She pays for the fight like everyone else. She waits in the lines for beer, for food, for the washroom. She smiles at the kids running around getting in the way. She laughs at the bad jokes the usher makes. She oohs and ahhs at the bright lights and big screens as she walks into the arena. She does everything so like everyone else. She feels so totally normal.
She doesn’t sit ringside. Not that she can’t afford the tickets. She’s spent years of her life in tanning booths. There has been enough light in her life. She sits a few rows back. A good vantage point to see the whole picture. The lines and shapes of the fighters’ bodies, the morse code rhythm of their fists, the patterns that sweat and blood make on the surface of the mat. She’s still looking for meaning.
She eats popcorn while she waits for the first fight to begin. She imagines her hands, small, darting in and out of the bag, like tiny unseen creatures.
She crumples up the lip of the bag and wipes her fingers under the hem of her skirt. She checks her watch and then out pulls out a pill case, downing the capsules with a sip of beer from her plastic cup. She brushes at her hair. Normal motions.
The first bell rings, surprising her and she starts to rise instinctually. Like some pathway inside her is being retraced. She’s halfway out of her seat before she catches herself. People grumble behind her. She sits back down, slouching. Trying to fold herself up into the smallness of normalcy.
She watches the fight unlike anyone else. There is a strange, leaning interest to her attention. There are small tics to her body, the opening and closing of her hands, the sideways motion of her chin like an arrow-point, the rise and fall of her chest. She is a radio dial trying to tune into an old transmission.
The fights flicker by, one after the other. She watches but she barely registers. They’ve hauled all the old skeletons out of the closet to rattle them against each other. The French fighter, the Sikh, the Spaniard, the King, the Turk, the Russian. One by one, they're all diminished. They all fall down.
She knows these men. She knows them the way a person can only know a lover. The smell and taste of sweat. Pain and jubilation. Shame and glory. The languages of bodies.
She knows these men, or the men they used to be. Their skins have sagged and wrinkled. Years have given or taken away.
She knows these men, but they don’t know her.
The last one falls. The almost hometown boy from Philly. He hits the mat like a bag of sand. None of them had tried that hard. They didn’t want to hurt anyone. Not anymore. The damage had been done. They were like old snakes: all rattle, no venom.
There was going to be a short break before the big fight. The main event. People were already getting up, pushing past her, going to the concession stand or the washroom, going outside for a quick smoke, to stretch their legs. Normal things.
This was normally her spot. Penultimate. Second fiddle. The challenger but never the champ. This is the space she’d fill before the big ticket. This is why she’s come.
She thought there would be something to find in her absence. Something of herself that she was missing that she could get back. But the space she used to occupy is filled by an empty ring. A man with a mop. A bucket of spit.
Just another mess to clean up.
She looks down at her hands. Not darting. Not tiny creatures, but two slabs of meat. The joints bulge where they’ve been broken and rebroken. Her fingers crooked with arthritis. She got old in the wrong body.
Any minute now, people would be streaming back to their seats, cheering as the champ came out of retirement one last time. Maybe he’d win. He might turn back the clock and make everyone remember good and simpler times. But she’s already seen enough of the past to know it’s not a place she can exist.
She slips out through the crash-bar of a side door. It’s a long walk home. She should grab a cab, especially in these heels. That’s what a normal person would do.
Instead she ditches the shoes in a trashcan and starts to walk barefoot back to Flatbush. She has her whole life ahead of her.