This is no dance, no cat and mouse, this is war, explosive, violent. Heads flying side to side on impact, big showers of sweat flying off of faces and foreheads. A shot to the face and the blood flows out of a nose and down a chest as the opposing glove turns red. A body shot, quick, unseen, the distinct and unmistakable sound of bone breaking, the snap echoes off the walls of this dirty, smelly, dark and humid gym. Retaliation, a shot, a hard shot, so hard that sound too bounces around the walls of this place, a well-placed temple shot to the other fighter’s head.
Transfixed in the brutality it is forgotten that these guys have names, Frankie and some Puerto Rican kid named Felix.
A bell rings, both retire to their corners. End of round four.
From the fifteen or twenty assembled, mainly dregs from the bar, a woman comments they need to stop this before someone dies. Another assures her this is how Frankie gets off. He needs this and Felix looks like he's just having fun.
Sitting on his corner stool, the blood has stopped, remnants already dried on Frankie's face. He leans to the left side favoring the newly broken ribs.
A bell rings, they come at each other. Two quick jabs from Felix's left hand to Frankie's jaw and a roundhouse right to the head and Frankie is on his knees, not down, but reeling, he looks up at the lights. Watching his body move you know those lights must be spinning in his head, the entire gym must be spinning, reeling. Almost in slow motion Frankie falls on his back. We are all friends here, most days anyway, Frankie's friends and Felix's. A collective, breathless hush falls over the gym and echoes off those grimy walls.
The woman who called for the fight to stop five minutes ago now screamed, "Is he dead?"
A few people turned heads, side to side, as the talk grew louder. Some sat looking, shocked, scared, as if someone or something had appeared to them out of thin air, as if they'd seen a ghost. The talk grew louder that he must be dead. A few got up to leave. An eerie silence washed over the entire gym. All this time Frankie lay unconscious on the blood and sweat stained canvas.
A few sat and mumbled and imagined his terror. Frankie only feared three things. The God he could not believe in, death and the slim, but very real chance, that he might be wrong about it all. That the universe according to Frankie might be exactly wrong and the truth may just stand, turn around and royally fuck him up.
Someone on the mat calls out for an ambulance.
Then subtle motion in the center of the ring.
The referee walks up to Frankie as he starts to stand. He asks Frankie a handful of questions, the ref throws up his hands.
This fight is over. Decision to Felix.
The assembled friends of Felix and Frankie adjourn to the outside, standing on freshly mowed grass, leaning against the brick wall. It's a warm summer night. The moonless sky is full of stars, beautiful and peaceful. Such a contrast to ugliness and violence inside. They pass around a bottle of cheap scotch and wait for Frankie to walk with us back to the bar.
Frankie emerges from the gym, he's grinning. Jack, from the bar, asks him, "How can you possibly be smiling?"
"I cheated that fucker, death, again." Frankie grins, "There is no God. I get there, to that place right at the edge, and I'm laying it all out there. Did you see me when I was down on my knees, then down? Man, I was close, but nothing. They are all full of shit. I'm right and all the holy ones are full of shit."
Jack shakes his head, "That's why you fucking do this, come here and get your ass kicked, to prove to yourself that there is no God?"
Frankie looks at Jack and says, "No man, I do it to get that close and feel nothing. I know nothing comes after this shit show. I know this is it. This God of theirs that they keep jamming down my throat is a fairytale. Sometimes it scares me they could be right, but then I go to fight, I get that close, right to the edge, I feel nothing. I know that they are wrong. They try make me afraid of a myth. I come here to prove myself right."
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