| The Fighter
By James Kidd
It was a quarter past ten and Jen Stack was thinking of closing up for the night, the rain was slashing
the sidewalks keeping people away, when she saw George Burger staring at her from the end of the bar.
He held up one finger signaling for a beer.
“The Champ is in the house,” Jen announced and then pantomimed a boxer, she threw a few jabs and
scrunched up her nose trying to change her cute face into a fighter’s grimace. She was wholly
unsuccessful and George always liked the way her elbows butterflied out before she’d punch. He could tell
she’s never been in a scrap and he hopes she never will.
Jen slid his beer to him and George caught it one of his brick sized hands. He still had the shoulders
and arms of an athlete and every once in a while, a tipsy woman would dance her hands over them and
give his muscles a squeeze.
“I didn’t see you come in.”
“I crept in on little cat feet,” George said and turned his good eye toward her and shot her a wink.
Jen smiled, and there was a look of recognition on her face.
“It’s from an old poem I learned as a kid. About the fog.”
“You were a kid? That must have been a long time ago.”
“It was,” George said through a smile, “and I haven’t been the Champ for ages either, it’s just George.”
Jen thumbed her nose and bounced on the balls of her feet as her ponytail swung, “Once the Champ
always the Champ, at least to me.” She punched a quick one-two-three, her elbows flared as she stirred
the dust motes in the air.
“Ha, ha,” George laughed and clapped his hands, “Jen, I love seeing you. You sure know how to make
this old man laugh.”
Jen kept at her boxer’s stance and George brought his stone fists up in front of himself and did a peek-
a-boo move from behind them. His shoulders moved and his head bobbed with the grace of a dancer.
The scar tissue above his eyes looked as frail as wet tissue paper, and the one eye, the one he lost in his
last fight in the ring from an errant elbow ended his career several years shorter than he had hoped. The
iris was mostly black, and when he closed his good eye something miraculous happened. When he
looked out of his dead eye he could only see people as deep shadows, but around them radiated a light.
An aura some people called it, and he could tell things about people they wouldn’t ordinarily show.
“Can I ask you a question?”
George knew where this one was going. Private times like this made some folks give in to their
curiosity like when they were kids.
“What happened to your eye?” And she peered into it with interest which was not what he would have
expected. Most folks, upon looking at his eye, shuddered with revulsion, and for years he wore a patch.
But the constant barrage of “what happened” questions over the patch gnawed at him. Now, he just wore
sunglasses, unless it was dark.
“Most folks know that story. It was big news there for a while, but you were probably a little squirt when
all that happened.”
Jen leaned on the bar and propped her chin in both hands.
“You really want to know?”
Jen nodded the way a puppy wags its tail.
“Ok. I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.” And so he did, and as he told the tale he bobbed and
weaved a bit, his hands came up to guard his face, he did a defensive shoulder roll which was his prime
time strategy and why he rarely got hit, as he spoke. It was as if the story had come to life in his telling and
his body followed the story animating the tale where words failed him.
“Did he do it on purpose?”
George paused and stared into the surface of his beer. “I don’t like to think that he did.”
A long stretch of silence fell between them like it does when a difficult truth has been broached.
George took a sip of his beer and as Jen turned he covered his “good” eye and stared at her. Her body
became a darkness, most times it was like being underwater and staring up a silhouetted swimmer
emitting rays of light. Usually the light around Jen was almost blindingly beautiful, the saturated color of a
bobbing sunflower absorbing the long rays of a summer sunset, but tonight, instead of radiating like some
celestial miracle, it flickered and rolled like an oxygen starved fire, ready to go out.
“Oh, no, no, no,” George hung his big head and shook it slowly. “No.”
From his bowed position he asked, “How’s the new beau?”
Jen stiffened. “He’s coming to pick me up. I was kind of getting ready to close.” She tilted her head in
a flirty-friendly way that even now made George smile.
“I guess he’ll have to sit a spell till I finish my beer.”
Just then the door burst open, the rain was machine gunning the sidewalk, and a group of women
wrestling down umbrellas and getting in each other’s way flooded the far end of the bar like they were
poured out of a glass. “Thank God you’re open,” one of the women exclaimed and exaggeratedly threw
herself down on the mercy of the bar.
