Short Fiction #5 - the Fighter
It was six o'clock in the morning and the sun was peering over the horizon.
Daybreak seeped through Salvo's dusty and tattered blinds and his eyes slit as they creeped open. Sun beams shone upon particles dancing along the rays that glinted in Salvo's eyes. He wiped away the sleepy grit from his face and rose.
In the bathroom Salvo looked into his dark reflected eyes. Water dripped from his chin. It was cold and jarring, each morning's flush, but without it Salvo couldn't fully wake. It was the sudden rush of resistance he felt before dunking his face into the icy water cupped in his hands that drew him out of his daze. The stinging numbness upon his cheeks that came after simply reminded him he was still alive.
In the car Salvo cruised through empty streets, careful to time the lights and only hit greens. Sunday mornings were best for this, as most of the city was busy dressing for the pews. Salvo knew this and took solace in the ride from the north side to downtown. The low hum of the road lulled Salvo into a conscious trance. Often he would dream of this drive and wake himself in the middle of the night, confusing the waking with the dreaming. But that morning was different. That morning, Salvo slowed to a brake as the next light turned yellow and then red. And Salvo waited alone on the empty streets.
Cliff gathered used tape with a short broom inside an old industrial space. He let a raspy cough erupt from his chest that echoed against the gym's iron and steel rafters. He looked up at the rusted ceiling above and smelled the iron permeating from it. It reminded him of days past -- days of glory and defeat, of a time when he dreamed with every waking breath and lived with steadfast courage. It was difficult to recall such memories, but he knew the nostalgia would soon fade like the past. Slowly and without notice.
The front entrance clamored open as Salvo passed through its dull metal door. Cliff recognized Salvo immediately knowing only the kid's face and nothing else about him. "Morning, kid," sounded Cliff. Salvo just looked at the old man and nodded and then disappeared behind the canvas ring in the middle of the gym and into the locker room. Cliff looked at his watch and mumbled, "Half-past six already..."
A couple hours later the gym had filled its void with boxers and muay thai fighters of all varieties. Some had shuffled in from the church crowd -- Cliff could make out the different denominations solely by the tattoos etched into chests, backs, and arms. Catholics were the easiest for Cliff to spot because Cliff still bore the usual and overly-detailed crucified messiah along his left oblique. But by then it was over-stretched from years of aging and eating after losing his title so long ago. That was about when Cliff realized that the lord doesn't care much for fighters, no matter how much they may pray.
Across the way was Salvo dancing fluidly and effortlessly around a heavy bag. He threw lightning fast jabs and haymakers that landed with commanding smacks and thuds as he huffed agonously. Salvo’s shoulders ached and his hands stiffened with a deadness after each punch. His feet felt cramped and his stomach felt overworked and ruptured. But he wouldn’t stop. He had at least four more hours of the day left after an hour’s rest. Cliff knew this. They all did. They all had seen Salvo and had memorized his routine without him ever saying more than hello or goodbye in the past two years. Cliff had even timed his watch to Salvo’s routine; half-past six he entered; seven, he began the light bag; eight, he moved to speed; nine was the heavy bag, where his neatly contained rage escaped through his artful display of battle. He was light and methodical as one foot replaced the other in a clockwise trot around the target. His tape-wrapped fists slammed against the canvas bag with but his will alone, like thunder and lightning willed from a storm’s nimbus.
Thunder and lightning. Cliff liked to think of Salvo that way.
A big brute of a man surely twice Salvo’s size walked by the flurry with a grin. Salvo paid no attention and continued rotating and pivoting and striking. The brute smiled and kicked out a foot to trip Salvo but his legs were too nimble and they carried him over the brute’s foot effortlessly.
“You’re in here every Sunday,” said the brute. “But I ain’t never seen you fight or spar nobody in this gym. I bet you’d be too scared. You know, those things don’t punch back.”
Cliff watched the scene and stood up straight while writhing his worn fists.
Salvo ignored the brute, focusing on the rhythm his fists made against the frayed canvas.
“Eh, I’m talkin’ to you,” the brute shoved Salvo and forced him from his stride and flow. Salvo looked at the brute for but a moment before refocusing on the task at hand.
The brute laughed and continued his taunts, shoving Salvo this way and that until he finally parried and burrowed his fist into the brute’s stomach. The man keeled over and wheezed. All the others in the gym stopped what they were doing and gathered around the scene.
Cliff limped down from his perch toward the crowd. Rambunctious shouts echoed and grew louder which made Cliff hasten to a hobbling jog. Inside the crowd was Salvo on his back bearing the chaotic swipes and blows of the brute. He was bloody but not hurt. He had felt worse before.
