They wanted me to drop in the fifth. Catch one; legs limp. Down. The referee counting from one to ten, looking at me questioningly, you getting up Kid? Abraham Lincoln in the front row, blood on his shirt, beer on his feet. Someone has to be the fall guy. Therese chewing her curls, Michael reviving me. They wanted me to drop in the fifth. Dostoyevsky barely broke into a sweat. The only time he looked uncomfortable was when the tiny blonde displayed the round cards. Saved from the firing squad, at a Siberian prison. Religion. Politics. Existentialism. Dancing from left to right, coming in for the body shot, and then dancing out. He’d beaten down Turgenev; Pushkin wasn’t up for the fight. Left jab, right jab. Thinning hair dripping with sweat. Left jab, right. A gun went off, the crowd hollered, chairs flew. Left jab, right jab, head shot.

The benches started shaking. Tolstoy was carrying too many pounds, resting on old glories. The man next to me, one eye on display the other one hidden, took money out from under an eye-patch and handed it to Joan of Arc. She put it in the greasy palm of Two-fingers Tony, he whispered to the Hot Dog guy. Two Hot Dogs dripping with sauce, a change on the odds for Dostoyevsky to win in the 4th. Left jab, right jab, body shot. Tolstoy stumbled forward. The referee wiped his forehead, pulled the hugging fighters apart.
The bell rang.
Dostoyevsky rested on his stool. Surveyed. I could smell Cigars. Therese played with her curls. Cubans. Brought in by Castro. Placards called for the freedom of Tibet, for Tolstoy in the 6th, cheaper booze and lower rates. The crowd chanted for Tolstoy, someone threw a copy of Anna Karnenina towards Dostoyevsky’s corner. I was rooting for Dostoyevsky. I had read it all. Saw the beauty in Prince Myshkin, the longing in Notes From Underground, the strength of will, the hunger, the greed of Stavorogin, and Rogozhin. Only the greats have power like that, it pulls out your teeth, takes hold of your spine, requests submission from your soul.
The bell rang.
Round Four. Dostoyevsky got straight up from his stool. Tolstoy, the younger man, dragged his feet towards the middle of the ring. The crowd created electricity; they could have burst into flames. Joan of Arc struggled with her hot dog, Two-Fingers Tony with a can of coke. Left Jab, right jab, shot to the head. Hugging. The ref pulled them apart. Right jab, right jab, Tolstoy against the ropes, gloves protecting the face, right jab to the head, left hook to the body.
One.
His body looked deflated.
Two.
Legs searched for answers.
Three.
The air forced out with a left hook.
Four.
The crowd in unison, vile, bile, spat out.
Five.
I was supposed to go down in the fifth.
Six.
Blood popped in veins.
Seven.
Skin tingled.
Eight.
Tolstoy dragged himself up to one knee.
Nine.
Betting slips rained down from above.
Ten.
Dostoyevsky won in the fourth. I was supposed to go down in the fifth.
We headed straight for the dressing room. Snake skin shoes, tapped against a concrete pillar. A brown suit swallowed up tiny limbs, an almond shirt, gold chains, crucifix, and chest hair.
‘Remember, Choules, the fifth.’
‘Tell the whole world.’
A hand, coarse, clammy, gripped my arm, made my skin crawl, my soul shout.
‘You just make sure you do what you’re told. You dig me Mean Jean.’
‘Don’t ever touch me again.’
He swept his hair over his bald patch. Teeth dripped with decay and nicotine. I walked the corridor, past Hollywood Hogan, Babe Ruth, Howlin Wolf. Dylan and Robbie singing songs. Therese’s hand felt tiny in mine, her breasts distracted, demanded I interacted. I was supposed to go down in the fifth. She pulled on my arm, nodded to the left, there he was, the beast, Bukowski. His big hands being taped, big, huge hands, that typed the world as you had always feared. Revealed it just as you believed it to be, mad, beautiful, wonderful, totally unforgiving. He laughed at it. Toasted it.
My mother was in the changing room waiting. My two sisters were with her.
‘You shouldn’t have been out there, Reecey,’ Mother said.
‘Why?’
‘Therese why did you let him go out there?’
‘Mum?’
‘Don’t go changing your mind. We need this, down in the fifth baby.’
‘He knows Linda.’
‘Don’t talk to our mother like that,’ said my sisters.
‘Therese can say what she wants in here.’
‘Not to our Mother,’ they said.
‘If you don’t like it then you can get out.’
‘Mum,’ they said.
‘Honey why are you being like this?’
‘Maybe I don’t wanna take a dive.’
‘Honey, what are you saying to me? Did I do something? All your life you wanted a shot. I got you a shot.’
‘Therese, where’s Michael.’
‘He’s here, baby.’
‘Reece Choules, you tell me why you don’t want a shot. Tell your Mother what she has done that is so bad.’
‘Please. Just go.’
‘Honey.’
‘You heard him, Linda.’
‘Therese, honey, this is between a mother and her son.’
