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FICTION
Fight Club Except It’s Your Hometown and You Drink a Craft Beer and “What? You Think You’re Better Than Me?”
Daniel DiFranco

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You’ve been away for some time, but this year you’re going home. Your first time in so, so long. It’d be good to see the folks. To get in touch with your roots. It really had been a while, longer than you had expected, but school and then the job, and then the promotion that put you in Denver for three years. You’ve ordered $12 roasted Brussel’s sprouts. You’ve had a burger that was basically a Denny’s Grand Slam between two buttery brioche buns. You have a favorite place to order pho. You pronounce it fuh. Your jerky is organic.

You kept in touch with Eva. She’s married to a guy who doesn’t like you, though you’ve never met him. You just know. You get the sense of it when Eva tells you he’s never been to the city and why would anyone live in the city and aren’t you afraid of getting shot in the city? You make plans to have lunch or tea, whenever her mom can watch the girls. Hopefully this afternoon, let her know when you’re in.

The narrow streets of the city give way to the open and wide roads that cut across the great plains of PA. The roads are less congested and you only have to worry about yourself while you drive. If you lived here your neighbors would be so far away—you wouldn’t have to interact with anybody if you didn’t want to. You ignore the Trump signs that are still hanging—you’ve learned diversion. You have conversations with yourself about what you’ll say to your relatives, and then get angry and decide to not say anything at all. Why ruin a nice time?

You’ve picked up 6 six-packs of a local craft beer from a local brewery that doesn’t distribute or sell cases. Everybody likes beer. You remind yourself not to say you’ve picked up a few mixy-sixies. You’re not a faggot, and Christ, that word rolls around your head, their word, not yours, you know that, they’ve incepted you already. Other words flash but you squash them. This is supposed to be a nice time. This is supposed to be a nice time, goddamnit.

You pull up and park and your parents come out to the car.

“Son,” your father says. Not “Michael” or “Mike” or “Kiddo.”

“Michelle,” your brother calls out in a sing-song from the porch. You let it go.

Your dad is curious about the beer, but your brother and uncle and cousin look at it and put it back down—more for me you say to yourself. Fuck those fuckers.

There’s football and food and everybody’s having a good time, but the house seems to close in on you—maybe it’s because of the people. You go to your old room, now a guest room, but your books are still there. The Vonnegut and Steinbeck. The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. The book of poems Eva gave you. You check under the loose floorboard in the closet. It’s still there—the lockbox with notes and those three letters you never sent. It’s getting cold. It was warmer in the city and you wish you would’ve brought a sweater. You check the closet and there’s a hoodie from when you were in high school. You put it on, and it doesn’t quite fit, but warm is warm. You read the letters you never sent and laugh and put them away and tap the floorboard back into place. You’ve pretended before, you can pretend again.

Dinner won’t be ready for a while yet. The men of your clan suggest going around to the bar, unless you want to stay home with the women. You tell them you’ll go. They started carrying fancy beers your uncle says. Your cousin says it tastes like piss but you might like it. You let it go. You try to have a nice time.

The bar is busy. Your group manages a high-top near the jukebox—one of those big fuckers that’s a touchscreen disco. You begin to say how the jukebox at your local still plays CDs the bartenders swap out from time to time—but never the Buckley or Waits or Costello or Stones. You stop yourself as a Keith Urban/Carrie Underwood song drowns out everything.

You ask if there’s a draft list and your brother punches you in the arm hey dickhead, look at the taps right there. It makes sense, so you let that go too, and you look at the taps and there is one craft beer—you know it’s owned and produced by a macro so you order a lager, which incidentally, does taste like piss.

Your phone buzzes and it’s Eva. She can’t make it, but next time? Maybe she’ll make the drive to the city? It’s ok, you say, happy Thanksgiving anyway. You look around the bar and see Terry from high school who got caught masturbating outside the girls’ locker room and hope he doesn’t recognize you and the music is getting louder and the people are getting louder and your brother and uncle and father and cousin raise their beers and they buy a round of shots it’s getting hot in there you need to go outside for a minute.

You pull out your phone and look at Eva’s last text and you feel stupid in your sweatshirt, and open the Uber app. The radar sends its homing signal outward, outward, but doesn’t ping. You look in the window and everyone’s having a good time, it isn’t so bad is it? It hasn’t been too bad. You take off your hoodie and go back in and remind yourself of the first rule. Silence is Compliance. Last week you chanted that in the city—during the march, emblazoned on your sign. Your brother puts his arm around you, he’s getting drunk hey you little shit its good to see you. Im glad the city didnt turn you into too much of a fairy.

And you don’t want to a ruin a nice time, but it is your first time back—and you do know the rules. You want to believe they know the rules. You want to believe. You want to believe.


Daniel DiFranco lives in Philadelphia. He is an Arcadia University MFA alum. His novel, Panic Years, will be published in May 2018 by Tailwinds Press. His short stories can be found in Smokelong Quarterly, LitroNY, and others. Full list of pubs and miscellany can be found at danieldifranco.com, and @danieldifranco.