by Jonathan Wolf
I’m sitting in the corner of the ring watching him watching me. He’s standing, arms resting on the ropes, glaring. His left eye is swollen, and there’s a small trickle of blood on his mouth. He licks it away and sneers.
“Ready to give up?” I ask.
“Not hardly.” He responds.
He’s forty-one years old. Over the hill. Done. He’s large, but flabby like an aged boxer should look.
I’m twenty-five, in the prime of my life. I am the heavy-
-I was the heavy weight champion of the world till I was knocked out.
I’m winded and tired, and he looks stronger than ever. It’s the fourth round.
“I’m not holding back old man. Better quit while you’re ahead.” It’s supposed to sound like intimidation. Instead it sounds like a plea.
“All talk.” The old man says. He knocks himself on the forehead, and marches forward. “Come on and get your lesson.” I spit, and go to meet him, not thinking about what I should be thinking about.
We square up in the center of the ring, arms length plus a half away from each other. He’s fast, as quick as death, and he balances on his feet like a kitten. He’s dancing around me searching for a way into my center. I’m closed up, defending my body. He’s sealed the gap and jabs a bit, playfully trying to lure me in. Then he starts talking.
“So this is the Thunderstorm huh? Looks like a spring shower to me.”
“I thought you were a boxer. You’re a freaking pugilist.”
“Is that how you talk to your father?”
“You ain’t my father!” I throw some hard jabs into his ribs. One connects, and I enjoy the loud sucking noise he makes, then I move into the head with hooks, but he ducks around them, and counters with a hook to my chin. I stumble back.
“That’s more like it boy. How’d that feel?”
I regain my balance, and spit. A glistening insipid flies out like a ruby.
“Lucky shot.” I mumble.
“You have fear in your blood son.”
I throw an angry hook towards his mouth, and it glances off the top of his head. Then he starts raining blows on me like I used to do to opponents years ago. He’s hurting me so I clinch.
“Stop hugging me boy!” He gasps. He throws me away, and I stumble to the mat.
“I thought you were a boxer!” The bell rings, and he walks back to the corner. He picks up a squeeze bottle of water, and squirts some in his mouth. “Get up.” Slowly, I make it to my feet and, on wobbling legs, make it over to my corner. I don’t even want to look at him I’m so ashamed; yet I know that I have no reason to feel ashamed.
“I know there are a lot of things in my blood but I didn’t think that coward was one of them.”
“You’ve got a lot of balls saying that.” I say. It’s a child’s voice. “Running out on Mamma, on our family—
“Are you still talking about that? Shoot, man that’s the past.”
“You’re the past!”
“No boy, I’m your present. And the present will kill you.” He leers again, like the boogeyman. Like a wild creature. “What do you want from me boy? An apology? A reason? Ok. Fine, I was in jail. I was locked up for twenty years and your Mother was afraid to tell you.”
“You’re lying!” I shout. He grins even wider.
“You’re right. I am. Actually I was in the French Foreign Legion—
“I was kidnapped by aliens—
“I was stuck in a time warp—
“and boy are my arms tired!”
“—lying!” He’s laughing now. Untamed hyena cackles of glee. I’m exhausted I’m so furious.
“What the hell is so funny!”
“You are champ. Is this what you think about in the ring?” The bell sounds, and automatically he’s out of his corner. “Come on boy, come get your lesson.”
“Forget you.” I wave him off with a gloved hand. “I came here cause Mamma wanted me to, but I’m tired of your crap.” I begin to step out of the ring.
“Get back here.” I pause. It’s like I’m a little kid again, listening for a voice in my dreams.
“What?” I ask. “What the hell do you want from me?”
“I want you to fight me.”
“I did fight you. I’m done.”
“Like that last fight right? Fifth round, you hit the canvas, and it was all over. The underdog wins, and you scoot off with your tail between your legs.” He turns around mimicking a sulking child, sliding away. “What was that you told Merchant? ‘The better man won?’”
“He did, alright! He beat me! There ain’t nothing that’s going to change that so damm you!”
