Man Enough by Jeffrey Webb

The ring girl pulled herself up on the edge of the apron, tits barely covered by her pink bikini top, the bottoms so crammed up in her ass she might as well be wearing a thong. She ducked underneath the ropes, nice and slow, stretching her body out, giving all the guys at ringside a good hard-on. Nothing about her was big, her waist small and her breasts a modest c-cup compared to some of the other girls. But this girl had moves, and she used every move she had as she walked around the ring, holding up the sign for round one. At each side of the square, she turned her back to the crowd, bent over for them, smiled for them the whole time. And as she passed by the blue corner, she winked at Stevie, mouthed to him the words, “Good luck.”

“Let’s give it up for Sara,” the announcer said over the armory’s PA as she stepped down out of the ring. “Freshman at Marshall University, this is her first year in the ring girl competition, and she’s doing great isn’t she, gentlemen?”

There’d already been two brawls up in the crowded stands that night, drunk creekers fired up by watching the action in the ring and wanting to start something themselves.

Stevie, with his ex-linebacker’s body, danced on his feet, ready for the fight. He pounded a gloved fist against his forehead, psyching himself up. The bell dinged, and he moved forward toward his opponent.

They were heavyweights, 250-pound motherfuckers who didn’t know much else other than fighting. Stevie wore the blue trunks, his opponent, Ritchie “Boomer” Rutledge, in the red. Both men were already banged up with bruises on their faces and bodies, this being their fourth bout in a two-day tournament. But this fight now was the championship, everything on the line. The winner would go home with 2,000 dollars.

Boomer had the height advantage on Stevie, two inches taller and a longer reach. That didn’t mean much, though. Stevie had seen Boomer fight, knew the big man rarely threw jabs, just haymakers.

“Here we go,” the announcer said. “The heavyweight championship bout is on.”

If Stevie could get in close, he’d take away Boomer’s power from those haymakers. He’d work the body while Boomer wouldn’t be able to get enough distance or power behind his punches. Three one-minute rounds was all it would take. Stevie just had to last three minutes and come out on top and he would be champion. He held a hand out, touched gloves with Boomer, and the fight got underway.

Boomer landed the first punch, came out with a big swing that caught Stevie on the right side of his face. That initial contact always hurt the worst, then it went kind of numb in the head, and Stevie shook it off, ducked Boomer’s next punch, delivered his own shot to Boomer’s gut.

The next fifty seconds, both men pummeled each other, Boomer putting full force behind every swing while Stevie looked for openings, for counters, kept going after Boomer’s gut. By the end of the round, both men were exhausted, but neither man fell, and soon enough the referee maneuvered between them, pushed each man to his respective corner, the round over and the crowd already wanting more.

“Fuck,” Stevie said, squatting on a stool and sucking air. Tony, his cornerman, came up to him, pulled out Stevie’s mouthpiece and stuck a bucket in front of him, told him to spit. Stevie spat.

“You feel okay?” Tony asked, pressing an endswell up against the side of Stevie’s face, the metal cold against the skin.

“Yeah,” Stevie said. “I’m okay.”

“You got to duck him more, get closer to him. He can’t get you with those haymakers if you get in close to him. You hear me?”

“I hear you.”

“Get in close, keep giving him body shots. Work the body, Stevie.”

Another girl walked around the ring, holding up the sign for round two. Stevie’s eyes watched the first ring girl, though-watched Sara-down in the front row, and she saw him looking at her, smiled at him and blew him a kiss.

Stevie remembered Nikki Mossallati blowing kisses at him in algebra class, her Italian lips so thick. He remembered her promise to go home with him after a football game on a Friday night, his body sore from getting knocked on his ass all night long, a bad game, her promise to go home with him and Stevie thinking he might get laid, actually might have a chance with a girl like her.

“Hey,” Tony said, slapping Stevie on the cheek. “Don’t be looking at her. Get your head in the fight. Don’t be thinking about cunt right now. You ready? Ready? Stand up.”

Stevie used the ropes to pull himself to his feet.

“Get tough.” Tony shoved the mouthpiece between Stevie’s teeth. “Don’t think about anything, man. Work the body. Work the body and fight.”

Everybody but the two fighters and the referee cleared the ring, the bell sounded again, and round two began.

