I don’t know what this is…I wrote it a long, long time ago. So, uh, check it out.
The car didn’t honk, it simply slowed and waited for him to pass. With the hood of his sweatshirt up, Michael Callahan hadn’t even seen it coming as he crossed the street. Noticing it finally, he offered a polite thank you wave to the driver and continued crossing the four lane street. As the Nissan sped past him and on toward the 401, Callahan realized that it was the only vehicle he had seen thus far that afternoon. Not much reason to be around here on a Sunday, he thought. The outlet mall was likely closed and the Canadian Tire had shut down a few weeks ago. Not exactly an ideal spot for a bar any more.
He was nervous he realized, half amused. It was cold out today; Fall having come early to London; and yet he could feel the sweat under his arms and through his pockets on the palms of his hands.
Callahan realized when he had called him that he hadn’t seen Jack in almost eight years. He wasn’t surprised to learn that Jack was still in London, nor that the number he had for him still worked. Seeing Jack, of course, wasn’t why he was nervous.
The pub was dark and practically deserted. It smelled as if the floors had been mopped with spilled beer and, though smoking was no longer allowed in bars in London, the acrid smell of old cigarettes hung around as if it were seething from the wood work. It was precisely the type of place Callahan would always picture Jack in. The two had become friends shooting pool in the pool hall in their neighbourhood; stealing cigarettes, trying their fake I.D.s, picking fights.
The bartender stopped polishing the glass in his hand and the guy at the bar drinking Black Label turned to look at him. He realized that, rushing in from the cold, hood on, the two might be deciding whether or not Callahan had come to start trouble. He was a big man, or, as he had overheard his neighbour’s kid say the other day, he didn’t look like the type of dude you’d want to fuck with.
He lowered his hood and offered the two men a smile and they seemed to relax.
“Mickey! Get over here!” Jack said. His voice came loudly from a dark corner of the bar and seemed inappropriate in such a quiet space. The bartender and his only other customer turned back to what they were doing.
Jack hadn’t changed much since Callahan had seem him last. His five o’clock shadow seemed a little darker but he still looked just as he had when he was fifteen to Jack. In fact, he could swear the tattered leather jacket he had on was the same one he had seen him wearing the last time they met.
Callahan reached out his right hand to shake and grabbed the chair opposite to Jack to sit down.
“Give me a hug you big mick bastard,” Jack said, laughing and pulling him in.
Callahan was surprised when the hug wasn’t awkward and he slapped his old friend on the back.
The two sat and, for a minute said nothing, as if sizing each other up, smiling. Callahan looked as Jack remembered, too. The strong jaw, broad shoulders, mashed up nose. His ears looked a little more cauliflowered than Jack remembered and their was the suggestion of grey in the temples of Callahan’s jet black hair, but he still looked like the kid who saved his ass from countless beatings in high school.
Callahan was somehow pleased to see how much of Jack was the same, too. Sitting in this bar that could have been one of dozens they had hung out in when they were younger, in his leather jacket, a rye and water within arm’s reach. The ever present Players Filters. He liked the idea that he was still here, in places like this; some living relic of Mickey’s past.
Jack had aged though. He too was greying around the temples and greys peppered his thick pushed back hair. Crows feet branched from the corners of his steely blue eyes and he seemed to have more tattoos than Callahan remembered. Girls used to compare Jack’s boyish good looks to the likes of Sean Penn and, while people used to mean the Jeff Spicoli Sean Penn and the Casualties of War Sean Penn, Callahan was amused to see that even now Jack looked a lot like the hurricane Katrina Sean Penn on a boat. Jack had grown a thin mustache and a soul patch and still, in his thirties, had both ears pierced. Callahan noted that gone were the jumpiness and constant sniffing that had been present the few times he had bumped into Jack after he stopped boxing.
“Red, get this guy a drink,” Jack yelled over Callahan’s shoulder. “What’ll you have Mick? Beer?” He asked.
