n the tunnel in five, Joe,” his manager said, words that hit him in the gut more than the blows to come. He wrapped his hands again and unwrapped them again. Not for luck. Luck was something for people who still had a hope. Maybe today he’d make it a few rounds. Maybe he’d go down in the first. He was tired. He could use a nap. Or a coma.
He couldn’t remember winning, but it happened. Once. The first. He was never much good with the hook, but that day in Bousillé-Bèze he took Halimi down with one punch. Of course he was as good as retired by then, half-blind, but no matter. Those were the days. He was making a name for himself. Joël L’incassable. Unbreakable. Even when he lost, the crowd was on his side. In Paris, they rushed the ring and tried to tear the judges apart. The publicity got him all the way to the States for a title match. But a good shot to his jaw took him down a second time. Something broke. And when he healed up it stayed broke. And he stayed on, broke and broken in Brooklyn.
The first few losses hurt, because he tried. The next ten or so were pillowed with bills. After that, he lost count. Sometimes he tried, sometimes he took the fall, sometimes he didn’t know which he was, on or off. He’d flutter between punches like a film reel. Jab. On. Hook. Off.
He let the wrapping alone and pulled the gloves on. He put on the robe. The colours had run and he couldn’t afford a new one. He looked down the hall. The lights of the stadium. He didn’t even know who he’d be losing to. He walked.
It was that one win that stung. It never changed. 1-99 or 1-999 it was still there, weaving and dancing just out of reach. It would be easier to be zero. Vanquished.
The crowd wasn’t roaring. This wasn’t the kind of place that roared. It mumbled.
When he lost, they’d shout names. They’d throw croissants at him. They didn’t look anything like the ones back home. Just soggy supermarket pastry. But they still hurt. They still found things to break.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.