Stevie landed the first punch, the Boone county boys in the stands going wild cheering for him, but one punch didn’t do much if you couldn’t put together a combination, and Boomer struck back with a huge uppercut to Stevie’s jaw. Stevie didn’t have much time to think about it, his mind distracted by a giant blow to his gut that knocked the wind out of him and dropped him to his knees.

The ref counted. Half the crowd yelled for Stevie to get up, the other half yelling for him to stay down.

Stevie looked toward the front row, tried to find that ring girl-tried to find Sara-but everything was slanted, tilting, and it hurt to breathe.

Saying “fuck it” to nobody but himself, Stevie struggled to his feet. He knew resolve wouldn’t win him the fight. He had to get in his punches. First round was pretty much a tie, and now Boomer was definitely winning the second round after that knockdown. Stevie couldn’t afford to go down again.

Everything started feeling like the night he took Nikki Mossallati home. Five years later and he was still getting knocked on his ass by men bigger than him.

Work the body, Stevie told himself.

When Boomer swung again with a powerful haymaker, Stevie ducked it, gave a shot to Boomer’s side. He followed it with a quick shot to the other side.

Stick and move. That’s what they always tell you to do. Make your contact, then get the hell out of there. And that’s what Stevie did, delivered his blows then backed the fuck up, made Boomer chase him around that ring.

Twenty seconds left in the round. No way was Stevie getting Boomer down in that time, but maybe Boomer would wear himself out enough that Stevie could capitalize on it in the third, get in close to him again in the third, take him down.

All it takes, though, is one swing, one connection, a puncher’s chance. When Stevie landed another body shot, he felt his hand, his right, blaze with pain. Before he could escape or put up a defense, Boomer swung from the left, caught Stevie on the cheek at the perfect moment. Everything went black, Stevie knocked unconscious the moment Boomer’s glove touched him. When he opened his eyes again, all he could see, lying there on his back, were the lights up in the rafters, and all he could smell was the stink of ammonia the fight doctor used to wake him up.

###

“You had a good fight,” she said as he walked by.

Stevie stopped, looked over his shoulder. There she stood, Sara, a pea coat pulled tight around her, keeping her warm.

“Though you do look like you had the shit beat out of you,” she said.

They stood on the sidewalk outside the armory’s main entrance, underneath an awning that kept them safe from the steady snow falling down like ash from a dying cigarette. Most of the people were gone, the remaining few sucking down smokes and staggering to their cars.

A poster for the event, plastered to the door beside Sara, asked in big red letters, “ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH?”

“I did get the shit beat out of me,” Stevie said, pointing to his beaten face, tape wrapped around his sprained wrist.

“Yeah, but you still got a cute smile.”

“Cute smiles win beauty pageants, not fights.”

He turned to walk away, took a few steps toward the curb before she called out and asked, “You driving yourself home?”

“Cornerman’s bringing his car around,” Stevie said.

“Is he spending the night with you?”

Stevie stood still and looked at her. “He’s got his own room.”

“What if you have, like, a concussion or something? Someone should stay with you.”

“They checked me out in there, said I should be okay.”

“My car’s in the lot across the street,” Sara said. “Let me drive you. Make sure you really are okay.”

Tony pulled up to the curb in an Oldsmobile that rumbled so loud its engine sounded like a fighter gurgling blood. He honked the horn and waved through the frosted windshield for Stevie to hurry up and come on.

“You do know I lost, right?” Stevie asked Sara. “I didn’t win the big money.”

“You came in second,” she said. “That’s good enough for me.”

“Yeah. Three hundred dollars. Barely covers the cost of gas and my motel room.”

“Don’t forget the little trophy you got, too.”

“Right.”

“Let’s get to my car,” Sara said. “I’m freezing my ass off. All I’ve got on underneath this coat is my little bikini.”

“Really?”

“Do you actually think I’d be standing out here in February wearing nothing but a bikini underneath this?” She opened up her coat, had on a college sweatshirt and a short skirt. “This doesn’t mean I’m not fucking cold, though.”

The Oldsmobile honked again, but Stevie, unable to take his eyes off Sara, didn’t even hear the horn.

###

They pulled into the motel lot a little after midnight, one of those places where the sign out front brags about having HBO as if it’s some sort of rarity.

