Letting Life Lead
Inez’s thoughts lingered for days on the incident at dinner. Nothing soothed and the embarrassment remained fresh. Workouts at the gym offered little comfort, but the routine she hoped would, at least, provide her with something productive to do. Leather, sweat, musk, and old deodorant offered familiar olfactory comforts as she wrapped her hands in a long strip of red cotton. The old ventilation system clanked and wheezed. She paid little attention to the grunts from the sparring ring, the tap-tip-tap of the jump ropes, and the clang of the free weights. Friendly interaction or mutual skill exchanges were not on the agenda. The faint joint aches in her arms came and went, but today fatigue usurped the pains. Inez adjusted the height of the speed bag until its belly taunted her chin, blew a long centering breath from her lungs and readied her stance.
“I’d like to see the other guy.”
Inez turned to the baritone rumble. She’d forgotten about the three-color shiner below her eye and the split lip. She thought she might dress up her response with a good-natured quip, a wise remark, or perhaps an appropriate finger motion, but she could barely muster a lackluster, “I’m not in the mood, Ben.” The other guy had been a fool’s lack of judgment and she paid with bruises, but the surge of panic kept her alert long enough to triumph.
“If you got troubles, all of us got your back.”
Ben motioned to the bruises she’d come in with.
“It’s not what you think.”
The active noises of the half-dozen late-night regulars stilled, their eyes bored into her back, and she let her hands drop to her sides. As she turned her head to round the room with a few choice phrases, her nose smacked into a handled paper bag held aloft by Ben who had not been swayed. Inez took it, detected the hints of new leather, and peered inside after removing the sparkle tissue paper. She found a fine pair of black boxing shoes with white stripes.
“From all us guys. You deserve it,” he said with a nod and returned to his workout with a medicine ball. The others, too, attended to their business acknowledging with a grin only if she happened to catch their eye. The right fit and feel from the shoes lifted her spirits, but the burden felt heavy. Inez licked her lip until it stung and turned her attentions back to the bag. She beat it on the odd count with her left hand for the trouble she created for herself with every passing minute and punished it with her right for the rash decisions she’d made since the summer. They had created a tiny time of enchantment with their gift. She pounded the bag on the rebound. Long after the last breath passed the lips of their great-grandchildren and their faces became unknowable, she would remember the damned shoes. The bag chain rattled. Inez wiped the sweat from her eyes and wandered to the ring where her gym brothers waited for her to test out her new footwear.
The taunts and shouts fired up the adrenaline. Inez stood even height with her opponent who outweighed her by ten pounds, but she had the speed advantage. As long as she could dodge and exploit openings in his power hits she could wear him down. They collided kicks, circled the mat, bounced forward and away, each looking for an opportunity. They’d sparred before and he was cautious of letting her too close to grapple, and Inez kept mindful of the power of his punches and the force in his knees. Gear padding absorbed the blows, but they both kept control only conscious of each other, their breaths, the vocalizations of contact, and the slap of their skin when flesh met flesh. A right jab bloodied his nose, but he managed to evade her attempts to finish the match with a counter attack that caught Inez off guard. She reeled and rivulets of blood poured down her face from the cut above her eyebrow. Inez hadn’t seen it coming. They sat next to each other on a bench — one with cotton up his nose and the other applying pressure to the cut with cotton gauze. They touched gloves, and that was all.
There's comedic gold behind every painful experience. Here are mine.
playing by my own rules
We take the heat 'cause we gotta eat.
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