This old man pranced around the heavy bag and tried to look like a boxer. He was breathing for three lungs. The coaches were stood around imploring him on, “Last minute Russ; come on mate, last minute!” Then one of the coaches said, “You’ve got a right hand too Russ!” and that did it. Though his arms were ready to fall off, his legs begged to die and his lungs burned like fire, it was the heart that bit down, saw red and bludgeoned that heavy bag with everything he had. That he was old didn’t bother him. In truth, he would have been happy to die with his gloves on. So he mixed it up with slick combinations; putting sting on his shots; moving in and out, side to side. He lunged in, threw an overhand right and the bag made a sound like a humpback hitting the water. And the old man skipped back like a ballet dancer, catching the bag with a sweet left hook as it swung back at him. He heard the beeps for the last ten seconds and felt it rise again in him. He refused to be beaten by his old body. And his old body was a wimp and he told it so. It just wanted to lie down. So the old man gave it an ultimatum: he said it could either help him fight these next ten seconds and leave a part of itself in the gym, or it could pack up and die and he was happy with either outcome. The body, his body, wasn’t even given time to answer. Russ, the old man, popped and thumped the bag with rapid combinations; jabs, backhands, hooks, uppercuts; darting around the bag, letting it swing by him…a centimetre from his nose; snapping jabs out, bouncing on his feet as though he weighed nothing. The body was so overheated that steam rose off it, like a racehorse. “You can die if you need to.” The old man said to his weak body, “I can’t give up.”
“Time!” said the coach.
Russ answered his arms call to hang by his sides, his legs to keep still and straight…his lungs gulped down more air than they could manage.
This was the thing…
For Russ, he faced Death. It had been grinning at him all day. In the darkness of his studio, when he was supposed to work, Death showed him pictures of all the people he loved dead or dying. It broke him down, tried to make him vulnerable; drunk on its blackness. Death wanted Russ to lay down and cry, to call for him, to desire him. Death was a lonely individual. And although Russ was lonely, he wasn’t going to start entertaining this dark hooded fucker. But he decided, as Death had been showing him so much attention, to invite him along to the gym. Death followed him, like a stray dog on the promise of a feed. And so Death, tails wagging, takes Russ to the heavy bag and goads him. And Death thrives on the fact that people fear him; he finds it very attractive in a prospective corpse. So Russ is training. And the old man needs to go all the way to the end, if that’s the way it’s going to be. Only thing is, Death doesn’t believe that Russ has the gonads for it. So he teases Russ. Sings his body a lullaby of fear; it responds, demanding that Russ slow down or, preferably, stop. But Russ has gone beyond the point of packing it in willingly. He is in a groove and, at the coaches comments, decides that a physical death would be much preferable to the one he’d certainly suffer from stopping. And, as the ten second beeps count down, Death’s cock shrinks smaller and smaller. Though he manages to steal six months from Russ, he does not take his life. And Russ knows that Death has disappeared, for now. There is no longer that smell in the air; the smell of the river, the storm, the fresh morning the day after you die. It has disappeared.
“Good last round,” the coach says.
And Russ tells himself, ‘Boy, you’re still here.’