Every boxer in the county came to pay their respects when Mickey Duggan died of a broken heart. Whether bleeders who went the distance or mooks who led with their chin every damn time, they were all there. The line went down the block from where Mickey’s body lay in state in O’Malley’s Gym, dressed in his Sunday best jacket and his trademark purple trunks.
One by one the boxers filed in to view the body. And then, after saying goodbye, each took a seat around the ring to watch his widow and his mistress beat the hell outta each other.
Lettie Duggan sat in the black corner, face covered by the widow’s veil, hands in the widow’s boxing gloves. She had eschewed the widow’s mouthguard; it made her lose the disapproving expression she had perfected over two decades of infidelitous marriage. She glared implacably at her opponent, Miss Charlene Piscoperra, late of the saloon at 9th and Overeasy, late of the Zoidfield Follies, late of Mickey Duggan’s bed. The bed where he drank himself to death after Lettie tossed him out for the last time and screamed I never loved you, you worthless palooka! loud enough for the whole borough to hear.
Charlene had matched her low-cut dress with a pair of shiny red boots. This was a chance to show off her curves and curls, after all, and she missed Mickey and all but hell, mister, a girl’s gotta eat.
Widow’s matches were traditionally for the wife’s right to keep her husband’s belt and medals, but Mickey had never been a contender. He rarely won fights; he just lost them hard. He had all the chin in the world, and no-one qualified for a title shot until they could say they’d lasted twenty or thirty rounds with Mickey.
These women were fighting for something more important – the right for the widow’s seat by Mickey’s coffin, the right to hear the boxers mumble something sad and pointless on the way out. The right to say that they were Mickey’s one true love, to the end.
The boxers stood as the referee entered, formal in his striped shirt and dog collar, ready to lead Mickey’s service as soon as he judged the winner. He rattled off the rules and conditions, by the powers invested in me by God and the Boxing Commission and so on. Lettie’s brother Claude checked the ties on her gloves, while Charlene blew kisses to the crowd.
Round one! Lettie laid into Charlene with a hard right to the bodice. She followed up with a left and another right, sledging the bargirl around the ribs. Charlene stumbled back, fists flailing. The widow pushed the hussy back to the ropes, pounding away until the bell rang and the ref yelled at them to get back to their corners.
Round two! Lettie came out hard again but this time Charlene was ready, blocking low and tight, protecting her assets from the widow’s fury. Punch after punch connected but did little damage. A mutter swept the crowd as it became obvious that Lettie had passion but not enough power. Charlene went back to her corner with a smile; Lettie went back with aching wrists.
Round three! Now the balance swung to Charlene. Her looping crosses lacked finesse but were backed up by five years of tap and three of pulling beers. It was all Lettie could do to block the blows. Charlene snarled at her: You maybe think you made a mistake, old lady? When the bell rang Lettie thundered back to her corner in outrage.
Round four! The two women punched back and forth, back and forth, until Lettie put too much into a cross and left herself open.
And from nowhere Charlene came back with a left hook that crunched into Lettie’s nose and threw her eggs over breakfast down to the mat.
The ref ran in for the count.
Lettie flopped on the canvas like a drunk marionette, strings tangled up, hand in the sky all broken.
Charlene paraded around the ring, screaming at Lettie. Stay down, consarnit it! You didn’t love him! You told everyone you didn’t love him! Stay down!
Lettie lurched to her shaking knees like a newborn fawn. Charlene screeched as the ref stopped the count and pouted back into her corner while Lettie crawled back to Claude, barely conscious.
You want me to throw in the towel, sis? Lettie fixed Claude with a look that coulda boiled an egg.
She flopped onto the stool, spat a glob of blood and adrenaline drool into a bucket, a lost tooth clanking as it hit metal. Claude quietly plucked it out and stuck it in his pocket. Win or lose, it’d be worth a couple of bucks from a collector or something.
Right then, muttered Lettie. Enough of this.
Round five! Lettie did the stick-and-move, showering Charlene with long punches while dancing to the side, staying away from that terrible left hook. She snapped off a jab into Charlene’s face, enough to rattle her, then came in for a clench. In the seconds before the ref split them up, she put her lips to Charlene’s ear and slurred I said I didn’t love him, but maybe I lied.
Another jab. In for the clench again.
And maybe I didn’t.
Jab. Jab. Clench. A last hiss. I’m the only one who gets to know.
And with that Lettie put everything she had into a roundhouse haymaker that started at the small of her back and swung out through Timbuktu before coming back smack dab onto Charlene’s chin.
Charlene, as it happened, did not have all the chin in the world. She kissed canvas hard and didn’t move again.
Lettie slumped against the ref as he proclaimed her Winner and marital champion! With his help she staggered out of the ring and collapsed in a chair next to Mickey. Blood dripped from her nose, her veil glued to her battered face like a mask of red.
But she was a boxer’s widow. And that was the makeup you wore to anything worth fighting for.
Lettie smiled sweetly through torn lips and waited for the service to start.
Happy Christmas, PODcommers!
No, I know this isn’t what you’d call a Christmas story, but it’s my flash fiction gift from me to you.
Like a lot of my flash fiction, this one’s a response to one of Chuck Wendig’s flash challenges, this time to create a story based on one of these 50 Unexplainable Black & White Photos. Visual stimulus is a tricky thing, and images either speak to me or they don’t – but when they do, they speak loudly. 49 pictures on that site did nothing for me – when I saw the one above, the entire story popped into my head. Then it was just a matter of trimming my 1300-word draft down into 1000 words, which was terrible hard work, but it’s done now and the results are yours.
Don’t say I never do nothing for youse.