UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION 6/2008
Johnson was just a name he was given and it did not have any significance. And then a fist came bellowing in his face and put him on the ground. He lay spilled out over the canvas of the ring and felt how his head swirled
One of his trainers was there waiting, his medicine bag opened up on the bench. The trainer did not say anything to him, and he was grateful. They knew that they should not talk to him after a fight. He sat before the trainer and the man swathed his medicines on him and took off his gloves and tapes, and then left him to shower. He watched the trainer go and wanted to run after him, slam the door on the manís arm so that he would weep and be terrified. Instead he turned and stripped his clothes and put himself in the steaming flush of the shower. When he was hot and faint and clean, he got out and dried and put his clothes on. He felt fresh and his knuckles blazed with a kind of light and he decided he should go out for a drink to celebrate.
When he reached the bar, there were many people. The place was dark and close and loud, and he came in and sat on a stool. The barman asked him what he would have, and he said for some vodka and it came. He drank it and more came and he began to fire them down his throat. Soon he had had many shots and all the light that was in his fists spent itself all through his body. He felt the whole piling coordination of his solid figure and he had to only sit there perched atop his stool and watch as everyone around him laughed and gaggled and talked all of the time. He heard the pounding of the jukebox and the clinking and smacking of glasses, the stupid nothing conversations, women crooning and men abashed, hot acrid breath, ha ha laughter, ha ha ha, him perched like a little bird on his little stool. The man beside him took a drink and then Johnson hit him, fist whispering in its crowd of knuckles, snap back of the manís head, dropped glass, lolling, slow motion, blood purling from his nose, toppling arcs of red through the air as he fell backwards to the floor. Johnson straddled down over him, thundering depth charges again and again into his face as blood swamped across the floor against the feet of the other patrons. When it was done, Johnson stood and looked around him. The absolute silence. Dumb faces all around, gaping and staring, staring, not saying anything, staring. He grabbed his stool and hurled it into the crowd of them. He said slow and quiet between pants, Iím going to kill every last motherfucker here.
None of that happened. The man beside him took his drink and Johnson was a giant shuddering mass heaped up on a barstool, watching him calmly sipping his whiskey. Johnson called to the bartender, another one, a vodka, a double, many, give me many, the bottle, thanks, yes. The bartender gave him an odd smile and then squatted behind the bar, clinking around in an alcohol cabinet for his bottle. Johnson nodded at the man beside him. The man glanced at him from the side of his eye and sipped his whiskey. Johnson looked at him, smiling, and then turned to regard himself in the mirror along the wall behind the bar, doubling the room in its reflection. All the noise. All the noise in this place. People nearly screaming at each other. Faces flushed, leaning close and charging hot stink over each other. Women swooning and dragging their legs together inexhaustibly, crossing and uncrossing. The long tapering heels of their shoes. Men swabbing ecstatically at their drenching foreheads. His bottle was set before him with a big glass.
Johnson said thank you kindly to the bartender and grabbed the bottle and glass, pouring the glass full. He saw a few at the bar watching and he raised his glass to them, grinning. Hereís to you he said then sucking it down, gulping, hoping they would be horrified. He finished out of breath and clacked the glass onto the bar, looking around. No one paid attention. People talked and laughed. They drank and chatted and were lively. A wonderful time. A wonderful time for everyone. He looked at himself in the mirror. The man beside him caught his gaze and looked away quickly. Johnson thought of smashing the glass over his own teeth. He turned to the man and smiled. Popular joint he said loudly so the man would hear him. The man looked up at him from his glass. Iím sorry? the man said.
I said thereís a lot of people in here. The man did not respond. Johnson continued. Is it usually this crowded?
The man looked at Johnson. He should have dragged up a big gelatinous hock of spit and splurted it all over Johnsonís eyes. He should have said fuck off faggot. He should have slapped him across his face, or jabbed him light and quick in his nose.
The man said I donít know. I guess.
Johnson smiled. He bit the rim of his glass and tilted back the burning clear vodka over his teeth, into his flexing throat. There were light bulbs arrayed over the mirror behind the bar. And there were little lamps that gave off a sick yellow light, and these were set up at intervals along the walls. And the walls were all painted red, but the paint was dirty with cigarette smoke and stains. And there were little trinkets that were piled and stacked and stuffed onto little narrow shelves high up on the wall. There were old toys and books that were atlases or readerís digest abridgments, and there were plastic vines with the leaves crowding out everywhere, hanging down in places. And they all sat in a filth of dust that was over everything. And behind the bar were bottles, millions and millions of bottles with alcohol and all the different labels, all glinting in the dirty yellow dimness of light. He saw himself again in the shadowy mirror behind the bar. He turned to the man beside him again. He said what are you doing here?
