UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 11/2012
GEORGE SPARLING


DOWN FOR THE COUNT

         Sweet Dickie Score lasted one day in vocational school to learn the skills of a tool and die maker. “I’m still a boxer in my mind,” he said, eyes tearing up, and I cradled him to my breasts. After seventy-four fights, he couldn’t handle tests. We married after he retired.

         I saw many of his bouts with his brother Vince. I learned that growing up with Dickie meant Vince was beaten up a lot. Dickie hated how his brother received accolades for high achievements in academic pursuits. Vince became a tool and die maker, learning computer-controlled ways to make precision instruments, whereas Dickie made his living boxing, that sweet science.

         I met Dickie at HiTown, a posh club after he knocked out a top ranked middleweight. He drank too much champagne, hugged too many gold diggers. I loved that Kanye West song, “Gold Digger”: “He gon’ make it to a Benz out of that Datsun/He got that ambition, baby look in his eyes/This week he’s moppin’ floors, next it’s the fries.” I wanted him to come to my place, I’d good jazz, and if it was West you wanted, we’d listen to rap. After losing four fights in a row, the purse getting less and less, I asked him to marry me. He told me he hadn’t many scars because the boxing commission switched to fabric gloves which allowed air to pass and had complete leather-backed stitches. In earlier fights his old Mexican-style gloves had padding around the wrists. He said the punching portion of those gloves was thin and compact, and made his punches harder and caused more damage than the old ones. He spoke as a man steeped in professionalism: he loved to explain details of the trade. “I hope I won’t inflict damage to you as I had to boxers,” he said, and for that tenderness I loved him.

         As the years passed, he burrowed into a hole, away from me. As the children grew up, whenever they talked about what they learned in school, he said, “Your mom will listen,” and waved them away. They usually beat him in checkers. He watched cable movies, and especially liked westerns and black and white classics. Strangely, he never wanted to watch pay-per-view fights.

         “That was work, now I’m retired.” He sometimes spoke of Vince, how he, Dickie, should be richer than him after all the bouts, including three championship contests.

         Sex was always good. Physically, he was in good shape, jogging two miles, four times a week. His hands ached so he soaked them in brine; before each fight, he massaged brine into his face to prevent cuts, too.

         “Why don’t you get along with Vince?” Or had he addressed the real reason?

         “Somebody has to pay for all the pain I went through to make a living.”

         “Like Vin?” He paused, looked me in the eyes, hard and long, and said, “He bet against me, and won. He bet for me, and won. He told me he did. Cleaned up, he said, many in bouts with you and Vin ringside. Knew bookies, fixers, even my manager was mobbed up, he said.

         I said, "I know, I had to take the count and lose sometimes.” The words seemed to hit him below the belt. I saw suffering; more die of that than physical pain. “And you know what," he said. "He bankrolled Score, Inc. off gambling money from my fights.”

         “He told me he took out loans and paid them back.” Vince and I were close, though that revolved around Dickie’s career.

         Dickie showed us old-style gloves he had fixed with barbed wire, sharp barbs staggered, without gaps of smooth wire, fists coiled with hurt.

         He threw punches a few feet from our faces, shouting, “No more Sweet Dickie Score. Hey Vin, here’s one for you,” and he jabbed the air, cackling with each jab as invisible Vince took barbed blows.

         Without a hobby or job, he got fatter, eating pretzels and Doritos, ham and eggs for breakfast, always steak and potatoes for dinner. I tried better diets but he would raise his voice and say, “This kept me strong. I wasn’t a dead man in the ring.”

         I slept in the children’s bedroom, frightened he would attack me in my sleep with those gloves.

         “I’ll take the kids and live with Vince if you keep those gloves.” The choice of Vin the liar opposed to Dickie the vicious was easy.

         “No weapons in the house but these,” he said, putting them on without lacing up. All he had to do was slap them against my face and I’d be disfigured. Dickie said before our marriage that I looked like Miss Universe.

         “I’m leaving,” I said and he replied, “You’ll be back.”

         “Will I? I’ll have a better and safer life with Vince.”

         “Lana, somebody will be sorry if you go to him.”

         Dickie would not see a psychiatrist and take medication. But, he was so nice with the kids, and always kind to me, surprising me with gifts, like framed photographs of him and me I’d never seen, many photos of us making the rounds of clubs, snorkeling off the coast of Yucatan, dancing in fashionable hot spots in Paris, meeting old battlers from foreign countries, posing in Vegas casinos with entertainers…All that ended when we married.

