The night before school was to begin, Dugan was at the kitchen table, eating a French bread pizza and reading a blurb in Time magazine about a strange new disease. The article said the disease began as a fever of unknown origin and ended always in death. What was worse, they weren't sure yet just how the thing was transmitted.
Hearing his father come down the stairs, he glanced up to notice he had, for some reason, shed his trademark torn flannel and jeans for a pair of chinos and a red sweater. He walked behind Dugan and began rummaging around in the fridge for something to eat.
"Where you goin?" Dugan asked after a while.
"Work," his father answered.
Dugan raised his head. "Where?" he asked.
"Thunderbird," his father answered. "Gonna bartend there a few nights a week."
Dugan looked back at his Time. Without thinking, he muttered, "That'll be convenient."
and the next thing he knew he'd been pulled out of his chair and heard it crash loudly onto the floor behind him. His father lifted him off his feet and spun him around, slamming his back against the still open fridge.
His left hand pressed viciously against Dugan's chest, squeezing out his breath. His right hand was fisted, raised over his shoulder and aimed toward Dugan's face.
"Whaddyou say to me, you little punk?" his father asked.
Dugan stared back a long moment, before he began to feel his bottom grow slowly wet, as the milk or the juice or whatever it was in the fridge that had been knocked over by the sudden violence began to dribble against his backside, before dripping down onto the floor that was now an inch beneath his feet.
He felt his face grow red with anger. His lip quivered. But he willed away the tears that now threatened to fill his eyes. The two stared each other down another moment until Dugan screamed suddenly, "Hit me!"
and a moment later, he screamed it again.
He watched his father begin to shrink slowly away from him and saw something in his eyes change. The pressure on his chest began to abate somewhat. Before he allowed that to happen, Dugan grabbed his father’s big hand in his own and again shoved it violently against his chest.
"Hit me!" he shrieked, demanding it now
and after that he couldn't stop the tears from falling and collapsed limply against the fridge, with only his father's big hand holding him up at all. He closed his eyes a moment before he felt his father begin to slowly lower him to the floor, where he collapsed onto the dirty linoleum and into the puddle of milk or whatever the hell it was, where he turned his bleary eyes up toward his father to beg and plead and cry and moan,
"hit me . . . please . . . just . . . hit me . . . please"
and some time after that he heard his father leave the house.