Fiction: The Boxer
Photo Source: Pixabay
Only the quiet filled the auditorium now. The crowd that had garrisoned the gym an hour earlier had made their way out into the cold night leaving Johnny and Bruce contemplating the night’s action inside the sphere of a dim overhead light in a tiny dressing room.
Johnny was sitting in a folding chair, his shoulders draped in a gold robe with “Johnny the Torpedo Williams” scrawled on the back with a black marker and his hands were still wrapped tight in white tape pockmarked with blood.
The fighter’s right eye was swollen shut as he gingerly picked up an ice pack and placed its cold against the fattened flesh. He was feeling light-headed from the bout and was trying not to fall asleep.
“Are you going to be okay, Johnny?” Bruce asked.
“You might want to go to the hospital and get checked out.”
“Nah- I’ll be okay.”
“I can take you if you want?”
The battered fighter said nothing as Bruce’s concern over him began to grow.
“Do you need me to give you a ride home?”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I go right by your place, it’s no trouble.”
“I don’t live there anymore,” Johnny whispered.
“Where do you live now?”
“The one in the parking lot?”
“You can’t live in a van. I tell you what, you can stay with me.”
“I’ve got that spare room above the garage so it’s no trouble. You know- just until
you get back on your feet.”
“Just let me know when you’re ready to go,” Bruce said as he began stacking towels on a table.
The sounds of the city were ladled out softly through a cracked window which ruffled the silence inside. Johnny wiped the melting ice from his cheek with his other hand and widened his foot stance along the floor.
“Do you think he’ll give me a rematch?”
Bruce kept stacking the towels in an attempt to avoid the question.
“Do you think he’ll give me a rematch?”
The old manager turned to Johnny and rested his arm against a green metal cabinet and stared at the battered face of the forty-three year old boxer.
“There’s no reason for him to fight you again.”
“What do you mean?”
“He can’t get anywhere by fighting someone that’s-” Bruce stopped himself from saying anything else. He just turned away and rubbed his stubbled face with an opened hand as the furnace kicked on and geared up slowly before blowing a hot current of air into the cold room.
“But I think if I can get a rematch-”
“No, Johnny,” Bruce said while looking at a spot on the wall that was peeling its paint. “The gym doesn’t want you fighting here anymore.”
Johnny lowered the ice pack down from his face.
“Why? Is it about the money for my gym time? I can get it.”
“It’s not that.”
“I’ve just had some money troubles here lately, but I’ll get it.”
The manager sighed in despair.
“You’ve not been competitive in your last six fights. They’re afraid if you keep boxing here you could get seriously injured and they’d be liable for it.”
“Oh. Well, I can sign a-,” Johnny went silent as he struggled to pattern his words. “What do you call it so they won’t get into trouble?”
“Yeah, I can sign a waiver for ’em so they can’t be held liable. They’ve been good to me so I’ll look out for ’em if that’s what they’re worried about. I wouldn’t ever do anything that would hurt ’em. Never.”
“They’ve made their decision.”
The folding chair made a popping sound as Johnny leaned forward and then back. A spider web beneath the seat danced lightly in the movement. The gold robe fell off his shoulders and drowned behind his back.
“Do you know of another gym I could go to?”
“It would be the same there, Johnny.”
A lone tear mixed with the melted ice as the reality of the moment sourced through the fighter’s mind.
“But I don’t know of anything else I can do other than box.”
“I heard that the gym’s looking for a janitor. Maybe you can do that?”
Johnny laid the ice pack down in the chair next to him and stared out the window that looked over the empty parking lot bathed in the funneled beams of street lights and tried to keep from crying.
“Let me cut that tape off for you.”
Bruce took some scissors and began cutting at the hand wrappings. The two men’s thoughts drifted away and were replaced with blank stares. The furnace geared down and then shut off abruptly. The snips from the scissors filled the room as the tatters of tape hit the concrete floor like tears.
Kyle Owens lives in the Appalachian Highlands and his stories have appeared in Ahoy Comics, Liguorian, Eastern Iowa Review, Micro Reader, among others. His novel, "A Mountain Christmas Wedding," was published by Books To Go Now. HIs cartoon collection, "The New Yorker Hates My Cartoons," was published by Clash Books.