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The Lion's Rose

By Cliff Hightower


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The bell rang.
I came out hard and heavy. My breath forced from the anticipation and excitement of the fight. I came out like the lion I was and had been. Solid as a rock. That’s what they had told me anyway. My gloves felt like pillows against my hands. I looked across the ring and went on the hunt for Joe Bomar who stood on the other side.
We came just within arm’s reach of each other and circled. We each danced with the grace of a ballerina. Then Bomar threw the first punch. A small jab that tore through the air and landed on my jaw. I danced past Bomar and raised my right hand to protect myself from unnecessary sweeps like that again.
We circled and I unleashed my first punch. A right jab that connected. I sent out a few more jabs that connected with the black man’s face then my punches were stopped and I hit glove.
We felt each other out the first few seconds. We each tried to find a groove on the other. Then I came in with a! few more jabs. They connected and Bomar wheeled. I wheeled around with a left hook. I didn’t have much in my arsenal, a swift right jab and a left hook, but my left hook was a hammer. I had 29 knockouts to prove it.
Bomar was ready for it. It was still too early in the fight and he dodged it effortlessly as wind came off glove. The black man let off several more jabs and I rocked back. I stayed on my feet long enough for the bell to ring. I moved towards my corner and shook the cobwebs off.
A stool was put out for me to sit on. I sat down and a water tube was forced down my mouth. I swished the water around in my mouth.
I spit the water into a bucket by my feet.
“You gotta get in there killer!” I heard Vick say. “He’s beatin’ the shit out of you. Get in there! You’re a goddamn fighter! A tora! What the fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know.”
“Fuck that. You know what’s going on! Get in there and knock this guy on his ass! He’s a second rate fi! ghter!”
Vick had been there since the start. I trusted Vick. The bell rang.
Second round.
I took off from the seat and moved towards center ring. Feeling time was over. It was time to get down to business. Newspapers over Hispanic America had given me the name Oliver “Rocklion” Rodriguez. I didn’t give a shit about nicknames, but it was all right. I had learned to like it.
Bomar danced in the center of the ring. I came in slow and didn’t dance. My feet were solid on the canvas that by the end of the night would be wet with, sweat, work and a little blood. When I had been younger I had danced in the first round on purpose. It had been my strategy to make the other boxer think I was a dancer. Then, by the second round, I moved in for the kill. After all these years people knew my trick. Now I did it out of habit. My older legs wouldn’t let me dance past the first round anyway.
Bomar expected it and danced just in front of me. Bomar was careful to stay away ! from the ropes and the corner. He was always in front, always just out of arm’s reach. I took the jabs and waited for an opening. The first rounds were like this. Wait until the other fighter got tired, match him pound for pound and watch as he withered away under a strong left gun. I kept taking his jabs. Then I found an opening.

I had first met her in Austin. I had been an up and coming fighter then and she had been a student at the university. There was no way it was supposed to work out. I was a poor Hispanic fighter. She was a rich girl. Her father owned shares in a company that was well on its way to making a fortune in computer software. She had always told me that it shouldn’t work, that it couldn’t work, but I had just laughed and said the world wasn’t us and that we were just of the world. El Mundo. That’s what I called her. The world.
We met in a garden where the flowers had blossomed and fallen leaves had long ! past cleared for memories of the next autumn. She had been picking a rose. I laughed at her and told her I was going to report her. She had asked if I was a policeman. I said “Hell no” and proceeded to pick a dozen roses off the vines and hand them to her. She blushed with the same tint as the flowers. I asked for her name. She said Angela. I thought Angela was the closest thing to saying angel.
We had come back to the garden. We laughed there. On certain occasions we made love there. Making love to her had been sweeter than the nectar of the flowers I had picked. I fell in love with her. She just laughed when I told her. I thought it was out of joy, but I began wondering why she never said the words back.
One night after we made love she had told me she was going to New York. I said I would move with her. She told me that was a long way to move just for good sex. I asked her if that’s all it was for her and she had replied “Yes, silly, you really didn’t think it wou! ld be any more than that do you?”
I had gotten angry. I put on my clothes and slapped her hard across her face. I had wanted to leave my mark on her to remember me by. After I hit her I ran. I had never hit a woman in my life, and that had hurt more than her leaving me.

