That was the sound. A single crunch of bones. David knew what it had meant. So had Titus; they were the bones in his neck. The crowd went wild, squalling like mad animals. But that didn’t matter, even as the referees and managers reached their sweaty hands down to the two fighters on the ground. Even as the announcer on the microphone roared meaningless words.
“It’s all over!” He was saying. “Stand back, folks, stand back! Oh wow!” His voice was booming and hollow and distant all at the same time. David paid no attention. His eyes were locked with those steely-flints in front of him. They lay there like two lovers in bed. Their bed at the bottom of the ocean.
The fight over, time had truly frozen. Everything else was as faded and washed out as sun-soaked wood. Titus’s breaths were sharp, shallow. They were fading, and only the two fighters knew it. His open eyes pierced through the chaos, looking only at David.
The announcer was blaring something over and over, now, into his great tin-can microphone. Like a tribal chant, it filled the air, but David wasn’t listening. Titus’s lips were moving so that only David might see. No sound came out, or, if it did, the announcer’s constant squall had overpowered it. But David saw.
I’m sorry, the lips had said. I’m sorry.
As the sweating hands plunged down, pulling up David by his arms and by his burning ribs, he mouthed back to the Giant.
Me too. He said, or tried to say. It was too late to know. They pulled him to his feet. The announcer’s words came booming in with crystal clarity.
“Titus Grant is dead!” They boomed. “Titus ‘The Giant’ is dead!”
All descended into roaring, unfathomable noise. David thought of seagulls.
The Giant’s steel-gray eyes had receded completely, lost in the sounds of people and sea-birds, to somewhere far away.
When the time came, David finally made it back to the shitty little apartment. He opened the door quietly, not wanting to disturb Kay.
Instead of the usual darkness that plagued the rotting little room, the curtains had been pulled wide. Sunlight spilled through the single window in warm, glowing rays, silhouetting Kay’s ragged armchair. David squinted his eyes, blinking hard. He focused. She was not there.
All around the chair, the great, morbid halo of unpaid bills and advertisement circulars and unread newspapers swarmed. David walked across, around to the front of the chair, crinkling the detritus underfoot.
“Ma?” He called. But the bright apartment was still. Dust motes floated lazily through the air. “You here?”
Outside, the Pavilion was buzzing with people. David looked out of the window, wondering how many of them might know who he was, now (after everything), if they saw him. The man who killed a Giant. He thought.
“I’m back, Ma.” David called again. “We can go now.” He said. It was true.
The managers had rushed David out before the crowd could swoop in. Later the Police had come and investigated…under-the-table of course. Rumor had it that even the District Attorney was betting on the fight. They would never mention how against-the-law the event had been. They would chalk it up to a tourist attraction gone bad. A botched stage-performance by two professional actors. It was, after all, a terrible accident.
Of course, that wasn’t anywhere close to the dangerous truth. The truth that had been revealed that same night under the blinding fluorescents. The ref had picked up Titus’s dead hand and dropped it back to the floor. It clanked heavily. He did it again. The sound of the metal that had been carefully sown into the gloves was unmistakeable. The Giant’s gloves were full of extra weight.
The bookies were furious, but they paid out. They had no choice. It would have been hell to pay instead if one of their names were to get released to the public. Or if they had to account for every potential fight in which Titus the Champion might have had tipped the odds. They wanted to disqualify David, but after the gloves, that was out of the question. And, when half the Pavilion’s public officials had a stake in the fight, they knew better than to raise any more fuss than had already been raised. After all, a man was dead. Cheater nonetheless. David’s manager had said as much, stuffing a huge roll of hundreds into his hand nervously.
“Best get out of town,” he advised. David didn’t disagree. He wondered if any of the bookies had been lurking around, but brushed off the thought. He had gotten back to the apartment as soon as the smoke cleared, making his way quietly along the busy streets. He passed his discarded pack of Newports, which had been trampled and soaked by the fine mist that surrounded him before the fight. He grabbed a hot-dog from a stand, where a greasy man with a Yankee accent told him that “he looked familiar.” Ignore it, he thought, walking on, getting back to the beat up sportster. He slept in the back seat for what seemed like days, ignoring the pain in his ribs. Ignoring time. Whatever damage Titus had done, it had eased considerably in the past few hours. Maybe they’re just cracked, he thought, drifting off. He must’ve been holding back.
