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Authors: Robert Lipsyte

The Brave

BOOK: The Brave
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The Brave
Robert Lipsyte

FOR KATHY

Contents

1

SONNY BEAR SWAGGERED down the aisle, banging his big red…

2

HE CLIMBED DOWN from his bunk an hour before dawn,…

3

SONNY STEPPED OFF the bus and the city smacked him…

4

HE NEVER BLACKED out. He swam through tunnels of darkness…

5

THEY STROLLED THE DEUCE and people checked them out as…

6

SONNY STRODE THE DEUCE, trying to look cooler than he…

7

“YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY determined to screw yourself into an early…

8

HE WAS HELPLESS, a child again, his life out of…

9

HE WAS DUMPED into a sealed iron box without a…

10

SONNY DREAMS he is walking the wind.

11

AN EARTHQUAKE WOKE him, a pounding that rattled his teeth,…

12

PAIN CHEWED AT every angle and crevice of his body.

13

HE WAS SURPRISED, as usual, by the loveliness of her…

14

IT WAS NEARLY midnight before he found the Harlem street.

15

“THIS IS NO THERAPY group,” said Henry Johnson, “no training…

16

“RIGHT…ONE.”

17

“ALFRED BROOKS SAT right where you are now, Sonny,” said…

18

FROM THE WAIST up Delgado looked like a bodybuilder, smooth…

19

BROOKS AND JOHNSON plowed a path for Sonny through the…

20

“WHERE YOU FROM, SONNY?”

21

HE WOKE UP TIRED and cranky all that week, hung…

22

THE GUARD OUTSIDE the dressing room barred them all this…

23

THE TOW TRUCK came alive on the first kick.

24

THE HILLCREST LODGE hall was smaller than Sonny remembered, a…

 

S
ONNY
B
EAR SWAGGERED
down the aisle, banging his big red gloves together, whipping his black ponytail from side to side against his bare shoulders, feeling the hatred of the crowd slap his body like a fine cold spray. Keep it coming, you hillbilly bozos, thought Sonny. Makes me strong.

He vaulted into the ring, a sudden move that surprised the crowd. No one expected a heavyweight so quick. He raised his fists above his head. The crowd stomped and hooted. Someone shouted, “Gonna need a tommyhawk tonight, Injun,” and the bozos laughed. He felt the monster stir in his chest.

The hometown fighter was already in the ring, a big farm boy with curly yellow fur growing over his chest and back. He flexed his lumpy biceps and glared at Sonny. The crowd cheered. The farm boy was Sonny's height, six foot one, but he looked fifty pounds heavier.
Not all of it was fat. He was older, too, at least nineteen. Sonny glared back. The crowd booed.

Jake pulled him back into his corner and pushed him down on his stool. “Here to win. Not make 'em mad.” His dry old fingers massaged Sonny's neck.

Sonny checked the crowd. What you'd expect at a Friday-night smoker in a mountain town. A couple hundred white guys on folding chairs sucking on beer cans and talking big. They were in their workday clothes, overalls and greasy jeans and short-sleeved shirts with their nicknames stitched on the chests. The bigmouths who like to give Indians a tough time in hardware stores and gas stations, thought Sonny. If I wasn't wearing gloves, I'd give them the finger. The monster was hot in his throat. Furry farm boy's going to taste some tommyhawk tonight.

The overhead fluorescent lights blinked off. Spotlights blazed down on the ring. Bells rang. A big man in a white bowling shirt that read
HILLCREST MOTOR HOMES
on the back raised his beefy arms. “Listen up now, fellas, final match of the evening, heavyweights, two hundred bucks, winner take all…. In the black trunks…”

Boos swamped the ring. A crumpled beer can sailed out of the darkness and landed on the canvas. Crowd's juiced, thought Sonny. The announcer kicked the can out of the ring. The crowd laughed.

“…weighing one hundred and eighty pounds, youngster's been making a name for himself, five straight wins, from the Moscondaga Reservation, Sonny Bear.”

Bells rang to choke back the jeers. The monster filled him.

“In the white trunks…weighing two hundred and fifteen pounds…the pride of Hillcrest…our own…Glen Hoffer.”

The crowd stood and cheered as Hoffer lumbered into the center of the ring, arms raised. His body hair was golden in the ring lights. He's closer to two fifty than two fifteen, thought Sonny. When he goes down, the whole building's going to shake, rattle and roll.

“Jab,” whispered Jake. “Jab and work his belly. No head-hunting.”

