Meat-hooks

Meat-hooks

A Story by Daniel Atkinson
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An aging boxer fights his last.

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The boxing gloves that hung wrinkled and sad on the unpainted drywall had begun to smell of Marlboro cigarettes. Next to them, a faded poster for the infamous Madison vs. Newman match of 1997 couldn’t quite conceal a crack in the wall. A dozen scuffed and battered trophies that stood on an empty bookshelf brought the whole picture together.

Butch “Meat-hooks” Madison tilted his head back, took a swig of beer, and grimaced.

“This is some s**t beer, Howie,” he grunted, leaning back in his hole-ridden leather couch.

Sitting in an armchair on the other side of a splintered coffee table, old Howie gave a small grin.

“That’s the cheapest stuff they had,” he replied. His rumbling voice could have sent ripples through the cheap booze like a distant train.

Butch smiled back. “Well, I coulda told you that,” he said. “But I appreciate you bringing it by. It gets pretty lonely here some nights.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboros, his brand of choice. He wrestled out a crinkled cigarette, lit it up, and took a long drag. A look of complete satisfaction melted across his scraggly features.

            “I figured you could use a drink before tomorrow,” said Howie. “Help the nerves.”

            Butch sighed, suddenly looking apprehensive.

“Yeah. Nerves.”

He sipped the beer, staring at the wall.

            “Hey, I know this ain’t going to help much,” Howie said slowly. “I suppose you’ve heard something like this more than a few times over the years. But you’re going to hit that little b*****d out of the park. His head’ll go flying off his sorry neck like a homer out of Yankee Stadium. I’d put money on that.”

            “I haven’t had a fight in weeks, Howie,” replied Butch. “I’m getting old and fat. And this beer ain’t going to help matters.”

            He slammed the bottle down on the table, foam flying.

            “He’s just a kid, Butch,” said Howie, wiping a droplet of beer off his chin. “A rookie looking to make a name for himself. He’s got no experience, and frankly, no meat on him either. I saw the kid fight at Botkin’s Tuesday night. Skin and bones, I tell you. You could’ve used his ribs as a xylophone.”

            Butch didn’t say anything. He kept his eyes on the wall.

            Howie leaned forward. “You ain’t getting old, my friend. You’ve got years left in you. If you win tomorrow, as I know you will, you’ll get what you’ve been working for. This could be your comeback.”

            As he spoke, his eyes flicked up to the Madison vs. Newman bill on the wall. What a fight… it was the best he’d seen in a decade. But Butch had lost, and that was nearly the end of his career.

            Now Butch looked up. His eyes looked almost like the aging gloves on the wall above him.

            “Boxing’s been good to me,” he said, “hasn’t it? I’ve still got a few fights in me, right?”

            “Of course, ole Meat-hooks,” Howie replied sincerely. “Of course.”

            Butch nodded, picked up the dollar beer from the table, and took a sip.

 

            It was packed nearly to the ceiling at the Hit Pit Boxing Club downtown. People had come from all around the city and beyond to see the great Meat-hooks Madison make his comeback, and as a result the place stank to high heaven of hot sweat and tobacco.

            Old Howie wrinkled his nose as he sat down at the commentator’s table behind the boxing ring, pulling up his chair with a grunt. A microphone sat in front of him, looking dejected. Bits of its finish were peeling away. Howie glanced at the plastic clock at the edge of the table. It was nearly time.

            He cleared his throat and leaned forward to speak.

            “Welcome to the Hit Pit, friends and neighbors!” His practiced voice, gravelly with tears of wear and tear, rang out like a bass guitar through an amplifier. “We’ve got ourselves quite the match tonight: the rookie versus the legend. In just a couple minutes, the contenders will make their way into the ring, and we’ll begin!”

            The crowd cheered wildly, but there was some restraint, Howie could tell; they wouldn’t really let loose until Butch Madison and the rookie broke out on one another with rabid fists, until one of them was lying face down in a pool of his own blood. That was the nature, and maybe the art, of boxing.

            The owner of the club, who was sitting on Howie’s left, turned and said, “Madison’s about to get his a*s handed to him. Did you see the rookie fight on Tuesday? Kid’s a legend, man. Ten bucks says he wins before round three.”