         “I kept them in that locked trunk and gave you back our memories,” he said so sweetly, but that hadn’t stopped me leaving him. I packed my clothes as well as the children’s, grabbed my jewelry and left. I feared Dickie’s sense of justice, maybe he’d lash out at the housecleaner, mail carriers, or solicitors.

         I asked Vince whether Dickie had a place at Score, Inc., his tool and die firm. He needed and liked routine. Maybe he’d cool out. Vince paused and said, “He could be a janitor, though I don’t need more, but all he has to do is show up and get a paycheck.”

         I warned him about Dickie’s behavior, but Vince laughed it off---he bore a scar on his cheekbone from Dickie’s fist. “That was kid stuff way back when.”

         After settling in with Vince, I still rendez-voused with Dickie in hotels, sometimes even here in Vince’s comfy home when he wouldn’t be around for a few hours. He had much higher than average sexual skills; Vince’s long hours, even weekends at the plant, left him too tired for bed action, or, for that matter, doing anything but slouching around the house, maybe going to the country club for a round of golf.

         According to Dickie, when machinists saw him in the corridors, they often made cruel remarks about him being a dummy. “Vince says you can’t beat your kids in checkers,” one said to him, but they never asked him about his career or insider secrets of the sport. Once pegged a dummy, always a dummy.

         I suspected Vin was seeing another woman, one who hadn’t besieged him every time I recounted my times with Dickie.

         Today, Vince called, saying he’d be late, and would get home by eight; conferencing on Skype held him at work. I told him I’d be here. I always told Vin the truth, only crooked, zigzagy.

         Dickie set down his gym bag; he wanted to work out at the gym.

         “I thought running was your thing, not weights,” I said.

         “I need to work off stress.”

         He drank Cokes mixed with V-8 juice, a concoction that made me nauseated at first, but he insisted I taste it. “Not bad,” I said, unwilling to interrupt watching Badlands, about a charismatic serial killer and an underage, reticent, tag-along girlfriend wandering around America the Beautiful as the sociopath killed innocent people. The gorgeous landscape contrasted with ugly deeds of a sociopath killer and a beguiled girl who spouted romantic clichés---this broadened Dickie’s usual movie fare.

         “It’s like when you get belted without seeing the punch coming. That movie knocked me out.”

         “Vince likes police procedures, just so some low-lifes get the crap pounded out of them in the process of bringing them to justice.”

         “Some guy told me justice is blind and deaf.” He covered his eyes and ears with a pillow, but the joke went stale.

         “Vin won’t be back till eight, relax,” I said as we sat on Vince’s latest bauble, an immense $5,000 Italian striped leather sofa. We made love after the movie, and sat naked on the sofa, when Dickie said he wanted to leave before the weight room closed.

         Vince came home earlier than expected and Dickie quickly reached into the bag and put on the unlaced, barbed wire gloves. Faster than I thought he could move, he grabbed Vince and slapped him around; Vince’s face bloodied.

         Lacerations, deep and bleeding, punctured Vince’s mug when he gave him right hooks, uppercuts, backhand shots, rabbit punches to the base of the skull, then straight jabs to the nose, a few kidney punches, and many low-blows. He scraped his face around the eyes, cheeks, and mouth. A mutilated maze of rich purplish blood gashed his face. Benito Mussolini’s violent end couldn’t have been this bad. Troughs of gouged, oozing, gashes covered his face, blood dripping down as Vince crawled to a corner of the room.

         “All that talk about science books,” Dickie said, and mashed his jaw. Blood drooled down Vin’s face: smashed, ugly fish bait.

         “Please, Dickie,” I yelled but hadn’t the power to pull him off.

         Vince on his knees, he crashed a fist to one ear, a right hook to the other.

         “Dirty fucker,” Dickie yelled, and ripped Vince’s shirt and T-shirt off, then scraped the barbed wire across both nipples, pushing hard.

         “Stop,” Vince begged.

         Dickie pummeled Vince's chest, breasts, stomach, and groin; his trousers and underwear below his knees. Shards of flesh clung to the barbs.

         Dickie smashed his brother’s jugulars until Vince fell backwards, not moving.

         Dickie felt his neck.

         “Dead. Come back, Lana, we’ll make a go of it now. You’ll see.”

         The classy sofa splattered with blood, another man I lost.

         I acted rationally when I married Dickie and rationally when I left him for his brother.

         Life a toe-to-toe affair, we all go down for the count eventually.

         I punched 911 and when the cops arrived, Dickie put his fists up, ready to take them on.

         “Give them to me,” I said. The cops stood behind me, spectators.

         “You take them off.”








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