Billy circles to the right, away from Blaine’s money shot.
The big right-hand snaps out like a snake and Billy slips it and it goes over his shoulder.
Billy digs a hook into Blaine’s side, trying to tag the floating rib and bust it.
Blaine winces and drops his hands, only slightly, to cover up.
Billy flicks out a jab. Once, twice, aiming for the nose.
Blaine’s head jerks back and sweat droplets spray off his head.
Billy’s dad always said the jab is as important to a boxer as a paintbrush is to an artist.
You can flick it, paw it, paint your disdain all over your opponent with it, or you step in with all your weight and hammer it in like a nail, corkscrewing your fist and drilling it in to hurt your man.
Blaine is fucked after chasing Billy around for two rounds, totally gassed, his mouth hanging open, his arms going loose, so Billy steps in behind the jab, and something cracks.
He does it again, turning his fist in and a plume of blood sprays out of his nose.
Blaine’s eyes fill with water and his hands go up to swat the pain away, but the gloves are clumsy and only hurt him more.
The crowd of drunks shouting abuse and flinging beer over the fighters become frenzied and red eyed, nothing but teeth and spit, but Billy cannot hear them.
He can only hear his heart and his own blood rushing into his ears.
He jabs Blaine again, puts a chopping straight behind it, and pins Blaine in the corner.
Blaine throws up his guard to defend himself and Billy bulldozes his head into his chest, trapping him.
He feels the air push out of him, feels the breath on his ears and on the back of his neck.
Blaine knows what’s coming next but he is too tired to stop it.
Billy aims for the sweet spot, the liver, and smashes a short, stiff hook into it, trying to rip his fist all the way through Blaine’s body and out the other side.
Blaine gasps and lets out a small involuntary scream and collapses onto his knees.
The old referee with a drinker’s nose like an old tomato steps in and pulls Billy away.
Billy looks at Blaine and knows he is fucked.
His gum shield is hanging out of his mouth and blood is spilling down and spotting his vest.
It snakes down his legs.
His face is screwed up in agony and he’s breathing like the air is toxic gas.
The ref waves it off.
Billy goes to his corner and his trainer takes off his head guard and ruffles his hair.
Someone in the crowd smashes a beer bottle over someone’s head, sparking a screaming brawl that tears through the mob like a wildfire.
Billy holds his hands up but no one notices.
The referee shakes his head at the crowd like a disappointed dad.
Billy spits out his gum shield and a rope of blood trails behind it.
His nostrils are stuffed with the stink of sweat, blood and stale bodies.
In the changing rooms Blaine comes over and congratulates Billy.
His eyes are already closing into slits and going black and he grins at Billy with his big split lips.
“How about you knock me out cold next time eh? I rather take five on the chin than one in the liver like that. I’ll be pissing blood for a week you evil cunt.”
“See you at the championships Blaine.”
Billy gets in his car and drives straight to Jordan’s, nearly blowing a red light he’s going so fast and reckless.
His jaw is sore from biting down on his gum shield and his hands are beginning to ache, but he’s already forgotten about the bout. All he’s thinking of is Jordan.
He forgets himself and parks right outside her house, and then remembers and moves the car a few doors down.
He texts her and waits in the dark, the butterflies climbing up his belly and into his throat.
He can taste and smell her already.
He sees her front door open and he can see her silhouette framed in the orange light.
Then the orange light is gone and so is she.
She taps on the window, like she always does and he lets her in.
The car fills with her scent and Billy flushes and his heart swells so big he thinks it might explode.
Her huge blue eyes blink at him and he kisses her.
She whimpers pure pleasure and he holds her in his strong arms, running his hands all over her warm body.
She feels like a tiny little bird. So small and soft but so warm.
He drives, and Jordan is giggling and so is he.
They drive to the end of a lane that meets the mouth of the woods and they make love desperately, Billy’s hands shaking so much he struggles to get Jordan’s bottoms off, Jordan squirming around on the back seat underneath him, bucking against him and biting his ear.
He finishes so completely he feels a part of himself pour into her, and she cries out.
“I love you.” she says sadly.
“I love you too.”
They clean up and get dressed and they go to the McDonalds drive thru and sit in the carpark.
Billy stuffs a handful of limp fries in his mouth and chews.
“My mouth hurts.”