Cliff pushed through the crowd which instantly fell silent. He waited as the brute realized he was watching and stopped his aggression. Cliff looked at Salvo’s bruised faced and battered arms but noticed the glint in his eyes remained aglow.
“You wanna fight?” Cliff gruffed. “Fine. Step into the ring. Strap up. Then fight.”
The brute looked around then back at Salvo. “Looks like I already won, old man.”
Salvo pushed the brute aside and lunged to his feet. He locked a sturdy gaze with Cliff’s eyes then refocused on the brute’s incoming attacks. He parried and blocked faster than the brute could keep up. Like lightning, thought Cliff. Just like lightning.
Salvo backed himself against the crowd who taunted, grabbed, and shoved him. The brute stepped in and swung two hard blows into Salvo’s ribs. He collapsed and remained on his knees as the crowd cheered and while one held up the brute's hand in mock victory. The crowd then began to peel away and return to their own remaining workouts. But Salvo knew the fight was not over. He was not hurt and he heard no crack from the impacts. His muscles were stronger than the brute’s worst of attacks.
With a large steady gulp of air, Salvo stretched his spasming obliques and the muscles calmed. He rose to his feet and breathed evenly and looked straight into the brute’s beady eyes. He started toward Salvo and somebody shouted and soon the fight was in full tilt once more.
The brute didn’t hold back. He threw hooks that could crack concrete. He threw uppercuts that could lift a man off his feet. But he chased after Salvo round and round, missing his targets due to Salvo’s quick twists, steps, parries, and dodges while taking few hits in stride. Blood ran down his right cheek but he remained steadfast. His heart thudded against his chest, but it was even and with a firmness known only those fueled by courage.
But then the brute flurried and his fists hurled toward Salvo, breaking through his defense. At least one set of knuckles collided square with Salvo’s jaw. It was a mighty blow and sent Salvo tumbling downward to the cement floor. Again, the brute’s hand was raised in triumph and the crowd cheered but the brute did not smile or celebrate. He was breathless and stared at Slavo on the ground.
Salvo moved slowly along the grime and the dirt, closing and opening his eyes purposefully in his attempt to fight off the grappling pain blanketing the right side of his head. The sounds around Salvo melded into one fuzzy tone and the large florescent lights blossomed and bloomed in and out of focus. He then felt himself being lifted onto his feet by two steady hands. Somebody’s inaudible voice droned into Salvo’s ears. But then he could make out a question from the muddled sounds: “Kid... Enough, alright?”
Cliff gave Salvo a shake and the two looked at each other once again. Salvo brushed Cliff aside gently and turned around to face the brute. The brute readied himself once more while trying to contain his sporadic breathes to an even intake. His eyes were no longer bright or filled with confidence. His stance was purely defensive and his mouth was shut tight.
Salvo shook his shoulders forward and rotated his jaw. He wiped his bleeding nose and assumed a loose, relaxed stance.
“You’re insane,” said the brute. “If I hit you straight on like a second time, I’m not sure you’ll make it to your feet ever again. Consider that.”
Salvo waited in silence. He knew the danger before him and the likelihood of a crippling death. But he did not fear death for he knew that without death there would be no life. And to push away death would be as wise as to push away life. So Salvo let the fear go and instead felt the things that grounded him into everlasting existence. His unwavering breath. The stability of his legs. His chilled skin from drying sweat. And after one long, deep inhale that lasted ten lifetimes over, Salvo flashed toward the brute and unleashed a barrage of fluid attacks in the blink of an eye.
The flurry blurred together into one continuous motion and so was impossible to tell how many punches connected. The brute went this way and that as smacks and thuds against flesh and bone machine-gunned throughout the gym. Then it was over. As quickly as Salvo rained down upon the brute, he was back in a readied stance doubly as fast. But the brute wobbled and stepped irregularly until falling face down onto the cold hard floor.
The crowd silenced. Salvo stood up straight then gathered his belongings into his bag. Cliff looked on with his mouth agape. He turned to Salvo and took his arm, forcing Salvo to look him in the eye.
“You’ve been coming to my gym for two years, kid,” said Cliff. “Two years. I time my watch to your routine. I’ve had to replace thirteen bags ‘cause of you. And you ain’t said one word to me, to anybody, ever. But kid, I ain’t never expected to see that come from you.” Salvo nodded silently in reply, but Cliff kept pushing further, “Well?”
Salvo looked to the brute now stirring from the knock-out and then looked back to Cliff and said, “He’s alright.”
Cliff looked at the brute rising with some help from a few others then saw that Salvo was already half way over to the jump ropes.
Must be about ten, Cliff thought.