A glove nicked Joe the Albino's nose. He backed into the ropes, then lunged into his opponent's arms. From somewhere in the crowd, a flashlight shined straight at him. His pupils spread, petals in the sun. He stood at the core of the solar system until the glove found his jaw.
There would be no lover to kiss his swollen face, no friend to tell him don't quit now, no manager to say forget the knockout until tomorrow. Instead, his love affairs were fantasized, his friend anyone who stared for one second and not thirty, his manager borrowed from another fighter at a per-fight rate. He reminded himself the man who stood above was crazy. Will Tisch had once bitten off an opponent's finger. It was later sold on E-Bay. But the sportswriters said Tisch was all right now, thanks to medication.
"Get up. What-choo waitin' for, Casper?"
Joe checked the freezer for ice, then recalled that he had decided the previous night to leave the trays empty, forcing himself to avoid the usual facial damage. It was another failed gimmick he would add to his pile of subliminal tapes, sports psychology books, Zen tracts, prayer beads. One implement remained which might do him some good when it came to violence.
On the way to Tisch's house, he knew he was not the kind of man to carry a gun. He said, "You won't do it, chickenshit. White as a ghost in more ways than one. Just run, like you always do, coward. Ain't you sick of getting clocked just to prove the opposite?"
He climbed out of his car and headed for the house. He saw Tisch between the curtains of the second floor window. Joe almost turned back, but it was too late, Tisch already at the door. A flashlight illuminated the yard.
"Who the hell are you and what do you want? I got dogs in back, guns inside."
The light shined on Joe's face, blinding him again.
"Please," Joe said.
"You?" Tisch switched off the flashlight and waved Joe inside. "Come on, then -- except I got nothing to say. I won, that's all."
Tisch helped Joe inside and directed him to the couch. "You cold?"
"Then why the hell you got your hands in your pockets?"
Joe showed his hands, hoping the gun wouldn't tumble out of his pocket.
"Yeah, okay, but what's in your pocket?"
Before Joe could stop him, Tisch grabbed the gun, the flashlight in his other hand.
"Son of a bitch, you paranoid, too? Every time I get suspicious, turns out I'm right. That's why I skip the pills lately. This thing loaded?"
"I'll be goddamned." He slipped the gun back into Joe's palm. "You ain't gonna shoot me, are you?"
Joe lazily pointed the gun at Tisch.
"Ain't you got no brains between those ears?" Tisch pushed the gun aside. "Thinking about killing yourself? You and me got sent down here in bad shape, true, but what business we got imagining it gets better when we die?"
Joe turned the gun back toward Tisch's head.
"Put that thing down. Don't make me get up again. I'm thirty-four years old. Tired. Dog tired. Dog years. What the hell you boxing for, anyway? Give me that gun. You think you got problems? You got bad skin, that's all. I got a bad mind. Something-something, they call it. Oh, Christ, stop crying. I can't stand that sound. I knew this was gonna happen, that something like this would-- why you crying like that when I said stop? You think I'm kidding? I ain't kidding. Give me that gun."
Joe relaxed his grip. He felt the gun slip out of his hand, the barrel touch his chest.
"Goddamn it, I was gonna change my mind, fight fair, get that flashlight back, but then I changed my mind again. Too late anyway 'cause the guy already had the flashlight. I wonder what you saw in the light? Looked like a showroom dummy, all froze up."
"Let me hold the flashlight."
"Huh? Here, take it. Why?"
Joe turned the flashlight on himself.
"Turn that off, Joe. Turn that fucking light off."
But Joe was in heaven, possibly hell; he wasn't sure he'd know the difference.
"Your goddamn head's on fire. Turn it off. Take those wings off. Why you swooping? Why you swooping down?" He dropped the gun. "All right, motherfucker, I'll fly with you."
He crawled beside Joe and made angel wings in the snow of the white carpet shag. Like geese, they made their way toward the sun. Both would return home, but instinct had erased that knowledge.