The Manchester Review
Steven Millhauser
The Slap
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AT NIGHT. In the middle of the night Walter Lasher woke beside his wife and immediately recalled the episode on the playground that had taken place forty-two years ago. He saw Jimmy Kubec with startling vividness: the thick black combed-back oily hair, the loose jaunty walk, the mocking mouth, the large long-lashed eyes. Kubec had long thin biceps, with a vein running down along each upper arm. He wore black jeans and a tight white T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders. He walked toward Walter, looking at him with a little taunting smile, and as he approached he held up the palm of one hand and made a pushing gesture at the air. He did not touch Walter, who nevertheless felt the mockery and the challenge. Walter had grown six inches over the summer. His shoulders were filling out, and he felt an energy in his arms that was almost like anger. The mocking little gesture cut into him like glass. He walked up to Jimmy Kubec and smashed him in the face. He could see the surprise and pain in Kubec’s dark eyes, the blood streaming from the broken nose, the look that seemed to say: Why did you do that to me? Kubec had no friends. He stayed out of Walter’s way after that, standing alone by a tree in a corner of the schoolyard. Lasher lay in bed and thought: Could it have been him, after all these years? The idea was absurd. The man in the trench coat had sandy hair, sharp features, grayish or bluish eyes. It must have been someone else, someone who had it in for him. He saw it again: Jimmy Kubec coming toward him, the veins in his arms, the little pushing gesture in the air. Kubec hadn’t touched him. All that was in another time, another life. Anna lay with her back to him, her hair rippling over the pillow. On the street a car passed, sending a thin bar of light across one wall and up along the ceiling.