Eddy parked himself on a bird-crap bench on Kilbourn and breathed. He usually looked like he felt and he usually felt like shit. Today was no exception. It was his head. It always hurt. There was the visual aspect of it, too. A pair of cysts on top the size of bottle caps, which was why he wore a hat. His niece said the cysts looked like baby goat horns. The doc said they were either from a past skull fracture or oil build up. Eddy's money was on the fracture. Castro or Lakowski or Philly Will. One of those fights after Carl's wife finally convinced him to move to Florida and some two-bit trainer that didn't know Eddy's strengths tossed him in against a dancer with endless wind or journeyman with reach and power. Those last seven fights all ended the same. Eddy leaving the ring in a haze like a no-talent tomato can. Eddy "Milwaukee's Best" Matson. What a joke.
At least he'd made some good purse.
Eddy stood up and started walking again. It was January, a warm day in the middle of a warm week. The snow had melted in all but a few spots. The grass and mud smelled rotten from being exposed to the air too early. Not many cars, but the sound of their tires sloshing through the streets was annoying.
He decided he would shove the hat on and take the pain once he got to school.
College. Day one. After the MRI Doc said no more fighting and right after said start reading and writing. It would help keep his hinges from getting any looser. Eddy had avoided them both like the corner of the ring until his sis told him about a teacher down at the tech school that she'd gone to college with. Taught poetry. Tech school was cheap. What the hell. Better than sitting around all day with nothing to think about.
So he was on his way to be a poet.
Eddy unzipped his gym bag at a Don't Walk and fished for a bottle of water. There were twelve total. Eleven actually. He'd already downed one as he went down the stairs and out the door of his apartment. He always drank water. It was a habit and it was the only thing that helped his headaches. His head was like a plant. If he kept it watered enough it wouldn't wither away.
He felt the sun hit his face as he gulped. Everything in Milwaukee seemed louder when it was warm but there were birds out and it was nice to see something other than crows.
All of a sudden he was in the middle of the street. A guy eating a candy bar called Eddy a brain-dead bum from behind the wheel of his taxi.
Eddy dropped the empty bottle of water and jogged out of the intersection.
Thirty-four years old and he had the memory of a goddamn concrete block. Forgot things all the time. He'd walk to the bathroom and not know why he was there. Wouldn't have to shit or piss so he'd shrug and leave. Most of the time it was brushing his teeth that he forgot. Not a big deal because he was missing four of them anyway and he always kept a pack of strawberry gum in his pocket. If he was somewhere and his teeth felt mossy he'd pop in a piece. Then he'd pull out a pen and mark a T on his hand. D for deodorant. S for shave. T for teeth. Anything else he'd write out. He used to write his things on little pads of paper but lost a few of those so he decided his hands would work better. They were brittle and small and he was stuck with them. He couldn't lose them if he tried.
The whole building smelled new. TVs hung on the walls like pictures.
Classroom was on the second floor. No windows. Desks arranged in a half circle. He took one in the corner. All the students had baggy clothes and baggy eyelids. A guy in a stocking hat and big headphones sang out loud. A girl with a piercing through her chin ate nachos.
Eddy opened another water and the teach walked in.
She wore a gray turtleneck and black pants and had dark hair and dark eyes and skin like clouds. Her name was Lecturer Katherine Russolo but the class could call her Kat. She had big lips wrapped around a big smile. She looked a lot younger than Eddy's sister who was two years younger than Eddy. He didn't understand how they'd gone to college together. He felt old and stupid.
After explaining to the class why she didn't hand out a syllabus on the first day Kat took roll. The students had to tell the class their names and something they thought was beautiful.
Eddy looked down at his desk and adjusted the bill of his hat.
Kat went down the circle of desks. Eddy was four students away and didn't know what to say.
A girl with round cheeks -- Emily -- said waterfalls. Kat nodded. A guy with black lipstick -- Mel -- said worms on a sidewalk. Kat said good. A girl with thick eyebrows and a small nose -- Alysia -- said kids running through a sprinkler. Kat smiled. A guy with orange hair slouched low in his desk -- Caleb -- said his dick. Students laughed. Kat nodded.
