Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
Bruce Lee is crying into Kevin’s shoulder.
Which is itself an oddity, what with the martial arts legend being dead and all, and there being absolutely no reason a man of that stature would weep into the soiled Superman t-shirt of a pock-marked seventeen-year-old boy. But this particular Bruce Lee has just experienced a rather jolting car accident as well as the rather jolting realization that he is, indeed, made out of a sponge.
All Kevin can think about in this moment is the invasive stench of his boss, Herman.
The sweat glands in Herman’s skin are of a particularly devoted and overworked breed. When Kevin first met him, he thought, perhaps, that Herman had only just come back from the gym, that, maybe, he had just started a regimen of exercise that would pick away at the one hundred and fifty pounds of excess fat that clung to him. He wore bright orange sweatbands around his head and wrists, as if the gym he was just returning from also only existed in 1985.
“I like you,” Herman said, with a strong breath on the “you.” The odor of onion and mustard and pastrami lingered in the air between them, so wherever this hypothetical gym existed, it must also have a deli. “You’re weak.”
“Sir, I don’t think I’m – ”
“No, that’s just how my eyebrows are shaped – ”
“The sweat from your armpits smells like boiled eggs.”
“Okay, well – ”
“You’ll fit in just fine here.”
And so Kevin’s first real summer job began.
Herman was a long-time fan of martial arts movies and claimed to be a purple belt in some obscure karate school in Chesterfield, Indiana. He had opened up a school of his own in Kevin’s hometown, but had recently decided to expand his business horizons.
“Not everyone can afford the classes, Kevin,” Herman said as he walked Kevin through the dank Top Ramen-smelling hallway toward the supply closet in the back of his studio. “So we’re bringing the classes to them, in easy-to-digest packages, delivered right to their home.”
“You made a video or something?” Kevin said, trembling at the thought of Herman’s immensity jiggling through Kung Fu stances on tape.
“We’re taking it a step further than that, Kev. Take a look.”
Inside the closet were hundreds of small boxes with little action figures carved out of sponge – action figures of various martial arts movie stars such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan, George Liu and, of course, Bruce Lee.
“You add a few drops of my special brew to these guys – only a few drops, mind you, never more than a few drops, read the label – and they’ll pop up into the best martial arts teachers the world will ever know. Why watch a tape, when you can have a couple hours, in your own home, with the real deal?”
“Who’s Bruce Lee?” Kevin said, looking at one of the boxes.
“Someone who could turn that weak, flabby ass of yours into a killing machine. And that’s what martial arts is all about, Kevin. Kicking ass. It’ll turn you into a real man.” Herman shoved a tube of his special brew, a liquid concoction, yellow and sizzling, under Kevin’s nose.
Kevin reeled back and struggled to keep from hurling.
“Wha – what is that?”
“That, my friend, is sweat and fear.”
Herman loved the smell of sweat and fear.
Kevin wasn’t a fan. But he needed a job. And he figured delivering sponge-based martial arts teachers was better than delivering pizza.
Two weeks later, Kevin nearly runs over a golden retriever and instead barrels into a lamppost, sending a bottle of Herman’s brew spilling onto a Bruce Lee delivery. Far more than a few drops. Far more than is necessary to kick one of these things into life.
Kevin’s car now smells decidedly of sweat and fear. And Herman.
In the backseat, Bruce Lee starts punching himself in the face.
This does little damage since both Bruce Lee’s face and hand are made of soggy sponge.
“Stop it! Stop it! You’ll ruin your face and then I’ll lose my job! Stop it!” Kevin grabs at Bruce Lee’s arms but the spongy skin is slick and Kevin’s fist slips back up and punches Kevin in the face.
Bruce Lee starts laughing a spongy wet laugh.
“Yeah, yeah,” says Kevin.
The car is smoking and spitting all over the sidewalk so there’s nothing much to do but to start walking.
Kevin pulls the laughing, crying, punching spongy Bruce Lee out of his car and onto the sidewalk. Bruce Lee’s legs are over-saturated with Herman’s special brew, so his steps are wobbly and wet and make a sickening plopping sound on the cement. They leave a path of Herman sweat puddles behind them.