Jordan reaches out with a hand and gently rubs his face.
“Aww baby. Did you win?”
“You’ve got ketchup on ya chin.” he says.
When he gets home his father is still in the chair, where he has always been since the stroke, where he will always be until he dies.
The tv is on. Boxers dance around a big blue ring in front of thousands of fans and flashing lights.
Billy throws down his gym back and gets a beer from the fridge.
“I won dad,” he says, collapsing onto the sofa.
His father doesn’t move save for a slight tremor that makes it look like he is always shaking his head. His eyes are glazed over and blank.
Billy studies his father’s monolithic knuckles and the road map of scars on his hands.
He looks at his own hand. It’s already blue.
He thinks he can smell shit but he ignores it to sip his beer.
Dementia pugilistica the doctor had called it. Punch drunk syndrome.
The stroke had finished off whatever was left.
Billy goes to the kitchen cupboard.
It’s bare except for the surplus boxes of codeine left over from when mum wasn’t dead.
Mum had slipped down the stairs last year and broken her coccyx before the cancer had eaten her alive.
Billy puts two in his mouth and washes them down with a mouthful of already flat lager.
He sits back down and looks at his father again.
His father had let Hate ’em all Harry Armstrong bang away on his chin with his best shots, grinning and spitting blood at him, round after round.
Talking to him, telling him he was nothing.
He lost on points but he had taken Harry’s soul and sucked the hate out of him.
He never fought again.
Looking at his father now, Billy wondered who had got the best end of that deal.
The slurring had started not long after.
The blind rages.
“If you hadn’t fought like an idiot, I might still have a dad.” Billy said to himself.
A month or two later Jordan calls him.
There is a heaviness to her voice, a seriousness that makes Billy think the worst has happened.
She sounds like a world-weary woman rather than a school girl.
“Do they know?” he asks, his mouth sandpaper dry.
“No, but they will soon. I’m pregnant.”
Billy throws up into the toilet and it burns his eyes and his nose.
Fear like he’s never known crawls up his body and back down again. After so many fights, a man will trick himself into believing that he is immune to fear. But he is not.
He considers packing his bags and running, but deep down he knows he won’t.
Jordan calls him again, many times, too many to count but he doesn’t answer.
He goes to the gym, to sweat the fear out, to hammer the shame out of his body.
He spars hard, and he punches a young prospect so hard his snapped teeth are still stuck in the gum shield when they fish it out of his mouth so he doesn’t swallow his own tongue.
“What the fuck was that Bill? That was a fucking liberty. Go home and cool off.” his trainer tells him.
Bill runs home, his lungs burning and they catch him before he makes it.
They drag him down a side alley.
Jordan’s father is a beer bellied bear in a vest, covered in jail ink and scars.
He kicks Billy in the balls and Billy falls forward, retching, unable to breathe, but Jordan’s brothers haul him up by his arms.
“She’s fucking thirteen you fucking nonce! Thirteen years old! You’ll never fucking fight again.”
Jordan’s father is crying, his face dark purple with rage and sadness.
Billy flinches when he sees the ball peen hammer, and tries to run, but one of the brothers punches him in the throat.
“Put his hands on the floor.”
They force Billy’s hand flat against the cement and the hammer comes down onto it.
Something shatters and pain shoots up into Billy’s head and for a second, he goes blind.
All he can see is furious howling red.
He opens his eyes and sees his little finger has exploded, the pinkish meat minced and the porcelain white bone poking out.
He shrieks and the hammer comes down again onto the bridge of his hand. There is a pop. Billy’s bladder empties and he goes blind again.
He can hear faint voices and a girl screaming like she’s being murdered.
When he opens his eyes again, he is in the hospital and his hands and forearms are wrapped in huge casts.
There is a strong reek of antiseptic.
He moves and things jagged and sharp inside the casts bite into his flesh. His body jerks like someone has rigged his balls up to the mains.
It takes him a moment to notice the grim-faced detectives drinking coffee in his room.
He turns away, and looks out the window.
Jordan is looking in, her face raw, her eyes burning with hurt.
He can see she hates him but he doesn’t understand why.
“We’ve got some questions.” one of the detectives says, smoothing out his crinkled, cheap suit as he drains the last of his coffee.
Jordan turns and walks away.