It was Eddy's turn.
Kat looked down at him and twirled the pen in her hand. Her fingers were long and covered in rings. Eddy felt sweat crawl down his back. Before fights Carl used to cover him with sweat cream because he wouldn't sweat enough on his own. He wondered if the stuff had soaked into his skin and wished the guy with the orange hair wasn't so funny. He was about to talk when his vision started to blur.
It was happening. He needed to get out.
Can I use the bathroom? he said. He only had a couple of minutes before it started.
Kat squinted one of her eyes and cocked her head. You may, she said, but you're not off the hook.
Eddy nodded and thought of his left hook. Never would have won a fight without it.
He got out of his seat and Kat moved on to the next student.
He had no idea where the bathroom was but decided if it came to it he'd sit down on one of the hallway chairs. No one in the hallway so it might be okay. The vision in the corners of his eyes blurred more. The light around him dimmed. His hands felt like they were vibrating.
He could see the bathroom icon. It looked like one of those inkblot tests but it couldn't be anything else. He got to it and made sure he picked the men's and pulled open the door. The metal handle stung his fingers.
Empty bathroom. He got into the stall and sat down. Leaned forward onto his knees. The bathroom floor moved closer then farther away like he was jumping. It moved with the beating of his heart.
He started shaking. Felt like he had no head. Like his neck had nothing to balance and no reason to exist. His tongue was dry and prickly like pine needles and the taste of citrus burned his throat and cheeks. Everything went black. Then the images came.
Hills of sand.
Dead fish rotting in the sun.
Marbles bouncing down stairs.
A bell rocking back and forth without a ding.
Today's fuzz out was heavy. Normally he only saw one or two things. They were the closest things to dreams he ever had. Each one as sharp and real as the next. They weren't a part of the world or a part of the mind but they floated in a space somehow his. They forced themselves into him and wouldn't stop until they ran out of steam.
The shaking stopped. The floor came back into his vision and stopped moving. The taste left his mouth and he could move his tongue again.
He took a few deep breaths. His hands and elbows hurt and a few dents he knew weren't there before spotted the sides of the stall. He worried about that the most. The swinging. He was normally at his apartment. Never had to worry about hitting anything worth a damn. Minus his cell phone, which bit the dust a month ago during a fuzz out. The kitchen wall. But school made it different. Now it was people he had to worry about.
He didn't know how much time had passed but he figured not much. A faucet was running. He hoped no one had heard the banging.
A tall kid in a backwards hat and sunglasses on the back of his neck was washing his hands. Eddy walked to the sink farthest from him. He took another long breath. His head hurt worse than before and he was tired.
You okay Bro-klahoma? The kid walked toward him while he dried his hands and wrists.
Said you alright. You look like hell.
Oh, said Eddy. Yeah, I'm okay. Hungover.
The kid chuckled. I hear you man. I was praying to the porcelain god all weekend. Hang in there and take it easy Bro-maha. He extended his fist.
Eddy looked at it. The knuckles were big and smooth.
He tapped them with his own and the kid left.
In the ring a fist bump meant first round or final round. Other times an apology. Low blow or elbow or head butt or kidney punch or rabbit punch. It was the first time Eddy had tapped another guy's fist and afterwards not tried to push the bones in the guy's face through his brain. First time the guy opposite him didn't try to do the same to him.
His hands felt dirty. He washed them and threw some water on his face and left.
He had a little trouble finding the classroom but he wasn't surprised because the hallway had been blurry on his rush to the bathroom.
When he got there someone was sitting in his chair. Eddy stood in the middle of the room.
Can I help you? said the teacher. She was fat and short and she wasn't Kat.
Eddy looked up at the clock. More than an hour had passed.
Eddy wanted to get to Poetry early on Wednesday so he could apologize to Kat but there was another class going on before it so he opened a water and sat on the hallway floor. A few more students showed up and waited.
The kid with the orange hair who had brought up his dick the first day floated down the hall. Eddy didn't understand it at first but then saw the extra long skateboard under his feet.
The kid sat down on his board next to Eddy. He smelled like too much cologne.
