James Beach

Science Fiction, Fantasy, Nonfiction and More



He was big. And good-natured. And violent.
Big veins feeding his thick neck. His shoulders
sagged slightly, but not from weariness.
From years of leaning in and swinging hard.

He invited me onto his team,
for a game of pool. We talked between shots.
I played, fascinated. I made sure to
play just slightly better than him.

He said,
“How long’d it take to do that to your hair?”

I gave him the short story. Seven years. He
ran his hands over his cop’s haircut. He
was definitely no cop though. His hands
were weathered, callused, permanent dirty.
From decades of manual labor. Nice
slacks, shoes, and a hundred-dollar sweater.

“I could never do that,” he said. “That’s what’s
wrong with me.”


“It’s too easy to grab,
Your hair. In a fight.” He demonstrated.

“I always think about that,” he said, and
sighed. “I’m too paranoid.” He sipped his beer.
I didn’t think it necessarily
that. I wanted to know about him. His
childhood. His job. Was he just born, designed
to fight? (and others just to think? spin thoughts,
until they loom so fine they fade, or feed
back into themselves…but sometimes knitting
useful things…or fighting…)

I was wary.
To ask opens to action. Under walls.
Either hesitation, or opening
too deep. It might either reveal, or cause,
my fear. And show insulting weakness to
this open, violent stranger.

I wanted to look into his eyes. For
longer than the urban millisecond.
Only eyes can’t hide in skin. Soul windows.

We played more pool. I took aim. “You asshole!”
he bellowed, laughing. “We’re not stripes!” and
grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt. I knocked
the 8-ball in, but hit it twice and scratched.

We lost. No one was hurt.

We all shook hands good night. He said, “Be safe.”