The kids were in karate class together, so I used the opportunity to work-out at Jacky's. It was late evening, and the sun had set. I was feeling strong and healthy. At the moment, Jacky was taping my fists. We were both silent. I think he sensed I was in one of my moods. Occasionally, he would look up into my face, then quickly avert his eyes.
"I'm not going to bite you, Jacky."
"You think I'm afraid of you?" he asked. "Well, I am."
I rubbed his shining head with my already-taped right hand.
In fact, I was having a hard time letting go of my conversation with Mary Lou. I was trying to comprehend the fact that she had been secretly speaking to Danny. Discussing what an unfit mother I was.
"Whatever's eating at you," said Jacky, "take it out on the punching bag. That's my motto."
And so I did. Pummeling the thing until I was dripping sweat. We worked in three minute drills, with Jacky screaming at me to keep my hands up. I would finish each round in a flurry of punches, rapid-fire body shots to the punching bag. During one of these flurries, I caught Jacky's expression as he steadied the punching bag. It was one of profound pain. The punches were reverberating through the bag and into him. The Irishman was taking a beating, but he seemed to love it.
At the end of the sixth round I dropped my hands to my side. The gloves felt like bags of cement. Jacky staggered away to get some water.
I leaned my forehead against the punching bag. I was still thinking about Danny. It seemed to me that he was building a case against me. Of course, building a case against me couldn't be easier. Hell, in my current condition, even I knew I was an unfit mother. But I was doing my best and I loved my kids with all my heart. You could never replace that. Ever.
At the far end of the gym, I noticed a tall boxer working out with one of Jacky's long-time trainers. The boxer was young and blond and very muscular. His punches were rapid and precision-like. His muscles stood out on his hot skin.
Jacky came back, holding a little Dixie cup full of water. The cup was shaking in his hands.
"I've been meaning to talk to you about those Dixie cups," I said. "We pay good money to join your gym, and the best you can give us are these paper thimbles in return?"
"Ah, lass, you pay for the atmosphere."
I nodded toward the young, hotshot boxer. "Who's that?"
"That's Desmond Beacon. A boxing champion in the Marines, went undefeated. He's turning pro."
"I want to box him."
Jacky's eyes brightened briefly�Dperhaps with excitement�Dand then he came back down to earth and shook his head. "Look, kid, I know I built your hopes up and all that, but that ain't going to happen. Maybe we could arrange a fight with another broad."
"Broad?" I said. "Maybe I should box you." I looked again at the ex-Marine. "I want to fight him."
"No, lass. I'm sorry."
"So he kicks my ass. At least it'll give me something else to think about."
Jacky looked at me and sighed. "Your day that shitty, huh?"
I thought of Danny cheating�Dor possibly cheating�Dand I thought of possibly losing my kids. "Yeah," I said. "Hell of a shitty day."
He sighed again and said, "Hold on." He went over to the Wonder Kid and his trainer, spoke briefly, pointed at yours truly. Desmond Beacon shook his head, said something, and they all laughed. All of them, that is, except Jacky. He got into the tall Marine's face. By got into his face, I mean, Jacky looked up from the man's chest. I had no doubt that Jacky could have taken the Marine in his day. But his day was long past him. They stared each other down for another ten seconds and then the Marine turned away, dismissing Jacky with a contemptuous smirk.
"What was that all about?" I asked when Jacky had hobbled back.
"Fucking prick," said Jacky. "I have a mind to kick his ass."
"What did he say?"
"He doesn't want to fight me?"
"It's because I'm a woman."
"He said something about that," said Jacky, looking back at the Marine, who had gone back to shadow boxing. "Actually, he said something about doing something else to you, but I ain't gonna repeat it to you."
"Is that when you stuck up for me?"
"The kid's disrespectful. Someone needs to show him a lesson."
"Samantha…I get nervous when I see that look in your eye."