‘Mum, just go. Please.’
Therese sat there looking at me. I couldn’t figure if she was mad or not. I heard the changing room door open, the roar from outside briefly.
Silence.
The door opened again. I could hear his heavy breathing, his cape dragging along the floor behind him. Then he was there. Snake skin shoes tapping behind, mindful not to step on the cape.
‘I came to wish you good luck.’
‘I can’t do it.’
‘What is this you say to me?’
‘Mr Cervantes…’
‘No lies, Senor Choolez.’
‘Mr. Cervantes.’
‘I say no lies. What happened? Forget my offer?’
‘No.’
‘What? Pride? Glory? Please tell Cervantes.’
‘What do you want me to say?’
‘I want you to say, “Senor Cervantes, I am going to drop in the fifth.”’
‘I can’t.’
Cervantes nodded, stepped to his left. Snake came forward. He grabbed me by the balls. Squeezed. Pain rose up into my stomach. Michael stepped forward. I shook my head. My jaw clenched. Teeth grinding. Snake’s grip got tighter; decaying teeth peaked out from behind cracked lips. I punched him in the face; he fell to the floor holding his mouth. His bloody hand reached into his pocket, took out a handkerchief.
‘You’re gonna pay for that kid.’
‘Enough. Reece understand you I do not. You spit on me. You spit on Cervantes.’
Snake got back to his feet. Tucked his shirt back in.
‘Mr. Cervantes.’
‘Say you’ll drop in the fifth.’
‘I…’
‘The fifth.’
‘If I don’t..?’
‘Do not fill your mind with such things. You will drop in the fifth.’
‘Mr. Cervantes.’
‘Look, it works like this. I can give you Picador, Vintage, Penguin. But you gotta drop in da fifth. K?’
‘O.K.’
‘Friends? Yes. The fifth. The fifth makes Cervantes how you say a O.K.’
He turned and walked out of the room, his cape sweeping the floor behind. Snake stood there looking at Therese, his eyes working his away around her breasts and down to the thighs. His breath close enough to be smelt. She didn’t look at him. He looked back at me and winked.
‘Hey kid, can I ask you a question?’
‘What?’
‘Does she go down easier than you?’
Before I had the chance to say anything Therese slammed her fist down hard into his groin. He let out this feeble dog like yelp. The veins in his head grouped together, the skin turned slowly into a deep shade of beetroot. He fell to his knees. Come Julio called Cervantes and clapped his hands. Julio dragged himself to his feet and slithered out.
Therese sat in one of the chairs. I was thinking about getting her home, going to Acapulco. I knew I couldn’t drop in the fifth, but what Cervantes was offering was all I had ever wanted. I had worked hard, slogged it out. Hours spent training on my own, by the table lamp, next to the heater in fingerless gloves. I had educated myself, read what needed to be read. I had gotten nowhere, but the fire was still burning. I had watched every writer with some clever sentences but no real passion getting published. Writers like Sally Jones, fake background, fake tales of San Francisco, fake spirituality, spouting tales of hardship, pretending to be one of us. Mathew Bojangles, Mr to his friends. His fantasy realism made me want to rip out my heart and send it to his publisher with a note that read ‘Hey I just read your gibbons book. My senses were so disgusted my heart stopped. Yours sincerely a proper writer.’ Worst of all though had to be Simon Jays. Every word of his dripped with cheese and pretension. I read his novel Summer Time With Ulysses In Mind twice. The first time I thought it was a joke, he couldn’t have been saying what I thought he was saying, it would have just been too ridiculous. When I read it a second time I realised he was saying it and he meant it. I almost gave up there and then; there I was publishing deal on the table, and I didn’t want it. I wanted to take on my hero and knock him down. It was the job of the young to beat the old. Faulkner got it when he said of the young writer ‘No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.’
My hands were being strapped. I could hear Dylan and Robbie. I got Therese to invite them in. There he stood, Rolling Thunder face paint, an acoustic guitar.
‘Hey Kid, you nervous?’
‘I gotta knock out him, Bob.’
‘Kid, I’ve seen what you’ve got and I am gonna tell you what Gorgeous George once told me “Kid you’re making it come alive.”  Just go out there heavy and a bottle of bread. You dig?’
‘Yeah, too much of nothing right?’
‘Makes a man ill at ease kid.’
He stood there looking at me, and I knew I couldn’t take a dive. I couldn’t roll over.
The bell rang.
It was time. Michael put my gloves on. The corridor was full of photographers, girls with old men, clichés. Dylan and Robbie escorted me to the ring. The crowd chanted Bukowski’s name. Popcorn and Hot Dogs were thrown in my direction. I could see the old man in the ring. Acne scarred face, ill-fitting shorts, grey hair greased back. Cervantes was in the front row; Snake sat behind. My mother was close by. She smiled a desperate pleading smile. The old man was in his corner, eye balling me. I had to knock him down. Had to claim my time.
