THE BEST PUNCH • by Clint Lowe

A red glove pummelled Jake’s ribs, then another socked his chin before the bell went ‘ding’ with him still standing. Like every muscle in Jake’s body, his head now throbbed to its own rasping beat. The exuberant cheers of the crowd slowly faded to a late night conversation, gradually giving form to the silence of the locker room. Jake sat by the steam of the running shower, blood dripping from the cuts below his eye, ample proof the judges decision having him defeated on points was sound — but this was a good night, perhaps his best.

On this night, deeper wounds numbed the hits, reducing the iron-like red gloves of the opponent’s fists to a sponge of retribution. And the ribs that burned fire in the ring were nothing more than a hushed reflection of his former mistakes.

Mitch, his wire-framed trainer, walked in and threw a towel over Jake’s lap. “Took your last fight to stay the distance, old champ.”

Every one of Jake’s fights had either him knocking his opponent to the canvas or the reversal. If Jake got floored and stood no chance of winning, he’d stay down, never get back up and see it through.

Jake glanced at him. “Won’t be the last.”

Mitch slipped a curious eye at him, puzzled over Jake’s words because that was his final bout in the ring.

Blood marked Jake’s white bandages as he unwrapped his hands, but worrying him more than the cuts was the way they shook. Likewise, the way his body trembled, he couldn’t stop it. He knew the effects were not because of the fight, but from what was to result from its aftermath.

He wasn’t ready for a shower, to move from where he sat, but despite his anxiety’s pleadings to keep him still, he got in the shower and let the steam rise around him. The hot water warmed his skin, but the chill of what came next lingered the stronger.

He felt it. His stomach felt it.

As the water cleansed the blood from his cuts, a gentle knock came on the locker room door: two knocks, a pause, and then a third. Was it him? Jake expected they’d meet in the car park, but would he come to the locker room?

The chrome tap squeaked as Jake turned off the shower, then he grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his bruised body, and what he thought for sure was at least one or two cracked ribs.

“Mitch?” he called, hoping for a ‘pep talk’ from his his trainer, but he’d vanished.

The knocks again — three steady ones.

Jake swallowed, stomach tightened. What he just faced in the ring was the hardest fight of his life, but the bruises would fade in time. However, what waited beyond the door could remain with him for a lifetime. This was his final fight. Not those twelve rounds.

With a pounding heart, he approached the door. Three quick knocks again.

“You in there?” came the call.

The voice made Jake shudder. The bearded brute with the eagle tattoos he’d just fought had poodle eyes compared to the ones he’d soon be staring into.

“Just a second,” Jake replied, his voice breaking.

He opened the door toward him; it screeched a low lament, adding tension to what waited behind it.

A young boy stood before him in the corridor; Jake standing taller than the boy, but the boy not yet looking up to him. And even now, though standing a few feet apart, they continued speechless with their mouths clenched shut and their dry throats swelling in nerves.

Goose bumps speckled Jake’s skin.

After swearing off fighting two years ago, why had he reversed his decision?

Jake’s trainer said he’d fought for the honor of it, his ex-wife that he’d done it for the money, but the truth of it all stood before him.

The boy looked up at him, and for the first time in a long time, he really seemed to look up to him. “That took heart, Dad, standing to the finish.”

Billy’s words swept pride into Jake; it’d been too long since he’d heard the like of them. He looked away, catching the sight of blood on his crumpled towel on the floor. Blood caused from those last few rounds. It made Jake wish he’d fought harder for his marriage, but the bell had already sounded on that, but there was still another round left, another chance to be a father.

He turned back to his boy. “I promised you this fight stood for my commitment I will finally have in being your father.”

Billy chewed his lip. “No more broken promises.”

Jake shook his head. “Only kept ones.”

And his boy smiled at him. They didn’t hug — it was too soon for hugging — but Billy held up his hand and they punched fists.

It was the best punch Jake ever felt.

Clint Lowe, living in Victoria, Australia, is a Writer and Inspirational YouTube Vlogger who has a Titanic 8 subscribers. Subscribe and be fortunate number 9.

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