Parting Gifts

I either forgot to set my alarm that night or I slept through it the next morning. Either way, my day began with Cara shaking my shoulders and telling me, over and over until my brain was finally able to process her words, “We’re going to be late!”

“Alright,” I moaned, “I’m up, I’m up.”

“Are you feeling okay? You look a little green.”

“You’re probably just making me sea sick with all that rattling you were doing,” I told her, sitting up slowly. My bedroom briefly went dark before my dresser and bedside table swam into focus. I checked the time and a garbled curse escaped my lips.

“There’s some breakfast keeping warm in the oven, if you’re up for it,” Cara said, her eyes radiating concern. “You don’t have to walk me to school today; I’ll be okay on my own.”

I told her I was fine, about a dozen times, and she finally left to allow me to get dressed. Even though the pain was still severe the swelling on my hand had gone down significantly, so I was able to squeeze into a long-sleeved shirt and the zipper on my jeans didn’t give me too much trouble. Breakfast consisted of a glass of water and three painkillers and then we were out the door, down to street level, and into the crisp autumn morning.

“You really don’t look so good,” Cara said from underneath her purple and grey toque. “Are you sure you should be leaving today? Maybe you should wait until tom-“

“I’m fine,” I said, more sharply than I had meant to. I saw the hurt in her eyes before she looked away but couldn’t find the strength to apologize, so we walked the rest of the way in silence. At the school gates she gave me a hug I knew I didn’t deserve and wished me luck. I told her I’d give her a call from the hotel and watched as she joined the flow of students into the school, only turning away once she was inside and out of sight.

I returned home to pack for the trip, stuffing three changes of clothes and a few bathroom amenities into a duffle bag that had definitely seen better days. After lengthy consideration the prescription bottles went in the side pocket without me taking any more. All I was feeling at that point was nausea and numbness, and I figured additional pills would help neither of those.

On the way out the door I added a crossword puzzle book, a handful of granola bars, and a framed picture of Cara taken when she was six months old to put in my hotel room. On all of the trips that took me away from her, that photo was my American Express.

By the time I reached Doug & Gary’s the fresh air had lessened my nausea but my head still felt lost in a fog. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to be able to retain from my conversation with Tommy but I knew that I needed to make the effort. I owed Alex at least that much. We sat huddled together on one of the benches positioned against the wall, watching Bomber spar with Nightmare, and I did my best to concentrate.

“You look like hell, Natty.”

“Thanks, Tommy. You look like an animated corpse. Can we get started now?”

“Suit yourself, wise ass. But don’t go keeling over on my watch, you got it?” He actually waited until I nodded my confirmation. “Good. Now, I know for a fact that this is all going to be new to you, seeing as you never listened to a word I said when I was in your corner, so pay attention. Rule number one: never tell your fighter he’s winning the fight. No matter what is happening in the ring, he’s not doing enough to win. The last thing you want is your guy easing up and trying to coast to a judge’s decision.”

“Got it.”

“Rule number two: your number one priority is your man’s safety. If he is outmatched, if he can’t talk to you in complete sentences between rounds, if he doesn’t know what day it is, you throw in that towel. The only ego and pride you have to deal with is his, not your own. A loss is not the end of the world, but it can be if your man’s strategy appears to be to tire out his opponents fists with his head. You’ve seen what happens to guys that took one too many clean shots to the head.”

I nodded and remained silent, my queasiness suddenly fading into the background. I saw Alex slip in the front door and I waved him over before turning back to Tommy.

“That’s pretty much it,” he said, standing up. “Keep him hydrated, shout a few times each round just to let him know he’s not alone in there, and keep an eye out for that tiny adjustment that will win you the fight. Morning Alex, have a seat. I’ll be right back.”

Alex opened his mouth to tell me how terrible I looked but I waved him off. He sat down beside me and we watched Tommy use the wooden railing to haul himself upstairs. I sat perfectly still and tried to focus on my breathing while Alex watched the two men sparring in the ring, his right foot tapping in time with their punches. Just as I was beginning to wonder if Tommy had suffered a heart attack in the stairwell he reappeared, carrying two cardboard boxes in his skinny arms.

“What is this?” I asked as he placed one on Alex’s lap and the other on mine.

“Just a couple presents from the boys,” he replied with a sly smile. “Go ahead, open them up.”

Alex and I exchanged startled looks and then opened our packages in unison. I stared at its contents for at least a minute before I realized that the silence in the room was a result of Bomber and Nightmare stopping to watch us. I looked up to see them leaning on the ropes, wearing matching smiles, and nodded my thanks, unwilling to trust my voice.

“Put it on!” Bomber shouted, so I stood up and pulled the crimson jacket out of its paper wrapping. I admired the white cursive writing on the back that simply said Doug & Gary’s in large letters and Vancouver BC in smaller letters below that, then slipped it on. It fit perfectly. Only then did I think to see what Alex had received.

With a brilliant smile he was holding up a pair of boxing trunks that matched the color of my jacket and had, in the same white font, Doug on one leg and Gary on the other. I could feel my throat constricting with gratitude and I knew Tommy could tell how much it meant to both of us.

“Give ‘em hell, boys,” he said with a slap on each of our shoulders and then returned to his ringside position to yell at Bomber and Nightmare to get back to work.

The End

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