Underdog

OK, this is the last of the stories I have planned for the universe which has featured in these Wednesday posts thus far this year. This one is set before the last two and is quite different. There is essentially no mention of technology whatsoever. Not sure whether that really qualifies it as a Sci-Fi story but it is set in the future, so maybe. Anyway, it’s the story of a man who as the title says is an underdog. Not going to say anything more than that other than its about 9,600 words long and, hope you like it!

A heavy fist swings and connects with Dion’s head. It’s landed quite a bit higher than it was meant to but the desired affect is much the same.

Dion staggers back. He’s dripping with sweat, tired, vision doubled and struggling to stay on his feet. Somehow the six foot one man with a shaved head and brown eyes manages it. Still, it is evident he is waning. It won’t be too long before he won’t be capable of saving himself from the mat. Fully aware of this he shakes his head. He has vain hopes of clearing at least some degree of his blurred vision. It doesn’t really work but luckily his opponent, Dion can’t remember the man’s name, isn’t pushing the attack. Instead, he’s waiting. It could be because he thinks Dion won’t last more than a few seconds, and that he’ll go down anyway, handing them the victory. That isn’t what Dion wants at all but at forty he’s getting a bit too old to take the kind of punishment that he used to when he was younger.

You see, Dion has been fighting for most of his life, since he was fifteen to be exact. He dropped out of school at twelve. Was one of the neighbourhood kids who might as well have not had parents. They didn’t care, didn’t even notice he no longer did homework. Hell, he doubts they noticed when he stopped coming home. Certainly there had been no attempts made to find him. To return him to those whose blood runs through his veins. He wasn’t surprised. Still isn’t. Not that he thinks about those days much anymore. There isn’t much reason too.

After he dropped out of school he ran with some of the other kids whose parents didn’t care. They committed petty crimes to keep themselves afloat. None of the crimes were major or violent. For the most part they tried to ensure no one knew what they were doing. It was easier that way. Doing that allowed for clean getaways, on bikes, because they were too young to try boosting cars, they thought. Plus, it was decided the risk wasn’t worth the gain when it came to boosting. Especially as they’d seen the sort of heat it could and would bring. And none of them wanted to end up behind bars, whether it be juvie or actual prison.

The only reason Dion stopped stealing is because he fell into fighting. It can’t be called boxing, not really, though it does almost exclusively involve using your fists. It’s bare-knuckle. Not regulated or sanctioned in any manner. Yet, there is no arguing that it saved Dion. His friends didn’t partake. They continued their criminal actions.

By fourteen he’d heard they were all inside and it was proof he’d chosen a better path. Sadly, while he might have been a fighter for the best part of a quarter century that does not mean Dion has ever won. He hasn’t. He is the utterly defeated.

In the early days it was the only way he could make money because ‘agents’ only wanted their fighter to win and so would pay sizable amounts for Dion, and others, who didin’t have names and reps to throw their fight. So that is exactly what he did. He had little choice in the matter, and his coach didn’t like it, but he had to make money, to pay to live. If throwing was the only way he could do that then he thought, so be it.

Unfortunately, the longer he threw, and became known for his inability to win, the better the calibre of fighter he faced until the day he couldn’t beat his opponents even if he wanted to. It’s because by that time they were so good, so used to fighting because of the confidence they’d gained, Dion didn’t stand a chance. And he couldn’t escape the mindset that he’d made himself a loser. A well compensated loser but a loser nonetheless.

Fast forward to today and Dion is simply too old. He should’ve retired. He’s no match for the guys he’s fighting. Most of them are almost half his age. The rest are not even that. Problem is fighting is all he knows. It’s all he can do. That is how he feels, what he believes and so he refuses to stop. If he did it wouldn’t change the reality that he has bills to pay and this the only way he knows how to ensure he covers them. Getting into debt doesn’t sound like his idea of a good life. He’s seen what it does to people. What happens, and not just the stress, but homelessness, desperation.

Vision a little clearer, Dion throws a punch. It misses, having sliced a section of air far from where his opponent had been. And for his efforts he is met with a quick jab to the face. His head recoils. He blinks, blood trickles from his nose, then he begins to topple backward.