Eddy pointed to the Brewers logos on the kid's coat. I like our chances, he said.
The Crew. Landing Greinke was huge.
Yeah, I don't know a lot about baseball. Old man got me this coat.
A few seconds passed and then he looked at Eddy.
Hey, you're the dude who went to the bathroom and disappeared.
That must have been one massive dump.
Eddy smiled but said nothing.
After a while the kid said, The teacher is pretty fucking hot, huh?
Yep, Eddy said. His head hurt and he wanted to punch the kid in the throat.
I know what it was, said the kid. You ran off to the shitter to do a little five-knuckle shuffle! I don't blame you man. She was looking good.
When Eddy didn't laugh the kid laughed and nudged Eddy's arm. Just messing, he said.
Eddy crossed his arms and balled his fists so hard he thought his forearms would melt. He didn't say anything back.
Eddy sat at home watching Friday Night Fights on ESPN Classic. It was an old fight of Eddy's old favorite boxer. Paul Spadafora. He'd DVRed it.
Spadafora was turning some guy in green trunks named Johnson into a piece of meat. Spadafora was a lightweight. Eddy had been a super lightweight. For a few fights he kept his weight down and fought lightweight. He got demolished. Dropping weight made him weak and he wasn't fast enough. At least we gave it a shot, Carl had said after the last fight at 135. At least we know now.
The phone rang. The landline. Good thing he'd kept it.
It was his sister. She couldn't talk long but wanted to know what he thought of school. Of Kat. He said it was all pretty okay.
Before you go, Eddy said, I got to write a poem for Monday.
I don't know anything about that, she said.
What kind of poem do you think Kat would like?
How am I supposed to know?
I thought she was your friend.
I knew her in college, she said. That doesn't mean I talk to her every day.
Do you ever talk to her?
We Facebook once in a while. What does it matter?
Eddy wanted to get his own account. What stopped him were the pictures. He'd peeked at others' screens in the computer lab down the hall from his Poetry classroom. Everyone had years of pictures built up. Parties and trips and friends' weddings. He was too far behind. What kind of person didn't have pictures? People would take one look at his stupid boring page and think he was serial murderer.
That's the whole reason I took the class, he said.
Because you said you knew her.
She told him to hold on a second and her voice drifted away from the phone and became sharp and motherly. She was scolding Jenna. Eddy's niece. After the doc said he couldn't fight anymore Eddy had offered more than once to take a taxi to North Shore and babysit. Ann told him that Jenna was at that age where she raised too much hell and that she and Rob would rather dump her off on someone they didn't like as much. Eddy didn't think Jenna seemed so bad.
Ann came back to the phone breathing hard. Sorry about that, she said.
So the poem, said Eddy.
What about it?
I don't know how to write one.
It's tech school. No one does.
Can't you help?
Just no love poems, she said. No one likes those.
So you write all the time and that's it?
I write articles, Ed. That's different.
Just so you know I wasn't going to write a love poem anyway.
Write what you know.
I don't know much.
You know enough, she said.
In the ninth round Spadafora caught a hook to the body and a hook to the jaw. The crowd screamed. Eddy jumped out of his seat and spilled his TV dinner and water all over the floor. He didn't remember this happening. Spadafora never looked out of his element those early years.
The ropes stopped Spadafora from falling to the canvas. He covered his face and tucked his chin. The other fighter in the green trunks smelled blood. Started head hunting. Looping lefts and rights. Bad technique. If Carl were in green trunk's corner he would have chewed his ass. He'd chewed Eddy's plenty for the same thing. It was near impossible to not go for the head when you were so close to the end. To a massage and a big meal and sleep. Days of sleep. Mornings. Afternoons. As much as you wanted before you healed and it all started up again.
Spadafora kept his gloves up and stayed against the ropes. Twenty-five seconds left in the round. Body shots would bring Spadafora's hands down. The guy in the green trunks kept going at his head. The bell rang. He had survived.
Eddy sat back down. He was disappointed even though the fight was a decade old and he had always rooted for Spadafora. He wanted him to go down and didn't know why.
