Life was beating crap out of the latest contender when I entered the joint. Don’t know how I got there. I’d been wandering the streets in a daze for most of the day. Another love had bit the dust and age was creeping up on me. It seemed that nothing was right and nothing would ever be right. I just needed a place to hide, to forget about everything, to forget about myself.
Everyone I know has times when life turns to shit. That night it was just too much for me. Everything was too damn hard. My flat was more like a prison cell than a home. Old conversations echoed around the emptiness. So I left and I walked, oblivious to the rain, until I came to a club I’d never seen before. It was an old, grubby warehouse that had been converted to hold a boxing match. Inside, a crowd had gathered around a makeshift ring, watching Life take on all contenders.
I hung out at the back for a while. I hate attracting attention to myself. Life was a heavy weight. Big, fat and ugly as sin. The latest guy in the ring was some good-looking actor type. Life had taken pretty good care of him. He wasn’t looking so good anymore. A quick jab broke the actor’s nose, adding more blood to the once strong and proud face. More blows followed. The actor hit the deck. The crowd cheered.
Some sleaze-bag entered the ring as a couple of thugs pushed the forgotten actor through the ropes. The sleaze-bag was wearing dark shades and announced the next bout in a voice usually reserved for small-time pimps.
“And now, for the next contender. His name is Mark Cope. Mark’s wife left him last week and, well you don’t need to know the rest…”
“Mark,” I whispered, seeing my closest friend enter the ring. He already looked like shit. He was trying to hack it has a musician but things hadn’t been working out.
He didn’t last long.
A couple of punches to the gut followed by a swift upper cut and he was on his side, bleeding heavily. I fought my way to the front of the crowd just in time to see the heavies roll him into a bottomless pit that surrounded the ring.
“That was too easy,” the announcer mocked. “Come on, surely someone’s got what it takes?”
I was angry. Life didn’t give a damn about anyone. You could tell by looking at him. Smug bastard. Success entered the ring. She was only interested in the Champ.
“Is there no one willing to take a chance?” The announcer called out.
“Yeah,” I shouted. “I’ll take the bastard on!”
As I climbed into the ring, the crowd roared their approval. I wasn’t much to look at but they could sense my hunger. I basked in the moment. It was good to be there.
“And you are?” the announcer asked.
He knew who I was. Just didn’t want to say the name. Didn’t even want to give me that much recognition.
That would change.
Success was still all over my opponent. She planted a killer kiss on his lips and slipped out of the ring.
“Okay,” the ref explained. “The rules are simple. You can only hit Life above the belt, he can hit you anywhere he wants. Got that?”
“I know the rules,” I said.
A few people in the crowd laughed. A few more cheered.
They worshipped me. I was the contender. Ready to take on Life for what I wanted. None of them had the guts to do it. If I won, I gave them hope.
They all knew I’d fail.
The bell sounded. I had a plan. I’d watched Life for a few bouts and noticed his attack was swift and savage. I’d out manoeuvre him. Skip around the ring until…
I was staring at the canvas. The punch had come out of nowhere, a stinging right, straight to my chin.
I pushed myself back up. It was nothing. Just a lucky punch. He tried the same move again but this time I was ready for him and moved under it, planting a couple of good solid blows to his gut. If he felt them, he didn’t show it.
As we came in for a clench, he jabbed his elbow swiftly onto the back of my neck, sending me down onto the canvas once more. This time there was pain. Agony lanced down my spine and the world started to spin away. The ref started to count time but I couldn’t hear his words.
“Foul,” I coughed.
I pushed myself up and went at it again. It was no good. He came at me with a flurry of blows I couldn’t even see. It was all I could do to hang on.
The bell rang. End of round one. My luck didn’t register for a few seconds and then I stumbled back to my corner. I had no second, no one helping me. Across the ring, Life had all the best men in the business. Not that he needed them. There wasn’t a mark on him.
I spat blood and rinsed my mouth with some foul smelling water.
The bell rang and it was time to start fighting again.
Okay, I thought, let’s do it.
More punches. Not from me. This time I saw blood – my blood – fly across my face. Both eyes were swelling. Ribs cracked. Still the punches kept coming.
“Make it easy on yourself,” Life said, as I clutched him, desperate for respite. “Hit the deck while you still can…”
I coughed blood onto his shoulder.
He pushed me away and landed an upper-cut that sent me into the air and across the ring. I landed near my corner. The ref came over and started the count. I was pushing myself up when Life kicked me in the guts, sending me back to the floor.
“Son of a bitch, ” I cursed. “You ain’t gonna get me that easy.”
With a primal yell of rage, I shot up and tackled him around the waist. The crowd screamed approval. I had him on the ropes and went in hard with punch after punch. Blood was seen for the first time on his face.
This was it, I thought, I’m going to do it.
I cracked his face one last time, laughing as I backed away.
“Come on, come on,” I urged, ready for him.
He came, but he was tired and I was the new champ. I could sense it in every broken bone of my body. I was landing blow after blow. I could feel his pain. Success was checking me out. I knew she wanted me. It’s funny how…
The blows came from nowhere and everywhere. Don’t know how Life managed it, but a couple of cracks sent me spinning backwards. Ribs broke. Bone pushed against skin. He was waiting for me, grabbing my head by the hair and pulling my face onto his rising knee. More teeth cracked. I tasted fresh blood and staggered back, the world a red blur.
How was it possible? I was nearly there. I was so close. So fucking close. He kicked me in the face and I hit the canvas for what I knew would be the last time.
The words were distant and unreal. I could only see blood. My body was dead, or as good as dead. It was all over. I didn’t want to get up again. Let them just roll me out of the ring and toss me into the pit with all the other losers. It was where I belonged. Everyone I knew lived there. They seemed happy enough – as long as you didn’t look too closely.
I’d had enough of the pain, enough of the trying. Everything I wanted was too far away. Better to accept what I could reach with ease, without pain.
Through the red, I could see Success leaning over the ropes and massaging Life’s shoulders. She wanted him. It was obvious.
Life was laughing, mocking me.
Didn’t matter. It was the way of things.
No. One small part of my brain screamed rebellion, forcing my ruined frame back to life. Shaking, I crawled to my feet, a corpse from the grave, worse than a corpse, a ghost, a banshee. I was beyond death. Only one thing mattered now.
“Come on, you sadistic son of a bitch, let’s finish it,” I growled, tearing off the gloves.
The laughter caught in Life’s throat. I could see fear in his eyes for the first time. He came at me as swiftly, as he had before, but this time I was ready for him. His punches made contact but the pain no longer mattered. I was used to it. The pain was part of my life. He knew this and was scared. My blows were few but the ones that made contact counted for a hell of a lot. I had him on the ropes when the bell rang. The ref jumped in, yelling that it was the end of the round.
“Yeah, right,” I said, pushing him out of the way and landing two killer blows on the Champ. “It’s over when it’s over.”
Life hit the canvas. He wasn’t going anywhere.
“Right,” I said. ” Now you can ring your goddamn bell.”
The ref nodded nervously and raised my arm. The blood in my mouth tasted of victory.
The crowd went wild.
Success came into the ring and was all over me.
It felt good.