Shadowboxing in the Desert

The air has turned cold.
It’s not just a night thing.
It’s been cold all day, and the wind’s not helping.

Las Vegas is known for its big fights. Multi-million dollar punch ups that leave you more than wanting.
Those aren’t real fights.
Sure…the hits are real. But nothing is really at stake.
The winner wins. The loser wins.

Out here…out beyond Blue Diamond, surrounded by red rocks and God knows what kind of poisonous wildlife…if you lose a fight…you lose.

I’ve been out here since sunset and I still flinch every time fists connects with flesh.
The sound of bones crunching makes me sick.
People cheer, though. They cheer and drink and laugh and fight.
That’s what it’s all about out here in the canyon.

The ring is crude. Just a circle of rocks with a couple of trash cans on fire to give off some kind of light, making this whole spectacle look more like a witches sabbath from some old shlocky horror movie.

Two young fighters enter the stone circle.
They pop their fingers and their necks. Flex. Putting on a show, trying intimidation techniques they learned from kung-fu movies and pay per view.

Those aren’t fighters. They’re scared. They fight out of fear. They punch first, hoping not to be punched. No fire. No spirit. Just fear.

The old man sitting next to me smiles. A woman sits next to him, rubbing his knee.

When you enter those circles, you must be prepared to die.
It’s the only way to truly win.
They don’t understand it yet.

It’s not really a fight. Not a fight at all.

The young fighters are finished. Both bloody and crying. One being dragged from the circle. The other blind in one eye.

Someone pours gasoline into one of the trash cans and the fire threatens the stars.
The crowd erupts.
The old man stands up and removes his shirt.
He’s full of scars.
The woman takes his shirt and folds it neatly, setting it next to me.
She removes her own shirt, showing a similar patchwork of scars.

They kiss, hold hands, and enter the ring.

No money exchanges hands. Everyone is quiet. Even the fire.
A coyote barks, but stifles it quick with an embarrassed yip.

They stand facing each other, grinning, licking lips and teeth.
No showman ship.
The hair on my arms stands up.

They launch at each other and the crowd gasps.
There’s blood.
Lots of it.
Skin being torn. Bones moved into unnatural shapes.
Muscles strain and pop.
Yet, they laugh.

They grapple. Punch. Kick. She hits him across the face with a rock from the circle.
He falls to his knees and swipes at her stomach with a broken bottle.
Her stomach opens and the blood is so black and moves so slow it looks like tar.

She cradles his face in her hands.
It’s a motherly sentiment, full of love.
She pulls his head to her wound and he kisses the blood.

She looks at me and I throw up.
She breaks his neck.
The fire extinguish themselves.
I don’t know what to do.

The crowd moves as one. Packing into trucks and cars and onto motorcycles.
They don’t turn on their headlights.
They leave.
The wind continues to blow.
I can’t see anything.

She begins to sing. A slow song. There are words, but I don’t understand them. The lyrics sound more like notes, phrases plucked from an antique violin.

The coyote barks again, this time full of confidence, joining in her song.

I can almost make out her shape.
She’s sitting on the ground, holding the old man, a grotesque and violent Pieta.

At least, that’s what I imagine as I walk back down what I hope is the road I took to get here.
The coyote barks again.
Something howls, deeper than the coyote, like it came from when the canyon was just a trickle of thought in the desert landscape. Melancholic. Liberated.


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