Flashbulbs popped, momentarily blinding me. The crowd roared. I shook my head. I shook it again. Blood blotched my chest like large brushfuls of paint. My cornerman fanned me with a luminous towel he almost threw into the ring before the end of the last round.
“You’re taking a beating,” my cutman said, his own face a churned-up, mud-like morass. He used cotton swabs to staunch the bleeding from my nose and right ear.
“Not gonna quit,” I said, though I wanted to just lie down in the coagulating puddle of blood and sweat at my feet and shut my eyes for a long sleep.
“Kid,” my cornerman said, “you don’t knock him out in the first thirty seconds, I’m throwing in the towel.”
“Don’t you do it,” I said, unconvinced.
“I’m telling you, thirty seconds. Feint with the left and throw that overhand right. He dips his head to your right when you feint. You might get lucky.”
The bell rang. More flashbulbs popped. Spots of white phosphorous flared. I stood there wobbly and bleeding. The energy or the will to walk across the ring had fled me. Continuous waves like curving ribbons coursed through my head. I blinked my eyes until yellow, blue, green and black blobs of colour clashed violently in my field of vision. The nerves in my face twitched. Then my mind drifted.
I stood on the elevator in my apartment building, Holzer from 518 waxing about the fine line between communication and propaganda. Who was Holzer to me? Only he can answer that. Our communions were fleeting. Diodes sending concise slogans in seamless cycles of light illuminated the elevator walls. Holzer’s face looked like wet clay still bearing the marks of the sculptor’s hands. His eyes turned away from me, separating his world from mine.
“What is it with you today?” he said, rocking from side to side. “You’re giving off weird vibes.”
“I feel like I don’t belong here.”
“Where do you think you belong?”
The elevator landed on the ground floor. We stepped off and exited the front doors. The sky looked like the ocean in Winslow Homer’s Breezing Up.
Holzer pulled up his trench coat lapels. “You haven’t answered the question.”
“Perhaps because my teeth are chattering.”
“He that is good for making excuses seldom is good for anything else.”
“Touché. But I’m embarrassed to admit where I’d rather be.”
At that moment a man with an eye like the one that spied on the naked nymphs of Galatea plodded past us. Holzer bristled.
“Hey, freak,” he said. “Don’t you be eyeballing me.”
“Easy,” I said. “Why rile him up? People these days are capable of anything.”
“Prick needs to learn to mind his own business.”
“You know him?”
“I’ve seen him around the building.”
“Maybe he lives here.”
“Whatever. He creeps me out. Now this thing we were talking about.”
A gust sent a pop can rattling down the walkway to the main road where enraged vehicles whooshed by. My ears burned in the cold air.
“If I had my existential choice, I would’ve selected the world depicted in De Hooch’s Woman and a Maid with a Pail in a Courtyard.”
Holzer stared at me.
“The painting’s atmosphere of calm simplicity draws me in.”
“You want to live in a painting?”
“I’d like to live in the world the painting depicts, that calm, ordered, pretty world.”
Holzer’s brow furrowed and he clutched his bobbing chin as we walked.
“But you do understand,” he said, “particularly with these Dutch masters, that the painting is an idealized representation of that world. I’d brush up on my Dutch history before I fantasized about some perfect life there. What you wish, guy, is that you were actually part of that painting — that you had been painted into it! You know, it’s a sign of mental illness, that way of thinking. Seriously.”
“I did not know that,” I said and as I uttered those words my opponent leaped upon me, digging to the body with short lefts and rights and punching my nose with hooks. He hit my nose again and again until I couldn’t feel it and couldn’t feel my face and saw stars swirling around my skull. But buddy couldn’t knock me out. In that first minute, he annihilated my nose but punched himself out.
“Feint with the left!” my cornerman cried.
I feinted with the left and as my corner man had predicted my opponent dipped his head. Bam, my overhand right clipped his temple with a spray of white sweat. Eyes rolling back, he staggered a few steps before hitting the canvas.
Five, six, seven, eight … The referee counted him out.
Flashbulbs popped, hot blue and white.
“You’re a winner!” my cutman cried.
He and the cornerman hugged me. I raised my hands in victory, but given my smashed face I did not feel victorious.
“Great heart, kid,” my cornerman said. “Great heart.”
“Thanks for the tip,” I said, blinking hard and spraying blood and snot through my missing nose.
“No worries, kid.”
More flashbulbs popped.
“And thanks for not throwing in the towel,” I blurted.
“They say let a brawler brawl. You brawled good tonight, kid.”
“Think I need a new nose,” I said.
Both the cornerman and the cutman looked at me then looked at each other.
“Nah,” the cutman said with a limp hand. “I can fix it up.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Feels like there’s nothing left of it.”
“Yeah,” the cornerman said with a grimace. “He really pounded on that beak. But no worries, we’ll get you fixed up. You’ll be good as new in no time.”
They bandaged me up, but I looked weird — flat.
On my bus ride home no less than four people, including the driver, asked me if I had been shot in the face. When I saw Holzer the next day, he also asked if I had been shot in the face.
Salvatore Difalco is the author of five books including THE MOUNTIE AT NIAGARA FALLS, an illustrated collection of microfiction. He lives in Toronto, Canada.