“A Proper Fight”

Meena remembered once seeing a girl in a movie suck on a guy’s bloody knuckles after a fight. The girl had brushed her lips against the bruised knots, her tongue sloping and rising through the juts and valleys made of skin and bone. When she’d pulled away, the camera zoomed in on her face, her lips red puckered, her mouth, satisfied.

Meena had never seen anyone fight before in real life. Right in front of her. In the rain. At the school carnival. The two boys rolled around in hay and grass and mud, squirming their way through the makeshift pumpkin patch as Meena watched with soggy jeans, her hair hanging in thick, black ropes.

The sounds of their grunts and the smack of skin against skin were terrible, but if she thought about it, not that terrible. Meena knew that in a sound studio in Burbank a props guy was slamming his gloved hand into a side of beef. And that sound was meant to be terrible. She’d seen a lot of behind-the-scenes videos for action movies thanks to her two brothers’ constant obsession with them. She knew, for instance, that rain was a nice touch, adding shine and dimension to a fight sequence, but that a kitchen was more dynamic, offering many more options for weapons—knives and pots, a chopping block for a shield.

She’d been standing next to Tim and the guy next to him had said something about her, which she couldn’t hear and probably didn’t need to. And then, they were tousling. Meena wasn’t sure if she’d consider this a proper fight. This was more sloppy—two muddy, red-cheeked boys slipping around, gripping each other in an awkward embrace, occasionally, swinging their arms haphazardly.

Meena had never been in this position before and didn’t know what to do. Who would have thought that Meena Malhotra would be the one to start a fight between two boys. But when the wet trickle of rain started sliding under the collar of her jacket, making its way down her back, and the shivering in her shoulder blades traveled through her entire body, ending with her chattering mouth, Meena had had enough. Her teeth hurt. Her head hurt. She knew should be thinking about the boy. She should consider what hurts on him, what she could say or do to make it better. But her trembling body erased all traces of concern, she didn’t even want to pretend to care. She could see the boys tiring and wished they would stop, that someone would get in between the two of them and end it.

Meena thought back to that girl in the movie and what she did after the fight, but couldn’t remember. All she could picture was the ugly, bruised hands of the fighter and the girl’s face—her smudgy black eyeliner and that mouth. Meena wondered if the rain looked dynamic glittering under the flashing carnival lights, if her lips were red enough, worthy enough.

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About Vandana Khanna

Vandana Khanna is the author of two full length collections of poems, "Train to Agra" and "Afternoon Masala", as well as the chapbook, "The Goddess Monologues". Her poems have won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize, The Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize, and the Diode Editions Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, New England Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner and Guernica. She is a poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review.