Dion doesn’t throw fights anymore. The practice ended when he passed his ‘prime’ several years back. Now he takes whatever cut he is owed. It’s small, but enough. Though, no one bets on him, not really. He’s far too renowned for having never won and it hangs over him like a curse. The worst part is, the more he tries the worse he seems to do. He doesn’t get it. It’s as if he’s become a cosmic joke. As if the universe thinks he should fail endlessly, much like it seemed humanity would during the five centuries of suffering when it almost succumbed, a number of times, to extinction. If Dion had been born during that era it is clear the world would have eaten him alive and spat out his bones. It’s what some of the patrons mutter to one another when they think he can’t hear, but he can.

Against the ropes and unable to move, for reasons he cannot comprehend, the old fighter is forced to watch, dazed, as his opponent lines up and readies to strike the final blow. Defeat is, yet again, secured. It’s as if it was written in the stars. Dion tries to look up as though he’ll see stars. He won’t and his eyes offer no response, much like the rest of his body. He’s a passenger now. It won’t change the pain he feels and will feel when…

The blow lands, striking Dion square in the jaw. His head snaps under the might of the hit to his left. Spittle flies from his mouth, his gum shield following closely behind. Both soar through the air in a wide arch. Dion never sees where they land for he blacks out.

His body crumples to the mat with a thud. Cheers erupt from all around. Everyone else wins. Their winnings will be meagre for the odds are in the winners favour. They always are when Dion fights, but no one ever seems to mind much.

Rushing over to the heap of a body which is Dion, his coach Bernie breaks and waves a menthol stick under the KO’d man’s nose. It’s all he has to rouse his defeated fighter.

“Come on Di, come on. Don’t quit on me now. I don’t wanna bury nobody today.” A few light slaps are added to the process of trying to rouse Dion from unconsciousness. It works and Dion’s eyes flutter open what feels like a long few seconds later.

His face is swollen mainly on one side with blood having made streams, jagged and random, down and across where it could. He looks rough but he’s alive.

The defeated fighter without a single win in his life looks at his coach as best he can and studies that old wrinkled face with its white hair and deep furrowed brow of concern.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” The old man asks showing three fingers.

The response is a shake of the head. It casts some blood free of its course down Dion’s face. The fighter tries to speak but can’t. His jaw feels off. It’s not broken, he knows that much. If it were it would feel very different. His guess is that it is swollen but Bernie is not going to stop with that look until he replies and so he raises three fingers.

“Shit Di, you have to stop this, before you…” The coach trails off when he catches sight of the look in Dion’s eyes. It’s the look he always has when Bernie starts to suggest he retire because he doesn’t want to hear it.

As always, and against his better judgement, the old man quits his efforts, says no more on the matter. They’ll only fall on deaf ears, he knows. It’s why he instead busies himself with fixing Dion up. It won’t take much. A few packs to ease the swelling and some skin staples for the cuts to his face. He won’t be pretty. But then Bernie isn’t sure if Dion has ever been pretty, at least not since becoming a fighter. Yet doing this will at least ensure that he doesn’t look like a monster, swollen and deformed.

Cheers continue to echo all around the venue which is a square building, nestled under some elevated road sections in an old part of the city of Parnice.

Trying to ignore it but no longer feeling able to Dion feels a need to spit and so he does. Thankfully only Bernie sees it. If anyone else did they might take it as disapproval of the result. That, however, isn’t at all why he’s spat. Bluntly speaking, it is because of the blood in his mouth. He hates the taste of it. Enough has slide down his gullet as is and he is not inclined to swallow any more than he has thus far while his opponent bounces out of the ring, having finished his showboating on the ropes, and is swarmed by the audience.

Unknowingly, the defeated forty year old lying on his side on the mat breathes a heavy sigh. For once, Dion wishes he could be that man, the victor. It isn’t much to ask for he doesn’t think. Though, he is fully aware it is unlikely to ever come.

Winces of discomfort fire across his face as Bernie staples his wounds shut. The reaction is reflexive, nothing more. He’s had so many of the staples punched into his face over the years he pays no attention to them now, much like he pays no attention to the blood on his face or the swelling. Thankfully, both are greatly diminished. The swelling due to the chilling packs which have been pressed against the side of his face where it had been at its worst. Meanwhile, the blood was cleared purely due to the efforts undertaken by Bernie to patch Dion up. It wasn’t purposeful, just inevitable.

“Done the best I can Di.” The coach announces a few minutes later.