The announcer beckoned Sonny to the center of the ring. He was going to referee this one, make sure Glen Hoffer didn't get hurt too bad, thought Sonny. Good luck.

“Five rounds, anyone gets knocked down twice in one round it's over. Got that?” When they both nodded, he looked directly at Sonny. “No kicking, boy, no gouging, biting, butting, hitting below the belt, none of that reservation stuff.”

The ref turned to Hoffer. “After a knockdown, Glen, go right to a neutral corner so's I can start the count.”

Back in his corner, just before the bell, Sonny swigged water from Jake's taped bottle and spat it into a bucket. He opened his mouth so Jake could slip in the plastic guard. Jake pushed his dark, wrinkled face close. “Careful, Sonny. Jab and belly.” Between his feet was the overnight bag with Sonny's clothes. Good old Great-Uncle Jake, he thought, ready for a fast getaway.

The bell rang.

“No head-hunting,” yelled Jake.

Bust that pale face, ordered the monster.

Sonny sprang out and fired the left hook at Hoffer's head before the farm boy got his hands up.

Bingo.

Hoffer's legs kicked out and he crashed to
the deck. He sat on the canvas, an amazed expression on his big, dumb face.

Sonny's laugh woke him up. Hoffer rolled over on his hands and knees. Clumsily, he pushed himself back up to his feet. The referee jumped between them and wiped Hoffer's gloves off on his shirt. Sonny couldn't hear what he said to Hoffer.

The farm boy's cheek was bright red where the hook had landed. There was a drop of blood in one nostril. He raised his gloves to his heaving chest and marched toward Sonny, eyes narrowed, lips tight.

He never expected another hook. To the same spot.

This one turned him around. He staggered into the ropes and fell to his knees. Only his elbows, snagged on the middle rope, kept him up. He hung there like a side of beef. Sonny strolled to a neutral corner. Second knockdown. It's over. Easy payday.

The referee helped Hoffer up. “That was only a slip,” he said, “not a knockdown.”

The monster snickered, What do you expect, Redskin? A fair fight?

Sonny watched Hoffer lurch toward him,
carried along on a chanting chorus, “Glen…Glen…Glen,” his eyes glazed and his lips slack.

He's out on his feet. One more good shot and he's gone, there's no way they can rob this fight.

“Jab and belly,” yelled Jake. “Don't let him come close.”

Sonny dug in and let Hoffer come close, into range to catch the full impact of the final punch, a short left hook that would bust that pale white face like a rotten cantaloupe, bust all those pale faces, bury the tommyhawk in every one of them.

C'mon, farmer, I'm gonna plant you now.

He unleashed the hook.

It never landed.

Sonny felt the uppercut graze his thigh before it slammed into his groin and lifted him off his feet. He fell forward, into Hoffer, his legs rubbery. He was swimming into a damp, hairy wall. He couldn't focus. There were three Hoffers. They pushed him away.

Sonny staggered backward, tripped himself, hit the canvas and rolled over on his face. He gasped for air as the pain exploded between
his legs and surged up into his belly.

Far away, he heard the referee announce, “Accidental punch, no disqualification, black trunks has thirty seconds to recover.”

The bell saved him. Jake dragged him back to his stool, pulled open his trunks and rubbed his chest. He broke a capsule under Sonny's nose. The chemical smell drove into his brain like a hot wire.

His eyes focused. But the pain in his groin and belly had become a deep, thumping ache, and he couldn't feel his feet. He waited for the monster to rise again, to fill him with the anger that fueled him, but there was only a hollow tiredness.

“'S okay,” said Jake in his ear. “Pain'll go away. Stick and move till he makes a mistake. He's stupid, afraid of the hook.”

“Legs,” gasped Sonny. “Can't…”

“Got to,” growled Jake. “We don't quit in front of these people.”

The ref loomed up. “Throwin' in the towel?”

“We came to fight,” said Jake.

Across the ring, Hoffer was waving and grinning at his friends. Sonny tried to find the monster, rouse the anger, but it was gone.
Doesn't matter. They were going to rob the fight like they robbed everything else. Why bother? It's not quitting if you don't have a chance in the first place. They make up their own rules as they go along. There's no such thing as an accidental punch. So who cares what these people think?

The bell rang. Jake pushed him out into the ring.

He could have been pole dancing at a powwow, his legs felt so long and wooden. His movements were jerky. The best he could do was throw jabs at Hoffer to keep him off balance, keep him from battering him with his bulk, wearing him down. Sonny sidestepped and backpedaled, pushing out the jab. It had lost its snap.

