Monday, June 30, 2014

The Prize Fighter

As a writer, I draw on many sources for the characters in my work.  As an aging writer, I try and weave these images into stories of my new experiences.  I come from a family of boxers both amateur and professional.  I am still drawn to the sport on occasions.  These two works are loosely based on people I have known.

                                         OLD FIGHTER

      After Anthony Peretti retired, he moved back to the old neighborhood. It was the proper setting for someone who wanted to live in a memory.  The buildings were faded and dingy with age. Cold winter air seeped into his little flat during the night.  The radiator could not keep up.  The old structure had too many wrinkles.    
      His internal clock caused him to stir and open his eyes to the dim light. The regimen was the same for as long as he could remember.  “Good morning Angie.”  She didn’t answer. He slept in a threadbare gray sweat suit.  It kept him warm, and he could do his morning exercises without changing clothes. Once he ran five miles every morning. Now he walked in the neighborhood.
     Rising from his single bed, he stretched the muscles on his broad frame.  His shoulders were a bit more stooped these days, but his daily routine kept him in pretty good shape. The floor was hard and cold. He eased himself down and did some push-ups and sit-ups.  While he rested, he recalled the grueling gym routine he used to do.
     He stood up and looked out the window at the brick wall of the adjacent building.  If the angle was just right, he could see a sliver of the street below.  Very few people opened their windows anymore. The sun was bright. It was a beautiful day. He turned away from the window, and looked at the picture of Angie on the end table.  She looked so youthful, and fit very nicely in his dream. 
     Entering his small bathroom, he angled his thick shoulders through the doorway barely clearing the doorframe. A mirror hung on the wall over the bathroom sink.
He splashed cold water on his face, and dried it off with a stiff tattered green towel. He looked in the mirror and noticed how his once angular features had rounded.  His ears looked like unfinished sculptures made of candle wax.  Scar tissue thickened his eyebrows and drooped at the outer edges giving him a sad countenance.  His nose zigzagged down toward his lips. His cheeks sagged, blending his once pronounced chin with the gently sloping skin of his wide neck.  This wasn’t part of his dream.
     He walked the short distance from the bathroom to the kitchen. His apartment was very compact. The dishes were stacked on the counter next to the sink for easy access. He only needed one place setting because he never had guests. He put on a pot of coffee, fried himself some eggs, and toasted some bread. With his breakfast before him, he bowed his head, and gave thanks.  He glanced at Angie’s picture again. The memories he enjoyed, but he hated the loneliness. Anthony read for a while before deciding to take a walk.  It was early afternoon.
     He pulled on his black woolen overcoat.  His hands were a little stiff and arthritic. Rabbit lined leather gloves felt warm against his skin.  Donning a black seaman’s watch cap, he left his tiny dwelling, and made his way slowly down the five flights of stairs to the street.
     For a moment he stood on the sidewalk, bathing in the contrast of warm sunshine and crisp air. An ever-changing pallet of skin colors moved over the gray concrete accompanied by a symphony of dialects. The city had its own atmosphere.  The smells of smog, refuse, and people mixed with the more pleasing and pungent odors of cooking garlic and onion.  Occasionally he smelled perfume, strong coffee, and spices. He enjoyed the hustle and bustle.
      In his dream, Anthony could still imagine walking with a cocky strut.  In reality he ambled from side to side.
     He spoke greetings to several people he knew, but avoided those who looked like they wanted to be left alone. Occasionally, he stopped at places where he and Angie used to go.  Memories were everywhere.
     “Hey old man, you’ve gotta pay the toll!”
     The loud raspy voice brought Anthony back to reality.  The speaker was large and muscular. He stood in front of a little corner grocery with his pack of “wannabes”.  Anthony knew the type.  He grew up on these streets.  Vultures were everywhere, and always would be.  Doldrums of poverty and despair were their breeding ground. He continued to walk, but turned his gaze away from the young hoodlums.
     The leader stepped into Anthony’s path. “Hey old man!  Give us your money!” The bully placed his hands against the older man’s chest.  The rest of the pack gathered around him.
      “Hey old man didn’t you hear me?”  He grabbed the lapels of the woolen overcoat and pulled. “I’m gonna teach you some respect.”
     Their faces were close now.  Anthony could smell cheap wine.  Something stirred deep inside the old warrior, more instinct than thought. He sensed the punch coming, a looping right hand.  He tipped his head slightly to the side. The fist of his assailant found nothing but air.  The young man was overbalanced and had no time to recoil.  
     Anthony responded with unexpected speed.  He drove a left hook into the blowhard’s exposed ribs, and heard him wheeze. Reflex reloaded his left hand, and he fired another hook to the bully’s head.  He felt the jaw bone give, and watched the younger man slump to the ground. He knew there would be no fight left in him.  In fact, he saw there was none left in the others either.  Cautiously he waited as they all backed away, staring down in disbelief at their fallen leader.  He could hear the young man trying to catch his breath, and see him attempt to rise from the sidewalk.  As he watched, he saw the youngster’s eyes would not focus yet. From personal experience, he knew it would take him a while to find his legs.
     Tony “The Bull” Peretti, retired prizefighter, rubbed his gloved knuckles.  He rolled his big shoulders forward, straightened his coat, and moved away from the gawking pack.  Glancing heavenward, he felt Angie’s concerned gaze.  A slight smile broke on one corner of his lips as he recalled how Angie’s gentle nudging convinced him to leave the ring. Almost apologetically he whispered, “The legs go first, the reflexes slow, but the punch never leaves”.

The next work is a short poem.  Poetry is usually dedicated to images far from the boxing ring.  I have many versions of this next poem.  I have reworked it numerous times, but I think this one gets the point across.

The Fighter

Sweat covers his body,
forms dark stains on
satin trunks,
a sheen on
red leather gloves.

Years of training
in stale smelling gyms
to fight.

He shuffles forward,

Sweat drips pink
over scarred eyelids
to taut canvas.

The beauty of his work
lost in its brutality.

Dennis Price

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