Midget Tossers ft. Viral Brood was spelled out in crooked letters on The Plaza’s marquee. A line of kids in various shades of black wrapped around the side of the building. Kenzi admired their multicolored angular haircuts. She watched a girl with a purple buzz-cut, her face glittered with piercings. Kenzi felt a twinge of envy.
She’d learned about the show last week through a post on her Facebook wall. She bought her ticket the same day with her mom’s emergency credit card, the one she saved for home repairs and Christmas presents. Kenzi had never been to a show. She missed the last one, Splatter! at The Beacham; she’d been forced to attend a church revival meeting instead.
She listened to Midget Tossers’ new EP, “PanicPanic,” every day. It caused fights with her mom and Fat Dave each night after dinner, its frantic guitars and screams often heard through her bedroom door. They said it sounded like “crazy white people shit,” the kind of music that “made them shoot up schools.”
Her mom’s idea of good music was Kirk Franklin and Beyoncé. More than once Kenzi found her mother in the living room stumbling along as she tried to “get in formation” or convince Fat Dave to put a ring on it. She even had a shrine to the singer in her bedroom, photos taped along her dresser for “inspiration.”
Fat Dave’s tastes were worse, marked by 90s gangsta rap and newer figures like Lil Wayne. It was the only music he listened to, blasting it from his car in the mornings when he dropped her off at school, the windows down and doors shaking. “Listen to this shit, poetry,” he’d say, “straight up poetry.” Kenzi didn’t find the word “nigga” to be very poetic.
“This the type of music you should be listening to. This is your blood.”
Fat Dave hadn’t been around long, two years in June, but he’d been around the longest. The two before him, Fugly Jake and Bald Ron, only made it five months or so. Her mom found Fat Dave on a dating site, one of the free ones with pop-up ads and links to porn. They’d bonded over a shared love of God and Red Lobster cheddar biscuits.
Kenzi met Fat Dave after two months at a China Buffet – his treat. She’d gone dressed in her typical attire: black jeans, black Docs, and band tee; she opted for Minor Threat that day. At the time Kenzi tried to spike her hair with grease, pulling her heat damaged ends into limp spider-leg strands. It was the most her mother allowed.
“Hey Cockatoo!” was how Fat Dave greeted her. He pulled her in for a hug. His stomach was hard and she could already feel the sweat through his polo. His hand stayed on her back too long.
Her mom just laughed. She reassured her it was harmless teasing.
Fat Dave moved in five months later. Kenzi remembered her mom’s excitement, bouncing around the house emptying shelves and drawers, making room for Fat Dave’s fat things: a pool table, 55 inch TV, and his “baby” Tuna a Bullboxer-Pit. Kenzi didn’t mind the dog so much, she’d always wanted one, but she did mind her new place in the household hierarchy, now one rung below Tuna.
Tuna was there when she bought the ticket, stretched across the bed on her back with her feet twitching. Her mom kept the credit card beneath her mattress, “In case of a robbery,” she explained.
* * *
The line moved forward. Kenzi noted the people behind her, all dressed like those ahead. She wished she looked more like them, her shirt too clean and hair too neat. She’d ripped a hole in her jeans while on the Metro and smudged her eyeliner with spit. She felt like they could see through her, her desperate want to fit in smeared across her face.
Kenzi watched a few more people pass. She’d hoped to see others, a black girl with a shaved head or maybe a guy with dreads and pierced brows. She saw them in the videos she watched, “spots” as her mom called them, moshing with the best of them to Minor Threat at the 9:30 Club.
She showed her mom and Fat Dave a video of Bad Brains. The dreaded Rastafari were lost in a sea of white faces as their stage was taken over by the crowd. H.R., the lead singer, screamed “I against I” into a broken microphone.
“Got no sense,” said Fat Dave.
“They weren’t raised right,” said her mother. “They need church.” She shook her head and walked away.
Kenzi remembered the first time she saw Bad Brains, the result of a Google search for the term “black punk.” That night she fell down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching anything she could find. She marveled at their undeniable blackness. She had a poster of them on her bedroom wall, H.R.’s open mouth covering a hole she made after a fight with her mother. She’d said she was being “demonic.”
In them Kenzi saw kinship, a mutual weirdness borne from the streets of D.C. They were more “her blood” than anything Fat Dave would play.
The doors finally opened. The line moved steadily ahead.
Kenzi told her mother she’d be spending the night at Zola’s, the one friend her mother met. Kenzi hadn’t spoken to Zola in a year. She didn’t know when it happened, when their friendship slipped away; maybe it was when Zola joined the basketball team or when she showed up to school with a safety-pin in her ear. Zola called her crazy. Now they were nothing more than an occasional nod in the hallway.