But I wasn't listening. I was already marching over to the six foot four Desmond Beacon, who was shadow boxing near the ring. When he saw me coming he stopped, nudged his trainer, and grinned. A wolfish sort of grin. When I got to him, I looked him in the eye, smiled sweetly, and promptly kicked him square in the balls.
Hope he's wearing a cup.
His eyes bulged and a look of confusion swept across his face and then he dropped to a knee, groaning and turning red.
His little trainer shrieked like a monkey. He grabbed my shoulder and tried flinging me around, but I don't fling easily and he lost his balance. Instead, he settled for getting in my face. "What the hell are you doing, Missy? Are you out of your goddamn mind?"
"Just maybe," I said. I pushed the trainer aside and looked down at the boxer kneeling before me. I felt like a queen. "Will you fight me now?"
Desmond Beacon looked up. His face had gone from red to green.
"You bet your ass," he croaked.
Jacky and I were in a corner of the ring.
The little Irishman was doing some last minute adjustments to my head gear. The headgear felt big and clunky. I didn't think I needed it, but having it on seemed to make the others happy. The Marine, in the opposite corner, was also wearing head gear. I assumed he, too, felt the gear was unnecessary.
I stared down at Jacky's bald head as he now worked on my gloves. From this angle I could just make out some old boxing scars above his brow. Many, many old boxing scars. There was a wicked little gleam in Jacky's eye whenever he looked up at me; he was breathing hard and fast, face red with excitement.
"Remember what I always tell you," he said, "keep your gloves up."
"Keep them up? Or down? I get confused."
But Jacky wasn't listening. In fact, he had this sort of dreamy look on his face. Perhaps he had regressed back to the backroom fighting halls of 1950s Belfast, when he was a young prize fighter with something to prove. His fighting days were long gone and I had a feeling I was his outlet, but that was okay. I wanted to fight. I wanted an honest-to-God slugfest. Sometimes you just need to beat the crap out of something.
"Focus on your jabs, doll."
"Don't call me doll, and I'll focus on whatever I want. This isn't a real fight. I'm just going to beat the crap out of him and then pick up my kids."
Jacky pushed me away and held me at arm's length. "Don't get too cocky, kid. You're strong as hell, and to be honest, a little freaky, but this guy knows the fundamentals. I'm not sure you realize what the hell you've gotten yourself into."
Jacky held up a white towel. "I'm throwing this in if things turn ugly."
"For me or him?"
"Ding ding," said Jacky.
Desmond Beacon stood nearly a foot taller than me. In the center of the ring we touched gloves. Now that the pain was gone from his groin, he didn't look so eager to fight a woman�Despecially now that we had a few female onlookers.
So, to get him back into the spirit of things, I hit him with a quick jab that landed on his chin and snapped his head back. When his head settled back into place, there was a suitable look of irritation in his eyes.
Behind me, Jacky screamed, "Yes, yes!"
Desmond now bounced on his toes and worked his neck, and suddenly flicked his glove out at me much quicker than I was prepared for. I tried to dodge right, but there was no escaping it. His glove hit me square in the jaw and I staggered backwards and promptly landed on my ass, skidding to a halt near the ropes.
"Sammy, you okay?" Jacky's worried, ruddy face peered down at me through the lowest rung of rope.
I got up. "I'm fine."
"I don't like this, Sammy. He's too good."
"Don't call me Sammy."
"Then what the hell do you want me to call you?"
We touched gloves again. Desmond wasn't smiling. In fact, he didn't seem to be enjoying any of this. I think he was hoping I would've gone away by now. We circled each other. I was wary of his hand speed. His face was expressionless, although his cheeks were pinched together because of the headgear. He kept his gloves up like a good boy. His fist shot out again, another jab. I blocked it with my own glove, but the force of the punch knocked my own glove back into my forehead. Luckily the head gear is thickest at the forehead. He jabbed again. I blocked it and side-stepped. He was waiting for me to side-step. His next punch rung my bell, and I staggered backward again.
