a slap in the face

He felt something on his cheek and put a hand up to his face. Pulling back a handful of blood, he looked up in shock just as a pair of GIs from his unit came out of a nearby bar…”


by j.b. hogan


Brennan was a lone wolf. While his buddies liked to drink in the popular bars just outside their overseas base, Brennan was more apt to head for smaller, less-traveled, and more adventurous clubs deeper into town.

One cool evening, as he headed out on one of these adventures, making his way along a narrow back alley not far yet from the busy bar area, Brennan looked up to find a local kid coming towards him, nearly blocking the way. The kid looked to be about fifteen and smiled as he moved to one side as if to let Brennan pass by. Suddenly, the kid shot out a right hand and gave Brennan a vertical slap down the right cheek.

“Ow,” Brennan said, flinching from the sting of the slap. Before he could react, the boy slapped him again in the same way.

“Damn,” Brennan yelled, the second slap stinging even more than the first.

He spun in the alley to confront the boy, but all he could find was air – the boy had shot into a narrow side street and was gone. Cursing, Brennan shook his head and stumbled out into one of the main streets full of brightly decorated bars with their garish neon signs advertising the availability of all things appealing to the flesh and to the senses.

As Brennan entered this primary thoroughfare, he felt something on his cheek and put a hand up to his face. Pulling back a handful of blood, he looked up in shock just as a pair of GIs from his unit came out of a nearby bar.

“Holy crap,” one of them exclaimed, pointing at Brennan. “You’ve been cut, man.”

“Damn it,” Brennan swore, “that lousy little bastard must’ve had razorblades in his hand.”

“Where’d the SOB go?” the other GI asked.

“He’s gone,” Brennan said, “he was gone before I knew what happened.”

He rubbed his face and got another fresh handful of blood.

“Come on, dude,” the first GI said, “we gotta get you back to base, to the hospital.”

“Maybe we can somebody at the main gate to drive us,” the other GI said.

“Yeah,” the first one agreed.

“Damn,” Brennan groaned, blood dripping off his chin and falling onto his clothes. “I can’t believe it.”

The base doctors didn’t have to stitch Brennan up; the razorblade cuts weren’t very wide although they had caused a lot of bleeding. The doctors at the base hospital cleaned him up good and taped a big white patch over his cheek. The very next night Brennan went back downtown, drinking all evening in one of his favorite haunts far from the busy bar region outside the main gate.

A few weeks later, when the last of a series of smaller and smaller patches and bandages was finally removed, Brennan had two bright red, long thin scars running from high on his right cheekbone to the middle of his jaw. When he rotated back to the states fifteen months later, they weren’t nearly so bright red. Brennan was used to the scars by then. He never bothered to do anything about them.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Five
June 2009


(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)

J. B. Hogan is a writer and poet living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has a Ph.D. in English (Literature) from Arizona State University (1979) and worked for many years as a technical writer. His credits include the four-story fiction chapbook Near Love Stories online at www.cervenabarvapress.com (forthcoming) and short stories, poems, and non-fiction in: Istanbul Literary Review, Aphelion, Rumble, The Swallow’s Tail, Poesia, Bewildering Stories, Avatar Review, Copperfield Review, Ascent Aspirations, Megaera, The Pedestal Magazine, Dogwood Journal, Mastodon Dentist, The Square Table, Raving Dove, Mobius, Viet Nam Generation, The Mark Twain Journal, Arizona Quarterly and San Francisco Review of Books.  More from J.B. can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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