Henrik's Twelfth

March 9th, 2021 | Fiction

Editor's Note: My friend Patricio and I challenge each other to make things based on a shared theme. This theme was "The Comeback of Dreams."

Henrik's face was bloodied; his right eye swollen so badly that it was completely shut, his left eye just as swollen but somehow he could see out of it - or at least he was pretending he could. Henrik sat on the bench in the locker room, blood from his mouth, nose and eyes pooling below him onto the dirty tile floor as he sat with his elbows on his lower thighs and watched through his puffed single eye-slit the continual drip drip drip of his blood onto the floor. He had left a lot more blood in the ring, he thought. Henrik chuckled.

The doc had already come back to the locker room and done a quick once over. "Boy, you got yourself beat nearly to death, Henry," the doctor said as he put on his latex gloves. With a light touch he checked the eyes, ears, cheeks, jaw, throat of Henrik, who remained silent and moved with the doctor's hand as if they had done this little dance many times before. "You know, you're suppose to beat up the other guy too," doc said as he removed both gloves. "You're all clear. Congrats."

Twelve rounds. That's how long the heavyweight fights were billed for, but Henrik's fights never lasted that long. "He's got no defense on the left hook," the announcers would say about him, "and he knows it! He just barrels through and takes whatever hits he needs to, then gets in close and dishes out his own damage. He's making a wager that he can take more pops than you can, and he's usually right." Henrik had won 23 matches and lost 9. The highest round he'd been to in that time was round six, and he was so exhausted that he fell over his own foot, stumbled for a moment, ate an uppercut from his opponent and fell to the floor.

He's supposed to be at the end of his career though, now. Not many boxers past 35 that have a history of getting hit in the face a lot still make it into the ring. Yet somehow, Henrik went on what ESPN called the "Run of the Ages" as he knocked out the #4, #2 and #1 contenders for the heavyweight championship over the past year, which landed him here tonight, fighting for the belt for the first time in his career.

His opponent, the champ, was a man named "Fast" Willy Sommers. He's defended his championship seven times, each fight going the full twelve rounds, each fight Willy has won by judge's decision. "Not in the money maker, boss" Willy would say to opponents when they managed to hit him in the face. They couldn't tell if he was joking or not. He wasn't.

Tonight's fight went the full twelve rounds. Henrik chased and scuttled around the ring the entire night, trying to pin Willy into a corner and trade blows. Willy would circle away from Henrik and land quick jabs to Henrik's face or stomach when he pushed in closer. After the eleventh round, Henrik's manager told him that he looked like "chopped liver" and if he could avoid Willy for three minutes he was going to get the biggest paycheck of his life. Henrik couldn't hear anything his manager said to him because blood was sloshing around his head the entire time.

Ding ding. Round twelve. Henrik walks forward with his hands up, straight ahead at Willy. As Willy circles left away, Henrik lunges forward and throws a hammering right hook at Willy's mid-section, which lands. Willy is stunned, Henrik pounces. Tossing jab after jab at the champ, something primal unleashes in Henrik, his mouth is slack and his jabs switch over to hooks, uppercuts, the big haymakers he's thrown his whole life. He's trying to kill Willy with each punch, he's trying to turn his bones into soup inside his body and watch as he melts into a puddle in the ring. Henrik throws a left hook that hits Willy in the jaw.

Fast Willy falls to the mat. There is nothing he could do to stand up right now, maybe ever again. Henrik watches the referee count to ten and realizes what has happened. He tries to fall backward into the ropes of his corner, but he's further out than he thought and falls backwards into air, into nothing. He lands on the mat, sits there, and starts crying.

Henrik, sitting on the bench in the locker room, smiles.