How to Blink


June 22, 2017 by The Citron Review

by DL Shirey


I’m nose to nose with a guy who has a neck tattoo. It wouldn’t be fair to let you imagine some seedy joint filled with bikers and angry drunks. It’s a spotless cantina in a Mexican chain restaurant and the tattoo in question is that of a cartoon duck. Even though my opponent and his posse look like they just walked out of an algebra class, looks can be deceiving.

Be he mathlete or meth-head, I never start the fight. I look into my opponent’s eyes and concentrate on blinking normally. That and not being the first to talk. If Donald Duck, here, speaks before throwing-down, chances are he’s looking for an out. I am happy to de-escalate, welcome it, actually. However, I am always prepared to counter.


Stare-down is a misnomer. If anything, it is defined by the willpower to blink. In these situations, a wide-eyed death glare is the worst—better to blink naturally. It takes concentration not to force one. Try it yourself. Wait for the blink.

Weird, when you analyze it: a reflex to moisten the eyes happens automatically, yet when the blink is deliberate, you sense the muscles involved. Go ahead, blink now. Notice how unnatural it feels? The pressure squeezing the lids is different, the duration of eye closure is slightly longer. It’s what poker players look for: a tell, the slightest deviation from normal. A blink can give away your hand and let the opponents guess your true intentions.

A bar fight is not poker, but the same rules apply.


I prefer to dodge the first punch. My sidestep is predicated on righty or lefty, how quick the pullback and the angle of oncoming knuckles. The law of motion cannot be overruled; a missed swing upsets balance, usually leaving the opponent’s stomach or rib cage vulnerable. One solid jab crumples a man to hands and knees, finished by a well-placed boot to the temple or knee to the jaw.


“Maybe we should take this outside,” Donald says. His fists are clenched, but the rest of him is losing at poker.

He’s looking for an exit. His big talk and swagger were show for his math buddies. It was an accident that I reached for a tortilla chip at the same time he went for his drink. But when his frothy slosh of margarita hit the bar, Duckman went all this-cantina-ain’t-big-enough-for-both-of-us.

“Not necessary,” I say, “My fault. Let me buy you another. No harm done.”

“Okay, then,” he says.

He crawls back on his stool with no departing words, no veiled threats to preserve his dignity. I toss a pair of fives to the bartender cleaning up the spill.

“Have a good evening.” I blink.


DL Shirey writes from Portland, Oregon, where it’s probably raining. His short stories and non-fiction appear in over 20 publications, including Page & Spine, Zetetic, and Every Day Fiction. You can find more of his writing at


2 thoughts on “How to Blink

  1. […] Citron Review published my account of a bar […]

  2. […] June 2017, The Citron Review published my account of a bar fight, from the perspective of someone waiting for the first punch to be thrown. Reprinted […]

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