Excerpt from Gloves and Coats
By Joe Dawson
His tired body slumped onto the stool after the bell's resonance died out, declaring Round Nine officially over. Through his swelling eyelids he could see his young opponent still standing in his corner, gingerly talking to his corner man and casually sipping his water bottle. Bing Meek's attention focused on the laces cutting into his wrists, and the weight of his once lightning fast fists. Throughout the evening's bout, Bing was barking orders at his body to arch, pivot, jab and duck. Though Bing had his fight won in his mind, at 32 his body simply could not respond.
In Round Five Bing backed the young fighter from Jersey into a corner and cut the boy's face with a precise left cross. Bing called on his right hook to finish the job, but it hesitated, and the young bull ducked out into the open. For the next 20 seconds he let the kid scramble away from his left and right jabs that seemed always to land an eight of an inch too short to bruise him.
When the young man charged back in the waning moments of the fifth, Bing's instinct to pivot and cross with his left, the move that first won him the title nine years ago in Calcutta, began its motion without his need to mentally command it. However, tonight, nine years after his brilliant show to the world, his left foot reached back for the pivot and slipped on the canvas.
Bing started downward, caught himself from falling with his left glove, and paused to find the ref. He momentarily gazed into the lights of the dome's ceiling as his right leg positioned to bring him back up into the bull's chin, but the light blinded his right eye. He suddenly thought about the punch from his title bout five years ago, where he lost his vision for three weeks, when the right glove of the young bull from Jersey flew into his left eye, knocking him back down to the canvas in a clumsy descent.
Bing heard the shock of the crowd in the fifth round after he climbed the ropes at seven counts. He heard the distilled anticipation of the crowd waiting to see the champ go down, to see the biggest horse in the stable chopped up for glue. Now as the bell rang out and called them back for a tenth round, Bing could barely see out of that left eye. [↑]
Isaac, his corner man for 11 years, and a friend of his father's, tried to breathe life into his abused hands, "lucky punches, he's lucky Bing, you gotta out luck him son, stop the bullets, kill the gun, you know how this goes baby boy!" The words "baby boy" reminded Bing of his father, Douglas Meeks, the "strongest steel" of the Pittsburgh boxing circuit. "Daddy named me Bing," he'd tell the kids in the schoolyard before a scuffle he would always win with his fists, "Daddy says it ain't the bam that knocks down big guys, it's the bing."
Bing was eight years old when his father's steel had a chink in the armor. A wild punch in a friendly sparring contest during a weekday killed his fighting father at the age of 28. This time in Bing's life took place shortly before Douglas was set to fight the bout that would put him in the top ten. That August in '75, a promising young man was lying dead on the gym floor with a pretty widow and a boy who wanted to be just like his daddy.
Bing thought about his son, and his wife, the other day in the kitchen, how she didn't want him to fight anymore, that he'd been on top for too long. Debra said that people didn't call this kid from Jersey "the bull" because he was built like one, but because he hit like one. "You remember me fighting Roland four years back? He weighed almost twice as much as this kid, and he was an inch taller too," Bing said. She paused to respond, caught in the whim of a memory. As her lips bent upward in the corners, he knew she was thinking of him, how he beat Roland in the fifth when no one said he could because of his size, that Bing himself was barely heavyweight size.
He took her out for the best dinner that night. She said that she'd never been happier and that she finally knew the marriage would work. That night they stayed in the best hotel and drank the best wine. They had their son nine months later. [↑]
Judas was now playing with the Tonka dump truck Bing bought him last Christmas, filling the cold metal yellow container with blocks and dry macaroni he found near the refrigerator on the floor. He wondered if he should teach Judas about boxing. Bing had previously decided to let him go to college and keep the money he would someday inherit from the title fights.
Suddenly Debra's face straightened and it was obvious to him now that she was no longer thinking about that night. She dropped the towel she was drying the dishes with. "You beat Roland four years ago," her voice rose, and then quivered in fear and in love, to a delicate volume that seemed to graze its fingers on the back of his ears, "you beat him four years ago at 28, not 32." As Bing sat in the kitchen chair, he let her dry the last dish, then spoke softly, as to not bruise her, "people said I was too old then, they were wrong. It is not my belief that I will ever be too old." His voice cracked at the end, which made him think about his age, and he quietly removed himself from the kitchen.
Then, an early right jab from the young bull woke Bing up, and his right eye saw the hook coming, and this time he ducked. Bing threw a hard left jab into the bull's ribs, he probably hasn't thrown that punch this hard in five years, all to see the bull step back, brush it off and land Bing on the forehead with three consecutive jabs. Bing backed up, pivoted, swung, missed, pivoted, swung, missed and then missed again. The bull two-stepped his punches with a bounce in his boots that made his location difficult to pin down with Bing's one good eye.
Bing kept on his toes, or tried to. The haunches that once sprang him forth like a hungry lion upon a weak Roman gladiator were now tiring, and Bing's evasion and pivot punches relied on them. "Offense getting soft…" he thought to himself, "round ten's no time for defense," and with that the Champ went after the young bull from Jersey. Two missed left hooks and three soft jabs later, Bing began to second guess himself as the bull hustled him into corner after corner until the bell sounded for the end of Round 10.
