On Being Fourteen and Rolling a Drunk by Stephen J. Golds

On Being Fourteen and Rolling a Drunk

You’re with your pals, 

shooting the shit, 

trying to get the telephone numbers of 

pretty girls walking by. Ignored. Broke and bored.

Fourteen years old, smoking cheap weed 

that burns your throat and eyes. 

They tell you, 

grinning,

rolling a drunk 

isn’t premeditated. 

It’s a crime of opportunity. 

A spur of the moment 

kind of thing. 

Easy money. 

You need to pop 

your cherry, they say. 

If the opportunity arises and 

a drunk stumbles past, well, 

there’s the opportunity and 

the cash bonus to a 

good night out with friends, right?

And then the opportunity does knock.

He’s about your father’s age. 

Balding, overweight, dressed like someone 

who sells secondhand cars for a living. 

He stumbles and trips over twice before he even arrives

at the bus stop you’re all watching him from. 

What will haunt you the most is how it starts. 

The robbery. It doesn’t come quickly 

like you thought it would.

It comes slowly with smiles, 

pats on the back and chuckles. 

It comes with the brittle façade of kindness.

You stand away from the group observing 

the people you thought were your

friends strike up the friendliest 

of small talk with 

the drunk. 

It is as though you’re all old pals. 

He could be a friend of your father’s. 

A friend of the family.

Maybe he is. You pull the hood of your jacket 

over your head.

One moment 

the drunk, 

he’s making some kind of a joke and then 

the next the ripples of laughter

just 

switch 

into the impacts of fists on flesh. 

Like a sudden storm. 

It makes you startle. You look around to make sure no one noticed. 

You slide your hands into the pockets of your jeans. 

You wonder why all the people you’re close to  

have the ability to slide from 

happiness into 

such uncontrolled violence. 

You used to think 

it was only your home, 

but now you wonder 

if it is the whole neighborhood. 

You finger the front door key and loose change in your pocket, 

feeling like a foreigner in the place you were born. 

You stare at them. Your pals,

stamping on 

the drunk’s 

bloody, gaping face, 

the crack of his head on the broken concrete 

makes your empty stomach drop

and in the streetlights, you see the dark stain 

spreading on the crotch of his slacks. 

So much blood stains the ground. 

A splash of red on your sneakers, 

you’ll notice a day later.

The gasping noises 

the drunk 

makes are the sounds of a 

small, pathetic animal. 

You just watch. 

Your gut aches and 

you want to go home. 

After, they, your buddies, try to give you 

your cut 

of the cash from the piss stained wallet. 

You refuse it.

It isn’t even enough for a pack of cigarettes. 

They tell you to keep your fucking mouth shut. 

Later, you let yourself into your parent’s sleeping apartment, 

it smells of what they ate for dinner and a kind of loneliness.

You drink a glass of water over the kitchen sink while 

gazing out of the window 

at the way the night makes shadows 

across the worn-out parking lot. 

You feel like the character in a 

ghost story. 

Later still, you lay on your bed 

listening to the echoes and 

trying to sleep 

but can’t.