The bell rang.
Round One.
He came straight for me. Big hands jabbing and probing. I kept my feet moving, had to tire the old bastard out. He jabbed with his right, looked for the knockout left. I kept on my toes. He caught air, caught shadows. Some men catch fire others catch nothing at all, I had to catch Bukowski. Money didn’t matter; I had to knock this guy out. I kept him at bay for the rest of the round. Took his best shots. I was made of stone, late nights, and bitter pills, I wasn’t dropping in the fifth.
The bell rang.
The old man looked tired on his stool. His mind seemed elsewhere, in the toilet, in the changing room, with his broad from the night before. I felt like I had him. Michael rubbed my shoulders. Therese blew kisses that I caught clean on the face. Cervantes looked my way, his hands together as if praying, blank face. He nodded. Snake sat grinning behind him.
The bell rang.
Round Two.
Bukowski worked his right looking to open it up for the left, constantly probing, looking for an insight, a hole in my soul. I threw lefts at him, caught him in the face. He looked like a lobster waiting for the cook, a man of no faith reading between the lines in the good book. He started trash talking. Asked how long it was, if I knew where to put it. Said I looked more dead than alive, a sick man, well past twenty-five.
I knew I had him. He asked me if I hit my woman this way. I dropped him. Clean shot in the face. He staggered back to his feet by the count of six. The Executioner hollered. I caught him with lefts and rights. He took a swing. Missed. Lost his footing. I caught him clean in the gut and again in the face. When he hit the floor the ring shook. The ref started counting down. I knew he wasn’t getting up. The crowd was silent. I leant back on the ropes. The sound of the displeased crowd strangled my mind. I caught Bukowski’s eyes fixed on mine. He smiled. I wasn’t sure why.
Michael was cutting the tape from my hands when Cervantes came in.
‘You make me sad.’
‘What else was I gonna do?’
‘If you don’t do things our way you don’t do them.’
‘That’s the problem.’
‘You’ll never make it in this town. Never make it anywhere. Think you know it all.
Think you have the world sussed. The world doesn’t even know who you are. You are already forgotten. Your train has left the station, by the time the next one comes you will barely remember Cervantes, but you’ll know you should have dropped in the fifth.’
‘Cervantes.’
‘Yes.’
‘Close the door on your way out.’
‘Goodbye, Senor Choolez.’
‘Goodbye, Cervantes.’
I thought about that train as I showered. My body felt heavy. I saw myself as an old man on a rocking chair, a copy of The Idiot in my lap. A box of old photos. The train was coming slow. Faces I knew and faces I was going to know looked out the windows. Blind men rolled a stone over a cave. A boy dropped flowers by a headstone. When the train pulled into the station I saw myself at different stages, different ages, all boarding the train. An old me offered a young me a ticket. We smiled.
I dried off slowly. Put on the suit that Therese had laid out for me. I felt like I had to shake Bukowski’s hand. I headed for his changing room. When I walked in, there they were, Bukowski wearing nothing but a towel and his scars, Cervantes sat smoking a cigar, hands resting on his cane, Snake counting a pile of money. I thought I had won, was leaving with a sense of pride. I had nothing. I hadn’t seen it coming. I thought I’d reached the top but I never left the bottom.
‘What do you want kid?’ said the old man.
‘Everything you got.’

About Reece

Reece Choules is a writer from one of the greater London Suburbs. Graduating in 2012 with a BA in Creative Writing from London Southbank University, he has since become a regular contributor for The Culture Trip, writing articles on literature, film and music.

He has had a number of short stories published in online literary magazines such as Inkapture, Cigale, and The Dying Goose. He has also been published in Litro magazines Dystopia issue. In 2013 he was long listed for the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the Aesthetica Creative writing competition, winning publication in their 2014 Annual.

He was signed by Litro magazines new bespoke literary agency Litro Represents. Currently working on his first novel ‘The Drift’, he is also writing a monthly column for Litro online, titled More Writing About Writing. In 2014 he appeared at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, as part of the Litro Live event.

 

Follow him on Twitter @reecechoules