The next round Spadafora came out on fire. Three straight jabs connected. A cross. More jabs. The crowd stood up.
Eddy stayed seated.
The guy in the green trunks reeled. He swung back but they were wild punches and met air. Opened him up to more abuse. Spadafora stepped back and bounced on his toes. The crowd cheered. Spadafora charged again.
Eddy's head hurt.
The guy in green fell to his knees. The crowd went crazy.
Eddy's fingers wiggled on their own.
Spadafora went to his corner. The guy in green trunks got up.
The TV started to blur.
Right. Right. Left. Right. Left. The ref stepped in to stop the fight.
The announcer said The Pittsburg Kid's slate stays clean. Spadafora pounded his chest with his glove.
Eddy's tongue went stiff. Darkness swallowed the room.
A baby crying.
A sunken mattress.
Hands clawing a brick wall.
After a while Eddy stopped shaking and the room lightened. The TV came back into focus and he opened and shut his jaw. Dried blood coated his fingertips and a few of his nails were bent back. Little lines of blood streaked the armrests of his chair.
The World's Strongest Man competition was on. Eddy looked for the remote. He lifted his hips and checked the cracks of the recliner cushion but it wasn't there. He looked around. It was on the floor in pieces. Paint chips were missing from the wall above it.
He was too tired to get a Band-Aid. Too tired to clean the gravy and water and pieces of remote from the floor. Too tired to get up and change the channel. So he watched men pull buses and carry boulders until he went to sleep.
Kat was late but when she finally walked into the room wearing a loose red top and tight jeans and black boots Eddy's lungs expanded and his vision brightened. She was like smelling-salts.
Kat said she would read some of the poems that had been turned in the class before. She said that she chose them at random and wouldn't reveal the author. Eddy knew the first part -- the at random -- was a lie when he heard how good the first couple of poems were.
When she started to read his he swallowed water down the wrong pipe and almost choked.
This one is called What I Know, she said. I see trees burning. I know the fire spreads. I see babies crying. I know how they feel. I see an old mattress. I know it weighs more than it used to. I see hands clawing walls. I know the hands are mine.
Kat handed their poems back at the end of class. On the bottom of Eddy's was an A with a circle around it. Written in big, looping cursive underneath the circle was, Outstanding use of simplicity.
Eddy scratched his head through his hat and smiled.
As he left the room behind a line of students he watched Kat stuff papers into a manila envelope. Her hands were beautiful.
Eddy had watched a tape of one of his old fights before bed and now it was almost one in the morning and he was jogging through Lakeshore. If he wasn't losing sleep over old fights he was losing it over Kat or being nervous about his next poem. He hadn't fuzzed out in a week and hadn't turned in the last two poem assignments as a result.
It was simple. He needed new material. The jog would help.
The tape he'd watched was the fight where he scored his first knockout. Eddy had hit the canvas twice himself before he took the guy out in the sixth. Despite the guy landing almost half his power punches Eddy moved pretty well that fight. He forgot how nimble he used to be and he missed the lumpy, off-white mat under his feet.
There was no one out. The wind blew off Lake Michigan and sunk its teeth into his face. He knew the route well. Four laps, four miles. Used to be his roadwork every other day.
About twenty seconds into his cool down walk the frozen grass started vibrating and Eddy's legs stiffened. His mouth went bone-dry and when he swallowed it felt like someone had a forearmed pressed to his throat.
It was what he'd hoped for.
He sat down on a bench and looked down the sidewalk both ways to make sure no one was around. Then he leaned back and stared at the squares of light looking down from the buildings on Prospect. It all went soft around the edges and faded into the brown sky.
A fat lady on stilts.
Eyes glowing through jungle.
A rusty van on concrete blocks.
Rain falling from a blue sky.
Eddy woke up lying facedown in the hard, gray snow a few feet behind the bench. His lips and nose were numb but nothing else hurt. Maybe being outside was the answer. Nothing to batter with all that space.
He rolled over and sat up and pulled a pen from his sweats. Started writing on his hand.
