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Monday, May 2, 2016

Chapter Eleven - The Boxer


***

I have this recurring dream. Well, sort of recurring. The scenario is the same each time - I'm a boxer, and the well-dressed, neatly-coiffed ring announcer is about to introduce the contestants. The thing that's different each time is my opponent across the ring.

This time, it's a direct descendant of Neanderthal Man. Lupine face, slicked-back graying hair... Looks a lot like Governor Rick Snyder, but I know it's not him because he would never, ever, get in the ring with me. (It's beneath him.) I actually have no idea who this pug is until the announcer tells me.

"In the red corner, we have our challenger, wearing the yellow trunks with the yellow trim, the 147th ranked fighter in the world. He has a record of 14 wins, five by knockout, 19 defeats and one disqualification. Weighing in at 191 pounds, from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, please welcome... Dom Rabbits!"

There is a smattering of boos mixed with a few cackles of wicked laughter. A handful of folks in the balcony clap understandingly; his relatives. It's this way in every bout, because in my dreams, I am the crowd favorite.

"AND IN THE BLUE CORNER," the announcer goes, "Wearing the green trunks with the gold trim," the crowd excitement accelerates as they begin cheering. "Weighing in at 189 pounds, with a record of 3,418 victories and ZERO losses, ladies and gentlemen, the Undisputed, Undefeated Cruiserweight Champion of the WOOOOORRRLLLD... From Kalamazoo, Michigan... Paul 'The Frenzy' Heller!"

My corner woman, who is gorgeous, rubs my arms and says, "Go get him, baby." I nod.  Before heading to the center of the ring to meet with the referee (a tiny little old man with one glass eye and a patch over the other) to get the standard instructions, I give the crowd about two and a half beats of the River Dance. They love that.

Once the bell rings, everything happens in slow motion, as it does in every dream bout. I have no idea what my opponent will do because I never watch film on the other guy. It doesn't matter what he does if I do my job the right way.

In the dream, I can hear the broadcaster's voice in my ears as we approach each other. "Rabbits closes in on the champ. He circles to Heller's left, wary of that big right hand. Heller flicks a left jab, flicks it again, looking for his range... Rabbits comes in with the - Oh, man."

Rabbits uncorks a big one, everything he's got it looks like, but I move out of the way long before his telegram ever arrives. He's put so much behind it that his arm stretches and elongates, like Plastic Man's arm, and his torso twists like a stick of gum. He hits himself so hard that one of his tassled loafers comes right off. It seems like a smaller than normal shoe to me, for some reason, as though a man shouldn't have feet that small.

The end result is mortifying. His right fist meets his face just above the scapula on the passenger side. He hits the canvas as if thrown from a building.

The referee runs over and starts counting him out while I River Dance over to a neutral corner. I look over at my corner woman, who gives me a bemused shrug. Rabbits isn't moving at all. Looks like another KO... After the ref says "Ten!" I go over to my corner and face the center of the ring, my gold Everlast gloves raised above my sweatless head.

I feel my corner woman's arms slip around my waist from behind. She murmurs in my ear, "You've still got it, Champ." I smirk. God, is she beautiful... I hear the crowd lowing in discontent over the price of tickets as they leave their seats... How they didn't get their money's worth again. Whatever.

The official ring doctor is called in to attend to Rabbits. He is a tall fellow, heavyset, wearing a blood-red shirt. His name badge says only, 'K. Cronin'. He checks Rabbits for vital signs, shakes his head, and motions to a couple of guys in white jump suits. Their skin has the orange pallor of cheap spray-tan. They climb into the ring and start unrolling a blue tarp next to the fallen fighter.

The doctor comes over to my corner. In a hushed tone, he says, "Okay, listen. He's not going to make it. But it isn't your fault."

"I know that," I say. "I never touched him. Besides, this falls under the auspices of the Michigan Boxing Commission." He sighs, exasperated. My corner woman is rubbing a soothing mint oil onto my chiseled trapezius muscles.

"That's not what I'm saying. What I mean is, this was a death by violence, and we're going to have to rule it a deliberate suicide. We know that he had a personal crisis in the week before, and other relationship problems as well. But most of all, we suspect that he did this to himself intentionally due to the fact that, within the past couple of days, he had a close friend or relative who also died... By punching himself to death."

Through my gritted teeth, as I use them to tug impatiently at the laces on my gloves, I say, "No shit? Wow. That's unbelievable."

The doc says, "I know, right?" And then everything freezes, as if the universe had just hit the big Pause button on its remote control. I look at the bagged-up Rabbits, being wheeled away down the aisle. I see the crowd shuffling for the exits. I notice the one tassled loafer, still sitting there on the canvas, like it's lost.

I focus on the ring doctor. On his posture. His hair. The way his glasses rest on his nose. I look at his name badge again.

"Cronin?" I say. But he is in the frame of a still photograph. He can't answer.

"Kai Cronin?" Suddenly, I feel as though I'm the one who got his block knocked off, and I am vaulted out of my sleep back into the real world.

"From Pizza Hut?"

pH 5.o2.16

***

NEXT WEEK: Chapter Twelve - "Terrible Treatment"

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