“Sure, I’ll have one,” he said. “Caffrey’s, please,” he told the bartender.
“You look good, Mickey. Still working out?” Jack asked, holding up his fists.
“Everyday, pretty much,” Callahan said. “Nobody’s called me Mickey in a long time, man.” He smiled.
“Mickey and Jack,” Jack said quietly, looking through Callahan, swirling the ice in his glass, remembering.
The bartender brought Callahan’s drink and the two men toasted, taking long drinks.
“How’s the wife? And Chris? Shit, how old is Chris now?” Jack said.
“Almost five, and, we just found out we have another one on the way,” he said.
“No shit. Congratulations, man. Wow,” Jack said.
A silence followed. Callahan was trying to find the words. Jack sat quietly, watching Mickey, one eye monitoring the football game on the TV above the bar.
“That’s sort of why I decided to call you, Jack,” Callahan finally said. It wasn’t how he had imagined broaching the subject.
“You want one more fight first,” Jack said, unblinking.
“Uh. How’d you,” Callahan said, caught off guard.
“When you called me out of the blue, I kind of figured it out,” Jack said.
Callahan had told no one that he was thinking of fighting again. Not even his wife.
“Five and five,” Jack said and finished the rye in his glass. Callahan looked at Jack while he drank and, when Jack met his gaze, dropped his eyes to the foam on his beer.
“Five and five,” he said finally. He hadn’t figured he’d be so predictable. He should have guessed that the one person who would understand would be Jack.
When Callahan started boxing after school, nobody was around more than Jack. At first Jack liked tagging along to the gym and coming to Callahan’s fights because of the type of people it provided him access to; those shifty types that were somehow always present at the fringes of the boxing world. But even after Jack dropped out of school, he still hung around the gym and drove if Callahan had a fight out of town. Callahan knew Jack was selling coke or doing whatever it was that he did in the rafters and around the high schools he fought in, but, excluding the couple times Callahan had to stop some guys from caving Jack’s head in, Callahan didn’t get involved and they both seemed happy with the arrangement.
“You really think you’re up to it? You want to chance getting hurt with a wife and a kid and a half at home just so you can say you had a winning record?” Jack said. He was serious now. Looking at Callahan with those piercing eyes, the way he looked when he was working something out. Trying to figure out the angles.
Callahan met Jack’s gaze. “Fuck yeah,” he said. He held a straight face for a beat then both men started laughing. As they laughed, Jack leaned forward as if to grab his glass but, as he did, he missed and sent the glass sliding off the edge of the table. Before it could hit the ground, Callahan’s hand snapped from the front pocket of his sweatshirt and caught the glass, upside down, spilling only ice onto the floor. When he looked up from the glass to Jack, his old friend was no longer smiling but looking at Callahan, the calculating look back in his eye.
“Testing me, asshole?” Callahan said. Jack smiled then his gaze shifted to the TV over Callahan’s smile.
“No promises, Mick” he said “but I’ll see who I still know.”
* * *
For the next few weeks, when Callahan wasn’t training, he met with Jack on a fairly regular basis. Jack fell into step accompanying him to the gym again and, though Round One, the gym Callahan used to train out of, was closed, Jack still seemed to recognize more faces around the new club than Callahan.
For the most part the relationship was just as it had been in high school. Callahan met Jack at the same dive bars they had once frequented and, though now Callahan drank only soda water, there were the familiar pangs of the life they had once lived; hell raisers, kings of the neighbourhood. Sometimes the strains of time were apparent. When Jack came by the house the odd time, he was polite with Callahan’s wife Erin, but, when she was home, never came inside. They had met only a handful of times over the years. Callahan had invited him to their wedding but, when Jack had made an excuse for not being able to go, instead sending a case of champagne, Callahan felt somehow relieved.
Also back were the random stops in sketchy neighbourhoods Jack made whenever he drove. Though the gun Callahan saw Jack grab from the glove compartment on one of these occasions told him these were not the days when he used to wait in the car while Jack scored hash.