The man did not look at him and said, drinking.
Johnson smiled. He said to the man have you ever been in a fight?
The man turned to him. Small head resting low between his shoulders, old business suit, a little morose. About 40 years old. How old are you?
Iím sorry? the man said again.
I asked you if you had ever been in a fight. Johnson swigged his vodka and then finished it. He poured more. The man watched him.
The man said yeah I guess so.
Iím a professional boxer, Johnson said. I just won a fairly important match. Knockout.
Congratulations, the man said, looking him over, cataloguing him.
Whatís your name? said Johnson.
Nice to meet you Kirk. Johnson took his hand, Iím Johnson.
The man nodded at him, turned and looked again at the mirror, sipped at his whiskey.
Do you want to spar with me? Johnson asked.
The man looked at him, nervous, IÖwhat?
Johnson was turned fully towards him on his barstool. The man noticed this. I said would you like to follow me back to the gym and spar. Weíll wear pads, gloves, head gear, the whole thing. You wonít get hurt.
The man laughed insincerely and turned to the mirror again, smiling into his drink, a story for his friends tomorrow, no, yeah, no thanks on that one. Last thing I need tonight is a good pounding, ha ha.
Kirk was thinking all the time about this crazy nut, canít wait to tell his friends about this nut tomorrow. Johnson saw him thinking that. Johnson turned and took a quick slug of his vodka, turned again fully to the man. I wonít pound you, he said.
The man did not look at him. Yeah. He gave a strained smile, thatís enough, nervous a little now, took a drink of his whiskey, tiny little sip and turning away, staring out over the people in the bar. Johnson tapped him lightly on the shoulder. The man turned back to him hesitantly.
I want to fight you, Johnson said.
Kirk offered him a smile, weak, faltering, what? Johnson did not smile. He said again I want to fight you. Kirk shouldered off Johnsonís hand, said uh, no thanks pal, looked away. Johnson stared at him. The bartender was chirping and strutting back and forth the behind the bar, flourishing up his drinks, laughing, playing it cool like they all do. Johnson looked at Kirk. Kirk, me and you are going to fight. Come on. I can show you how. Itíll be good for you.
Kirk turned on him, whispering harsh, you back off now buddy, ok, back off, now.
Johnson smiled. Smiled long and slow, feeling his lips pull back into his face. His face glowing. He tickled some fingers into Kirkís side, Kirk squawking and twisting over, nearly spilling his glass, Hey! Hey! Just back off now alright?
The bartender perked up his ears and eyes and came over slow and authoritative, clinking spurs and adjusting his gold badge. He said, everything alright here boys?
Johnson loved that he called them boys. Had to be smart now though. Make a fuss and he would not get his way. But he wanted that bartender now, which was a problem. Best to get with him after he got off work. Focus on Kirk, have Kirk, be with Kirk. He turned full to his glass and looked sober, Kirk all the time waggling his fingers at Johnson, this son of a bitch wonít leave me alone, son of a bitch, son of a bitch, all the people glancing indifferently at them and then hunkering back to their intimate red faced copulations. The yellow lights and red walls flexed and purred audibly, coaxing the whole room into a slow luxurious throb.
Why donít you move then? The bartender said.
Kirk snorted at him sarcastically, excellent, perfect, and then strutted his short frame over to a beautiful blonde sitting alone around the bend of the bar. Johnson watched Kirk shift and reformulate in the presence of the woman, play it cool, dropping the memory of what had just happened. Johnson watched their brief eye contact, the woman stunning, swelling out, an orgy of clear green eyes and red bursting supple lips, the tender shy tongue licking light across the teeth, porcelain skin, soft curved plane of her forehead, flaxen hair mucked in the golden light shimmering along the perfectly styled locks. She was gorgeous. He wanted Kirk to get this woman. He wanted Kirk, the cosmic buffoon, to woo this woman, desperate, out of place, lonely, to lie herself back and let Kirk bury his gloriously inconsequential Id, defaming, debasing, into her soft elegant folds. Juicing himself into her for all eternity. He wanted her humiliated. He wanted Kirk elevated, raised in all his decayed splendor up before the whole of the universe, mocking the whole existence, laughing wildly, triumphant. He wanted to cut his own throat.