            Howie nodded silently. He had seen the rookie fight, had seen him knock out his opponent in one round. But he hadn’t told this to Butch. In Howie’s opinion, false hope was better than no hope at all.

            He could only imagine what Butch was going through right this minute. His first fight in weeks, one that could re-launch his career… Maybe they should’ve saved some of that beer.

            “They’re ready,” the owner said, looking over at the ref, who was giving a thumbs-up.

            Howie sighed.

            “Okay, folks,” he began reluctantly. “Hailing from the mighty city of Boston and weighing in at one hundred and forty pounds… He’s aiming to be the next lightweight champion of the world-- Introducing the undefeated rookie sensation...”

            But before he could get the name out of his mouth, the crowd roared like an atom bomb as the rookie appeared, gloved hands held above his head. The kid was, without a doubt, very skinny, but Howie had seen enough fights to know not to judge a boxer by the amount of fat around his middle, or lack thereof.

            The crowd was still losing its mind as the kid entered the ring and walked confidently over to his corner. Howie’s aging ears could hardly take all the noise.

            They hadn’t come here to see Butch at all, he realized. They had come to see the kid in action.

            “And now…” said Howie, speaking over the din. “Ten years ago, you witnessed him take the boxing world by storm… You watched him climb to the top of the pile… He’s been lying low, but now he’s ready to rear his ugly head again. Please welcome-- Meat-hooks Madison!

            As Butch came shuffling towards the ring, shoulders slumped, there were none of the same manic roars the rookie had enjoyed. Instead, there was a smattering of polite applause and a large number of boos.

            “Hey, a*****e!” someone in the audience shouted. “Go home, has-been!”

            At this, the crowd laughed and cheered loudly, voicing its approval.

            Butch ignored him. Perhaps he hadn’t heard the man at all. Howie sincerely hoped it was the latter.

            Once Butch had entered the ring and made his way to the corner, Howie leaned back from the microphone with a sigh. He could see where tonight was headed, but he had to keep pulling for ole Meat-hooks. The man needed any support he could get.

            The referee called the two fighters to the center of the ring and gave them the rundown: no spitting, no cursing, bullshit, bullshit. Everyone in the club knew that the rules at the Hit Pit were lightly enforced at best.

            “Fighters to your corners!” the ref shouted.

            The rookie marched to his end of the ring, punching the air, while Butch moved as if he were just learning how to walk. Howie saw him stumble a bit as he turned to lean against the ropes.

            The bell clanged. To Butch it must have sounded like a gong from hell.

            “And the match begins,” Howie said into the mike.

            Cheers and shouts filled the club as the fighters moved towards each other. The rookie was definitely eager to begin; he was bouncing from side to side, head ducked behind his shiny new gloves. Butch brought up his hands in a defensive posture.

            “They’re each taking a moment to size the other up,” said Howie. “Looks like they--”

            Suddenly, the kid pounced. He ran straight at Butch, arms flailing in a blur, a muffled growl coming from behind his mouthguard"

            “The rookie’s going in! Jesus, he’s fast as a jackrabbit!”

            One could hardly call that an exaggeration; the rookie was hammering at Butch as if his fists were a swarm of angry bees. All Butch had time to do was throw up his arms to try and block the barrage, but most of the hits still broke through. He was rocked back and forth, up and down, spit flying, the air filled with the dead sound of fist against skin--

            Ding ding!

            “And that’s the bell!” Howie said.

            The rookie immediately stopped his comet storm of punches and jogged back to his corner, where his coach was waiting with a stool and looking ecstatic.

            In Butch’s corner, his coach was talking aggressively and animatedly to him, giving him advice, no doubt. Howie couldn’t hear what the coach was saying, but he could see Butch nodding his head as he listened. He looked worn out already.

            In what seemed like no time, the bell rang again, and both boxers were up, fists raised.

            “Round two begins!” Howie announced.

            Butch appeared to have gained some of his old confidence back; he wasn’t dragging his feet anymore, and he had a warrior’s gleam in his eyes. Perhaps he had a game plan.

            He met the rookie in the middle. They circled each other warily for a moment, waiting, but this time it was Butch who hit first.