Eddy was reading his poem over again in the hallway before class. It still didn't have a title. What I See sounded stupid. Too close to the title of his last poem. Fat Lady on Stilts was too mean and he didn't want to offend the big girl with braces who sometimes sat to his right.
Just when he felt like he was getting somewhere the kid with the orange hair came rolling down the hall and sat down next to him.
Shit, said the kid. Poem due today?
Eddy nodded and traced over his words with the pen. Hoped it would make him look busy.
Can I borrow some paper?
Eddy ripped off a piece and handed it to him. He checked the clock sticking out of the wall. Couple of minutes before class.
He settled and decided to call it Rust. While he crossed the T the kid with the orange hair nudged Eddy's elbow and he drew a blue, diagonal line across the entire poem. Ruined.
Can I borrow a pen? the kid said.
Eddy tore his poem out of the notebook and started copying it on the next sheet of paper. The kid with orange hair nudged his arm again and almost made him mess up a second time but he kept it steady.
Dude, I need a pen. I see a bunch sticking out of your bag.
Eddy ignored him and finished his poem.
When the classroom door popped open and students from the class before started filing out the kid reached across Eddy's lap to grab a pen. Eddy punched him in the side of the head with a sharp left.
The kid grabbed the top of his ear. A little blood showed through cracks between his fingers. Bright and watery-looking. Matched the color of his hair.
You're fucking crazy, the kid said with wide eyes.
Eddy stood up and pushed his way into the classroom against the crowd of students coming out. It was like swimming upstream.
He found his desk and pulled out a bottle of water. He watched the doorway until most of the seats in the room were filled and Kat was writing on the board.
The kid with orange hair never showed.
Next Monday Kat showed up late again wearing black pants and a silk jacket the color of the Milwaukee sky before all the buildings filled with light. Eddy wished he could touch it.
She apologized about the time and handed back their poems from last Friday. Then she went to her desk and let out a sad breath.
Eddy wasn't feeling too positive about what he'd written and when he got his paper back his heart felt like it was going to crawl up his throat and onto his desk and die.
No grade. Just some sloppy cursive at the bottom. See me after class.
Eddy flipped the paper over and looked it up and down. That was all. His first face-to-face with Kat. Had to be about how bad his poem was.
While Kat talked about similes and metaphors he reread the poem and was sure that was it. Even worse he had forgotten his deodorant today. He didn't really care what the kids sitting beside him thought but Kat was a different story.
Take out your books, said Kat. We're going to go around the circle and I want each of you to read a line or description from the assigned poems and tell us what you liked about it or, even better, what you learned from it.
Eddy had read the poems twice each. He had even read biographies of the poets at the computer lab. It was his chance to show off but the class would be over in fifteen minutes and he had bigger fish to fry.
He got up and left the room without making too much noise while the heavy girl with braces talked about Keats. He nudged an empty seat on his way out. It was the only empty seat in class. Eddy hadn't seen the kid with the orange hair since his rabbit punch. Good riddance.
When he got to the bathroom he took off his hat and shirt and ran a paper towel under the facet with some soap and scrubbed his armpits. A black kid wearing low pants walked in. Took one look at Eddy and left.
When he was finished he dried off and smelled himself. It wasn't bad. Almost neutral.
Eddy was halfway back to class when he itched his head. He had forgotten his hat. Then he looked down and realized his shirt was missing too. He turned around and sprinted back to the bathroom bare-chested. A few people stopped what they were doing and watched him race by. He was more worried about them seeing the cysts than his body. Even if he wasn't what he used to be.
By the time he got back to class the kids were picking up their books and talking to each other and leaving. Eddy sat back down in his desk and waited for the room to file out.
He smelled under his arms when no one was looking and wrote a big D on his hand that almost broke the skin. The run had kicked up the smell.
After everyone was gone Eddy walked up to Kat and showed her the comment on his paper.
Oh good, said Kat. Do you have your other poems by any chance?
Eddy unzipped his bag and removed the poems from a blue folder and handed them to her. When she grabbed them her bracelets jingled like ice in a glass.
She aligned the papers and asked Eddy to pull up a chair because she got nervous when people stood over her. He could feel little trails of sweat running down his sides. He was sniffing like crazy but he couldn't smell anything but Kat's hair. Apple shampoo.
