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by Tom O’Brien

Dan waits until the building site clears before he punches the brick wall. It hurts more than he expected but breaks no skin. He throws another, then one more until a blood rose blooms in the mortar. When he jams the raw knuckle between his teeth, it tastes like iron pain.

He’d gone home for lunch, thought it might be a nice surprise for her. Things haven’t been great.

Switching to his left, he takes three jabs. Hears a finger pop before he feels it. The next right hook draws a line across the stone, and he uses that as a target for a two-fisted combination, swallowing a grunt each time bone grinds rock.

He’d picked up flowers from the garage, no big deal.

Dan’s eyes burn behind his nose as if he’d taken one in the face, but he knows what he heard, when a roundhouse moves the brick.

He shifts his weight, searching for balance while he pounds the wall with body punches.

He took no notice of the unfamiliar car outside the house. Makes him feel like a fool now.

The brickwork shakes. He hammers one punch, two, three. Sweat stings his tenderised knuckles. His fingers are slippery and sticky, but Dan pushes past all that and the shaking of his legs, the ache in his shoulders, his chest.

He was about to call out when he stepped through the door, but he heard something.

The wet slaps of flesh can’t block the panting and moaning in Dan’s ears, but inch by inch he blasts a cluster of bricks into the derelict bedroom where they clatter then lie, leaving only his heaving breaths.

Outside, he washes his shaking hands under the site tap, letting the cold water burn away the blood, then goes home for the second time today.

There’s no other car now. He pushes the front door open with his elbow, hearing her tease the children about their day at school. He calls out, lets them know he’s back.

When they run to him he puts his arms around their fragile bodies, then does the same to her, relieved he can’t use his hands.

Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He has words in numerous places including EllipsisZine, Reflex and Spelk and in print in Blood & Bourbon, Blink-Ink and DEFY! anthologies. His novella Straw Gods will be published by Reflex Press in 2020. He’s on Twitter @tomwrote and his website is tomobrien.co.uk