As they climbed the steps to the room, Sara in front, Stevie couldn’t help from staring at her ass. Even underneath her coat, he could still make out the shape, small and tight, but it stuck out, curved away from her body. He wanted so much to run his hand down her back, to feel that curve.

“Which way?” Sara asked, reaching the top of the stairs.

“Left.”

They walked along the balcony, passing doors with missing numbers and chipped paint. Stevie was in the second room from the end.

The motel sat next to the highway, and each time an eighteen-wheeler drove past the truck rattled the windows and headlights lit up the place.

Stevie fumbled around with his key, his hands sweatier and his mouth drier than during the fight.

“Need help?” Sara asked.

“I got it,” Stevie said, clicking the lock open.

Inside the room, Stevie flicked on the corner lamp, which lit half the room up with an orange haze and left the other half dark in shadows. Sara took her coat off, tossed it over the back of a chair and dropped her purse on the floor beside the chair. She took a seat on the edge of the mattress, in the shadows, and looked over the place. On the table by the TV were vitamin bottles for nearly every letter of the alphabet, even a bottle of Flintstones Chewables.

“I’ll be right back,” Stevie said, disappearing out of the room and returning a moment later with a bucket of ice.

“For drinks?” Sara asked.

“For this,” Stevie said, his body slouched against the wall as he unwrapped his wrist and held the bucket of ice in front of himself and eased his wrist into the ice with a sigh.

“Feel better?”

“Not really.”

“You got anything to drink?”

“Just water and protein shakes.”

“Smoke?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Don’t smoke, don’t drink,” Sara said. “What do you do for fun?”

“I fight,” Stevie said.

“And take your vitamins, I see.”

“And take my vitamins.”

Sara smiled up at him. “Where’d you learn to fight?”

“Where’d you learn to smoke and drink?”

“My dad. Bought me my first pack six-pack when I was fourteen.”

“Same place I learned to fight,” Stevie said, shifting his hand around in the ice to keep it from getting too cold. “My dad.”

“Was he at the armory?”

“No.”

“He doesn’t watch you fight?”

“No. I don’t know,” Stevie said. “I don’t much know where he is most of the time. I don’t really care where he is most of the time.”

Sara wasn’t smiling anymore. She simply looked up at Stevie from the bed, said to him in a more motherly than sexy voice, “Come here.”

Stevie set the ice bucket on the table amid all the vitamins and walked over to Sara, stood in front of her. She lifted off her sweater, wasn’t wearing a bra underneath. At the same time, Stevie lifted off his shirt, the welts and bruises on his gut at eye level for Sara.

Before she kissed the wounds, Stevie put a hand-his cold hand-on her cheek, asked, “Why did you come up here with me?”

“You didn’t hear, did you? Of course you didn’t hear. You were probably still dazed.”

“Hear what?”

“I didn’t win the ring girl competition,” Sara said between kisses. Her lips felt soft on his skin. “Didn’t even place.”

Stevie ran his hand through her hair. “I guess we’re both losers, aren’t we?”

“Guess so,” Sara said, reaching for Stevie’s belt, unbuckling it, unzipping his fly.

Steve’s dick flopped out in front of her face.

Sara laughed, asked, “That’s it?”

Stevie thought of Boomer and the referee holding up Boomer’s arm and the crowd cheering and Sara blowing him kisses and Nikki Mossallatti blowing him kisses and the night he didn’t get to take Nikki Mossallatti home and her laughing at him after that horrible game and those thick Italian lips laughing and smiling.

Boomer, the referee, Nikki Mossallatti, Sara, the crowd. All of them laughing and smiling.

Stevie threw Sara over on to her belly, pushed up the back of her skirt, held her down as he shoved his little dick up into her ass, drove it into her as hard as he could and as fast as he could. With each thrust, her asscheeks jiggled, and her hands squeezed the blankets, her moans begging Stevie to stop, but he just pressed his weight down on top of her, grabbed a handful of her hair and forced her face deeper into the pillow. She got quiet, his dick too small to even cause her real pain, hard as he might try. Soon the only noise was the washing roar of the eighteen-wheelers outside, flashes of their white lights.


Jeffrey Webb is a writer and teacher from southern West Virginia. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College. His work has appeared in such publications as The Pikeville Review, Red Mud Review, and Scarlet Leaf Review. He is also a blog contributor for Teaching Tolerance.

 

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