Authors: Robert Lipsyte
MINUTES BEFORE THE FIGHT, Sonny Bear felt hollow. He layâ¦
STARKEY WAS ALMOST SORRY he had bagged his meds thisâ¦
A THOUGHT BEGAN TO TUG at the corner of Sonny'sâ¦
STARKEY THOUGHT SONNY looked awful, drugged, a robot.
THE BOOING ROLLED over the ring. He met Crockett inâ¦
THEY CAME DOWN to get him in a green Landâ¦
SONNY WAS PICKING at a room service hamburger and watchingâ¦
THE LAND ROVER was back on the highway, heading west,â¦
THEY WERE YELLING in the living room of the hotelâ¦
ALLY WANTED TO KNOW why they were heading east now,â¦
SONNY REMEMBERED the first time he had pounded up theâ¦
IT WAS MORE THAN Starkey had ever imagined, just theâ¦
ONCE SONNY FELT the heat rising up his legs, theâ¦
THAT NIGHT, WHILE they were cleaning up, Kim brought upâ¦
ALFRED'S WIFE, LENA, was waiting for Sonny at the railroadâ¦
STARKEY WOKE UP jumpy. He felt a cold prickle amongâ¦
SONNY WOKE BEFORE dawn, feeling a cold prickle among theâ¦
THE VOICES WERE soft but insistent, murmuring from the facesâ¦
JOHNSON SAID, “He makes everybody nervous.”
THE VOICES WOKE him, murmuring so softly, he could notâ¦
SONNY WAS HUNGRY, clearheaded, on edge. He was up onâ¦
SONNY FOUND MOST of the stones in the dry creekâ¦
INUTES BEFORE THE FIGHT
, Sonny Bear felt hollow. He lay on the padded table in the dressing room staring up at shapes moving across the ceiling like black storm clouds. He imagined his body the only tepee on a frozen meadow. His skin was stretched over the tent poles, pulled taut by wooden stakes in the hard earth. The tepee was empty. Nobody home.
He knew where such images came from, and he hated that place. Shove that tired old Redskin crap, I'm not anything anymore. Not Indian, not white. Leave me alone. I'm not anywhere.
The noise boiling around him seemed distant, as if it were coming from radios in passing cars. He tilted his head, peered from the corner of one eye.
His managers, Malik and Boyd, were sniffing like dogs around a short, heavily muscled
man with a familiar face. It took Sonny a moment to recognize the actor who had killed a hundred alien invaders in the movie they had watched last night in the hotel room. Sonny had fallen asleep before the movie ended.
Across the room, facing a wall, Red Eagle chanted as he poured powders from leather sacks into a steel bowl. He struck a wooden match against the zipper of his jeans. Smoke rose from the bowl, and so did the stink of cow dung.
Sonny's trainer, checking the boxing gloves, cursed the smell. Two cornermen whose names Sonny couldn't remember rolled their eyes as they filled a metal pail with taped water bottles, jars of ointments, and cotton swabs. Sonny had given up trying to remember their names. They'd all be gone soon. Nobody lasts.
The movie star said, “Make it an early night, Sonny. I bet you in the third round.” He cocked his forefingers and blasted aliens. He growled his big line from the movie: “Sayonara, snotface.” Malik and Boyd brayed like mules.
Sonny tried to wave at the movie star, but nothing moved.
The door banged open. A boxing commissioner marched in with a man wearing a
Sonny heard ringing bells, people yelling. The preliminary fights had started. He would have to go out soon. He wanted to sleep.
The commissioner said, “Hands, champ.”
It took great effort to sit up and stretch out his hands.
“You okay, champ?” asked the commissioner.
It took Sonny a moment to realize the woman was talking to him. He nodded. I'm okay. Just not here tonight.
The man in the
sweatshirt said, “Let's see your hands.” He checked the white tape around Sonny's knuckles, nodded, and watched Sonny's trainer, what-was-his-name, push the gloves on. After the laces were tied and taped over, the commissioner initialed the gloves and walked out. How many times have we done this? Sonny thought. But it seemed as though it were happening to someone else.
A famous rapper in a mink blazer came in, touched Sonny's glove, and introduced him to a woman whose black dress barely hung from her breasts.
“Ten minutes.” An official glanced around the dressing room until someone nodded back at him, then slammed the metal door.
The rapper sang, “Ten more minutes you will, uh-huh, make yourself another five mill, uh-huh.” Malik and Boyd brayed and stroked his mink blazer.
