By Michael Chin
The retired boxer struggles to squeeze the ketchup from its bottle, knuckles arthritic and throbbing. Remembers each time a hook landed wrong and broke a finger. Feels the old injuries everyday.
Folks at the gym said the boxer had potential. Pops pain pills now, more than the doctor ordered. Buys bottles second hand from the shyster in 4B who never opens his door farther than the chain allows.
The former boxer rubs lotion over folds and sags. Battle scars from a crushed orbital socket, a nose busted a dozen times. Remembers when the corner man who went by Slim Danny used to rub in Vaseline so punches would glide over skin without cutting.
The boxer remembers stepping into ring drained. Bleeding before the fight even started.
The impoverished boxer can’t afford one of those smartphones but has graduated to cellular. Presses phone to ear and remembers that first boxing lesson, all defense. Keep your right to your ear, like you’re talking on the phone. Your left up in front of your face. Don’t drop your elbows.
The old boxer keeps thinking one of those calls is going to be some manager looking for one last fight. The boxer used to relish fantasies of telling him off. What, you want me to die swinging?
Other days, the boxer wonders about one more fight. Just one more.
The boxer throws combinations at the air in front of the mirror. One-one. One-two. Six-three.
The inactive boxer remembers the tension—that beautiful tension—of a fight. The idea of working someone’s body. Bodies knotted together against the ropes, sweating into each other. Fight someone, you know someone. Grow more intimate than lovers. Compatriots. Still, the end goal remains. Beat the other fighter into unconsciousness. Barring that, survive the round.
The retired boxer finally gets the ketchup to budge. Too much, too fast, smothering the burger, but she hardly cares.
Sinks teeth into beef.
Survives another round.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is currently an MFA student in creative writing at Oregon State University. He won the 2014 Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has previously published fiction in journals including Bayou Magazine, The Rappahannock Review, and CaKe: A Journal of Poetry and Art. You can find him online at his website and follow him on Twitter as @miketchin.