The football field was empty when they got there, and high up the sun looked like a bruised orange. Vance and Charles, both 13 years old, came to the field on bikes painted in bright metallic colors, rusting slowly. It was chilly. A track surrounded a field of faded markings and dying grass. Everywhere in the bleachers trash, bags of popcorn, lying on the steps. At the bottom of each step was a blue and yellow stripe, the school colors. Painted on the brick weight room was a mural of a scowling muscular ram. When they arrived, the boys hopped a fence to get in the field. Charles had a hooked nose and dirty blonde hair. Vance’s hair was shaggy and tousled and his face was long. He sat down. Charles looked at him.
“Your legs giving out already?”
“No, I’m just resting.”
“Resting, you not get eight hours last night?”
“I’m rested up and I’m just preparing myself mentally.”
“This is the way he said to do it, right?”
“I think this is the way he said to do it.” Charles scratched his crotch. “We picked the place, and after we’ve picked the place all there is to do is wait on him.”
“When is Rodney showing up?” Vance said. “I’m getting anxious.”
“His bike is dog shit. Did you talk to Ripley yesterday?”
“I did for like five minutes in the hall. I really like her. I really do.”
“Well, that’s good. I talked to her at lunch. I think she likes me.”
“Well, she might like me too.”
“It’s possible. For both of us. I think she likes me though.” Charles spat. “Where the hell is Rodney, dude?”
“He’s probably getting sucked off by Suzie Scott.” Bovine Susie Scott with her mouth gaping revealing a halitosis flecked tongue she would roll around her mouth, attempting to eradicate the retainer that, coupled with her heft and fleshy face, made her seem more pitiful effigy than girl, more movie character than human. Charles winced and laughed.
“Ew dude, that’s not even right.”
Vance stood up and started to stamp his feet to get warm. “Man, if he showed up, bragging about that…”
“Beat him like he did something wrong.” They both grinned, standing at the fence and watching, in the distance, a tottering figure walking like a determined construction paper square. As the quad neared, it became Rodney. He was rotund and wearing a tan hoodie. He came to the football field. He tried to throw himself over the fence by putting his feet in the holes of the fence and then swinging his leg over but instead he got his leg stuck. Vance and Charles watched. Rodney grunted and just walked to the other end of the field where a fence with a steel gate stood, sinking slowly to the ground. “He should walk like there’s food here.” Vance said.
Rodney was up close now. He wore a black watch cap and fingerless gloves. “Y’all ready to beat each other like you did something wrong?”
“Yeah, sure.” Vance said. Rodney plopped onto the ground, his teeth chattering and his breath cold smoke.
“Now, why y’all want to fight each other?”
“It’s not a fight, Rodney, it’s a duel.”
“Yeah, there’s a clear difference.” Charles said. He rubbed his hands together.
“Well, it’s essentially what you guys are gonna be doin’.” Rodney said. He pulled a sheet of notebook paper out of his pocket and cleared his throat.
“No, there’s obviously a difference and you’re too fucking stupid to realize it. People fight when they’re mad at each other. People duel when they want to beat the shit out of each other with no hard feelings.” Vance said.
“Yeah, Rodney. You said that this was how we had to do it.” Vance and Charles stamped their feet, shot fog from their frost-stung nostrils.
“Okay, fine. Y’all ready.”
“Yeah, we’re ready.” Vance and Charles were now tensing up and breathing heavier. “You say the word.”
“Okay. Do you guys mind if I say some words?”
Vance shot Rodney a look. “Get on with it.”
“Okay, so what’s got y’all wanting to fight?“
“Duel, goddammit.” They said.
“Duel each other.”
Vance spat and cleared his throat. “The reason we want to duel is we both like Ripley Starks. I think she’s the most gorgeous girl who’s ever existed and we’re both madly in love with her, and we want to do this honorably.”
“So his idea was this.” Charles said. “I’m in favor of it.”
“Alright then. So now what you have to do is demand satisfaction.”
“Demand satisfaction, did I speak unclearly.”
“Put a Twinkie in there, it’ll all translate easier.”
“Guys, how can y’all duel each other if you don’t have a lick of dueling sense. You don’t even know what the blue hell y’all talking about. Demanding satisfaction is where you take whatever the other guy said to you that spurred this into being a duel worthy situation and make him apologize. That’s the whole point of the duel, getting apologized to.”
“Well excuse our greatgreatgreat granddads for being dead and not keeping their heads in a fucking jar. Gimme that sheet of paper.” Charles took it. “It says here that we have to demand satisfaction from the other guy.”
“Okay, whatever. So what’s the offense that made this turn into a thing?”
“I think it’s when we were talking about it at gym class.” During a free day in gym, they all sat under a big pine. Charles and Vance got into an argument about Ripley. Charles said he planned to have Ripley on his index fingers and her back. Vance clenched his fist, wondering about putting Charles on his knuckles. Charles said later he was surprised Rodney didn’t mistake him for pudding, so Vance shook. “So that’s what made me realize we needed to duel.”
“Okay, then.” Rodney pulled up grass. “Demand satisfaction from Charles.”
“Charles, I demand satisfaction from you.” Vance said, his voice hitting some fireworks on the last syllable.
“Okay.” Charles said. He nodded. “Okay.”
“I think that’s accepting the challenge.” Vance looked to Rodney for approval. “Is that a worthy response?”
“Yeah, sure. Just fight. Any ground rules gonna make this honorable?”
“No below the belt shots. Whoever wins wins.” Vance said. “And no face shots.”
“Well, okay. Do your paces.”
Vance and Charles put their backs against each others. They walked six paces. Rodney’s fingers worked the grass, pulling up more, watching the two of them move and then run for each other, the grass first then silence. Charles managed to get a hold of Vance’s collar and wrestle him to his knees, but Vance went for Charles’s knees and brought him down on top of him. Charles punched him once on his thigh.
“Below the belt asshole!” Vance wiggled around like something half dying and managed to roll over on to his back where Charles elbowed him in the stomach several times. He felt each elbow jab deep into his stomach, the tug in his chest when he would see Ripley in the hall moving downward. Rodney came over and pulled Charles off him. Charles stood over Vance and Vance stood up, drunk with pain. They nodded. Charles stood over Vance, lying on the grass.
“Fair is fair.” Charles said. “Fair is fair.” Vance acknowledged him and then Charles waved a half hearted good bye. When he walked off, the weather felt like it had changed and then Vance was on the grass, imagining a corpse weeping at a wake, but without any family members. He didn’t move, the grass needed water.