Jake was right. Hoffer was stupid and he was afraid of the hook. He didn't sense how weak Sonny was. One swarming rush and he could finish Sonny, the fight would be over. But the memory of that left hand held him back.

Maybe I should just get this over with, thought Sonny. Let Hoffer hit me with one good punch. Pretend to be knocked out. All go home.

Not in front of these people.

Whose people? I'm an Indian up here, but when the chiefs sit in the Long House and tell their secrets, I'm just a mixed-blood white boy.

The crowd whistled as Sonny and Hoffer shuffled around each other. The ref stepped between them. “Boxing, boys, not dancing.” He leaned toward Hoffer. “Go for it, Glen, the Injun's hurt.” The farm boy nodded, straightened up.

“Jab,” yelled Jake, “jab,” as Hoffer marched into him, arms pumping, driving him backward.

Sonny pinned Hoffer's elbows to his sides. Hoffer stamped on his toes, kicked his shins, lowered his head and tried to grind his spiky blond hair into Sonny's face.

“Ref,” yelled Jake, “watch that.”

“Minute to go,” said the ref. “Let's mix it up.”

As they stepped apart, Hoffer tried to rub the laces of his gloves in Sonny's eyes. Sonny stuck out a jab to push him away. It popped Hoffer on the nose and snapped his head back.

The punch surprised Sonny as much as it surprised Hoffer. For an instant Hoffer was
rocking on his heels. The monster sensed the moment and flooded back into Sonny's body. He hit Hoffer with a right. The farm boy stiffened. Sonny fired the left hook.

Bingo.

Hoffer crashed to the canvas.

The bell rang.

“Round ain't over,” yelled Jake. “Twenty more seconds.” He was in the ring, shaking his stopwatch under the ref's nose. But the ref ignored Jake as Hoffer's grinning cornermen hoisted him to his feet and rubbed his arms and chest.

Deep inside Sonny the monster chuckled, What do you expect from these people? Read your history books. Cheat and steal and never let you win. He felt a heat that steeled his legs and pumped the muscles of his arms and sent him hurtling across the ring at Hoffer.

He smashed a fist into the middle of the furbag's stupid face.

The big blond flew backward into his corner and crashed into his stool, splintering it. His cornermen reached for Sonny. He hit one of them high on the side of the head. He went down like a sack of grain.

Bells rang, men shouted and ran, the lights went on. It seemed distant to Sonny, a TV movie in another room. He turned in time to see the ref lunging at him. He cocked his left.

“No,” yelled Jake, grabbing his arm. He tried to swing at the ref with Jake hanging on, but the skinny old man was heavier and stronger than he looked. White hands were reaching for him, a beer can bounced off his shoulder, men were leaning into the ring trying to hit him.

Jake pushed him through the ropes. Sonny tumbled off the apron to the wooden floor of the lodge hall. Jake pulled him up by the seat of his trunks and shoved him through the crowd. A man in overalls blocked their way. Jake swatted him aside with the overnight bag. They pushed and kicked through the milling bodies to the outside door and burst out of the building into a warm night that fell on Sonny's sweat-slick body like a cold sheet.

They ran through the parking lot and scrambled up into the cab of Jake's tow truck. Men were pounding on the doors as Sonny twisted the ignition key and started kicking the gas pedal. Jake reached into the dashboard,
through a tangle of old radio wires, and pulled out his ancient Colt .45. The tow truck roared into life and the mob scattered as Sonny burned rubber out to the road.

Halfway down the mountain, the road forked, left and right.

“Which way?” asked Sonny.

“Don't matter,” mumbled Jake. “Both go all the way down. Should have won that fight, Sonny.”

“They robbed me.”

“Robbed yourself,” said Jake. He shoved the revolver back into the dashboard. “Didn't win. Didn't get your money. Worst of all, you gave them a chance to call us a bunch of savages who can't follow the rules.”

“They didn't follow the rules,” said Sonny.

“They ain't our teachers. We're our teachers.” He looked at Sonny. “You let the bad spirit take over.”

“Bad spirit.” The monster roused. “I'm sick of your dumb Indian talk.” He was sorry he said it before it was out.

“You got no control.”

“For what?”

“For yourself. For your people.” Jake's
voice was sad. “You the last one with the blood of the Running Braves.”

“You live on fairy tales.”

Jake's mouth snapped shut. Sonny knew he wouldn't talk anymore tonight.

'S okay, old man, thought Sonny. There's nothing more to say. I know what I've got to do now.

BOOK: The Brave
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