We witnessed plenty of wrecks from my front porch. My house was on a corner lot, the perfect lookout for me and Flaco to spy on the neighborhood. Better than Flaco’s porch crowded between row houses, crowded with old newspapers and piss-stained mattresses, crowded with mountains of his uncle Al’s Old Style empties.
Most crashes were fender-benders: cars locking breaks, laying rubber, honking a my bad or a fuck-you. Occasionally there’d be real devastation. Like the time Bobby Lee, neighborhood hillbilly, gunned his 4×4 through the intersection and crumpled a VW like he was racing demolition derby instead of navigating a narrow Chicago side street. And those teenagers. A half-naked girl straddled a boy as he wrapped his shitbox station wagon around a tree. After the crash the mortified girl—blouse open—and frustrated boy—fly down—staggered around the wreck. Around them the neighborhood congregated to marvel at the union of car and tree. Me and Flaco were just trying to eye some tit.
Sometimes the crashes were on the pages of comic books. We’d spend entire Saturdays on my porch talking trades. I always liked Spider-Man or Wolverine, heroes with real super powers. Flaco loved The Punisher: Frank Castle, the angry vigilante. He was a regular guy. Just a big gun and a bad temper. As Flaco liked to say, “Gotta make your own super powers, homes.”
Even Flaco had a wipeout on the corner. He was riding his Huffy, chasing after China, our grownup paperboy. Flaco pedaled to catch up to China and steal a newspaper from his bag when he lost control of his bike and bit it. Flaco had been riding one-handed. His arm was in a sling. Al mangled it when they were roughhousing. Twisted it back way too far until something popped. Maybe only roughhousing. Maybe the Old Style. Maybe payback for Flaco never saying “uncle.”
Whatever the reason, I was the one that got Al worked up that day, not Flaco. Al had stumbled home from the tavern, peeled off his prized White Sox windbreaker, and tossed it on the sidewalk. Next to Al’s embroidered name I wrote IS HERPES. He assumed Flaco had done it. I never said anything.
But this is the accident that always gets me: Flaco and I were hunched over a pile of comic books, checking out Punisher #21. It was a good cover. Instead of plugging someone full of lead with his Desert Eagles or his A-K, The Punisher’s in a boxing ring, gloves on, guard up, fighting out of a crouch. I liked it even though he’s dropping his right shoulder, something my dad taught me never to do. Something Flaco never learned.
Al was peacocking down the street, gunning his new crotch rocket, steering with one hand and giving us the finger with the other. At the same time a cigar-lighting old man, not speeding but not watching the road, piloted his Cadillac towards the intersection. Flaco saw it before I did. “Watch out, homes,” he whispered. Who knows if it was for Al or the old man? Maybe for himself. And the Caddy t-boned the bike. Two crunches. Man then machine. The motorcycle throttled up and died out just as fast. Al flipped over the Cadillac, bounced across the pavement, and landed on our front lawn. His grimy high-tops skipped end-over-end across the porch. They scattered comics. Ripped the cover of Punisher #21.
The old man staggered out of the Cadillac, sat down in the middle of the intersection—Indian style like a little kid—and puffed on his cigar.
Al was laid out, leg twisted under him at an obscene angle like Flaco’s arm when he pretzeled it. “Jesus Christ, where’s your brakes! Jesus Christ!” Al cried out. His words hung in the air, an unanswered prayer.
So I knotted Al’s sneakers together. Chucked those goddamned shoes into a tree.
Dan Mancilla lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan where he’s in the final year of his Ph.D. in Creative Writing at Western Michigan University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such publications as Barrelhouse, BULL: Men’s Fiction, The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row, The Museum of Americana, and Sundog Lit among others. “Punisher” is a story from his book-length manuscript, All the Proud Fathers. You can read more about Dan and his work at danmancilla.com