Yeah, I hit my kid, but I didn’t hit him that hard. Besides, I’m going to make it up to himright now. I mean, Jaime probably won’t even have a bruise and he did have it coming, but still… What kind of dad punches his kid?
I know what will make it better. I’ve seen the commercials with that pro wrestler. What’s his name? The Masher? Tongue wagging through a weird leather mask that looks like a catcher’s mitt, he jams his behemoth hands forward and his palms are filled with brightly colored mini musclemen. “Berzerkoids are here!” He screams so loud the TV rattles even when the volume is down. The toys are cheap and Jamie has been begging for them.
Will giving him a fistful of Berzerkoids send the wrong message though? What message will it even send? That I think I can gift my way out of it every time I’m a shitty dad? Or that Jamie’s misbehavior will result in gifts?
And I have to remember that’s what started this. If Jamie had stopped poking that dead possum in the backyard the first time I scolded him, if he hadn’t picked the maggoty thing up and thrown it at me, teasing, “Dad’s got a new pet,” I wouldn’t have had to hit him. He’s seven. He knows better than to play with the gifts the neighbor’s Doberman leaves. He could get maggots. I’ve told him, “They’ll crawl into your skin and chew you up from the inside out.” Fucking maggots. I hit him for his own good, really. I had never done it before. Well, not “never,” but…
Oh God, the way he looked at me after I did it, like he didn’t know me, like all the trust I had earned raising him since his ma ditched us just seeped out with his tears. I really am a good dad, damn it. And I know every dad says that, but I am. So many guys at the office think that putting food on the table is all it takes. I do so much more. I’m not just talking about teaching him how to play catch either. That’s ground level shit. I taught him how to play tackle football and, yeah, I guess there was the whole broken rib thing, but it’s tackle football, and that was an accident and I told him how proud I was that he took it like a man.
Fuck, am I a shitty dad?
I go straight to the counter at the toy store and say, “Berzerkoids.”
The toy man’s eyes light up and he jumps over the counter. Leading the way through the aisles, he knocks shiny robots and other shitty toys off the shelves, stomping them to pieces under foot. “We just got series three and it’s the best yet!”
“Cool, man.” Am I sweating? Is that Jamie’s blood on my knuckles? No, I must have scraped myself on his teeth. Shit, I hope these Berzerkoids do the trick.
The toy man shoves a pack of four into my hands and shouts, much like the Masher, “Berzerkoids are here! These are my favorites. I’ve got them on the headboard of my bed.They watch over me at night.”
“Okay.” I look at the little musclemen in the blister pack. The Squirmer: a neon green knot of pythons. The Strangler: a hairball with hot pink arms wrapped around a screaming severed head. The Stinker: a brilliant blue anus face with limp limbs. The Spermer: aurethra head shooting day-glow yellow man-seed. What the fuck are kids playing with these days?
The toy man notices my reluctance. “Every kid is playing with Berzerkoids. Shit, I’m playing with Berzerkoids!”
“Yeah, Jamie wants them bad.”
I stare at the figures, wondering whatever happened to good old-fashioned superheroes fighting space aliens. Changing times, I guess. Should I get a few packs? I could keep them tucked away just in case. Jamie is getting older. Maybe he’s entering a disobedient phase and I’ll have to… Ah, I shouldn’t even think it. I can’t hit him anymore. If I lose it and punch him again, then so be it, but I can’t plan on it.
But maybe I’ll get him two packs right off the bat. They are pretty cool, and more toys means less time playing with possum corpses. Yeah, I’m a good dad.
I pay the toy man who insists on high fiving me. Then I speed home, imagining that sad look on Jamie’s face being replaced with his usual happy-go-lucky smile. I have trouble visualizing that smile, so I push the pedal down harder.
Squealing to a stop in the driveway, I have a moment of panic trying to decide how to present the new toys to Jamie. That panic disappears almost instantaneously and I knowexactly what I have to do. I run to the front door, unlock it and open it just a smidge. Then I back up and violently kick it the rest of the way open.
I jump in, modest muscles flexed, doing my best impersonation of the Masher as I clutch a pack of toys in each hand. At the top of my lungs, I bellow, “Berzerkoids are here!”
Jamie lunges out of the shadows. He rushes toward me, growling. I assume he’s excited. I assume he’s coming to grab the toys and wrap me up in a hug. I don’t even register thesteak knife in his little hand until he plunges it into my thigh and a stream of my blood gushes into his black-eyed face.
“You ungrateful piece of shit!” I scream.
Jamie grabs the toys and runs, yelling “Berzerkoids are here!”
MP Johnson’s short stories have appeared in more than 35 publications. His debut book, The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone, was released in 2013 by Bizarro Pulp Press. His second book, Dungeons and Drag Queens, is out now from Eraserhead Press. He is the creator of Freak Tension zine, a B-movie extra and an obsessive music fan currently based in Minneapolis. Learn more at www.freaktension.com.