Jen balled up her bar towel and fired it into the speed rack, and then smiled professionally, “What’ll it
Jen shimmied as she shook cocktails rattling in ice filled steel shakers and poured multi-colored
liquids into fancy glasses with a sure-fire flourish, frisbeeing bar naps in front of each woman before
presenting their drinks. This was pure show-womanship at its best and George sat at the end of the bar
drinking it all in.
After she had delighted the women by the way she served their drinks, Jen leaned in, “So, what are we
celebrating tonight?” Her feigned interest was convincing to the point of being conspiratorial. And their
heads all dipped in, and there was a low murmur that exploded like a volcano in raucous laughter.
Jen fanned herself with her hand and said, “Now that even made me blush.” And the women shrieked
and laughed even louder.
A few minutes later a soaked rat of a guy sauntered in looking like he was wearing his daddy’s jacket.
He threw his arms out to his sides and said, “I thought you said you were fucking closing.” He said as he
hard stared Jen until she looked away.
George’s heart trip hammered in his chest and Jen tried to smile. The laughing ladies simmered as
George sat up from his slouch and covered his eye. George almost lost his breath from what he saw. This
boy’s darkness swirled in on itself. It was not like some shadow cast by something brighter. This boy’s
silhouette leached all the light around him leaving a maelstrom of the deepest red swirling around him that
George thought of as churning blood.
When he uncovered his eye, he saw the pleading moon faces of the ladies protectively hunched
around their table, and he got up.
Jen grabbed a glass in a shaking hand and clung to the tap as she poured her beau a beer. She set it
down in front of him. He was still staring her into submission as he backhanded the beer, but George’s
hand was a blur of accuracy as he snapped that glass right out of the air, no other part of George’s body
moved. He brought the glass back down on the bar as casual as can be.
The kid pretended not to notice.
George shook the beer from his hand. “I was having a nice time until you showed up,” George said
softly and his eyes burned into this kid.
“George, it’s ok. It’s ok George.” Jen said with a rapid fire wildness.
The kid turned on the bar stool and considered George. His hair was plastered to his head and he had
a pissant’s mustache. “Fuck off old man.”
“I think you should find somewhere else to go.”
The kid flicked a blade like a simpering dog growls and with a slash George felt something zing
across his arm, nick his bones, and his blood fell out in sheets.
Jen screamed and so did the women. Chairs toppled and glass crashed to the floor.
The kid was standing on the other side of his barstool. “Wrong move old man.”
George’s body shook from both shock and an adrenaline dump he hasn’t felt in years. George kicked
the stool into the kid and fired a straight right, twisting from the hips, rotating on the balls of his feet the way
a big leaguer swings for the fences, his brick fist pistoned and whistled through the air just missing the
kids chin by the breath of a hell sent prayer and crashed into his collar bone. As he hit, George was
already twisting, his slashed arm raining an arc of blood as he upper cut the kid in the ribs doubling him
over. As he collapsed the kid’s ribs, George felt a cold flash point of pain in his throat, time slowed,
George’s knees buckled. His chest was wet, and he felt like he was drowning. He fell to his knees
grasping for the bar stool like a fighter out on his feet grabs for the ropes, and watched the bent over kid
crab scrabble and crash out of the door onto the street. George was no more falling than it felt like some
monstrous force up ended the bar and hit him with the floor.
“George,” it was Jen. She sounded like she was calling from the bottom of a deep well. A fan of his
blood fountained up and rained back down on his face.
From outside there was a loud thud, then a bone splintering crash as tires whirred on wet pavement
and George smirked.
Jen vaulted over the bar, and from down in the holler, an old term George now remembers from his
youth, a term to mean so far away, a term used when he was a barefoot kid cutting through old man
Cappiciano’s unmowed lawn to see Maureen Turner, and how soft and lush that wet grass felt as he ran
with his head back, his tongue lolling and he was so full of pure purpose, and how his heart jumped in his
chest and he shyly turned when she waved to him, and from down in that holler he heard a woman’s voice,
“I’m a doctor,” and the frantic movement around him pulled him to the surface from his past, but he was
beyond help now, he was a float, there was pressure on his throat and from somewhere a woman was
frantically giving an address. George looked up and saw Jen, but then she wasn’t, she was eclipsed, “It’s
going to be ok,” her voice was wet and pleading and he didn’t need to close his eyes this time, the light
around Jen burst forth radiating out from her in colors like illuminated honey, blinding him until he heard
Maureen’s sweet voice call him over.
|About James Kidd
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