I caught a glimpse of Jacky. Or, rather, two Jackys. The old Irishman looked stricken. His interest in seeing a real fight had long ago dissipated. He was holding the white towel up. I shook my head at him, and he reluctantly lowered it.
Back in the ring, Desmond looked a little surprised to see me still on my feet. We circled each other some more. It seemed apparent to me that the Marine and his manager, and perhaps even Jacky, had agreed that I would only receive jabs. Harmless enough, and not too brutal. Wouldn't bode well for Jacky's female clientele to watch a woman get pulverized by a semi-professional male boxer.
Now even more people were watching. A small crowd of mostly women were standing around the sparring ring, all dripping sweat, their workouts finished or abandoned. They were talking amongst themselves and watching me closely. I didn't like close scrutiny, but I needed to pound something, and the Marine was the biggest thing in the gym.
I focused entirely on the Marine. Sweat dripped steadily down his cheeks and into his headgear. The muscles in his right shoulder flexed and I took a step back just as his lightning-fast jab swished through the air. Focus on the shoulder. The deltoid muscles flinched again and I moved back again and avoided the next punch as well. We circled, and he stopped bouncing on his feet and lowered his hands. The moment he lowered his hands, I delivered a combination of left jab and overhead right. Both landed. I am quick when I want to be and strong when I want to be, and I wanted to be both now. The punches staggered him backward and he landed against the ropes. A chorus of cheers erupted from the milling crowd of sweating women. The Marine pushed himself off the ropes and approached me, fists raised. He was looking at the crowd of women out of the corner of his eye. He didn't know what to do. He was in a hell of spot. He didn't want to hurt a woman, yet here was a woman in front of him who was hurting him. I decided to make that decision for him, and came at him like a bull. I faked a left jab and then came hard over his gloves with a straight right that hit him square on the nose. His knees buckled. I hit him again. He gathered himself and quit looking at the crowd. Good. Now he danced around the ring like he meant it. Good. He lifted his gloves and delivered a powerful combination that I used my gloves and arms to absorb. His punches hurt. He was throwing them hard. He didn't give a damn who was watching him now or how bad this might have looked. He was tired of some woman taking potshots at him.
Except I wasn't some woman.
Even with the sun still out in the late afternoon sky, my reflexes were better than average. But only slightly better. I still felt weak and sluggish�Dand that damn sun couldn't set fast enough.
The Marine suddenly threw a wild punch that veered off my shoulder and I used that opening to deliver a rocking uppercut. I caught him under the chin and his head snapped up. He might have even lifted off the mat. Either way, he landed hard on his back. The crowd went wild. Alright, maybe not wild, but definitely a few cheers. The Marine got up and we touched gloves in the middle of the ring again. His eyes seemed a little unsteady. The big boy had taken a few hard blows to the head from a very healthy vampire. He raised his fists, did a little boxing dance, and sort of refocused himself.
And came out swinging.
Holy crap! Hell hath no fury like a man embarrassed by a woman. His punches were powerful and numerous; some landed, but most missed entirely. I soon found myself backed up against the ropes. Spit and sweat and blood flung from the Marine. His arms were a blur of punches. I heard gasps behind me. Surely this looked horrible to Jacky's female clientele: a woman being beaten to a pulp by a hulking Marine. I'm sure Jacky was about to throw in the towel, when it happened.
I didn't see it happen, granted.
But I felt it.
The late afternoon soon had finally set, and I felt alive.
So damn alive.
I slipped under his onslaught and backed into a corner. He was about to follow me in but must have seen something in my eyes and paused. He should have kept pausing. Instead, he charged ahead. As he came at me, I timed my punch perfectly. A hard right to the jaw.
Never had I hit something so squarely and so hard. I floored him. No. I lifted him off his feet and over the surrounding ropes. He landed in a heap on the padded floor. Women screamed and rushed over to him. I saw Jacky run over to the Marine, too. He looked at me, horror on his face.
What had I done?
I stood dumbly in the center of the ring as the Marine lay on his back, unmoving.READ MORE >>