            Meat-hooks was famous for having a brutal right hook, and none of that power had faded over the years. The rookie obviously hadn’t expected any sort of retaliation from his opponent, and as a result his defense was almost non-existent. Butch’s punch hit him square in the face, sending a spray of saliva into the air. The crowd moaned as they heard a crunch from the rookie’s jaw.

            “Ouch! A deadly right hook from Madison!”

            It appeared the kid was out for the count. He was bent over, holding his face, but when Butch went over to finish him off, he shot up, using his legs as pistons, and landed a solid uppercut onto Butch’s chin.

            Butch flew backwards, nearly doing a backflip. The crowd cheered.

            “And Madison is hit hard with a surprise uppercut! That kid’s a clever one!”

            Anyone could see that the punch had taken its toll. Butch swayed where he stood, eyes closed in pain. The rookie seized the opportunity and went in for the kill, swinging his arms just as he had the previous round, but this time Butch had no time to defend himself. He took a punch in the gut, then in the jaw, in the ribs, the nose, the gut again, every blow bringing a cheer from the audience.

            The bell rang, ending the second round, but the damage was done. Butch could hardly stand. He lurched back to his corner, eyes nearly swollen shut, nose pouring blood, drool dripping down his chin. His coach called a medic over to clean him up.

            Howie wanted to cry, although he had seen this coming. He had known Butch couldn’t take more than a couple rounds with the kid. He felt his insides crawl with guilt for not preparing Butch for the fight properly, for not telling him what the kid was really like in the ring. But Jesus, if Butch had known what he was up against, he wouldn’t have agreed to fight in the first place. All Howie really wanted was for Butch to go out in style, to go out fighting.

            The bell clanged.

            “Round three!” Howie croaked. He didn’t feel much like talking anymore.

            The medic hadn’t cleaned Butch up very well; Butch’s face was still caked in blood. His right eye was now so swollen it looked like a tumor, and his head couldn’t seem to stay in one place.

            Either the rookie didn’t want to give Butch another chance to hook him, or he just wanted to end the match so he could go home, because he didn’t waste any time in getting to Butch. The rookie was on the other side of the ring in two seconds, fists cocked, ready to unleash hell--

            Bap! Butch cut  him one across the face.

            Boof! One in the belly.

            Boof! Boof! Boof! Boof!

            Meat-hooks kept driving punches into the rookie’s gut, one after the other, his arms working like anti-aircraft guns. The rookie was doubled over in pain, he couldn’t move, Butch had him--

            Suddenly the kid brought up an elbow and swung it directly against Butch’s nose. They connected with a snap like an apple being bitten as Butch’s nose shattered, blood spraying in the smoky air. The crowd moaned.

“That’s illegal!” Howie found himself shouting. “You cheating f**k!”

The referee blew his whistle as Butch collapsed against the edge of the ring: the round was on hold.

Butch’s coach entered the ring and helped him to his corner while the rookie looked on with a small grin playing at the corners of his mouth. There would be no penalty for the kid; he wouldn’t be disqualified if he did it a thousand more times.

“Madison goes to his corner to have his nose looked at. It’s broken, no doubts there,” Howie said as he watched the medic touching Butch’s nose gingerly. “Hopefully they can fix it before-- Ah, Jesus!”

Butch’s nose had just been set back in place with a horrible granite-like crunch. Fresh blood began to pour, coursing over his puffy lips. He appeared not to have felt any pain; his face remained emotionless as he stared forward, perhaps watching the kid on the other side of the ring, who was nodding vigorously as his coach talked into his ear.

The medic, after inspecting Butch’s face for any more critical damage, gave the ref an “okay” sign. The whistle blew, and both fighters were up once again.

“And the fight continues. Meat-hook’s at a disadvantage now; one more hit to the nose and it could be all over. He’d better protect his face if he wants to go home alive.”

Howie hoped his veiled advice to Butch wasn’t too obvious.

The rookie made his way toward his opponent, ready to finish him off. Howie would be willing to bet that the kid’s first punch would be to Butch’s nose.

He swung. Butch hopped back, the rookie’s glove an inch from his face.