The client’s house is a dark ranch style pit with a dead front lawn and a cracking porch. Kevin pulls Bruce Lee up the creaking steps and knocks.
There’s a trembling in the house and a towering lump of muscle answers the door.
The towering man grunts. He scratches his bear hands across his mixed martial arts t-shirt.
“You ordered a Bruce Lee…sir?”
Lester looks Bruce Lee up and down. Bruce Lee’s skin is porous and shifting, the oversaturation keeping his parts from fully fusing into Herman’s version of the martial arts master. “You’re kidding me with this right?”
“Well there was a little accident in the car but…he’s still good. He’s still Bruce Lee. Bruce, show him your moves, man.”
Bruce Lee begins punching himself in the face. Again.
Lester grabs Kevin’s shirt and lifts him a foot off the ground. Close up, Lester’s stench can’t be far off from Herman’s.
“Look you little twerp. I ordered Bruce Lee. The fucking legend Bruce Lee. This spongy piece of shit is not what I ordered. You know how long I’ve been waiting for this? All I’ve wanted to do for ten years is kick the ass of a real legend. And this is what you bring me? I guess I’ll have to settle for you, huh?”
A mumbling and burbling comes from Bruce Lee and then a wet punch pokes Lester right in the eyes.
Herman’s brew shouldn’t be dropped in the eyes.
Lester screams and drops Kevin, who grabs the laughing Bruce Lee and skids across the weed-choked lawn and nearly five blocks away before slowing down.
“Thanks Bruce,” Kevin says.
Bruce grumbles and laughs.
“I bet you were a real fighter, weren’t ya?” says Kevin. “That’s what martial arts is all about, isn’t it?”
“Fiugggttttgggg?” says Bruce.
“Fighting. Yeah. That’s what Herman says anyway.”
“WWuuuoood,” says Bruce.
“Wood?” says Kevin?
“Ffffwwwooiddd,” says Bruce, who loses control of one of his arms and starts gesturing wildly to the right.
Kevin turns to the right and sees a Chinese food restaurant.
“Oh, food. Is that it? Food?” says Kevin. “I bet you’re real hungry.”
Bruce Lee shakes his head. With his left hand he squeezes his right arm and lets the Herman liquid drip down onto the sidewalk. The drips spell out the word “Wude.”
“Wude? Yeah, yeah, I bet they got that in there. What is that, a dumpling or something?”
Bruce Lee leaks onto the linoleum floor of the Chinese restaurant, his smell causing a few patrons to scatter to the tables outside. Kevin orders for the both of them, noodles and chicken and dumplings.
“I gotta say, this isn’t how I thought I’d spend my summer,” says Kevin. “I mean I need a job and all, but this – but Herman? Man, no thank you.”
“Wyyyy sterrnnannaaa ssssss,” says Bruce Lee.
“Soon as I turn eighteen my dad’s kicking me out of the house. I gotta have money, don’t I? I tell ya, he’s a lot like Herman. Always pushing people around. But I can’t do nothing about it. You ever feel like you can’t do nothing about stuff?”
Bruce Lee nods his head and drools.
“No offense or nothing, I just never liked fighting. I’m not a wimp, you see, I just don’t understand it. But I guess you gotta do it sometimes, right? I mean you had to? I mean not you, the real Bruce Lee, I mean you, if that was you, you had to do it?”
Bruce Lee tries in vein to pick up a bottle of soy sauce.
“I’m sorry they didn’t have any of that wude stuff you wanted. Maybe that’s special Chinese food. Maybe they only serve wude in Chinatown or something. We could go look for it. I mean we could hang out again and go find some of that wude. How does that sound?”
As the food arrives at the table, Kevin gets a call from Herman.
It’s a good five minutes before Kevin can get a word in.
“I’m coming down there to get you,” says Herman. “Where the hell are you?”
“We’re having lunch,” says Kevin, as Bruce Lee soaks up rice bits through his hand.
