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It’s amazing the things that go through your head when you’re getting the snot beat out of you…



Carlton Stevens

Perry’s skull was like bark; pieces chipped off, it always looked strained, stressed, and awkward, but in the end it would take an axe to split it in half.

But at this moment, it seemed the other fighter might’ve been the axe.

His face crunched; the slap of a boxed fist sounded like a wet steak pounding on a stiff pillow.  Indentations on his visage looked like little black and blue rivets, disfiguring the already odd-looking deep-set cheeks and elongated brow.  Over and over the droplets of sweat sprayed back and forth, back and forth.  Perry’s eyes were alien under a bashed and sickly, brown tinge.  Crack!  That was the next sound, it was horrifyingly subtle, but quick; never the way you’d think it would be in the real world.  Conversations continued to ring out from the violence, the heavy clenched glove made the aching bones debate in sharp accusing tones.  But no matter how hard, fast, or unforgiving those softened red fists were, Perry didn’t fall and no one yelled timber.

Translucent stains made the white floor a greasy, fried, gray mess.  Thump, thump, thump, echoed the next three hits.  Shoes bent and crossed and swung in twirls as they danced around and around. Perry watched his opponents’ feet, he always watched their feet.  Brutal ballerinas was what he called some of them, they dance with all the grace and precision of Swan Lake but make dents in iron with their movements.

Perry always took this time to think; when they had waltzed him into the ropes, his fingers loose under their tight bandages and heavy red cushions.  So serene and resonating was the dance that he couldn’t help but loose himself in it and think.

Think about his first fight, his first dance. 

He remembered it vividly, as do I.  The gym was stench-filled and raw. Bags of stuffed fabric swung back and forth with salty sweat layering each hit it took.  By himself like every other day, Perry was dancing in the ring.  He didn’t have much to his name.  No family. His last memory of that going with his sister in ‘59.  No home.  A Negro, let alone a boxer, could fine few places of refuge and sanctuary in the big city in ‘64.  Perry only found it in the arena of his time; the boxing ring.  So, Perry was there all the time, dancing to the silent rhythm of the cars outside and the swish, swish of his arm as he punched the weaving phantom in front of him.

But, I’m lingering a bit too much on the details.

Perry’s first dance.  There he was swinging and dodging in the little ring. Most of the ring was ancient, warped wood and the ropes were slick and stretched.  You could see little tuffs of the string and fabric that held the stitching of the ropes, bearing themselves in the funnels of light that poured through the windows.  Everything was so very clear to Perry in moments like this, dancing in the ring, alone, made everything fine and right to Perry.  You see, Perry for a long time didn’t want to actually compete in matches.  No, he did the training to keep himself motivated; to keep himself alive.  Perry, as simple and uncomplicated as he was, feared the prospect of Death.  He didn’t know this though, but every inch of his life revolved around it.  When was he going to die?  How?  Where?


Everyone has that point of realization about Death.  That moment when they realize that their mortality does exist.  That they won’t live forever, and worst of all, they’re forced to wonder what will happen after all of it finally comes tumbling down.

Regardless of his mother’s bout and loss with leukemia, of his father’s overdose, or his sister’s random shooting, regardless of even his dog Dodger dying, Perry never came to this realization in all of his young years.  Perry was lucky to be a man of simplicity and ignorance, and unlike many other people was able to forget about the determents of life and focus on something that kept him going.  The training.  He wouldn’t have to face the realization like everyone else until he was 23.  On that day while he danced in the ring.

Perry realized it as he was swinging a vicious right hook.  When he did he went into an immediate denial like almost everyone else does when Death is on their mind.  Death was there in his head but he didn’t want to think about it.  So I had to show him.

Death is often mistaken in its tangible identity.  Some imagine Death a woman, or as a pale and sullen man of lamentation and chess.  Some see skulls, others see nothing.  In all actuality Death is something or someone motivating you towards the ultimate end.  I, in the end, am simply a guide.  

So I appeared to Perry, right there in front of him, and gave him something to fight against.  Weaving, slinking, leaning, I dodged all those magnificently fierce blows of his.  Crunch! Crack!  My bare knuckle drove true and smashed his face in.  That’s when Perry let it all out.  Like a hurricane, an utter and pure force of nature, Perry crashed and punched and broke.  His fists were part of the very atmosphere itself.  So undeniably passionate and magnetic were his moves and his dance, that it attracted all the eyes in the gym.  Each and every one of them.  

“Look at that!” they said.

“Shit he’s moving fast,” another beckoned.

And as he pummeled me he became a wonder and paragon of boxing.  Not ever had anyone seen the likes of Perry, and no man in that room would ever see boxing like that again.


When I had fallen, Perry had been so utterly winded and spent that he collapsed right then and there against the ropes.  After awhile he saw all the onlookers, and he saw me gone, no longer manifested upon the ground in a bloody pulp.  Perry had faced me and had shown something within himself and his skills that were beyond the average of any human.

It was then, that I had done my job.

“Perry?” asked a voice from the crowd.


“That…that was incredible, kid.  You got feet like they were fucking wings man.”


”I got a fight I could set up with Wally.  You wanna give it a go, kid?”

“Yeah,” said Perry, “Yeah, I think I might.”

That brings us back to now, doesn’t it?  Perry against the ropes watching the fleeting and dangerous dance of his opponent and taking the beating that comes with it.  Small drops and lines of blood sprayed across the mat.  Perry took every mind shattering blow and bang.  Deafening crescendos from the audience woke him from his stupor.  It was too late for Perry, far too late.

Over the 117 fights Perry had since that dance he had with me, he had contracted a multitude of injuries, fractures, lesions, and all around damage to the head.  Granted, Perry wasn’t exactly the brightest man to start with, but do enough damage to the brain and that might not matter anymore.  The last hit he took rattled his mind.  It finally did him in.

And Perry, who had come face to face with me and obliterated me all those years ago, had finally come back to me.  There he was, broken and battered on that ring floor, sinking deep into a wallowing concussion that’d he’d never come back out from. I came, helped him up, and took him home where he could dance for as long as he wanted to.

Who said Death, in all its incarnations, wasn’t compassionate?