Once more, Bing's body pouted on its stool while his eye focused on the kid who just wasn't tiring in the opposite corner. "That kid keeps it up all night, doesn't he?" he said to Isaac. Isaac looked at the Champ sadly, and it was then that Bing remembered. Bing remembered the last time Isaac wore that face; it was August of '75. "I think you should think about your wife and kids, Bing." Isaac handed Bing the white towel. [↑]
"I ain't goin' home to my boy without my belt," the Champ snorted. "The boy is gonna love you without that belt, what's the matter with you son? You've been holdin' on to that thing long enough, longer than most people get to hold to it." "I'm gonna be the first man to keep it Isaac, my boy is gonna be proud of his daddy." Isaac retorted and spit at him, "why Bing, because you weren't proud of yours, cuz' he was never champ?!" Bing spun around and grabbed Isaac by the collar of his starched polo shirt, "someday, old man, you're going to be sorry you ever thought that." With that, Bing lumbered into the 11th round, only to evade more punches while softly tapping the young bull from Jersey.
"Comin' back slow, too slow, just keep comin' back," he told himself. The blow he received from the fifth round, when his best "pivot and punch" failed, was beginning to slow him further. His head ached from it, and his vision became even more muddled.
He remembered when Daddy came home from fighting one night, how his face was swelled, how his smile looked, seeping out from underneath swollen cheeks. "Baby Boy Bing, come sit on daddy's lap." He'd say it baritone that almost rattled mother's china set, the ones Daddy bought her with the money from his first professional bout. "Daddy got roughed tonight son, but he won." He'd tickle Bing's ribs with his large bulb like fingers, "someday your Daddy's gonna be champ, and he's gonna buy you the best house in California."
Bing would fall asleep listening to his father's big voice, to all the words that would come quietly yet excited as he told Bing how he won his fights. "Bing, you're gonna be a champ someday too, just keep your head up and love your mamma and it will come." "When?" he would ask his father. "Oh, not for a long time son, you're gonna have to beat me for it someday, he he." He laughed quietly too. "I love you baby boy, I'm gonna get you and your mamma outta here someday, just keep my head up."
Bing's head snapped back under the right glove of the young fighter as he missed a hook coming from the west. His legs trembled for a half second, which told his feet to scurry out of the way. As he scrambled, Bing lost his balance and he sprawled over the mat, which made the crowd roar, and Bing thought for a moment it was over. It was not declared a knockdown, but either way, this late in the match, it hurt Bing more emotionally than physically. He waited for the ref's clearance and dodged back into the young fighter from Jersey. [↑]
He didn't hear it or see it. When he was knocked out the first time he saw it and heard it, BAM. But this time, he didn't see it or hear it. He heard his father laughing in the back of his head, "it's not the bam son!" He opened his eye to see the last syllable of "ten" roll of the ref's lips, and then to hear the white noise of a new young man becoming the latest sparkling diamond in sports.
He got up to see many people averting their eyes from him to the new champ, to see many fans applauding in enjoyment, and some simply staring at Bing, his body standing beaten under light. He found Isaac in the corner, white towel over his shoulder, and the look he wore on his face when he came into their dull yellow living room one afternoon to tell Bing and his mamma that Douglas had been killed at the gym. With that, Bing let Isaac drape him in his fighting robe and cut his laces.
He walked over the cement of the arena, past the hurried feet of others, mocking and adoring fans, and began to memorize the texture of the cement, as if it were death row. Bing's shoulder felt lighter and not so old without the belt. He said nothing to Isaac or the driver on the way home, just stared at his wrists where the laces had been.
"What have I done?" he thought to himself. Debra would not be upset, and Judas was too young to know or care. He remembered holding his Daddy after his fights. Not because he wanted to, but because he knew his Daddy needed to be loved after being hated in the ring. Every night, after every fight, because Mamma never liked Daddy fighting.
He imagined that Debra would care, especially since he lost. It wasn't the first time. She bawled her eyes out when he lost the belt six years ago. However, he won it back in six months; he was so young then. This time she did not want him to fight, she did not want him. How would she want him now? He will never win again, too old now. "How long will she cry now, 40 years?"
Of course he came to reality, realizing that she did not want him to fight, so she won't cry, she will just stare in pity. Judas will be asleep when he arrives home. In the silence of the limo, he listened to the rain hit the roof and windows. This was his last limo ride home, and this was the last fight of his life, and he lost. His wife will not kiss him, she will know all about the fight before he arrives, and she will teach him a lesson through apathy upon his arrival. And Judas will sleep, and Bing will sit in the kitchen, just like his deceased father would when he was a little boy. He will have no one to hold him. Bing again listened to the rain and the tires moving over the wet pavement, and as the raindrops fell, so did he.
Somewhere, on a road heading towards the glue factory, the best horse in the farm stable is being led by its owner. His years of important muscle and enduring work are now lying at his hooves in dust, in the past. With nothing ahead on this dirt road to eclipse those golden days, he knows his trusting owner has seen the best use of him. He has helped build the farm, yet now he will build nothing.
The horse waits in its stall at the factory, he eats his hay and stares at the beam of sun stretching across his golden coarse hair. The machines he hears behind the walls are louder than the fear growing in his legs. He knows, and Bing knows, and for a moment, miles apart, through their memories and through their clenched teeth, they weep with each other. [↑]
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