I stepped into the hole Bomar left and came in with a left hook. Two times I jabbed Bomar in the ribs. Then I squared myself off and ran up a left hook. Bomar headed for the ropes. A couple of more shots and he would go down. The bell rang.
I laid off and headed back to the corner. A few more seconds and I would have had him. I brushed it off. No need to worry about the past. Need to keep my head on the now. This wasn’t the first time and it sure as hell wouldn’t be the last. I took a seat and the water bottle was shoved in again. I spat in the bucket and a towel came across my eyes.
“You’re in your game! That’s the way to go in there! Keep sticking it to that black bastard! You hesitated going in for the kill. Hey. Hey. Listen to me. Keep your chin down. When you get the chance go for it. He opened himself up. Half second later and you wouldn’t have had that opening. So keep your damn mind on it. Think, man, you gotta think!”
I could just barely hear him over the crowd. The two bits and a nickel I gave that last round had them screaming for blood. I could hear the shouts of “Vive la Mexico!” and “Vive Rodriguez!” The crowd was in it now. The bell rang and I vaulted off the stool to draw blood.
I approached slow, taking my time. I couldn’t afford mistakes. I wanted to be methodical. When I was younger I had made mistakes. Some I got away lucky with. Others… Well others had cost me three defeats at the hands of lesser-ranked opponents. That was the reason I only came close to a title bout once. Vick said I had another title bout in progress after this fight. I don’t know how he had arranged that one. I’d been out of boxing for three years until th! is fight. I hadn’t wanted to come back, but one day Vick showed up at the door and said he needed me. I needed him too.
Bomar danced around and stuck to his plan. I had seen it a thousand times. Fighters never want to get out of their game plan. I shuffled in towards him.
Then the unexpected happened.
Without realizing it, Bomar danced himself right up against the ropes. He planted himself and came right at me. I shuffled backwards and found myself planted on the ropes on the other side of the ring. Bomar squared himself off and threw a right hook. He followed in with another right and then a left jab, then fired off a right uppercut that drove into my stomach. I felt my stomach muscles contract and my arms encircled around the black boxer. For the first time that night we clenched.
The referee stepped in, unclenched us and fired off a warning to me. The few seconds let me catch my breath.
The ref stepped out and Bomar came in. Fast and hard. I didn’t hav! e the energy to move out so I covered. I drew my arms in and waited for the other boxer to tire out. His blows danced off my arms and left hem stinging. Bomar then came in with a right uppercut that connected with rib. I grunted and kept taking the punches. The bell rang to end the round. Bomar trotted off to his corner.

She had came back six years later. She had still looked as beautiful as the day I had first seen her. The pain was still there. It had never left. I figured with my new -found fame and fortune I was now good enough for her. I told her that. I also told her she was a moocher and a whore. I told her to get off my property. She cried and that hurt, but I didn’t think it hurt as much as six years of the hurt I had taken. I told her to take her fake, cheap tears and get the hell off my land. I was just about to slam the door in her face and take back six years of hurt when she told me of the child.
At fi! rst I was stunned. Then angry. I remembered stepping out on the porch in autumn with the leaves falling off trees and the wind playing with the wheat in the fields around the house. I asked why it had taken so long. I asked many questions after that, but all I remembered was her saying sorry over and over and over. Then I put my head in my hands and wept.
I began to know my son after that. The mother I did not care about. But the son was mine. I took him to the park to play on the swings and chase the sky. To the lake to fish for the big ones, which were always the small ones. Then finally I took him to one of my fights. I took him to see my fight against Luis Javier.

“Damn it! He’s beatin’ you boy!” Vick said. “Get in there! Knock him on his ass. Don’t let off! What kind of shit was that! Keep your chin down!”
The bell rang to start the fourth round and I said a little prayer to Santo Jorge. My father had told me of him when I was a little child. He sle! w dragons and was the patron saint of knights. He had given up everything to follow Christ.
I moved in slowly towards Bomar. Very slowly. Bomar still danced around. He was young. For a boxer I was old. I couldn’t do that anymore. Bomar danced and waited for another chance to spring. I came in fast. I stepped around with a left hook. It was pronounced and Bomar blocked it. He came in with a left jab. A right hook came around and landed on my jaw. I stumbled back. Bomar unleashed several punches to my head. Left, right, left, they all connected. I tried to cover but it was too late. He had the advantage. I stumbled back and he hit me like a piece of meat and bounced me off the ropes.

It had happened to Javier that way. The fighter had made a mistake trying to rush the fight and I made him pay. When they took Javier away on a stretcher I looked back at the kid and thought there was no way I could do that to a man. ! But I had. I remembered them telling Javier it would be okay. But it hadn’t been okay. People could say okay this and okay that, but in their hearts they knew and in their minds they can see. The world is a profitable place with a charitable face. It awards pennies to the deserving and dollars to the high- classed, rot-faced, big- gutted fat asses in their uptown high rises. They profited off Javier. They profited off of me.
I had quit boxing after that. I continued to have the dreams. They were the same. I always saw Javier looking at me with those solid white eyes as his brain hemorrhaged and his motor functions shut down.

Bomar hit me squarely in the right ear and I went down. It felt like a mallet driving into my skull. I swear I heard my neck snap as he hit me.
I was the lion. I was the rock. I had to get up.
I barely heard the count. I couldn’t see anything.
I just needed to find the rope.
I finally go! t my right arm to move. I reached out.
I couldn’t find it. Where the hell was it.
I found it. I pulled.
I pulled, but I couldn’t get up.
I lay flat against the canvas.
I tried reaching again. One last time.
I was through. It was over.
I looked up and saw the black boxer’s hand shoot up in victory. As I looked his hands went down as quickly as they went up. Then the blood came into my eyes. I couldn’t see.
“You’re going to be alright,” I heard Vick say. “You’re going to be alright.”
“What’s wrong Vick?” I heard myself ask.
“Nothing kid. Nothing.”
“Wipe my eyes.”
“The doc’s coming to look at you.”
“Goddamnit. Wipe my eyes!”
The towel wiped across my eyes, and I looked across the ring.
Bomar stood staring at me.

Just like I had stared at Javier when they had pulled the sheet over him and! loaded him onto a stretcher. They had placed him into an ambulance and taken him to a hospital. Later I went to the funeral. He lay in the coffin with closed eyes. I had put a rose in the coffin.
It was buried under six feet of dirt.

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