by Jimmy Broadlick
Artist: Antonio Ysursa
You know, they told me I was the most beautiful seventh-grade boy. My brother Little Joe would say, Pa, and even Ma— and that’s surprisin’ too. But you know, it didn’t feel real. Others would say it too, at school and around. Dream blue eyes with sand hair, but I was not worthy of the praise. Not as a whole anyways. I liked my elbows and my face and my hair, but not the whole. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t important. Beauty is on the inside, I would say. And Ma would say. And Pa would say. I just couldn’t stand havin’ such an ugly thing out there for everyone to see — that thing on my leg.
I had a life before I noticed it. I was happy and always smilin’, dancin’, and singin’. I would sing to anyone who was around, and it would piss Little Joe off somethin’ mean when he’d be going on playin’ his TV games, with bits of pizza on his face, blowin’ stuff up and shootin’ things. I think it was too confusin’ for him to hear such a beautiful voice and a song of happiness while he was going on killin’ things. He’d swing at me, but I would just smile and sing on. Everyone knew me as a big personality—that is, before I noticed it, right there, fixed to my leg — the ugliness.
I didn’t tell no one about it at first. I kept it in, but it was hard not to say
nothin’. And then one day it just boiled up, and I confessed to Ma how I felt about the ugliness, there on my leg, for everyone to see. She was sittin’ there on the mouse nest sofa, lookin’ at it, squintin’ her little eyes, starin’ right at the damn thing.
She said she didn’t see nothin’ and I about blew my top. She was starin’ right at it. I brought my leg close, right up to her pig nose and her little pig eyes were still squintin’. It was right there. Again, she said she didn’t see nothin’. Liar, I said. She was just wantin’ to spare me like some broken-winged dove. No, it was right there. The ugliness. Liar.
The next day, I talked to Ma again. She was sittin’ on the mouse nest sofa, same as always, with the little things squeekin’ in it. I told her sorry and explained that I knew she was just tryin’ to spare me, but I didn’t need no sparin’, I knew what was there. Then she said it again that she didn’t see nothin’, the fuckin’ liar. She made me so crazy. I threw my leg up next to her pig nose and said, Look. Look at it. Right there. But she just shook her head all stupid, and I got crazy and spat in her face and spat in it again. I ran and slammed the door to my room and put my fist through the cheap wall, and then I screamed at the ugliness there.
Back when I was walkin’ to summer school, I would walk by a house. It was fenced in, and small with broken windows and the grass was all long. There was a mama dog, and her pups and one of the pups were small and deformed, and it limped as it walked too. The others snipped at it, and the Ma wouldn’t take no care of it either. The runt pup would try to get to the teat, and sometimes he would, but the Ma wouldn’t go out of its way to help. I walked by one day, and the runt pup was in the corner all still and stiff, and the other pups were floppin’ around happy and playin’ and the Ma was lickin’ em, not a care at all.
One day when the ugliness was starin’ at me and wouldn’t let up, I remembered that pup, stiff in the corner of the lawn. The Ma and other pups knew the one was no natural dog. They knew its ugliness and cut him off. So that’s what I did. Took my Pa’s filet knife and sliced off the ugliness like a hunk of steak. It just plopped on the bathroom floor, and I felt free at last. The blood was all pourin’ out of me, tryin’ to drown the ugliness on the floor. Pa and Ma and Little Joe heard me screamin’ of joy, of being free, and then they kicked in the bathroom door.
I woke up in the hospital with a bandage on my leg and an IV in my arm. Ma and Pa and Little Joe were all there starin’ at me, and the doctor was starin’ at me too. They told me how lucky I was. Then the doctor left, and my family left to get somethin’ to eat. When I was alone, I just had to see the ugliness gone, so I unwrapped the bandages on my leg. My calf was sewn up, and grafted and there in the middle of it, the ugliness. And I let out a howl and tore at it with my nails, and the black stitches started poppin’ loose. And it was peelin’ away, and I howled again from the joy of almost being free. The nurses came runnin’ in, holding my arms back, hollerin’ for more of them, and more came in, holdin’ my arms and legs down. And I howled and screamed, Why? Why won’t you let me be free of it? I just want to be free.
Jimmy Broadlick, grew up playing with crawdads and fox traps in the woods outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. For the past 6 years he has lived in NYC, working in the fashion industry, and training in various martial arts, including but not limited to Jeet Kune Do.