A jab, then another. I deflect a left hook with my right shoulder and shuffle back. The drab green closes in on me: ominous jaws like those of an alligator. Such ugly draperies and wall coverings around this nightclub basement! As foreboding as fungi! All of this swallows me. I fall back, unable to breath. Sweat is pouring out. I can’t see. Another pop. A quick jab, then an uppercut. I can’t hear the crowd. Every five seconds goes by like five hours after the eighth round.

When’s the bell?

Today I looked in the mirror at my scarred face. I’m ugly, I said to myself, damned ugly. I never want to be nobody’s pretty boy—no, no, not that—but I’m looking like a monster. My little niece is scared of me. Calls me the boogieman. Now that’s ugly. My old man wanted me to join the Marines. So what did I do after graduation? I joined a boxing gym and got a job delivering pizza. Now I’m a nickel-and-dime boxer fighting these fourth-rate venues. I’ll never be rich, no, not by a longshot; not even locally famous. At least some of the regulars I deliver pizza to know my name. Maybe I’ll still join the Marines.
Tiger Taylor takes a jab and counters with a hook. I move my head right, then left, then in a circles. Head movement’s not for defense, it’s for offense. My hands free, I hit him with two quick jabs and an uppercut. This heavyweight’s wily and experienced. So is he, but he’s petering out, sounding like a locomotive. He falls back, on the ropes. I shuffle quickly in and start jabbing a fusillade of jabs, then smash him with a right hook and a left uppercut. He falls back, caught by the ropes.

The bell rings.

Another five or ten seconds and it would’ve been a KO, at least a TKO.

“Where’s your energy?” my trainer, Rollin’ Joe Thigpen yells as I sit on my stool in the red corner. “What’s happening to you? You’ve gotta get your breathin’ down better, boy! In through your nose, out through your mouth. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Got it? Simple’s that. He’s taller and has reach. Don’t let him in. Don’t let—”

The bell rings.

I languidly take small shuffles. I try to conserve as much energy as I can. I see Rollin’ Joe yelling something, waving his arms around, but I can’t hear. Later in the round I’ll finish Tiger Taylor. He charges like angry bullock, but he’s out of control and clumsy. I smash him with a right hook and a left uppercut. Those green walls are so ugly and menacing! I can hear the crowd, sounding like demons. Oh, I look so damned ugly! Nothing but scar tissue and bruises covering old scabs! He’s moving around like a ruptured gorilla. The good thing about heavyweights is they slumber. Lighter-weight boxers jump around like schizophrenics on methamphetamine.

I pop Taylor with a combination of three quick jabs, rolling my head out of the way when he fires a strong right hook. My hair’s even thinning! I’m only 28 and I’m going bald! What in the hell’s the matter? The girls from work are here. That redhead I’m crazy about might have shown up, too. I don’t know. I hope so. The shouts from ringside sound like inimical crows feeding on fermented corn in a muddy field. These spectators are as nasty as those drapes and wall coverings. My car has over 100,000 miles on it. It’s a beater and so am I. It’s so damned hard making a buck these days. I’m doing this for extra cash? I could get killed by one of these monsters! Tiger Taylor’s gaining strength and energy. I’ve got to thwart this. I shuffle in, jab him with the old 1-2 and then get in a good uppercut. He falls against the ropes and I charge like a snapping police dog. I’m ready to finish him—

The bell rings.

“Why’d you wait so long to start fighting? You gotta end this in the tenth. It can’t go any longer. What’s set is set. I don’t know what’s happenin’ here, but it’s not `sposed to!” Rollin’ Joe yells, his dark purple lips and onyx face snarling at me as I try to relax on that stupid little stool. All I see is black and feldgrau.

The bell rings.

Why did I get a black manager and why’d I join a black gym? I’m Irish, for chrissakes! Tiger Taylor shuffles slowly around the ring, looking like a big wet dog that’s spent a week in the woods. He’s tired and dazed. Probably couldn’t fight a bag lady now. Ten seconds into the tenth and it feels like ten hours since the bell. Too much hair loss! Too many scars! Those poor girls at work have to see my abominable phiz? Tiger Taylor shuffles in, managing a scowl over his lips, his pearly whites clenched onto an orange mouthguard. Purple lips, glistening black skin, traces of red blood oozing in little rivulets down his face. A cut above his right eye. He’s ugly. No man his age should be that ugly. What’s he, 25 or 26? But I’m uglier, if there are degrees of ugliness.

Tiger Taylor takes his last bit of stamina and starts swinging erratically, like a farm boy slinging mud against a barn, hoping some of it sticks. I dodge most of this barrage of banal blows just by ducking and moving my head back and forth. With both hands free, I wait for an opening and with Tiger out of steam, all his lottery tickets scratched, he’s left wide open. I hit him with three jabs. Then a right hook and an uppercut.

He tumbles like a felled tree.

All I see is hideous dark green.

Nothing’s won.


Sam Vargo has written poetry and short stories for print and online literary magazines, university journals and a few commercial magazines. He worked most of his adult life as a newspaper reporter, and was fiction editor of Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, for 12 years. A collection of his short stories, Electric Onion Head and the Rotating Cyclops of the Month, was published by Literary Road and had a web presence for five years. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Connecticut Review, Late Knocking, Ohio Teachers Write, Word Riot, and other presses and literary journals.