He dreamed of seagulls and Ferris wheels and woke up wanting a cigarette, but ignored the craving, driving the last few miles to the awful hotel room. The wad of money burned in his pocket brighter than any Pavilion lights. It lifted his heart higher than the screeching seagulls.
“Ma?” David said, twisting the blinds halfway closed, honing the light. The dingy apartment offered no sign of life. Then he saw them, poised and ready for the moments that followed. They had gone almost unnoticed in the swarm of mail. A stack of cardboard boxes, flattened, and a roll of packing tape. A white, rather large sticky-note was affixed to the top.
Sorry I slept so long. Sometimes you have to when you’re fighting off being sick. I’ve gone to see someone. She’s a bit of a gamble. Get packing. Will be back soon. I’m okay, Son. I love you.
There was another thing. A newspaper was in the seat of the chair, folded open and in half and in half again. Someone had circled a tiny block of text with a pink high-liter.
“Titus Grant, age 49. Mourned by his wife, Daisy, and their two children, Davey and Kayla. Services to be held this Sunday at North Shore Funeral Home.”
Outside, the seagulls dove and rose, dove and rose. The ocean waves crashed endlessly. The Pavilion’s great Ferris wheel turned the sky. The people came and went, buzzing like bees, swarming like ants. Out along the pier, people ate ice-cream and laughed. As he packed boxes, David withheld silent tears, unsure of whether they stemmed from joy or greif. Kay would be back. She had already returned from the land of the dead. From the darkness of the yellow hotel. The fighting had been like a dream—like a deep sleep. It had been sickening him for thirteen years. It had cost everything. It had nearly taken his mother. But now it was over. The Giant was dead. Daisy had lost her gamble. David and his mother were finally awake. They were well. They could do whatever they wanted. That much was as clear as the dazzling blue sky.
One Week Later:
Kay sat passenger seat while David drove. Even with their winnings, trading in the sportster seemed like a sin. It was more beat up and tired than either of them had ever been. In a way, it seemed like a trophy. The hotels and restaurants of the beach flew by in a motion blur. Wind rushed through the windows. It was cool and refreshing. The tourist season was nearly over, and the ever-dropping daytime temperatures were a relief. It had been a long and hot (and occasionally rather wet) summer. Really, it had been thirteen of them.
“Goodbye, you evil place!” Kay said brightly. The sun danced around on the silver of her earrings.
“Amen.” David said, smiling wider than he ever had.
“Goodbye Daisy,” she said, glancing at the empty back seat. She had not been collecting so many newspapers in vain, after all. The night of David’s fight, she had finally put it together. All the things Daisy had said came clicking into place like jigsaw pieces. She had woken up with a start. Someone in the hall outside had crunched an empty soda can underfoot and left briskly. The sound roused her from thirteen years of anxiety and dismay. She had made sure that Daisy saw her face at the funeral. She hadn’t bothered to bring flowers. It was only fair.
Kay looked over at her son, her expression seeming suddenly worried. David saw the familiar lines her face had carried in the hotel room, year after year.
“What is it, Ma?” He said, feeling the knots tie themselves up in his stomach. Kay maintained the frightened look for a few more moments.
“Should we go get some ice cream?” She said in panicked voice. The knots untied. David laughed, hard and deep.
“Hell no!” He said between two breaths. She laughed too, sucking hysterical gasps of air. They both did until their eyes watered.
Sniffing his own tears, a thought occurred to David.
“Ma?” He asked.
“What were you dreaming of? All that time? Its like you left me. Like you were somewhere else.” David looked into his mother’s bright blues.
“Dreaming of?” She answered distantly, turning to look out of the open window.
“You,” she replied. “Always you.”
copyright 2014, Joshua Floyd
Thanks for Reading!