep from punching that old bag in the face and only think about it, I’m still a good person. I can live with that.

I can’t though. I’m going to punch her.

I stand and walk up to her table. She turns to face me and I see her bulbous nose begging for it. The vascularity of her nostrils antagonizes me and I make a fist with my right hand — my dominant hand. If I’m going to actually punch an old lady, I want my full force behind it.

I close my eyes; my fist is clenched. The world is my oyster.

But then I feel something brush against me and the moment is gone.

I open my eyes; my fist unfurls. I’m a pathetic little shit looking at a man ten years younger than I am. The man, tatted up in a sleeveless shirt, sits down at the old woman’s table. He is a behemoth. From a biblical perspective, if one is tempted to go that route, it’d be a classic David versus Goliath match-up if I took a swing at the bag of bones that is still unaware of me.

The behemoth stares at me. “Can I help you, son?”

Son? I laugh. He doesn’t seem to like that. He’s about to get up, so I decide it’s now or never. I ball my hand and curl my thumb across my knuckles. I take a swing, and before the behemoth can react, I connect with the brittle facial bones of the old woman and hear the most beautiful sound. It is the sound of affirmation. I am not a good person.

About Jonathan Dittman

Jonathan Dittman's fiction has appeared in, or is forthcoming with, The Molotov Cocktail, Apocrypha & Abstractions, Creative Colloquy, thick jam and The Pitkin Review, and his essay on language and identity theory appears in the book collection 'Perspectives on Percival Everett.' He received his MFA from Goddard College and lives in Minnesota with his wife and two children.

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