By this time the crowd which had been gathered to watch the fight has thinned significantly. And not one of them cast a look Dion’s way. They truly wouldn’t care if he’d died. In fact, he suspects the only person who would notice would be Bernie. Admitting that leaves Dion with a gaping void. It’s as if a piece of him is missing. He can’t explain it past that but can only assume it is what never tasting victory results in. Not that it alters him, with the all clear given, struggling to his feet. His body screaming, his muscles heavy, as he goes.

Back on his feet, the fighter feels it necessary to steady himself by resting one hand on the ropes around the edge of the square shaped ring. A little over a minute passes before he feels the dizziness ebb to almost naught. Still, his hand remains on the rope of what looks identical to a boxing ring. Chiefly that is because it is a boxing ring. If it’s ever seen proper, regulated fights however Dion hasn’t a clue for they would have had to have been a long time ago. Truth-be-told the ring doesn’t look so worn out for it to be capable of it either. Yet he cannot be sure as he casts his eyes about the space filled. It looks as empty and he always feels following a fight, a defeat.

When he turns toward Bernie he catches sight of Marla, his girlfriend, and lets out only a deep sigh.

She is wearing a face like thunder, dark and angry. He can guess what he’s about to be met with and is hit by a fresh wave of exhaustion as a result. This isn’t the time for an argument, pops the thought into his head, but it’s not like he’s going to get a choice in the matter. This is happening, here and now, whether he likes it or not.

Sometimes, Dion wishes he and Marla had never met. Or at least never hooked up and made it an official thing because all she seems to do is ride him for his choice, fighting. If he was a controlling man he could understand but he isn’t. All he wants is to be able is fight. She might have his best interest at hearts but it’s his life, so that makes it his choice. She does not agree and now more than ever looks to be in the mood to remind him of that. He prepares himself, steels his resolve; sure that Marla is more formidable than any opponent he has ever faced in the ring. Alas, a row is not the same as a fight. If it were…

He doesn’t know if he’d have any victories still. He might, but they’d be small ones, barely worth mentioning.

Yet as she always does, Marla stops at the edge of the ring. Not on the edge but near it. She has always refused to cross the ropes and step into ‘Dion’s world’ as she likes to label it.

Apparently she is of the opinion that if she does that she’ll be legitimising his position and that is not something she is willing to do. Not now or likely ever and so Dion is forced to trudge across the mat to the ropes on the far side. Bernie is already there. The pair don’t say much to one another. They might have the same opinion but have very different beliefs in how the conversation should be broached, tackled. That is further proved when Dion ducks and slides between two of the ropes, quickly steps to the actual ground and is immediately hit by, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

For whatever reason, Marla never begins her assault until after Dion is out of the ring. He suspects it’s another case of if she did it might be seen, by her only because it would never dawn on him, of legitimising his life choice. And yeah, clearly she is upset. Sure, that’s an understatement but the easiest way Dion feels he can term the state she is in without getting bitchy or cruel.

“Fighting, it’s my job.” Is the utterance given in reply. It’s blunt, perhaps too much so, but whatever Dion says will be wrong so he’s settled on just getting on with it because he’s too tired and sore to care.

“You’re job! You’re job. That isn’t a job Di; it’s a fucking death sentence. Are you trying to die?”

The fighter doesn’t answer. If he did it would only make things worse. He’s learned that over the years. He thinks it’s five they’ve been together but increasingly he’s regretting having their relationship last this long. All they seem to do now is argue. And no, Marla never liked that Dion fought, yet it’s become a much bigger issue for her in the last couple years. Principally because Marla, who is thirty two, wants to settle down, have a family. It’s not something Dion wants but it’s his fault for never coming clean and being honest with her about that. Yet, she is fully aware of his upbringing, or lack thereof. He’d hoped, foolishly, she might come to the conclusion on her own that he wouldn’t want kids, but she hadn’t.

“I saw you out there. He nearly killed you…” That statement, about Marla having seen Dion fight, surprises him. Not because it’s the first time she’s admitted to seeing him fight but because it’s been a long time.

“It wasn’t as bad as it looked.” Bernie interjects only to get a harsh stare from the woman and a wince from Dion who knows his coach is only trying to help but should stay out of this. He’s getting old and Dion fighting is enough strain for the old guy. An argument with Marla might be the end of him. She doesn’t tend to hold back. Though, shockingly she does this time as she issues no more than that damning glare of hers to the white haired man who had been a real boxer when he’d been young. He’d even won a few minor titles, purely amateur. You needed money, lots of it, to turn pro and a coach and Bernie had been in possession of neither. If he regretted it, or felt slighted by the system, he’s never shown it.

