Today we begin our second Fiction Week of the year, featuring the work of a new writer each day. Enjoy this story opening the week.
by Steve Passey
One day at the canning plant the older men were giving the skinny guy named Julio a hard time.
“How much do you weigh, Julio?” they asked him.
“One-Twenty-Five,” he shouted.
They had one of those special scales there for weighing samples right down to tenths and hundredths. It only went up to one hundred pounds. They made Julio take his boots off and they put him on the scale. He weighed ninety-seven pounds, nine ounces. Exactly.
“You can’t be Mexican like us,” they told him, these old guys, as round as they were tall. “You are manorexic,” they said. “You just don’t like to eat. You must be Italian or Irish or something.”
Some of them don’t even tighten up their bootlaces. They are too fat to bend over. They just do them up once but leave the laces loose so they can step into their boots like slippers.
“Fuck you guys,” he said. “Fuck all of you. Chupa mi pico.”
After that they started referring to him as “The Mick” and the nickname stuck.
Somewhere along the line, or probably before the line (birth), The Mick had been “developmentally delayed.” There wasn’t a name for it, no formal diagnosis, but he was always smaller than anyone else, skinnier than anyone else, weaker than almost anyone ever, and a little less smart. He kept up by staying just behind, but he could walk and talk and hold a job, and he loved his mother too.
The Mick joined a gym. “El Palacio” it was called, in English “The Palace Gym.” It had been there for thirty-seven years and a man named Hector Echeverria who was originally from El Salvador had run it for twenty-four of those. Lean, with high, sharp cheekbones and an unblinking stare behind his gloves, he’d been a decent boxer in his own right but not especially talented. He’d fought a hundred and thirty fights under the nickname El Indio, fought in four weight-classes and fought at catch-weights with men naturally twenty-five pounds heavier. He fought in barrooms, bathrooms, and phone booths from San Salvador to Mexico City to Los Angeles. He’d even fought in Dublin, on St. Patrick’s Day, where he lost a unanimous decision to a local fighter he’d knocked down three times before the final bell rang.
It was here in L.A. that he’d hung up the gloves and made a home and business of El Palacio. He’d seen guys like The Mick before. He’d take their dues, get them doing some pushups, some chin-ups, getting in condition and working the fundamentals on the bags and he’d never let them fight. Spar, maybe, but fight, no. No need to get them hurt. Eventually they’d lose interest and quit coming but more talented, more able men would come through and they quit too.
The Mick came Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays without missing a workout for three months. After his first week he started asking to spar.
“You’re not ready Mick,” Hector said, every time. “Work on your fundamentals, your hands, your feet, and your body. You need to build some muscle.”
On the last Friday of his third month in the gym The Mick came up to Hector with his request. Hector asked him how much he weighed.
“One-Twenty-Five,” The Mick said.
Hector looked him up and down. How many of Hector “El Indio” Echeverria’s fights were at catch-weights? Forty-five. He knew a man’s weight by his own eye – exactly – and it wasn’t a guess. He looked at The Mick and he thought one-hundred and five. Even. Not one-hundred six, not one-hundred five-point-five.
“I’ll tell you what Mick, I want you to get in the ring with Patricia Guzman there and we’ll spar. Now this isn’t going to be a timed round, Johnny will be in there with Trish and I’ll be in there with you. When I say ‘break’ you stop and you come and listen to me and you don’t box again until I say ‘go.’”
The Mick looked at Patricia Guzman in the ring working the pads with Johnny, one of the other trainers.
“I don’t want to fight no girl, coach,” The Mick said.
“That isn’t a girl.” Hector said. “That’s a boxer. Trish has been coming here for three years, outweighs you by thirty pounds, and she’s 3-0 in three bouts. She knows what she’s doing. We’ll see what you know.”
“I’m one-twenty-five, Coach,” The Mick said.
“OK, Mick. She outweighs you by ten then.”
The Mick climbed into the ring while Hector went over to Trish to explain what was up. Trish worked for Costco. She had a forklift ticket and moved pallets. She had a barbed-wire tattoo around her right arm that she got when she was fifteen and a son she had when she was seventeen. The tattoo was faded to the color of a bruise now. Her son sat on a bench and played games on her phone while she trained. She never missed a day. The boy’s father, a real Vato Loco supposedly, went down to Mexico and never came back. He sent a little money every so often, that’s how the boy knew his father was alive.
The Mick stood in the centre of the ring, bouncing on his toes. Hector had to lead him back to the edge to get headgear on and a mouth guard in. “Mick,” he said. “You have to think. Think. Headgear on. Mouth guard in. Set your stance, get your hands up, move your head. Let’s go.”