The date was set. Jack had managed to find some guy Callahan vaguely remembered from the old days who was managing a new kid. There was actually a small purse attached to the fight and, while he knew it wasn’t the reason he was fighting, Callahan couldn’t imagine that it had been enough to get the kid to fight a virtual no name. He imagined Jack had called in favors or worked some other back room deal in order to set up the bout. Jack never said anything about it, Callahan was grateful and new better than to ask.
“He’s fast, Mickey” Jack told him once, looking at him sideways over the rim of a rye and water. Callahan had had the opportunity to go watch the kid spar but Erin was working late and he had had to pick up Chris at school. Jack went by himself.
“I’m still pretty quick,” Callahan said, his eyes not leaving the London Knight’s home opener on TV.
“He throws a pretty mean hook, too,” Jack said.
“So do I,” Callahan said. Jack seemed to shuffle in his seat a bit.
“Think you’ll take that job with your old lady’s dad after this?” Jack said quickly. Callahan glanced at Jack, then shrugged. “You don’t have to do this,” Jack blurted.
Callahan turned and stared at Jack. Neither man turned away for some time.
“Yes I do,” Callahan finally said. Both men turned their attention back to the game as the Knights scored their sixth goal of the night against the outmatched Saginaw Spirit.
“Then there’s only one problem, as I see it,” Jack said.
“What’s that?” Callahan asked, weary of what the answer might be. He looked at Jack and Jack was looking at him with that steely eyed stare again.
“We gotta get you a robe for the ring big enough to stitch ‘Stubborn Irish Prick’ across the shoulders,” he said, managing it with a straight face but breaking into a grin when he had finished. Both men laughed.
* * *
Callahan became aware of the smell of the old change room only after he was left to himself. It was that gym smell. Stale sweat, dust, piss. Walking back into a gym it had always been welcoming. A familiar funk that some how made his muscles yearn for the rhythmic strain and burn of the gym. Even before a fight that smell seemed like something that helped him get ready; sitting alone breathing it in deeply, making him prepared somehow.
Now, after what had just happened, the smell was thick and hot in his nose and throat. He could only breath shallowly because of the pain from what was surely a cracked rib, but he could still feel it in his lungs; gagging him. Stale sweat, dust, piss.
He spat a gob still thick with blood into the corner and his head began to throb. He could feel his face swelling up and was aware of his heartbeat in the mouse under his eyes and pounding at his temples. He reached up and touched his face gingerly, realizing that the effort it required hurt both his face and his swelling hands.
He heard Jack in the doorway but didn’t look up. Instead, he looked down to his hands, possibly hoping to find some answers there.
“Tough beat, Mick,” Jack said finally. He shambled over to the bench Callahan was sitting on. When Callahan finally looked up at him he could tell by Jack’s reaction that his face was even worse than he had thought. “That kid’s one tough fucker, man. Nobody’d-” Jack started.
“Leave it alone, man,” Callahan said, interrupting him. He looked down at his knuckles.
A brief silence followed. Jack took a step forward and pressed an envelope to Callahan’s chest. He looked down and saw that it was thick with money. He took it and looked at Jack, confused.
“I bet on the kid,” Jack said, staring at him unblinking. Callahan looked at him, stunned.
Jack patted him on the shoulder and offered a tight-lipped grin. “Congratulations again on the new kid,” he said turning and walking away. He paused in the doorway and said, “See you around, Callahan.”
As soon as he heard the words, Callahan knew they weren’t true. He knew he would go home to Erin and tell her that he had lost. He knew too that she would try hard not to say she had warned him as much, just as he knew she had tried hard to understand why he needed to do it. He knew she never would.
Callahan would let Erin win the next time they argued about the job her father was still holding open for him. He’d work at her father’s company for the next 26 years. He would live in London for the rest of his life and so would Jack; though they would never see each other again.