He’s also the only person ever to have stuck by Dion, refusing to abandon him no matter what. For that Dion feels Bernie is much more a father than his actual one ever was. Whatever happened to his parents he hasn’t a clue, and would rather never know. They failed him, so why should he bother with them?

“Look at you. You’re a mess; a fucking abomination! And you want to keep fighting, why? ”

This time, like it or not, Dion is going to have to answer. He sighs, mulls over his possible replies, decides it isn’t going to matter what he says because Marla isn’t going to like what he has to say, and so settles on blunt honesty.

“Because it’s all I know and it keeps a roof over our heads, pays the bills.”

“Bullshit! You do it to stroke your ego. You do it because you think you have something to prove. But guess what? You don’t! And I don’t want to see you end up in the ground because some thug crushes your skull between his thumb and pinkie. Do you get that? Answer me!”

An earful isn’t what Dion needs right now. No, what he needs is rest. Bernie goes to speak but the fighter waves him off. He doesn’t want his coach getting involved. Especially, as Bernie agrees with Marla. Not with her means and motives but definitely with her ends.

With a shrug the forty year old with the shaved head still dripping with sweat assures, “It’s not about that.”

“Then what the fuck is it about? Huh. Because from everything you’ve ever said that is what it sounds like. But get this; no one cares. No one. You are a name. If the name was different it would change nothing. So it doesn’t matter if you keep fighting or you walk away. Not to the people that fill this shithole. But to me, to me it matters, you matter. I want there to be an us; in the past, present and future. And I want a family, with you.” Throughout her rant her arms flail, her fingers stab in an accusatory manner and her head, topped with shoulder length blonde hair, swings back and forth in time with the snapping of her heel as she stamps her one foot. It’s always the one foot she stamps. One of Marla’s curiosities, quirks, and she doesn’t realise she does it.

“Can’t we do this some other time? This isn’t the…”

NO! Fuck you! There is never a good time. You never want to talk about it. You just want to…”

No longer willing, or feeling able, to listen and stand through this barrage, Dion turns and begins to walk away. Marla’s face drops; her rage doubles, her voice goes up an octave, the expletive use increases to every other word and she follows, pursues.

Before long they leave the venues interior, Dion crashing through an exit with Marla continuing her verbal assault regardless of who might be around to hear it. There aren’t many and those that are make sure to steer, very, clear of what’s happening.

Mercifully, Bernie hasn’t followed to lend aid. He’s remained inside. Dion is pleased about that. It’s the only reason he took a very quick half-glance over his shoulder.

Marla will almost certainly think he did it to gauge how close, or not, she is. He doesn’t care. He just doesn’t want to listen to her anymore. In his mind it’s clear their relationship is over. There is no coming back from this. She’ll never forgive him and he’ll never feel willing to tell her anything ever again. After all, she is slinging all the mud from his past, loudly, in his face. Or at least it would be in his face if he’d turn and face her. He won’t. He knows it’s for the best. She clearly wouldn’t believe that but it’s true. Yet, this was always going to be how it ended. Deep down he knew it, just never wanted to admit it.

“Fucking talk to me you shithead, you owe me that much!” Are the last words Dion hears before he snaps, “I’m not going to quit. If I do I’ll have done nothing with my life.”

There it is, the admittance, finally Dion has said the reason as to why he refuses to stop fighting. He doubts Marla will understand. She’s never tried to. Again, it is something they had both been dancing around, trying to avoid.  

Yet, with the answer given the fighter does not wait around. He turns back, away from the stunned Marla, and marches off, slowly. It would be faster, and should be, if not body for the state his struggling body is in.

Some rest should fix it, if he’s lucky.

While walking away, Marla snaps out of her daze, her shock and bellows, “You fucking bastard! You’re leaving me here. You always planned to. Well FUCK YOU!!! You coward! We could’ve built something! But you go fight! Even if it might be your last, you prick.”

Tears stream down Marla’s face. They are a mixture of anger and sadness. She can’t say which is more intense. It sounds like it’s her anger but who can tell. She certainly cannot and if she can’t then it’s doubtful anyone can as she watches Dion walk away.

All that’s going through his head is how she might be right. He barely caught her last few words but there is no doubting the possibility that his next fight might kill him. He feels nothing knowing that, even though his next fight is tomorrow.

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