The Mick walked out right at Trish, flat-footed and without moving his head. He threw out a jab that was six inches short and a sweeping right that was twelve inches high. Trish stepped in and doubled left hooks to Mick’s body. His hands dropped and she threw a short overhand right and popped Mick sharply right under the eye.
“Break,” Hector said. Trish went back to Johnny and Hector put an arm around The Mick and turned him around. “Get up on your toes and move your head from side-to-side or she’ll hit you every time. OK, let’s go.”
Hector clapped his hands and Trish came back out. The Mick got up on his toes and came straight in. He got a little closer but telegraphed his jab. Trish leaned away and he was six inches short again. She ducked right down into her crouch and his follow-up sweeper right, a little slower than the one before, was eighteen inches high this time. She came up under it and double-hooked him to the body again and followed up with another short, sharp overhand right to the eye.
“Break,” Hector said. He repeated his advice. The Mick nodded and went back out. The Mick missed his pitches and caught Trish’s with his body (the hooks) and with his face (the overhand right) every time.
After a few laps around the track Hector called it. “That’s enough for today, Mick.”
The Mick and Trish met at the centre of the ring and embraced. Trish gave him a quick pat on the top of the head. “Good work Mick,” she said.
Hector took Mick’s headgear off and his gloves.
“How’d I do Coach?” Mick asked.
“Fine,” Hector said. “Keep working on your fundamentals and think – get your feet right, think – get your hands right, think – move your head. Keep working.”
“Can I spar next week?’ Mick asked. “One of the guys?”
“We’ll see,” Hector said. “You need to work on your fundamentals – and gain some weight.”
When The Mick had showered up, Hector took him aside and got him on the scale. One hundred and five pounds, even. The Mick looked around and away, but not at Hector.
“Do you still live with your mom, Mick?’ Hector asked.
“Yes, Coach. She still needs me there.”
“Whatever your mom makes you for supper try to have two of them. I mean it – two of everything. If you want to beat the man you have to out eat the man. Do you understand?”
“Better yet, do you have any money?”
“Twenty bucks, Coach. I never carry more than twenty. My mom saves the rest for me. I don’t want to be walking around with a bunch of money and lose it.”
“Twenty is good. Go to McDonald’s every night after you train, and get two Big Mac combos. Big Macs, large fries, large cokes. Doesn’t have to be coke – anything you like – as long as it’s not diet. Take those combos home and eat them. Don’t go to bed until you’ve eaten it all.”
Mick nodded. He walked out of the gym at one-hundred and five pounds and growing with a mouse under his eye from sparring. He skipped McDonald’s and stopped at a bodega before going home. A woman named Vanessa works the counter there and she knew The Mick. She saw the mouse under his eye.
“What’s that Mick? Have those fat cholosat at the plant been after you again? Tell them 1988 called and it wants a sharp crease in those Dickies they can’t fit into any more.
“No no no,” Mick says, “Those guys are alright. They are my friends. We like to give each other a hard time, that’s all. I boxed tonight, that’s all this is. Got into the ring, did a little sparring. That’s all.”
He does a little duck and weave, moving his head like he never did in the ring with Trish Guzman.
“What does the other guy look like?” Vanessa asked.
“Um, like me I guess,” Mick said. “I was giving away ten pounds, and this fighter has already had a few real fights, has a real record. But I did all right. Coach said I did good. Gotta keep working on my fundamentals and gain some weight. I need to work on some things, but that’s OK because I love to train.”
Mick buys two flowers, pink roses in those plastic holders, like people bring to bars or sell on the street or you sometimes find in a bodega like this.
Vanessa rang up his flowers and made change from his twenty. “Now that you are a badass you must have a girlfriend,” she said, noting the flowers.
“No girlfriend,” he said. “One for you, one for mi madre.”
Vanessa smiled and thanked him. He has done this before on other Fridays on his way home from the gym.
Mick walked home then, with his pink rose for his mother, the streetlights turning on with the breeze coming in from the Pacific, as if the air tells them it’s time to light the way. This air that keeps the ocean cool, smells of salt water like it always does when the heat and exhaust from the day are chased away from the asphalt until they can come back with the fire of the next day’s sun.
His steps are measured with the beats of his heart, one-hundred five pounds going on one-hundred twenty-five and he thinks it a miracle that the sidewalk does not crack beneath his strides. He thinks that maybe he felt it tremble though, and he is soon enough at his mother’s door with the mark under his eye and her rose in his hand. He can smell her cooking and he is happier than most men will ever be.