“Bob and Bill” by Russ Bickerstaff

Bill hit Bob in the face. In response, Bill’s hand exploded. It may have been a careless punch, but it was definitely a cautious explosion that made Bob more than a little concerned. Bill recoiled in pain as his hand scattered all over the front counter of the convenience center they were standing in front of. Everything had grown quite slow and quite still as the full reality of what had just happened settled-in on Bill, Bob, the girl behind the cash register and everyone else in line to check out. Bob felt bad for Bill. Bill felt bad for his hand. Both of them felt as though they should probably apologize to everyone else who was there observing the whole thing.

The only apology that was forthcoming was a threatening cry that Bob let out. It might have been in response to the pain of the punch, but it probably wasn’t as Bill’s fist could not have had that much of an impact on Bob’s face what with it exploding the way that it had and all. So maybe it was more of a cry of frustration. Things had gotten to be quite awkward for everyone involved and Bob was particularly sensitive to social discomfort. He had considered himself an agoraphobic in college and had even managed to come down with a case of scurvy back then, which was generally a condition that only came about in the modern age for those who had a problem with being painful shut-ins.

The screech of discomfort reverberated throughout the convenience center as people winced. There was a sense of confusion as it hadn’t exactly been the case that a screech like that would have sounded all that natural coming from a simple punch to the face…not that most people who were in the convenience center at the time would have had much of a reason to consider what was normal for someone getting punched in the face with no warning, but it was scarcely a reaction that seemed to be all that natural under the circumstances as it brought about a sudden awareness of everyone in the room at just how very strange it was that a punch would have been thrown in the first place, let alone caused a fist to literally explode and a piercing shriek to be emitted from the one the punch had been directed at.

Somewhere in the midst of the confusion, Bill felt exceptionally embarrassed. There was a sense that something had gone completely wrong, but Bill couldn’t figure out exactly what it might be, so he wanted to let it pass. He knew that he couldn’t. He knew that he would be dwelling on a mistake that had clearly come from having misread the entire situation between he and Bob and he knew that he would have to explain it to at least two or three people even though he couldn’t exactly remember exactly what he had been thinking that had caused him to throw the punch in the first place.

Bob looked over at Bill and felt a sense of sympathy that might well have overcome his shriek response. He could feel it no longer coming from him even though he could quite distinctly hear his voice echoing and resonating through everything as everyone continued to wince. Bob took Bill’s other hand, wrapping his other arm around Bill’s shoulder as he guided him out of the convenience center. Purchases could wait. Payments could wait. Even a trip to the emergency room could wait. There had been something that had happened between the two of them that needed to be addressed.

Bill looked at Bob. Bob looked at Bill. There were words that needed to be spoken. There were no words that could be spoken. All the two were able to do was stand there and look at each other until the space between them shrank in an embrace. Maybe it was an apology. Maybe it was sympathy. Maybe it was something more than that. Whatever it was, it was going to have to do for that moment. Words could not express or explain what had happened. The only thing left for it was to forgive and move on.

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