Three [A Very Short Story]

When he was asked, he always answered with what he thought was a lie. It never occurred to him to do anything else. The lie popped from his lips automatically, fabrication on automation.

This time it was a reporter for local radio who had clear blue eyes, but he remembered nothing else about her. When she asked the question and he replied with the lie. Then she smiled and asked a follow up, but he was ushered on and he raised a glove to her in salute.

The square circle received him, and though there were spectators he saw little of them. The lights blurred their faces, and they were little more than blobs of grey in the darkness beyond the spotlights glare. He had learned long ago that this was a good thing. He knew that often their cries were just socially accepted bloodlust, no different from the reaction to gladiators from a bygone era. They could only be a distraction, and any distraction would result is his loss.

The Fighter slipped off his robe, blue with gold trim. The trim had originally been a trio of plaited threads that ran around his robe, and down the seam of his shorts. One night he had spent four hours picking off one thread until only two remained. That night his fingers felt raw, and one fingertip bled, but when he saw the duo of gleaming gold remaining he felt far better for it.

He shifted from foot to foot, swinging warm up blows to an imaginary opponent, and thought of his Grandfather laughing at his labour. He shook his arms, and waited. There was no pomp and circumstance here, he had far further up the ladder to climb before that would be a burden. Here there was a darkened gym, the smell of sweat and smoke, and the occasional dark smear of dried blood.

There was a murmur and across the gym a square of light folded open as a door let in his Opponent. He knew the other man’s name, knew his reputation, but he would acknowledge neither. From when the bell rang to when it chimed in the fights conclusion he would acknowledge nothing that marked his opponent as anything more than that; his Opponent.

The Opponent climbed the steps and through the ropes, and the Fighter took an involuntary half-a-step back. There had been a mistake. There was a whisper in his ear and he almost swung out, but caught himself. It was his Second, his words intelligible, the Fighters brain slipping into the familiar flight-or-fight space where words had no meaning. The fighter looked at the Opponent again. Did the man step over the top rope? No, the Fighter clearly remembered him ducking under the third rope. Was he sure about that? He seemed far too tall to have slipped under any of the ropes, far too broad to fit between them.

His Second held out his black gum guard, and he bit down on it. His tongue slid over the slick plastic, and he wriggled his lips until it was slicked with his saliva. He chewed on the guard gently until it sat as it should, and he felt more at home.

It doesn’t matter, the Fighter told himself, and then he told himself his lie.

The referee stepped out of nowhere, waving the men forward, and the Fighter dutifully complied. He didn’t hear the words, he knew where to nod and when to touch gloves. It was ritual, nothing more, and when he looked into his Opponents eyes he saw that they were not blinking from the lofty heights of a giant, but from the height of a normal man.

His heard his Second leave the ring, and three of them remained.

Three people.

The number stung, and – again – he told himself his lie.

He took a step backward and then turned into his corner, only turning his back when he knew he was far from the Opponents reach. There were only seconds now, the last few seconds that would remain coherent before the bell. Then the adrenalin would rush in, and those seconds would degrade from an ordered march into a jumble of moments.

A round lasted three minutes, with a respite of one before another one hundred and eighty of these fragmented seconds – these broken moments – would descend.

Three people died every second, of every moment, of every day. His Grandfathers face flashed before his eyes. One round seeing the final breaths of over five-hundred people. His Grandfathers breath harsh as it rattled through tubes. Twelve rounds, a minute between them.

Forty-seven minutes, two-thousand, eight-hundred and twenty seconds.

Eight-thousand, four-hundred and sixty people gone.

When the first punch hit him, it stung far less than the knowledge that so few lasted the distance.

The Fighter beat the average, four rounds. Nine minutes and thirty-six seconds. Five hundred and seventy-six seconds in all, with no more than fifty of them making any sense. Any plan had evaporated less than a minute in, leaving him at the mercy of his instincts.

Thankfully, the Fighters instincts were good, humans were apex predators for a reason.

The Fighter saw his Opponent favour his left side, it was nothing more than a drop of the glove, a meagre twist of the body as he approached, but it was all the Fighters instincts needed. His mind drew a circle around the second rib up, and with each punch he imagined the rib splintering.

He did not want to win by concession, the proverbial throwing in of the towel, but a win was a win, and the Fighter was not a proud man. Well, that was except for the lie of course, he knew the lie was a matter of pride.

The reporter with the clear blue eyes met him ringside, and this time he noted that her hair was short, shaved along one side in a fetching cut. He did not hear her words, but he knew what was expected of him. As his second busied himself with the Fighters’ split and bruised skin, she asked the question and he told what he thought was his lie.
“Nah,” he said, “life moves too fast to feel afraid.”

posted by Alan Preece
on November, 10

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