Second in a series of Flash Fiction shorts that I’m writing while in Thailand. I’m allowing myself a maximum of two hours per story so please forgive the rough edges. Cheers!
His first memory of conflict. Pavement grit driving itself into his cheek, Bart Hogarth’s sweaty palm providing the pressure from above. The strange calm that came over him while the humiliation took place, led him somewhere far away from that chilly autumn playground in early Michigan spring. Somewhere blue and calm and warm.
“Uncle,” he said when he was told to.
“Uncle!” He said again when prompted to repeat himself and to do it like he meant it.
Later his mother told him how brave he’d been. How fighting bullies only led to more violence, an endless cycle that they as a family were virtuous enough to break. He, Tom Anderson Jr. was an unsung hero. Tell that to Bart and the rest of the kids, though.
The adult Tom Anderson (he dropped the “Jr.” after high school) was a reedy thin man with long limbs and a sunken chest. Pale and male patterned by his twentieth birthday.
He lived his life as his mother taught him. Took comfort in avoiding conflict, no matter the indignity. It was the right thing to do, after all. He was being brave, after all.
Which is why he laughed when the guy at the hostel suggested he try boxing lessons.
“Thai boxing? Like in Bloodsport?”
“Look at you, you’re perfect for it. Add a bit of muscle tone to your skinny arse and you’ll pull like mad!” the Aussie kid twanged at him, “Mate, it’d take you no time at all to turn into a rippled up sex machine. You’d be a bloody idiot not to give it a go.”
So Tom plunked down a hundred bucks for lessons, visions of sunkissed Swedish girls dancing in the back of his head as he laid down the three thousand or so Thai baht. The round Thai lady behind the desk scribbled on the back of a card and told him to go wrap his hands.
She gave the instructions as if he would know what to do. In a instant he was transported through every awkward sporting moment of his life. Every time that all the other kids somehow knew exactly what to do. How in the world does a ten year old know the rules of football the first time they step on to the field?
On his way to the exit a wizened man nodded at him. “Wraps. You need help?”
Almost made it.
“Yeah, uh. I haven’t done this before and–”
The old man grabbed his hands and worked the straps around his wrist and between his fingers, threading them into place with effortless precision.
“Good. Now come here.”
Ninety minutes later, drenched in sweat, he thanked the old man and wobbled his way back to the hostel. The next morning, aching, sore, he arrived at the gym twenty minutes early. A few days later he was wrapping his own hands.
At the end of the month he called his roommates. “I found something and I think I want to see where it takes me. I don’t think I’ll be coming home for a while.”
When asked how long a “while” was, he mumbled and hung up.
Six months later he stood in the blue corner of a boxing ring surrounded by bleacher seats while Thai pipes blared over scratchy loudspeakers. He danced the Wai Khru, rocking back on his knees shooting coy glances to the crowd of betting men hooting in the locals section of the makeshift stadium.
The fight was slow and brutal. He and his opponent traded kicks shin on shin, the pain of being hit barely different than the pain caused by landing a blow on his rival.
A sharp elbow tore the skin over his left eye. Blood washed over his vision. His lungs stung in oxygen deprivation but his opponent flitted around the ring like he’d just begun to move.
Tom threw a desperate kick. Missed. The effort of lifting his leg exhausting him further.
From the left, his vision exploded in a flash of light.
The hard grit on the canvas pushed against his cheek. Above him strong hands pressed to check for broken bones. Blood ran over his toothy grin when the ref turned him over.
The crowd cheered.