Through the crack in the closet door he can see the pink tracksuit hanging from a hook inside. Empty and limp, like the skin an animal leaves behind when it becomes something else. He looks down at his legs, dangling from the edge of the wheelchair. His running days are over.
The old man has stopped calling for him from the next room. His dinner will be cold. The television is too loud. The old man’s hearing is going. Like everything. Each of them in their own personal big bang, fragmenting away from the centre.
He can hear the percussion of gloves, flesh and bone over the chatter of the announcers. The rhythm of the fight doesn’t stir nostalgia in him. His memories are cinderblocks rattling around in his skull.
The trophies litter the top of the dresser, the desk. They spill onto the floor in puddles of gold and silver. WVBA minor, major and world championships. At least a dozen times he’s collected them all in a garbage bag and placed it at the door, only to have the old man sneak them out again while he sleeps.
The punching has stopped. He wheels himself to the doorway. He can see the back of the old man’s head, raisining up as he gets older by the moment. On the television another old man stands in the boxing ring. Naked. It’s paid TV, but the camera racks up to avoid the scandal. Tattooed across one half of his face is a peace sign. The announcers are shouting. The crowd is hollering.
He doesn’t care. It means nothing to him that the fighting is over. For him, it’s been over for a long time. It leaked out of him with the blood they drained from his skull. Enough to fill a pitcher, the doctor said. There will be no comeback. No triumphant return. No more trophies.
He wheels himself through the doorway into the living room, the chair squeaking. He coasts past the chesterfield. Despite the volume, the old man has fallen asleep. A line of drool from his mouth pooling on the collar of his red sweatshirt.
He rolls right up to the TV. It’s one of those old console sets, entombed in glazed wood. The broadcast has cut away from the naked man and has returned to a cycle of old highlights. He’s in some of them. He’s so close he can make out the individual pixels in his own face. He places his hand on the screen, feeling the crackle of static electricity.
The old man has surrounded them in artifacts—bronzed gloves and newspaper clippings, plaques and autographs—as if he were hoping to invoke some spell of old glory. If he had the strength, he’d punch through the looking glass screen and drown them both in Technicolor.
Instead he grabs the dial and turns the whole thing off. The picture collapses into a wormhole of light, the ghost of an image burning out, and then nothing.
He swivels the chair. The old man’s face is relaxed in sleep. He pulls the quilt from the back of the chesterfield around him. Swaddles him like a baby.
He grabs a garbage bag from the kitchen and then wheels back to his room. He leans down and scoops a trophy off the floor. A bit of wood, some gold plated plastic in the image of a fighter. He’s about to drop it into the bag and then he stops. Tomorrow they’d all be back out again. Him and the old man would continue their dance, trying to discover the weird alchemy between letting go too early and holding on too long.
I remember that one, the old man says behind him.
He turns around. The old man is leaning against the doorway, like the building itself is the only thing holding him up.
That one was from your first pro circuit, the old man says. That French fighter. You got him on the jaw. First round.
He holds out the trophy and the old man takes it with in two hands, gently, the way you would handle a newborn, or a bomb. The old man shuffles across the carpet and settles on the end of the bed, with a long sigh.
You were so young, the old man says.
I’m not anymore, he says.
He holds the garbage bag out. The old man opens his mouth and closes it again. He nods. He drops the trophy into the bag and sighs again.
He grabs another souvenir off the dresser, this one heavy enough to bludgeon someone to death. He passes it to the old man, his eyes lighting up with recognition as he turns it over in his hands.
This one, he says, Oh.
Into the bag it goes, too. And then the next one. This one. That one. That day. Those times. The old man remembers something about each of them. Into the bag, one after the other they cast the junk, but some of the stories linger. They’d try to carry a bit of that light with them into tomorrow.