He pops the tab on another Tab but doesn’t take a sip. It’s the sound of air escaping, exhumation, that he likes. He likes to hold the can and feel the bubbles rattling against the tin, slowly dying out to nothing. He likes the glug of the syrup down the drain and crushing the can afterward. But he can’t drink the stuff anymore. He lost most of his teeth. And then when he still wouldn’t quit, the diabetes got him.
He puts the can down on the Formica tabletop next to the yellow invitation and the sheets of paper that came with it. He likes the sound it makes, metal on plastic. He never liked the stuff to begin with. He only started drinking it to quit the vodka. And he only started that to get over the anxiety before a fight. He drank to prepare. He spent many years prepared. Now he’s sitting at a table in a dark kitchen in Brighton Beach, still trying to make the reparations for his mistakes. He’s utterly unprepared for it.
Sign the waiver. Fight. Get the cash. That easy.
He picks up the pen. He taps it on the side of the can. Ting ting. He likes the sound. He puts the pen down again.
The kitchen is small. He is still a big man. He has expanded in all the wrong directions after he stopped fighting and he hasn’t yet reached the age where he will start shrinking.
He picks the pen up. Ting ting.
Ring ring. He puts down the pen and answers the phone.
Hi dad, says Sonja.
Hi, he says.
How are you? she says.
Fine, fine, he says.
They speak in small circles like this for a while. She talks about her classes. He doesn’t say much. They keep it light, like stones skipping over the water. She keeps calling him dad, but it only reminds him of how little he’s done to deserve it.
He’s only seen her once since he returned from upstate. They watched the sailboats down in Sheepshead Bay. She wanted to come more, but it was easier to hear her voice. Safer to talk about simple things. They don’t talk about her mother. They don’t talk about his failures as a husband, father and human being. They don’t talk about his last fight. The one out of the ring. The one that ended it all for him. And for the kid too.
It had been one hit. The halflight in the alley. The wet pavement. One hit. The kid slipped. Cement and skull. One sound like a gunshot. One hit, ringing down the years. That easy.
He asks her about her professors. He knows them all by name. He gets her to tell him what she’s learned. Gets her to go through it like he’s a child. Her mind is something precious he is holding cupped in his hands. He will never be able to love her enough.
Dad, she says when they run out of things to say. I was thinking about taking next year off, maybe coming to stay with you.
What? he says. What about school?
She gets quiet. Down the line, he can hear her fiddling with something, maybe knocking a spoon against a cup.
It’s just…. a lot, she says.
He knows this. This is a gap he can fill. He is a big man. A lot is a little space for him to fill.
Don’t worry about it, he says. I’ll take care of it.
Okay, solnyshko moyo.
And he hangs up.
He picks the soda up and downs the whole can. He doesn’t even gag. He didn’t lose his taste for it. He never had it. Same with the rest. No matter how much he drank, much he tried to prepare, he never had a taste for fighting either. It was just easier to hurt than to hold on.
He picks up the pen. Signs. Opens another soda. Cracks his knuckles. Sends his love out like a sailboat across the water. That easy.