“Yeah, that’s so!”
“And I’m better than you too?”
“Yeah you’re better than me too.” I pull the ropes up and bend over.
“Your mamma’s a whore.” I halt.
“Your mamma’s a whore. I paid for her and you’re the son-of-a-whore. That’s why I didn’t come for you.” He leers at me again, hands at his sides, disgusted. “You’re just a piece of crap whore’s son. Who the hell would want that?”
Like a bolt of lightening, I squared with him. I’m hooking, rights, lefts, and more rights into his face and his body.
I cut him off with a head butt to his swollen eye. More blood, and he falls back. Then I land the power hook into his jaw that knocks him into the ropes. His arms catch on to them, and he runs in place trying to regain his balance. He’s howling with laughter now. I get back into the middle of the ring, and square up again. The world is becoming crystal clear now, and is glowing like a jewel in front of me. Through all my rage there is a part of me that is ecstatic. Joyous. Elated. Purpose focused into a pinhead. It was like the first year I went pro, before the title, before the ads, and the money, and the women. It was pure again.
When he comes off the ropes I am going to kill him.
I am a boxer. I knock men out for a living. This is what I do.
Still laughing, he gets up and wipes his eye, slightly wincing in pain. “Head butt. That’s one point.”
“We’re not playing for points.” I say.
“We never were.” He growls, and lunges towards me, throwing jabs to try to get me to keep my distance. I don’t, and a couple land. I don’t feel them, and land a hook into his sides. He clinches me, and this time I’m the one that throws him away—
The bell rings and we make our way back to our corners. I take some water—it feels as futile as sprinkling tabasco on a volcano.
“Feels good don’t it?” He says. I listen. “Every time that a punch lands you wipe a little humanity away. Get back to the animal that we are. The beast.”
I’m waiting for the bell.
“Not everyone can do that you know. Unwrap their moral coil. Take off their skin to unleash their demons, and become their fears. That’s why the people watch. That’s why they give you the belts and make you a champion. Not cause you’re pretty, or have a nice smile or sing salsa. They laud you cause they want to see you become death, and execute your purpose.”
The bell rings, and we’re punching each other. Defense is nearly gone, and it’s like a Rocky movie. I take a hook to the cranium, and respond back with two jabs to his good eye. He counters with a left to my jaw. Teeth loosen, but are held in my jaw by the roots, the exposed nerve. I rabbit punch him, and something inside him ruptures. He falls to his knees, more blood pours from his mouth. I hook him in the mouth. Once, twice. Now, he’s still kneeling like a statue. I stand back, and after so many years I can hear the count in my head.
He coughs, and a wad of blood runs out of his mouth like a fountain.
He leans up on his arms, and now redness is swelling on his chest.
He shakes his head, and wipes his mouth. He turns to me and grins.
“You know,” he says, “when a boxer becomes a champ…” He spits out more blood.
“He’s champion for life.”
“They called Jack Dempsey champ till he died.”
He brings one foot up, and lays his glove on it. Rodin’s The Thinker.
He makes it to his feet, and defiantly, raises his fists.
I move in, and land two more chopping blows into his gut. He doubles over, and, with my whole body like a spring, I uppercut him. His body leaves the ground, hits the ropes, and rebounds forward. He lands like a damp pile of laundry face down on the mat. He doesn’t move any more.
I look down at the body and blink. When I open my eyes the space is clear, the mat as white as an altar boy’s tunic or the sterile walls of a maternity room. I walk over to my corner and pick up my blazer. My suit is soaked with sweat. On the ground is a letter from my Mother, telling me that my biological father, who I never knew, just died. She writes that I should have seen him when he was alive. She tells me that I should have made my peace with him. I fold up the letter and put it in my pocket.
As I close the door of my gym and step into the cold, dark night, I laugh at my own thought.
Peace is such a relative subject.
Jonathan Wolf is a writer based out of Harlem, NY. He graduated the City College of New York with a MA in English Literature. He is currently working on attending law school and writing a screenplay.
Copyright 2003-2006 AntiMuse