The Gym

Boxing Gloves i i
iStockphoto.com
Boxing Gloves
iStockphoto.com

For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.

The train squealed to a stop. He waited for the doors to open, but only the one on the left obliged. He stepped on to the platform. Bitter air blasted his face and fingers. He tightened the strap of a lightly packed duffel bag that hung on his back, just below the shoulder blades. Its original brick-red color buried beneath a decade of oil, sweat, pain relief cream and toothpaste.

The station had changed, cosmetically, since his last visit. Chicken-scratch tags had vanished from the old rusted corrugated panels where they had once been displayed. Everything painted over with saccharine light beige. Rotting, gum-covered benches had given way to thickly varnished, unstained pine. The vomit, urine and fecal stains washed off the platform.

"Maybe the neighborhood's changed," he mumbled as he dragged himself down the stairway. But a brisk two blocks dodging prostitutes, pimps, fiends, garbage, and skittish schoolchildren showed him otherwise. "Four o'clock and everybody is out."

He barreled through the doors of an old warehouse, confronted with an empty and disorganized boxing gym. The equipment was deteriorating and randomly placed. Heavy bags held together with duct tape. The speed bag tucked away into a far corner of the space, barely hanging on to the splintered platform. The gym no longer smelled like a gym, but more like a garage. Two welterweights avoided punches inside the sagging ring. An old man implored them: "Mix it up!"

"I told you boxing is dead," he shouted.

The old man ignored him and pushed the two fighters through the sparring session: "Don't drop your shoulder!"

"You know I'm right."

"Keep that chin down!"

"Once I get my hands on this place..."

"Straighten your jab!"

"I'll get one of those octagon things in here."

The old man twisted around. "Those things belong in an arcade, not a gym."

The two laughed. The old man limped towards the younger man. They smiled warmly as they drew closer. The old man lost his balance, saved from the concrete floor by the younger man's embrace.

"When did you get in?" The old man asked, pulling back.

"Last night."

The old man went in for another hug. His right arm trembled as the two men squeezed each other. He stepped back again. His calloused hands massaged the younger man's waist. "Ten pounds?"

"More like five."

"Not bad."

"Yeah, I still put in my road work."

"Good, I'm glad. Too bad you're wasting time with that other stuff."

"You training these guys, or we getting into it?"

"These guys ain't going nowhere. They got no heart. Not like you." The old man turned back to the ring. "Hey, you hit the speed bag. You hit the rope." He scratched his head then checked his stopwatch. The jump rope steadily skipped, alternating beats with the speed bag.

"What time you leaving?" The younger man asked.

"Cab's coming soon."

"All packed?"

"Yeah, ready to go. Got my bags by the door."

"I'll help you load it up."

"Yeah, yeah," the old man checked his stopwatch. "Okay, switch up." The fighters tripped over each other while they traded places.

"Training till the end, huh?"

"What else am I gonna do?" The old man grasped his arms.

"Excited?"

"I'm excited to get out of here," the old man stammered. His shoulders buckled under a phantom chill.

"Place won't be the same without you."

"Time to let go."

"We could use you."

"I don't know about this stuff you're doing."

"You're a good trainer."

"I'm done. "

A car horn blasted through the front doors. The old man stared at the ring.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: