Lake Effect, Spring 2015, Volume 19: "Full of Grace"

Tina May Hall, "Full of Grace"

We go to a boxing match in the warehouse district. Two boys bloody each other’s faces. Only when a latecomer opens the galvanized doors does a breeze flow in. Otherwise it is all sweat and dust and prepositional phrases. Back of the knee, under the arms, top of the lip. Salt and sweet aluminum deodorant smell. Expelled whiskey and cigar smoke and garlic and corn grease. A tooth flies out of the ring and lands at our feet.

“Why do you do it?” Julio’s mother moans as she dabs at his bloody lip and packs tobacco into the empty space of his molar.  She ignores the dollar bills slipping under her elbow and the whole chicken, naked and congealing in the sink.  Cálmate, Mamá,” he whispers.  “No es nada, no es nada.”  He holds her face to stop her fussing, but because he is tired, he presses too hard, her cheeks like masa against his fingertips, and she whimpers as if it is her tooth that has gone missing. That night he dreams of the ring, the resin rolling under his feet like cornmeal, a man in a blue tank top hitting him, each blow a flashbulb popping.  He hears the announcer, speaking in English, say exultantly, “He has been put to bed with the pants of his memories still on,” and wakes up cold with fear, spitting black.

The boxing announcer walks the canal bank with his beagle, Sylvester. He watches the young men in their running shorts, admires the way their flat, twenty-year-old chests taper into flexible waists. There is one man he looks for in particular, a walker like himself who wears headphones and also has a dog, a large black dog, a retriever of some kind. The sun turns the canal water opaque. Beneath the green and silver are weeds and beer cans and unlucky fish. The announcer laughs at himself. He is an old man and his desire is as stubborn as ever. When he sees the man with the retriever, he feels it pushing out of him, a familiar blunted daring, as resonant as his showiest show voice, and when he comments that it is a nice day, he puts everything into those words, every briny memory of love, every soft dark defeat. He refuses to give in to the thought that attractive men will no longer smile at him, that he will be reduced to takeout and cable television, that his flesh will be lonely, then dust. 

Julio’s mamá goes to the corner market where they sell gas and turkey sandwiches, plastic dolls from Taiwan and magic suppositories. She plays the Powerball and nods at the numbers, her son’s birthday, an old address. They stock the coconut soda she sneaks home and hides in the vegetable drawer to drink afternoons when her son is not there pestering her about her blood sugar. She demands a double layer of paper bags, slides the cellophane twist of taffy across the counter at the last minute, ignores the high-school boy’s sighs. In the parking lot, a girl is carrying a cardboard box of tortillas. “Hey, señora, only three dollars a bag, still warm, made just for you, abuela.” Julio’s mamá thinks the girl looks familiar in her shiny knit miniskirt, maybe someone her son brought home once, and glares at her. “Hey, señora, vieja, want some tortillas?” Puta,” she spits, “I make my own tortillas.” Then she feels bad for the girl and gives her three dollars. On the way home, she rests on a concrete bus stop bench, rips the tortillas for the birds scratching at the sidewalk. By the time the tortillas are eaten, the bird in her chest has slowed its own pecking, and even though she has left her rosary at home, she has her knuckles slipping under her skin like pebbles; she has the sun overhead, burning stone, the heat of a million Hail Marys keeping it afloat.