Thursday, 24 September 2020

The Way of the Journeyman

by Jordan McCarthy

orange juice with a dash of vodka. Sweet with a little bit of bite. 

Echoes of Corkonian voices reverberate around City Hall. There’s laughing, there’s cheering, there’s shouting. Your head hurts. It’s hot in the makeshift dressing room. There’s a fan swooshing alongside the door and it sends a refreshing wave of air across your face. You put your wallet and keys in the gearbag and check your phone. Two New Messages. One is from your service provider, telling you your bill is now overdue. The other is from Barney. Good luck tonight kid. Pop over later. I’ll have the beer in the fridge. Keep It Real.

 

You’re a creator by day, almost every day. Your sculptures are beautiful, carved to match the beauty of the world around you. The nights are more destructive. There are punches, bruises, black eyes, bloody towels. But within those wounds and stains there lies a beauty; the beauty of a man pursuing his dreams of Madison Square Garden, the MGM Grand and Wembley Stadium.

 

You wrap some white strapping around your hands.  The pattern never changes. Hints of greyish clay from this morning’s project linger on the skin around your fingertips. The strapping massages the skin of your palms. Coach Wally gloves your hands in candy apple red, the colour sported by so many great champions. The gloves are tight. You bump your fists together. You are ready for battle.

 

Being a journeyman is tough. You get lots of fights. Too many, some would say. You rarely win, if ever. You’ve battled hard for the last ten years, in hundreds of bouts. No belts, no awards, no TV interviews; not a sniff of any of that. But it’s not about the winning for you. It’s about the way of life.

 

The official tells you in the dressing room that your entrance music isn’t on the playlist. You’ve left your CDs at home and you’re not going to flick through your phone now. You give a nod, entering the theatre of fight night to some ancient beat that sounds like jungle music. You look out at the crowd of around 500, scattered around the hall. Some people are standing at the bar. Some are sat chatting. The smell of alcohol awakens your nostrils. Those sitting near ringside clap you in as you jump up to grab the ropes. You step in, dancing on the illuminated canvas.   

 

You eye up your opponent. A young lad, dreams of conquering the world still intact. He stares you down menacingly. His curly mop of hair flaps as he bounces from side to side. The ring announcer tells the crowd about your record. You don’t take too much notice, though. You stopped counting years ago. You’re just pleased that he’s called you ‘The Fletch’.

 

Your opponent is from north Cork. This is his third professional fight. He’s one of the most exciting upcoming middleweights in Europe, according to Wally. He raises his hand to the audience, when the ring announcer unveils him as ‘The Future’. Wally beckons you to the corner. He puts your gum-shield in and sprays water in your mouth. You know what he’s going to say. ‘Enjoy it, keep it simple, and let him know he’s in a fight. Show him what it’s going to take to box’.  You get a pat on the back from Wally. The referee is calling you over. You stand in front of the newbie, who bumps gloves with you. Pleasantries are acquired. The bell rings.

 

The Future hits you. It’s a right hook that connects with your left shoulder. You slightly wince but not enough to let him know that it’s your weak one. You strike back and aim high. The kid has a strong chin. You jab your way through the next round. The men in your opponent’s corner become animated. They tell him to ‘up the game’. He duly responds. He hits and he dodges well. He gets you in the corner. You find it hard to get out, but do so with the aid of the referee. Another round ends. The ice pack feels refreshing. Wally tells you to ‘go back to basics’. You wish you could…

 

The Future takes the next couple of rounds. He ekes confidence throughout. You see two opponents after he lands a power punch above your right eye. You gather yourself against the ropes. The ref might call the fight off. You tell him not to dare think about it. You want more punishment. You want to see this out.   

 

You get to the final round. You feel drained. You know you can go the distance, though. There’s a clash of heads; a nervous, tired mistake. A few more minutes, seconds even, with this hard-hitting rookie. The crowd have warmed to him, more so than you. You dodge a big right hook and respond with a shot to the ribs. You’re sure that one hurt him. You might win this round. You do win the round. But the fight has gone beyond you.

 

The bell sounds. There’s applause. You congratulate The Future on a good battle. You tell him that it’s his victory. You tell him that he’ll go far. You embrace him and remember that you’ve got a train to catch. The doctor gives you the go ahead. You tell the Coach that you’re off for an ice-cold shower.

 

The water stings your wounds but it’s a refreshing feeling. You change into your jeans and sweater, and leave the venue, gear-bag over your shoulder. The promoter says he’ll wire you the money next week, as you pass by him in the lobby. You raise a thumb and warrant a smile.

 

The train to Cobh is busy on this warm Friday night.  The family sat across from you stare, almost in disbelief. You manage a polite nod. You exhale heavily, as you hopelessly search for a seat. The aisle will have to do.

 

‘‘Would hate to see the other fella! Did ye’ win?’’, asks a man seated nearby.

 

‘‘Not exactly,’’ you sigh. ‘‘But any night you walk out in one piece and make a few quid is a win of sorts,’’ you say.

 

‘‘No belt so?’’ he smiles

 

‘‘Just the one that’s holding my jeans up,’’ you respond, bringing the headphones up over your ears and leaving it at that.

 

They wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t understand the commitment, the frustration, the hopes, the humility, the perseverance, the resilience; the struggle. Show them the boxing glove ornament you made for a dear neighbour this morning, or the life-size horse made of recycled metals you created last summer. They’ll understand the appeal of those. But talk to them about how you’ve just lost fight number God-knows-what, yet still have aspirations to continue boxing, and they’ll scoff at the idea. Yours is the way of the journeyman. Never lauded, never celebrated. But what a beautiful way of life it is. 

 

About the author 

Jordan McCarthy is a writer, podcaster and producer from Cork, Ireland. He has written sports features for The Echo and The Irish Examiner. 'The Way of  the Journeyman' is his first piece of fiction. Read his blog, 'Tipping Away', at thejordanmccarthyblog.wordpress.com or check out his podcast, 'Leeside Lives'

 



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