The night went on. Kirk and the woman left together. Johnson waited for two minutes and bit on the rim of his glass and then purred money into the hand of the bartender, promising to glory in the depressurizing hiss sound this manís skull would make later, fracturing beneath Johnsonís fists. He ran outside into the cold night, his heart stammering up in his face, throbbing. He looked around for them. If they were lost, found a taxi, gone, he was beaten. Destroyed. He ran down the street, sure Kirk had driven himself. A little unwind before home. But now Kirk had met someone. A beautiful woman. Heíd had more than heíd anticipated, a little drunk in fact, both of them. He imagined how Kirk must be feeling right now, floating along, grinning dazedly at the stars and imagining his own delightful plunge into this womanís vigorous and amazing body. Johnson ran down the street, saw them disappear around a corner, gasped his relief. He did not want to interrupt yet though. Did not want to spoil Kirk defiling that gorgeous woman. The streets were deserted, no chance of a taxi to follow them. He watched them stop at a car, Kirk leaning her against it, kissing her, pressing himself against her, her accepting. He sprinted back the way heíd come, turned down another street, keying open his own car and arranging himself in it. He trundled over the engine, turned on the headlights, geared out of his parking space. He drove fast and turned down the road theyíd come, sighing relief as he saw them still kissing. Kirk was driving his hips at the woman, pinning her back against the car. They were going to fuck. The declaration came into Johnsonís mind, sudden, sinful, adult. He had lost his own girlfriend six months ago. He thought of the tortured and abrupt sex theyíd had, how he would empty himself into her in a humiliating collapse, freezing just as she would begin to work herself, eyes shut away from him, into something of pleasure. He remembered all the bitter fighting, screaming, his towering hysterical rage which she calmly recognized as embarrassment, complacently tolerated while he stomped and tossed about, blasting into walls, veins swelling thick over his red face. Afterwards, when he was calm, heíd hound her about her sexual history, all the times and all the men who had made her cum. She would feign hesitation, she would demure and delay, he would insist, she would level the axe. Then in secret he would masturbate over these imagined episodes, her shrieking wildly, overwhelmed by the immensity of anotherís manhood inside of her, utterly destitute before it. He masturbated to these things still.
Johnson circled the block, calmly turning at the wheel, hitching smoothly at the clutch, the radio dial aglow, soft murmurs of music. He turned distractedly back onto the street, watching Kirk just now getting into his own car. He slowed and waited for them to pull out, the red glow of their tail lights on his face in the rear view mirror. Red face, framed in black. He followed far behind them through the night, through turning streets, stop signs, lights red green, not paying attention to where he was, the cars wandering through lanes, around curves. Kirk pulled up along the curb in front of a house, residential neighborhood. Kirk owned a house. Or at least rented. Probably rented. Well done Kirk. Impeccable. Johnson parked up the street, his groin fluttering between his immensely muscled thighs. He watched as they climbed out, staggering, laughing, he was funny, Kirk was funny, Johnson watching and watching, they fumbled at the keys to the front door, she was necking at him, flushed, horny, chaffing her groin at him. He was going to be parading into this woman all over the house. On the floor, against the wall, the shower tomorrow morning. She was going to eager her young hips up to him, her warm sucking loins, crooning, fingers splayed across his moled back. Kirk would be pumping furiously, euphorically. And she would take it, smiling. LOVING. This beautiful woman. Johnsonís heart dang dang in his chest. A passing car threw a light at his face, sitting in the dark of his car. He watched as they went inside, clicking on the lights, closing the door.
He latched open his car door, unfolded out of the driverís seat, shoes grinding discreetly on the pavement. He closed the door loud, invitingly, then walked across to Kirkís house. He walked in the grass around, let himself into the back yard. He waited, breathing, wanting them to be in the midst of their sex. Thought again of Kirk gasping, mucus and wet from his lathering mouth, spreading open his face, enfolding over her faintly perfumed limbs, swallowing. He tried the backdoor. Locked. Windows. Locked. Front door. Locked. No way in. Break a window. Disrupt them in the act. His image of the scene ruined. Kirk slopping out his big member, bellowing, pulling up his trousers, you son of a bitch, the woman shrieking and pulling her wads of clothes to her. He would have to break glass and then bang and stumble his way in, all the ruining noise and with them collecting themselves, fight or flight. Perhaps they would call the police before he even made it all the way in. He thought again, now, just now people all over were sorted and arranged into their homes, blasting at each other with their iron genitals clanging. Marching band. Deep resounding thunk, ejected shell, recoil, the men turned away and covered ears. Far away a dim rumble and clouds of dust lifted into the breeze. People everywhere. Now. Right now orgasms ripping through arid desert air. Ripping, yawning. Turn the page. Gasp and shudder and squeal and turn back your eyes, ripping cords of gristle and meat, blue arc flares searing out of your mouth, cauterizing over your face, stink of smoke.