These poems all have great images, but it feels like you're in a bit of a rut. What I think would work well is if you took some of the images here, or images somewhat like these, and incorporate them into a narrative.
Okay, said Eddy.
Do you want me to go over narrative again real quick?
No, he said. No I got it. He'd heard of narrative. Knew they'd discussed it in class. What it was he had no idea. A trip to Wikipedia would fix it.
You're an easy student to teach, she said. She looked at him and smiled. He forced one back and was sure it looked like the grin of a psycho.
Kat looked over the poems a while more in silence. Her eyes bounced back and forth and down like a typewriter.
Take the lady in stilts, for example. What a cool image. What potential. Same with the van. Same with all of them, really. How could you incorporate these into a narrative?
More movement, said Eddy. More action. He remembered something about that from the week before. Poems needed action. His had none. Stupid. Sweat poured off him like a goddamn glass of cold milk.
Kat shot him a flat look but nodded and stacked the poems and handed them to him. I can tell you're new at this, but that's what's exciting. You've got raw talent.
Eddy smiled. His body felt wobbly and full of air. Thanks, he said.
They walked out of the classroom and down the hallway together and talked about the long winter and the sloppy streets and their hopes for spring.
So what grade did I get on the last poem? Eddy said. You didn't write one on it.
They were near a door and Kat was holding onto the handle. Eddy wished he could follow her to her car like a gentlemen but the door he left from was on the other side of the school. He also didn't want to seem creepy.
Let's call it an A. You're giving some strong effort. Between you and me, grades are pretty flexible in this class. Those letters I give you are more guiding hands than anything. She closed her eye in a half-wink and smiled and the two of them stood there for a few seconds and then said goodbye.
Eddy felt better than he had in a long time. Until he left the school and something hard came falling down on top of his head. A green light flashed through his vision and he grabbed his head with both hands. His hat skipped around on the ground and the wind dragged it into a leafless bush.
When he turned around the kid with the orange hair was holding onto his giant skateboard and pushing out quick white breaths. Eddy could see a clump of his own dark hair dangling from the front axle.
What the, said the kid. He looked like he was going to bolt. Instead he took a step back and dropped the skateboard and hunched over like someone shot him in the stomach. He started dry heaving. A little spit came out.
Eddy was as confused as hell until he reached up again to touch his head and noticed something warm and slimy. When he brought his hand back down to inspect it he almost lost his own lunch.
One of his cysts had busted. It was leaking down his head and onto his ears and eyebrows. The juice looked like egg whites mixed with blood. It smelled too. Sort of salty and metallic. That pissed Eddy off more than anything for some reason. The smell.
Go get my fucking hat, he said.
The kid dragged his feet across the snow while he made animal noises. When he went to hand Eddy the hat he did throw up. It wasn't much. Mostly clear. Eddy took a step back.
When it was over the kid handed Eddy the hat. His hands shook.
You got puke on it, said Eddy. He threw it at the kid.
The kid flinched and covered his face and the wind blew the hat away again. Eddy watched it bounce over the bush this time and into the street where cars were swishing by.
I would have you buy me another one, Eddy said. But you're going to be paying for my stitches so you better save up.
The kid bent over and started puking again. Pathetic. But that was the good part about it. It was Eddy's head so he didn't have to look at it.
After he was done Eddy said, Let's take a walk to Aurora.
I can't pay for any hospital, said the kid. He was still hunched over and staring at the ground. Strings of goo hung out of his mouth and nose.
You better get the money or your parents are going to have to pick you out a nice three piece suit and a square of dirt down at Mount Olive. Eddy accidentally licked his lips and tasted some of the cyst juice. He started spitting.
I'll get the money. My dad'll pay. Just don't tell the cops.
Eddy could feel the juice freezing to his ears.
I won't as long as you get the fucking money. Eddy grabbed the skateboard by the wheel. I'm taking this as evidence. And don't think I don't know you. I can get your info from Kat and find you faster than a dick finds your mom's tits. If you disappear I give your name and this fucking toy of yours to the cops. Eddy opened his bag and gave the kid his poetry notebook and a pen. Give me your address.