The rapper, the woman in the black dress, and the short movie star left. The room quieted. Boyd began whispering into his cell phone. Malik sat on a stool and opened a skinny little laptop on his knees. “Sonny, up. E-mail from Nike wishing you luck. Reply?”
There were no words inside Sonny, no thoughts except the realization that he had no thoughts. He had always felt something before a fight. Until now.
“Stick it to Nike,” said Boyd. “Remind 'em that sales on the Sonny Bear headbands are flat. Tell 'em we're talking direct to the Chinese.”
Malik and Boyd touched thumbs and brayed in each other's face. Who are these fools, why are they here, why am I here?
Red Eagle had his long nose in the stinky smoke. What is he praying for now? A Nike deal to endorse powwow feathers?
A cameraman crouched in the middle of the room. He turned slowly, panning: Sonny sitting on the table, the fussing cornermen in their Sonny Bear T-shirts, Malik and Boyd in their red silk jackets, Red Eagle chanting as his hands caressed the rising smoke.
“Do not photograph this,” said Red Eagle. He covered the camera lens with his hand. “It is sacred.”
“It's part of the cable deal,” said Boyd.
“It's okay,” said the cameraman. “I got what I need.”
What I need, thought Sonny, is a reason to go out there and beat some tomato can into a puddle of flesh.
“Sonny, up. You know a Warrior Angel?”
He shook his head, a cement block on his shoulders.
“He says he's coming,” said Malik.
Red Eagle said, “Warrior Angel. What does he want?”
“He says he's coming to save Sonny.”
“Check him out,” said Boyd.
“Can't,” said Malik. “It's a blocked address.”
“What's it say?” asked Sonny.
Dear George Harrison Bayerâ¦'
“How's he know Sonny's real name?” asked Boyd.
“It's in that bookâno big deal,” said Malik. “Listen up.
Dear George Harrison Bayer. Do not lose heart. I come on a Mission from the Creator to save you.
“The Creator speaks through me,” said Red Eagle. He sounded angry.
“Exclusive deal, huh?” asked Malik.
“Is that funny to you?” snapped Red Eagle.
“Relax,” said Boyd. “Sounds like a promotional stunt to get a title fight. Ask Warrior Angel if he's white. We need a white challenger, an American.” He aimed a finger at the cameraman. “Don't tape this.”
Red Eagle looked serious. “Did that e-mail come to the web site or a private mailbox?”
Red Eagle relaxed. “It's nobody. Forget it.”
Forget it, thought Sonny. Forget everything.
TARKEY WAS ALMOST SORRY
he had bagged his meds this morning, clamping them between his cheek and gum while he chugged the orange juice. He had learned that trick in the hospital. The key was not to spit out the pills too soon. They watch for that. The longer you can keep them in your mouth, the better chance you have of getting away with it. He was having second thoughts about not taking the drugs. He had wanted to stay sharp for Sonny's fight, but now the faces in Circle were beginning to pulsate, and their voices were getting weird. He didn't want to chuck a ruckus and risk missing the fight. It would be starting in a few minutes. He had to get upstairs.
But he was losing it.
“Has everyone said hello to Starkey, welcomed our new family member?” Dr. Raphael smiled and nodded at him. The shrink was the only one in Circle sitting on a chair. A power
thing, thought Starkey. The living-room floor was hard. He felt his underwear twist into his crack.
There were seven of them, mostly around his own age. The girls smiled a welcome, the boys nodded suspiciously.
“We're happy you're here,” said Dr. Raphael. “Would you like to tell us a little about yourself?”
It was what the Archangels call a defining moment, a moment early in a Mission in which you can give it direction and establish your character.
I know enough to know I have choices. I can ask the doctor to cut me slack for now because I'm new here. Or I can make some wisecrack to get me off the hook.
Or I can go for it.
Go for it, he thought. Just remember that Warrior Angels never lie.
“I am a Warrior Angel, on a Mission for the Creator.”
“Where are your wings?” That was Roger, big guy, fat but strong looking.
“Be a little obvious down here, don't you think?” said Starkey.
“What kind of Mission?” That was PJ, pretty girl, thin, wearing pajamas.
“This is an action job, my specialty,” he said. He liked the look in her eyes. He started talking too much. “I was never one of your touchy-feely angels, all hope and inspiration, the Guardian Angels or, as we call them behind their backs, the Happy Haloes.”
