It was the tenth round but Franklin had no idea what round it was or where he was. He felt like he was in a horrible dream where a loop of rights and uppercuts were landing on his jaw and forehead and in his gut, but by the throbbing pain in his head and ribs he knew that this was no nightmare, just that he was getting his ass savagely beat. Why won’t the ref just call this damn thing already, he wondered.
The audience booed him. It’s not that they wanted him to put up more of a fight and win. Even if he is winning, they boo him. They boo him all the time now. He’s grown accustomed to it.
It wasn’t always like this…
Franklin staggered around the ring, getting pummeled, too dumb and defeated to give up. He felt it his duty to take the beating.
A barrage of gloves rained down on him. Right. Left. Right…. Right! How many motherfuckers am I fighting? He wondered.
His face was pounded mercilessly by his opponent, an oak of a Hungarian that must have been fed nothing but bark, moss, and raw meat as a child in the communist days. The Hungarian’s jaw was solid, square and made of hard lead.
Just as Franklin realized he better collapse and let this fight end, the Hungarian landed a blow that closed Franklin’s right eye up.
Half the ring disappeared. He stumbled into the ropes just as the bell sounded. His ears were vibrating. His coach didn’t even bother passing along instructions, he merely squirted water into Franklin’s mouth and patted him sadly on his shoulders.
Franklin looked around the audience through his one remaining good eye. Sweat and blood made it hard to see out of that eye as well. He paused from wincing to focus on a woman in a knee-length green dress. “Is that Isabel?” He asked his coach, but the old-timer was already packing up his gear and didn’t hear Franklin’s question.
The woman locked eyes with Franklin. She stood up from her seat, took out a handkerchief and blotted the tears streaming down her cheeks.
Franklin was confused. His heart palpitated, his vision flickered. Why is Isabel here? He asked himself. She died three years ago. She’s not supposed to be hanging around boxing matches, wearing green knee-length dresses. She’s not supposed to be crying anymore.
Seeing her like this filled Franklin with rage.
The bell rang and Franklin bounced to his feet. He pounded his gloves together and forced his right eye to unseal. His vision returned and he sized up the big Hungarian and surmised what he had to do to chop the oak down. This guy isn’t so tough, he told himself. His strength returned with Herculean force.
I can’t let Isabel see me like this!
He bounded out of his corner with arch agility, darting and dipping his way in towards the Hungarian till he was chopping him apart with jabs and uppercuts of his own. He could hear the crowd electrify and literally felt the building jolt when the audience jumped up to their feet, screaming for the Hungarian to fight back. He wanted to shut them all up once and for all.
When the Hungarian fell against the ropes Franklin’s lust for blood grew primal. Franklin launched right and lefts into his midsection. The Hungarian’s gloves dropped and Franklin seized the moment, sending a searing right-cross into that square, communist jaw. Its impact turned its target into oatmeal. He knew from experience that he had caused a bone or two to break. There’s nothing like feeling a man’s face break and knowing that you had done it.
It had been years since Franklin had fought like this. With passion. Anger. Three to be exact. Not since that fight in Tahoe when he beat the champ and claimed the belt for his own waist, and he and Isabel celebrated for hours in the casinos… then he drove their car off the edge of the mountain road, plummeting into the woods.
He stopped punching, ever so briefly, a mere second, to remember the medics pulling him out of the wreckage three hours later, and how he heard one of the rescuers, who must not have realized that the famous boxer was still alive, shout up to the road, “It smells like a damn distillery in here.”
A second was all it took for the Hungarian to take advantage. He cocked his arm so far back it practically reached the next state, then flung it through Franklin’s left eye, causing blood vessels to pop like champagne bottles and his nose to crack thunderously. The crowd gasped, horrified at the brutal punch.
The last thing Franklin saw was the girl in the green dress. No, that’s not Isabel at all, he realized as he dropped to the stretched canvas with a deafening thud.