The kid wrote his name and number instead.
You're smarter than you look, Caleb, said Eddy. And if I call this number and get a fucking K-mart in Green Bay your ass is dead.
You won't. Call my cell and see.
I got no cell, said Eddy.
The kid started puking again and Eddy left him and headed for the hospital. Just as he cleared the school parking lot a blue SUV slowed and honked and rolled down its window. It was Kat.
Oh my god. Are you okay?
Eddy wished he'd kept his hat. The other cyst was still there. Still poking out like a nightmare.
I fell, he said. With the skateboard under his arm it was probably believable.
She unbuckled her seatbelt and ripped her coat off and pulled her silk jacket up over her head. Her undershirt rolled up for a second and Eddy caught a glimpse of her stomach. It was flat and strong and her navel was pierced with a blue gem.
Before Eddy could protest she pressed the jacket on his head and told him to apply pressure. It covered up the other cyst so that was good. It was also the softest thing he'd felt in a long time.
Her car was full of empty bottles and wrinkled sacks and more papers than Eddy had ever seen. It smelled like shampoo and leftovers.
Her tires squeaked when she pulled onto Highland. The window fogged from their breaths but he could still make out the city. The first lights turned on and blinked their way up the streets.
I didn't take you for the longboarding type, she said.
I guess I'm finding that out the hard way.
Does it hurt?
I think the cold numbed it.
Should I roll the windows down?
I'm fine. I'd rather be warm and hurting that cold and feeling nothing.
She looked at him. I'm telling you. You're a poet Eddy. She touched his arm. Even through his coat he could feel the warmth of her hand. It sent bolts of electricity into his heart and head.
How long had it been since a woman's touch? Not his sister or his niece. A woman. Too long to remember. That was the problem with boxing. Unless you were the best no one knew you. Football. Hockey. Even UFC. Fucking UFC. Those were woman-getting sports. They somehow appealed despite the battered life. You also didn't have time with boxing. No time at all until all you had was time and you couldn't keep track of it all with your head flickering on and off.
His head killed now. The inside this time. Not the cyst. The cyst barely hurt at all in comparison. He looked away from Kat and she lifted her hand. He tried to think of something besides her touch but it was too late. Everything started to blur and his fingers and toes tingled. A fuzz out.
Maybe you should roll the windows down, he said.
She did and he stuck his head out the window and breathed. The sleeves of the jacket pressed against his head flopped like kite tails. He wished there was somewhere he could go and hide and wait it out but the streets and buildings and lights were going by too fast to get out. He brought his head back inside and pushed his hands deep into his pockets and the jacket he'd been holding on his head fell onto his lap. He felt the blood and juice start to run again but didn't care. He was more worried about his hands. He hoped the pockets would contain them. He knew they wouldn't.
His lips burned and his tongue went numb. Things got darker. He breathed deep. Blinked hard. Bit his tongue to bring some feeling to it.
He tried to disappear for a while. Tried so hard to forget Kat's touch. He imagined Carl in Florida. The sand would be powdery and the air would smell like salt and fish. But he couldn't picture Carl lounging on some beach chair or fishing off some dock. Eddy could only picture him in red mitts and a red chest protector. There was a ring on the beach too. Carl was inside it. So was Eddy. Red ropes surrounding both of them. Protecting both of them. They remind me of the lines of a music sheet, his sister said once. Carl and Eddy would always end sessions this way. In the ring together. Carl covered in a shell of red. Eddy covered in sweat. Muscles so loose they felt like water. Green light, Carl would scream, and Eddy would hit the mitts with combos he couldn't think up. His hands just went. Red light, Carl would scream, and Eddy would stop and dance pretty footwork around Carl and breathe.
A red light was what Eddy needed now. It would save him. He'd bust out of Kat's car then. Run for an overpass or the doorway of some business and let go.
But he knew there'd be no let up. No standing eight count or time for the cutman or Carl to scream out.
They kept hitting green lights. One after another.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Nate Pillman. All rights reserved.