“Sounds like you got to put down other people to feel good about yourself.” Tracey was a big girl, scars on her arm.
“C'mon, Tracey,” said Roger, “are you buying into this psycho's fantasy?”
“Roger,” said Dr. Raphael, “we make no judgments in Circle. Let's all hold hands and take a deep breath.”
Starkey held his hands out. Dr. Raphael took Starkey's left hand in his dry, bony claw. PJ took his right. Her hand was soft and damp, and she rubbed her palm against his, sending a cascade of warmth down his chest, into his groin and legs. It felt good but it reminded him to stay focused. This group home is a perfect hideout, he thought, but these people aren't going to make it easy. Mental illness is a great disguise for a Warrior Angel; you can tell the
truth and still be undercover. But you are dealing with unpredictable minds, genuine nutcases. Be glad to move on out of here into the Mission.
“Starkey, let's not talk for a moment,” said Dr. Raphael.
He hadn't realized he'd been talking out loud. I have to remember how the Voices take over, he thought.
“Sure, blame it on voices,” said Tracey.
Starkey concentrated on shutting down. He looked around the Circle. Most of the others had their eyes closed. PJ was smiling at him and Roger was glaring at both of them. So he was hot for her, and jealous. Live Ones are a problem. Have been, since the beginning of time.
“Well, would anyone like to talk about their day?” asked Dr. Raphael.
“I really hate going to school in the wacko wagon,” said Tracey.
“That's because you think you're better than those other droolers and melonheads,” said Roger. “But you're special ed and you better get used to it.”
Tracey started to cry. The sound became a
high-pitched whine that drilled into the back of Starkey's head.
“That was cruel,” said PJ.
“That was truth,” said Roger, “a commodity in short supply at the Family Place. You people can't handle the truth.”
The rest of the Circle liked that. They banged their heels on the carpet, the only way to applaud when you are holding hands, thought Starkey. They probably hold hands a lot so they won't scratch their butts or pick their noses or try to feel each other up.
“Who you want to feel up?” asked Roger.
Dr. Raphael quickly said, “So what is this truth we can't handle, Roger?”
“That we're genuine nutcases, just like this genuine psycho said.” He fired a forefinger at Starkey. “Down here on a Mission from God, huh? What for? Find yourself another movie star to stalk?”
“Wow.” Tracey looked interested. “Who was it? How close you get?”
“Close enough to get busted, right?” said Roger.
“It was a mistake,” said Starkey. That was true. Sonny was supposed to be at the party
where he ran into the movie star. Security actually thought he was stalking some dumbo action hero.
Starkey tried to stay in the now, but he had to keep track of the time. He checked his watch every minute. The fight would start soon. He didn't want to miss a second of it. He hoped Sonny had gotten his message, that it would give him strength. Sonny wasn't looking good. He was pale, dead eyed. He looked hollow, a shell of Sonny. On ESPN his voice had sounded even more of a monotone than usual. There were rumors on the internet he had the flu or something really bad.
“Don't listen to Roger,” said PJ. “He gets off trying to bully people.”
“Listen to America's victim,” said Roger. “She and her sneaky littleâ”
“We're all glad you're here, Starkey,” said Dr. Raphael. “Aren't we?”
“Especially you, Doc,” said Roger. “Another paying customer for the Family Circle jerk.”
There was back and forth on that one, but Starkey smiled and nodded without paying attention. Don't need to get into their issues. Probably nice-enough people, he thought,
troubled, sure, but decent, except for Roger, people trying to find their ways through their personal fogs. But I've got my own problem right now, got to get upstairs to see that fight.
He didn't realize he had spoken out loud again until Dr. Raphael said, “We don't feel good about boxing in the Family Place.”
“Too violent,” said PJ, shaking her head. Some of the others nodded. Roger smirked.
“Heavyweight championship of the world,” said Starkey. “Everybody's going to be talking about it at school, and what am I going to say, âCouldn't tune in because the shrink at the psycho retard nuthouse where I live thinks it might make me crazier'?”
Laughter, heel banging. Who says Warrior Angels don't have smooth moves? Even Roger winked at him.
Dr. Raphael smiled and said, “Could Starkey have a point?”
“If he did, he'd point it at PJ,” said Roger.
Starkey took advantage of the sudden, embarrassed silence, dropped hands, and stood up. “Thank you very much. I understand this is a one-time privilege and I don't intend to abuse it.”
He hurried upstairs before anyone could say anything more.
He just made it. The fight was about to start.