Johnson turned away and walked back to his car and turned and looked at the house. Big house. Big metered coordination, erecting itself out of the ground. And Kirk and the woman climbing inside, away from everyone, swimming in a symphony. Johnson. Johnson. Everyone knows whatís going on in there, that house, no one says anything. Ha ha. Ha ha. Just let it be. Everything is fine. Everything is. Johnson outside with their large house and the stars twinkle twinkle, little light over everything. Just staring. Stand and stare. Acquiescence of a whole universe of things, all complacent and staring at their collective humiliation. You get no pardon ha ha. Johnson puts himself inside of his car and activates it and drives its rattling spinning parts away.
Later he is again in the bar.
I think youíve had enough. The bartender gave him a condescending you pathetic dumbshit look.
Give me one more.
The bartender moved off down the bar, serving up a group of young girls in cocktail dresses, cheering and laughing and dangling their jewelry everywhere. The older men smiled at them over their beer glasses.
You think by ignoring me that I will just curl and go away, Johnson muttered to himself. He was resoundingly drunk. Alcohol wobbled through his big muscled frame, bending out of his face and warping around down his back, through his arms. He stood from his stool and leaned against the bar, hand swallowing knuckles over the glass with a drop of vodka still in it, lifting to his lips and sucking it down. He looked after the bartender. When he came back, Johnson waved him over, the bartender looking irritated.
Iím not going anywhere. Ignore me, whatever you like, the bartender now walked away, cutting him off.
Hey, Johnson said after him. Hey.
He picked up his glass and threw it at the bartender, quisch as it shattered on the floor, bartender turning, you get the fuck out now, leveling his big grotesque finger out the door. Go you fuck.
How his voice boomed. Yell more. Please. Scream and beat your fists. Level out canons and steaming yawning missiles. God I beg you.
Johnson smiled and did not say anything. Men on either side of him stared and sidled away mumbling. The girls in the cocktail dresses laughed and laughed with each other. They sipped on their colored drinks and clicked their big acrylic nails over everything like playing the spoons. Johnson grabbed the glass of the man beside him and threw it on the floor as well. The bartender said Iím calling the cops. You numb fuck. Youíre out of here.
No buddy, youíre out of here. Way out of here. All the way out of here. Johnson started laughing. Ha ha ha it went. Nobody in the bar paid any attention to any of it. The bartender wasnít even angry. He turned to Johnson all of a sudden and said its ok, I know youíve had a little too much is all. I donít hold you personally responsible. I know this isnít you. Youíre a good guy, Iím sure. And under other circumstances, I bet even that we could be good buddies. As a matter of fact, why donít you give me your email address I could check in on you, see how youíre doing by the way, a couple of guys I know are having a sort of guys night poker thing do you think you would wanna come come on man I know it would be super fun youíre a good guy I just know it weíll be good friends the cops will be here soon ha ha, and then Johnson screamed at him, Johnsonís face filling up with a bright neon flicker, roadhouse sign, Eat Here, and he was screaming with his jaws hanging wide open and all the teeth that went around in the yawning hole that opened in his face, fishing slapping tongue, the back of his throat a wet quiver red, sucking at air, the bartender all the time smiling sweet, understanding, hey hey buddy, its alright, tell me what you feel, what you need Iíll give you whatever you need just say the words, all the people in the bar nodding now, all looking at him with their big tender eyes, yeah sure champ, whatever you need, weíre here, support, we can make it through this thing together, just a little support is all, youíre a good guy with Johnson straining at the bar, twisting himself against it and veins angry muscling into big grey masses with the jet fuel through them, knuckles and hands now knotty mess, him dragging them up before everyone, before all the people just tell us what you need, youíre a good guy you're a good guy.
Johnson looked up suddenly.
The bartender was looking at him, one hand beneath the bar. If you know whatís good for you, youíll get out of here. The bartender paused, watching him. Waiting. Iíve called the cops and theyíre on their way.
Johnson looked around. The bar was quiet. People watched him nervously, others whispering over their small tables. They stared. He thought of Kirkís house.
I donít want to go, said Johnson.
