THE HERO OF BEAGER DOWNS • by Jonathan McLelland

Fuck the ugly dog. That’s what he said as they were taking him away. Somebody shouted to him as the police were leading him away, “Hey, Joe, what do we do with the Boy?” and he just leaned back over his left shoulder and said, “Fuck the ugly dog.”

Of course, that didn’t make the papers. They couldn’t hardly print that. What they said was, “…when asked about the future of his protege, Boy Powers, until recently middleweight boxing’s brightest star, accused killer Joe Evans, better known as Joe the Whaler, simply growled, ‘Who cares?’”

“Fuck the ugly dog.” That’s what he said.

It wasn’t that easy in Beager Downs. There hadn’t been any heroes in Beager Downs for a long time, ever really, but nobody liked to admit that we had never ever produced anyone of merit, so they always said it had been a long time. Nobody knew what to do when the Whaler went down and the Boy started losing fights, but it happened, like an unbelievable thing, like a plane falling out of the sky on our town; you just couldn’t stand it.

The Boy never had a brain between his ears. He was just a big sweet mauler who carried groceries for old ladies at the supermarket before he started boxing. He never actually boxed either. He just hit people, and they fell down. The Boy couldn’t move or dodge or feint. He just swung at the other man’s head and when he hit him, he knocked him down. Hitting the Boy, if you could get in and out, was like hitting a tree. Nobody could ever hurt him. He never flinched or got winded.

After Joe left him, the Boy fought three fights that he was under contract for, because people told him he had to. He swung wild and missed and just let the other fighters dance around him and beat him in the head.

I couldn’t say what any of it amounted to. Joe the Whaler was an old man. He spent his life at sea, and knew fighting only as a sailor knows it. Even though he knew fighting only as brawling, gouging, and stabbing, when he happened to see the Boy, who had never had a fight to speak of in his life, Joe the Whaler saw a boxer of fortune. He knew him because the Boy looked the way an invincible white boxer looked in the Whaler’s mind, and he said, ‘I will take him on and he will be a champion,’ and he did and he was right. And we never even knew the dead man, some skinny old guy Joe’s age. Hey, Joe, remember me? was all he said, and Joe knifed him in the throat, just like that.

There was nothing left of it after that, after Joe was gone. The Boy became shyer and quieter and people had a lot of trouble getting used to him as a grocery boy again but he was so implacably intent on bringing back the life he had known that after a time everyone relented, and sooner than anyone would have believed, no one was surprised to see him carrying groceries.

Jonathan McLelland lives in Tuscaloosa with his wife and two sons.

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