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The Fighter by Steven Hendrix

My cousin and I sat
at the kitchen table
in our grandparents' mobile home.
We were twelve and ten
and didn't care about the past
and didn't care about the stories
of our elders
but that never stopped our grandfather
from telling them.
He sat in his chair watching the tv
a boxing match
no one famous
because it wasn't pay-per-view
just two young kids
with nothing to lose
and nothing to gain
exchanging blows
because there was nothing else
worth doing
because they liked the way
their opponents soft flesh
accepted their gloved hands
they liked the sound of leather
connecting with the skin
and the bone behind it
and people liked watching
got some sort of satisfaction
out of seeing two barely grown men
knock each other around
until only one was left standing
or they both valiantly made it
to the end of the twelfth round
proving themselves true warriors
even though only one would win.

"I used to be a boxer," my grandfather said
and you could see the tinge of pride
as the words came out of his mouth.
you could see he had been transported
back to some earlier day
when he had the physical strength
and the stamina
to go toe to toe with any fool who would dare.
"I had this one fight with Rusty O'Dell,
boy could he throw a punch
that dirty bastard
they don't make them like Rusty O'Dell anymore
I wonder whatever happened
to that no good s. o. b.
went the distance with him
and did we ever give it to each other
he was a lefty
hard to fight a lefty
he caught me a couple times
square on the jaw, boy
but I gave him hell too.
those were the days
all you boys are too soft these days
not willing to throw a punch
because you're too afraid to take one."
"I'm a girl, grandpa," my cousin said.
"Hell, I'm not talking to you,
I'm just saying you boys in general
no one wants to get in the ring anymore
unless they're getting paid for it.
we did it for a couple beers
we didn't care about money back then
we had pride."
my cousin and I sat in silence
not really sure how to respond
feeling a little as though we had
already failed at life because
we weren't alive when it mattered.

"that son of a bitch was never a boxer,"
my grandmother yelled from the other room. 

Steven Hendrix received his BA in Comparative Literature and his MA in English Literature from California State University, Long Beach. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Pearl, Chiron Review, Re)verb, Creepy Gnome, Askew, and Cadence Collective among others. He currently lives in and haunts Southern California.