The rookie swung again. Another dodge.

Swiff! Swiff! Swiff! The rookie kept swinging and hitting only air. Butch seemed to be trying to run out the clock, maybe biding his time. For what, Howie didn’t know.

All of a sudden, as the rookie pulled back to swing again, Butch socked him one in the ribs.

“Oh! Didn’t see that one coming!” Howie shouted as the crowd roared.

The kid brushed it off and came at Butch again, but he still couldn’t land a punch. Butch, despite his swollen eyes and broken nose, was too fast for him.

Biff! Butch got the kid in the ear.

Pow! He landed one square in the kid’s face.

Smack! Right in the jaw.

“Looks like Meat-hooks Madison is starting to wear the kid down! This could be it, folks!”

Butch landed hit after hit, pushing the rookie back against the ropes. The kid was pinned and was getting hammered relentlessly by a man twice his age. He began to collapse, wrapped in a blanket of pumping fists…

And then, as Butch pulled his foot back to deliver a final right hook, he stepped directly in a puddle of blood his shattered nose had left on the ring floor.

He slipped. It was only for a split second, but it was all the rookie needed--

There was a sloppy wet crack as the kid’s boxing glove collided with Butch’s nose. A freshet of hot blood splattered all over the rookie, mixing with his sweat and masking his bruises.

As the audience shouted and cheered, seeing the rookie’s victory in hand, Howie found himself unable to speak. This was not what he had expected, not at all. He hadn’t known it would end like this.

Butch fell silently, the thud muted by the noise from the crowd. His nose was a bleeding mass of red pulp. The referee entered the ring and began to count to ten, but everyone knew the match was over.

The rookie, who had been hanging against the ropes to keep himself from sliding to the floor, now stood upright and began limping slowly towards Butch’s defeated frame.

“One!” the ref shouted.

The kid was tracking footprints of blood across the floor as he walked.

“Two!”

He was taking off his dripping boxing gloves, revealing bony white hands.

“Three!”

Like a panther, the kid jumped onto Butch, pinning his limp body to the floor, and began driving his bare fists into Butch’s face. Blood sprayed with every meaty smack.

The ref was yelling at the top of his lungs, trying to pull the kid away. The crowd was going crazy--

Howie stood up so quickly his chair clattered to the floor. He ran towards the ring as fast as his seventy-year-old body could carry him.

“What the hell are you doing, Howie?” the owner of the club called after him.

But Howie couldn’t hear him; he was already ducking under the ropes and climbing into the ring. The moment he was in, he sprinted directly at the rookie, who was still beating the life out of Butch. They collided, falling to the floor. The rookie shouted from behind his mouthguard, spit flying in Howie’s face.

            The rookie’s coach ran over and dragged the kid away. Howie stood, but it was painful. He realized he had broken his ankle in the fall.

            He put the pain out of his mind and went to Butch, who was conscious again. His massive eyelids were moving slowly, his eyes rolling tiredly in their cave-like sockets. He looked up at Howie with an expression like a dying cow.

            “Boxing’s been good to me, Howie,” he croaked. “Hasn’t it?”

            A tear trickled down Howie’s jagged nose. He smiled weakly.

            “Yes it has, my friend,” he replied. “Yes it has.”

            The medic appeared on Butch’s other side and pulled out a first-aid kid. Useless, Howie thought. You’d need a goddamn surgeon to fix this mess.

            “What’re they doing?” Butch said thickly.

            “They’re going to clean you up, you tough son of a b***h,” Howie said. “Now let me get these gloves off you…”

            As he reached down to untie the frayed laces around Butch’s wrinkled boxing gloves, Howie could swear he smelled Marlboros.

© 2011 Daniel Atkinson


Author's Note

Daniel Atkinson
This is based off of the song "Boxing" by Ben Folds Five. I figured it would make a great story. Thoughts?

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This sure has spirit. The very nature of its fighting element is enough to keep this reader hooked.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on September 29, 2011
Last Updated on October 4, 2011
Tags: boxer, boxing, sport, violence, blood, broken, bones, gloves, ring, drama, age, old

Author

Daniel Atkinson
Daniel Atkinson

Atlanta, GA



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