The bartender did not answer, looking at him. He did not take his hand away from underneath the bar. Johnson looked again at everyone in the bar. Each face individually. Everyone watched him, waiting. They thought he was sick. They wanted to see if he was going to do something stupid, so that this bartender could swing up that bat or that gun he had a hold of underneath the bar. They waited to see if they would need to run. He heard the soft pitter patter of all their little hearts beating together.
I apologize, he said.
I seem to have made a mistake. Things are not going well for me at the moment.
His mouth felt like a small puncture in his face. He turned to the bartender.
I am not in the right place. Things do not match up, do not fit with me in here. I know that. You think I donít know that? Iím a boxer. You know I won an important match tonight. Knockout.
Johnsonís eyes rolled around thickly, looking for more vodka. The room was silent.
Different rules here. Your fists donít brace like they should. I cannot match you.
Johnson put hands on the bar, leaned out at the bartender.
You see, thatís a metaphor. A metaphor for how I feel now. Can you empathize with me? I am using your language. I am saying that I cannot match you. Can we call a draw?
He held out his arms to the bartender.
There was silence. The jukebox had finished its last song.
Lets go to the gym and spar. I could show you a few things. You wouldnít get hurt.
The bartender did not move.
Suddenly Johnson was lift off, exploding a cloud of shards through the bar, muscled knots, striding to the bartender who yanked out a thin bat, crashing it across Johnsonís face, splinters, Johnson anchoring down a careening fist splash into the bartenderís head, dropping him instantly. Johnson was bent over, squealing in the unconscious manís face; he stood and looked around the room. A big man from the back stood up. Then another man, closer. Two more. Men and women from the bar cleared back, mute terror. Johnson grinned out painfully in his face, eyes boiling thick in his sockets. He smacked his flubbering lips, teeth crowding behind the flesh sheets of his face, tongue flapping ha ha. He saw the universe orient itself to him suddenly in a network of symbols. He understood. Excess dropping off, extra weight. Every man a nucleus. He pulled out his fists, said come. They did.
The first man came at him directly over the table between them. Johnson moved back from behind the bar, the man clambering stumbling over his chair and then legging wildly over the table, woman sitting there screaming, falling back, table overturned and the man wheeling around little fists. Johnson came up with a deep sledge he brought from the floor, cleaned up through the manís head in a big arc, and then with another against the manís ear. The man sprawled sideways over another table, turning it over, all the crashing glass and spilled alcohol and screams. Johnson heaved his big burning smile on his face and pounded over to the next one, please god yes yes, letting the man come up snarling, batter himself at Johnsonís face, Johnson glorying, luxuriating in the red spike of his nose cracking beneath the manís fists, the free fast flood of blood over his mouth, pumping heavily. He grinned and laughed wildly and then gutshot the man with his fist, and then slapped him hard across his face. When the man did not fall, and then another set upon him, Johnson was weeping for joy. He began to sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and to swing and to dodge as they peppered their storm of fists and kicks at him. His body worked itself in a cascading symphony around them, eyes alight in his face, fists dancing and fluttering about their heads, and he stalled so that others in the bar would have time to scramble and crash their way across and join with their friends. Others came and Johnson for a while battered with them, jolts of blood flung out in the air, around and around the room, smashing through furniture. Soon, though, the complex of fists and angles became too abstract, and Johnson understood that he was going to lose badly. Men and bodies and spiking fists pecked and bit at him and tore at him and he began to gasp and stumble over women and over turned chairs, and then roaring, his mind flushing impulse jolts through his body. He erupted flames across face after face, bodies all crunching and mashing themselves at each other, blood tweezing over the walls and faces of the others in the bar. He tripped and fell backwards in a tangle of men, and then they were on top of him, holding him, crunching his ribs with their feet, their fists. He put his arms weakly about himself and felt the agony and exhilaration of his failing life. His face bashed again and again, swelling, bursting, weeping blood. His skull moaned beneath the stress of their fists. And then they stopped and pulled away.
He heard sirens outside. He could not see, for blood, or blindness, or swelling. It did not matter. He tried to struggle up to his feet. Someone said stay down. You are badly hurt. He tried to say fuck you. He got to his feet and was feeling weakly around. His hands shook. He was not done. They were not done.
Come, he said. He tried to make fists with his ruined hands. Come.
What do you want, someone said. They were all sick, looking at him.
A fair fight, wheezed Johnson, staggering. Come.
Youíre that boxer, arenít you? Just won that big match?
You son of a bitch. He lipped out blood over his chin. Nobody touched him.
© 2008 Underground Voices