The fifteen minutes before Herman’s arrival is the most pleasant Kevin or spongy Bruce Lee have had all day.
“Wude is the code of martial morality in Chinese martial society. It is about humility and respect and patience. It is not about kicking ass. Martial arts isn’t about fighting, it is about choosing not to fight, and when to fight. It is about knowing who you are and respecting all life,” says Bruce Lee.
Which to Kevin sounds more like, “Woooodddoooo cuuurrdd mmmartal huummm ill leef…” And so on.
The few words Kevin does understand are “kicking ass.”
“That’s right,” says Kevin, with a new kind of pride. “We did kick his ass, didn’t we? I bet that Lester won’t be bothering us again.”
Bruce Lee shakes his head and cracks open a fortune cookie. In the gesture, one of his fingers dries up, falls off and lands in Kevin’s orange chicken.
Kevin sticks one end of a toothpick into the finger and the other end into Bruce Lee’s hand. “All better,” he says.
Bruce Lee’s hand then shatters completely.
“That can’t be good.”
“He’s drying up. These things only got a life of about two hours.” Kevin can smell Herman before he sees him. He’s still wearing the orange sweatbands and still looks flustered and red and wet, as if coming from the gym. In two weeks, Kevin has still not seen Herman actually go to or talk about a gym.
“Two hours,” says Kevin, looking longingly into Bruce Lee’s eyes.
“Yeah, how do you think I pay the rent, you idiot? These teachers are temporary. They’re only made to teach a few lessons. Then you move on to the next one. What are you, a moron? And what the hell did you do to my Bruce Lee, huh?”
Herman grabs Bruce Lee’s chin and his jaw nearly comes off.
“Hey, be careful with him!” says Kevin, hitting Herman’s hand away from Bruce Lee. “He’s not yours to push around.”
“Actually he is,” says Herman, yanking Bruce Lee up out of the chair and out onto the sidewalk, with Kevin following.
Outside, Bruce Lee gives a weak, wet punch at Herman’s armpit.
“This is pathetic,” says Herman.
“You’re pathetic,” says Kevin, his voice squeaking a bit, which it hadn’t done since he was fourteen.
“I said you’re pathetic.” The sound of his own voice frightens Kevin.
“Yeeehhhooow,” says Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee’s legs suddenly crumble underneath him. He gives one last splashy punch to Herman’s cheek this time.
“You shouldn’t pick on defenseless martial arts legends,” says Kevin.
“It’s a sponge,” says Herman.
“He’s my friend,” says Kevin.
“You’ve lost it, kid,” says Herman. “Step away before I snap you in two.”
“Well isn’t this what it’s all about?” says Kevin.
“What?” says Herman.
“Kicking ass,” says Kevin, and then knees Herman in the crotch.
Herman and Bruce Lee tumble to the ground. Bruce Lee laughing his spongy laugh all the way.
“Wooduuddd,” says Bruce Lee.
“Hey Herman, you ever heard of wude? Bruce is obsessed about it and they didn’t have it on the menu here.”
“Woodoodooodoooddodoodo,” says Bruce Lee.
A light breeze turns the corner around the Chinese food restaurant and Bruce Lee disintegrates. The pieces of him blow over Herman, who takes in a deep breath and chokes on the pieces of Bruce Lee.
“Don’t worry, Bruce,” says Kevin. “I’ll try it someday. I promise.”
Chelsea Sutton holds a BA in Literature from The College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Her plays have had readings and productions in Santa Barbara, New York and Los Angeles and she is currently participating in workshops with the Skylight Theatre Playlab and The Vagrancy Writers Group, as well as spearheading ECT’s writers group, Eclectic Voices. Her play The Dead Woman, was recently named a Semifinalist in the Eugene O’Neill Playwrighting Conference 2013. Her fiction has appeared in The Best of Farmhouse Magazine, The Catalyst, Spectrum, and Fictionade, and she was the 2011 Winner of NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Contest. Her story The Tick and the Tocking received Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. She is a member of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative. WithCoffeeSpoons.com