You think, “Sugar.”
Ringside, you found the name. You had won your tenth consecutive bout; the crowd celebrated, whooped, hollered as you sat in your corner, thinking about the match—that sick left hook, the throbbing pain in your side. Then, you heard her voice. “Hey, you’re sweet as sugar,” she whispered in one ear. Blinded by a stream of camera flashes and a swollen eye, you never saw her face. You heard her voice. Did you imagine her warm breath against your neck? Later, you asked around. No one could remember seeing her.
After the match, her voice found you. You began dreaming of punches in slow motion—clever bolo shots, calculated jabs, devastating uppercuts in sweeping gestures. In these dreams, the record’s static would play. Soon after, you would hear the sound of her lilting voice. Limbs amid their brutal dance, you heard her—gentle yet strong, deep yet floating. “Sugar Ray. Sugar, Sugar Ray.”
It has been ten years since you last heard this voice and its melody. You often hum to yourself, but it never sounds true. What has happened? Ten years ago, you put down your gloves. You sold your flamingo-pink Cadillac. You broke up your—what did the French call it? —entourage. Ten years ago, you stopped dreaming. You stopped dreaming of the ring. You have not hit a man since.
Now, stand before the mirror and look. Hold your fists before you, bend at the knees. Jab, dodge, jab, smile, dance. Dance, Sugar! And dream. The crowd’s yell, knuckles upon bone, the blood-spattered canvas. There. “Sugar, Sugar Ray…” the sweet voice sings.
What did Sugar dream when he dreamt of killing Jimmy? Did he dream their entire match from the first bell? The referee’s downward gesture, the brutish faces around the ring, the hot light against his shoulders. One round in, the bloody ropes; the next, Jimmy’s buckling knees. Soon after, the left hook that leaves Jimmy floored. Followed by a pause—the silent crowd begins to murmur. Sugar lowers his arms, stares over his shoulder. Then, a flurry of urgent shouting. Lost midst a dream’s darkness, he only makes out the doctor’s telling hands. Sugar jolts awake; he stares at the ceiling.
Or did he dream in symbols? A tree felled by a gleaming ax, the hare caught between the wolf’s hungry jaws, an eclipse as the moon is pulled by lasso, then fixed permanently to rest before the sun.
But Sugar was a dancer. Perhaps, he dreamed a dance: a duet never before performed. The music races towards the climax and as the dance quickens, Jimmy stumbles. He breathes heavily, rests his arms upon his knees, and eventually collapses as the trumpet solo blares forth. While Jimmy’s breath slowly leaves his body, Sugar’s feet continue to tap, strike the floor with great precision. “Breathe, Jimmy,” Sugar whispers.
Sugar looks over his shoulder, turns the rest of his body. He walks toward his opponent, toward his dream. He looks into lifeless eyes that had moments before watched his own fists expand larger than life-size. Jimmy Doyle is pronounced dead. The body is carried through the ropes.
Sugar, must you dance so furious a beat?
Sharkey’s stags are made of clay. So is the ref. The crowd too—clay heads peer over the ring’s apron; above, gray cigar smoke wraps halos.
At this point, the heads are still, intent, all men. The businessman tabs dollars on his fingers. The postman notices an envelope in his sleeve, tucks it inside his pocket. The brick worker brushes dried mortar from his shirt.
The stags step out from their corners. Now, the heads turn grotesque, contorted; some force sculpts their brows downward, pulls their jaws high, impels howls and whoops. The stags meet each other with equal blows.
The heads enact their ordinary routines. When the stags clash, they twist and cheer. For some, the deafening impact of a body sent to the canvas seems to evoke joyous memories; they recall the home team’s 9th inning comeback, swimming nude by moonlight, the confession of love when first reciprocated, a kiss from a long time ago. They leap, wave empty fists, cheer in unison. For others—supporters of the prostrate stag—the ground seems to have crumbled beneath them; they mourn. Cursing their luck, they slam their foreheads into the ring’s apron. Dents and furrows form. The stag rises on the 8 count. The fight continues.
At the ring’s center, the stags press close, hold each other, cease swinging. One rests his head upon the other’s shoulder. They breathe deeply. Sweat and blood form creeks down their mountains of muscle. Ringside, a judge drops his pen, the heads silence. The referee only watches. The wheezing of broken ribs, their heavy breath.
What turns clay to marble?
You are driving your dad to his workplace. Now that it is winter, the sun sets early; you can see it peek through the rear-view window. You remember when you sat in the passenger seat with your father driving on this same sloping road and that same warm light blinding you as you pounded a baseball into a worn-out, black glove. The baseball’s red stitching is falling apart. An old CD hums through the car.
You say goodbye to your father; through the car window, he looks you in the eye. You make sure to look him in the eye. You have never been good at that. He smiles, walks into his workplace. You drive off. You seem to make every green light. You reach your destination and park. In the glove compartment, you find a tin of Wintergreen Altoids. You toss three into your mouth, swallow.
You walk into the concert hall and look around. You look down at your watch when you hear her call your name. You spin around, bumping into her. You apologize as she laughs. When you sit down next to her, you breathe. You talk about the program and the day. You notice the lights dim, the audience quiet, the performers appear. You watch the show proceed. You laugh at the joker, you cry at the heartbreak. When she rests her head on your shoulder, you turn your head sideways, slightly down to see her – her pale skin, her green-brown eyes, her long, dark hair.
You are standing on top of a hill behind a monastery that overlooks the city where you have both lived your lives to this point. She is standing at your right. You tell her that there are usually not so many stars. She looks up at them. You point at the bats zigzagging across the purple sky above you. She turns toward you. You embrace her.
My family’s property once enjoyed a forest to the west. As a child, I learned to hunt there. Deer, elk, wild boar, all beasts I found. Since then, the trees of this forest have been cut down. You will only find deer now. A doe and her young—the white speckles of their fur, their timid eyes. Or the wandering buck—his massive chest, the crowns of his antlers.
On my first shot, I killed a bird in flight. My father had said, “Aim and do not miss.” I walked slowly to retrieve my prize. There, under the August sun, the tall grass had splayed from the fall, formed a nest. At the nest’s center, the bird’s distorted body heaved; its beak slowly opened, tensed, closed shut. Kaputt.
This stillness is what I now know. Stillness that I have inflicted, reveled in; each victory memorialized by a silver cup. Perhaps you think this is wrong. But death is not so bad. This darkness has fulfilled my longing for solitude, the reliving of simple pleasures—a good steed racing beneath you, gymnastics competitions, long afternoon walks with dear Ilse in the shade of our forest. In Germany, I will be mourned as a hero. I have only excelled in the art of killing.
Enough from a dead man. Jagdgeschwader 1 sends their regards. They will avenge me; expect the fury of ten jastas, 50 Fokkers showering lead upon your red, wooden structure. One day in the near future, you will turn back and see the white of my brothers’ mad eyes as they descend from cloud cover. You will feel the trembling of your heart. Then, you will weep. You are a dead dog, lieber Snoopy.
Dein Manfred Richtofen,
The Red Baron