Her mom was out at work, a late shift at the store. Fat Dave tried to act like he cared before she left, stopping her at the door. “Where you going Cockatoo?” he asked. He placed a hand on her shoulder, she felt his fingers against her neck. They were cool from his coke open on the couch.
“Mom knows,” was all she said.
* * *
The Plaza was small, a room with a bar crammed on one side and a stage on the other. It smelled of beer and cigarettes and sweat. A gray haze hung in the air and danced in the stage lights. Kenzi pressed her way through the crowd. A few people stared, guys in patched cut-offs and their tattooed girlfriends. Kenzi stared right back.
She took a spot near the back of the floor. A few bald guys hung over the barricade, patches of hair still visible behind their ears. They spit on the stage. They kicked mud from their Docs. Kenzi made a note to avoid them.
The pit filled quickly. The air was loud with the murmur of conversation as they waited for Viral Brood to take the stage. Kenzi placed her hands on her chest; her heart raced. She swallowed, throat dry, and looked at the single drum kit on stage. She’d made it.
The house lights dimmed.
* * *
Viral Brood took the stage, three brothers, two hammering on guitars while the third beat a dent into his drumhead. She felt the music throughout her body, an extra beat in her chest. The lights from the stage cast the crowd in purples and pinks, their faces distorted by the shadows. A bottle flew overhead like a comet. Its tail of beer fell onto their heads.
“Fuck it up and let it bleed! Fuck it all and let it bleed!” shouted the lead singer.
The band sang with an anger Kenzi knew well. It was the same kind she felt when Tuna took her place on the couch. The same she felt when Fat Dave called her “Cockatoo.” It was the same she felt when her mom didn’t listen; the same anger that put her fist through her bedroom wall.
Hands pressed against her back. She stumbled into the pit, her chest slamming against a guy’s shoulder. He smiled and pushed her, a hard hand against her sternum. The drummer crashed on the cymbals. Kenzi’s head filled with metal, it hurt her teeth. A girl with green hair threw a punch, it landed on Kenzi’s shoulder.
Kenzi’s skin was hot. Anger and excitement funneled to her limbs. She balled her fists and started swinging. Her punches didn’t connect, her arms waving wildly at the blurred figures around her, jumping and screaming, their faces bright and wide. Kenzi closed her eyes and jumped. She felt suspended, each jump bringing her further from the ground.
Something struck her across the mouth. She tasted iron. She spit.
Through the lights and the bodies she watched her blood, dark spots on the wood, smear beneath jumping feet. It clung to their soles. She saw a guy wipe his nose with the back of his hand. He wiped the blood on his shirt and charged, smiling.
Kenzi jumped in her blood. It was sticky like a movie theater floor. She grit her teeth and swung wildly. She could take it.
She jumped to the middle of the floor. Shirtless men grabbed each other round the neck and sang loudly. Kenzi didn’t know the song, and she didn’t care. She punched out at any moving shape, her arms like propellers.
She took an elbow to the ribs. She doubled over, knees to the floor. A mud-covered Doc found the back of her hand. A bald guy, with hair behind his ear, jumped away. Down there the music was muffled. Kenzi listened to her breathing, sharp and shallow. She sucked on the back of her hand. In the dark on the floor she was nothing.
“Come on!” Hands grabbed her around the waist and picked her up.
One of the shirtless guys, with tattoos across his chest, held her close. Kenzi could feel his heartbeat, rapid. Her nose filled with his scent, sweat and B.O. She thought of what her mother would think to see her now, bloodied and wrapped in the arms of a dirty white boy.
“You good?” He smiled. His tongue peeked through a hole in the bottom row of his teeth.
He let her go. She found her way back to the edge of the pit. She flexed the fingers on her crushed hand, she could already feel the bruise. Viral Brood threw down their guitars and walked off stage. Drumsticks went into the crowd.
She eyed the EXIT sign. Her body ached and her hand throbbed. She licked the cut in her mouth, still open and raw.
“You were fucking killing it!” A woman with beer breath leaned closed to Kenzi’s ear. She hugged her around the neck. Kenzi could smell her hair, citrus.
She wiped her cheeks, her fingertips black with eyeliner. She looked at the crowd, sweaty white faces with their multicolored hair now limp over their eyes.
The house lights went down. Midget Tossers took the stage. “PanicPanic” screamed into her ears. She charged, headfirst, smile wide.
Brianna Johnson lives in Orlando, FL and received her MFA from The University of Tampa. She currently works as a tutor, and adjunct professor of English at Seminole State College and Valencia College. She is also the managing editor of Burrow Press Review’s online literary journal, Fantastic Floridas. When not working, Brianna can be found dancing at various concerts, watching Fred Astaire films, or attempting Beyoncé choreography.