from Kid Cooleby M. G. Stephens
Gladiola and Kerry were fighting again. They fought all the time lately. It started with words and escalated to shouts. Sometimes the daughter threw things at her mother—glasses and plates, knick-knacks and cups and anything that wasn’t nailed down.
A glass broke. Gladiola’s face was cut. Blood was everywhere.
Kerry ran out of the house. Kid found her later, after taking Gladiola to the hospital and back home after she was stitched up. He got on his bicycle and went looking for that wild child everywhere.
She sat in a little park overlooking the river where all the local teens went to drink beer and smoke dope.
—I hate her, Kerry said.
He put his arm around her.
—Your mother is a good person, he said, and she’s had a hard life. But she loves you and she does the best she can for you. She wants only the best for you.
—Crap, she said, and a can of clichés. That’s all you talk, Kid. You don’t have real thoughts in your head. What’s in your head?
—Slogans, he said.
—No joke, she said. I don’t even think you have slogans there.
Then Kerry changed course. Kerry cried out,
—She sucks, and I hope she dies.—
—Your mother is a good person, he said again.
—So was Adolf Hitler a good person.—
—No, he wasn’t, Kid said.
—He killed all the Jews.—
—Jews never did nothing for you.—
—I don’t know about that.—
—You gonna tell me that Jesus was a Jew.—
—Fuck off, she said.
—Okay, he said, and stood.
He started to walk away.
—She’s a hick, Kerry said as she and Kid walked down Harding Street. She’s unsophisticated. I think she’s illiterate, too. Mom don’t have a brain in her thick, stupid head, Kerry cried, and she’s as dumb as shit. Just like you, Kid.
—I’m not dumb, Kid said. I know how to duck when punched at, and I’m still fast on my feet.
—You’re one of the dumbest fucks in the fuckn universe, Kid. You make Rocky Balboa look like a genius.—
—Do you remember when everyone lived at home? his sister Eileen asked.
He did not.
—Remember the old house? Mary Grace added.
But Kid could not.
Samantha said that her own memory was fuzzy. She said it was because of drugs and alcohol. A lifetime of it. Sam was more than thirty years older than Kid. She was the oldest sister.
Oona told them that she remembered everything. She remembered being in the womb, she said, and she remembered her birth and her early childhood. She remembered being eighteen years old, leaving home to join a cult in Brooklyn. From Henry Street she went to the Ganges. Once she moved to India it was a short jump to marrying a swami. Her son Krishna was the offspring of that union. It was because of the meningitis he had as a child growing up in an ashram in India that he was deaf and going blind now.
Mary Grace declared that Kid had no memory because of fighting. But Deirdre observed that Kid never spoke much as a kid. Paddy and Kid and Junior and Frankie were the only ones not given to talking. Their family was nothing if not talkers.
Eileen said that Kid’s memory should be deficient from concussive blows to his head. Eileen liked to use phrases like “concussive blows to the head” to impress everyone about her mind-powers.
—But the Kid is a great defensive fighter, she said. I’ve seen him fight. He’s hard to hit.
His sister knew him like a book. He was a master of deception, nothing more. He looked skinny but really was thick in the neck and arms and legs. He looked dark but was really pale. He appeared to be a weakling and in fact was a tough guy.
—Right? she asked.
—Yeah, he said, laughing.
You only have so many fights. Once you reach the limit, you give up. You get out. You find another life. The problem Kid had was knowing when he’d reached his limit. You win a fight, like he did against Blue Rivers, and yet you come away a bit older, not your belly-button age, but an old man in this young body. Is it here? Is it now? Did I miss it a year ago? Kid worked a line of business where it was hard to know when it was time to go. He figured he had a few more fights left in him. But maybe he only had one or two more.
His old man Jackie Ducks, when he was still alive, once told Kid that his son was good enough to get himself killed. Kid knew what old Jackie Ducks meant. Billy Faherty told him the same thing when they first met and as recently as a few weeks ago.
—You’re just good enough to get yourself killed, he said, echoing Kid’s father.
Right now Kid had a couple of loose screws in his head. If he kept getting hit, he was going to wake up one morning and discover that there was nothing left in his head.
Already Kid had bad headaches.
When he got a migraine he couldn’t stand light and noise. He lay in a dark room for hours or days until it went away. He didn’t listen to music, he couldn’t talk when the migraines struck. He got a nauseous feeling in his stomach. Sometimes he threw up. His head rung. One side of his head ached.
It hurt like it was punched hard by a good left hook.
Kid also had sinus problems. The cavities above his eyebrows and just above his cheekbones filled up with liquid.
He had trouble focusing or paying attention. It was distracting.
Other problems included money. He didn’t have any. Prestige: his self-esteem sucked. Relationships: He had no honey. He’d see prostitutes in the city. But a prostitute wasn’t a relationship. Even Kid knew that. He had women friends. But he wasn’t sure if they really wanted to be with him. There was Gladiola. There was Kerry. There was that dancer in Atlantic City. There was the hygienist lately.
—Her name, he said, wondering.
It was all there, only it worked like an old hard-drive, slowly but determinedly.
Kid kept wondering what he was going to do when all of this ended.
Would he continue as he was? That included living in a single-room-occupancy in Sticks. Working at the plastics factory. He could mop floors at the Catholic school or be an orderly at the fireman’s home outside of Sticks. The possibilities were endless, and yet limited to almost nothing.
He would see family once in a while in the City.
Once he stopped fighting, that would be it. He didn’t want to be a trainer, a ref, a judge, a cornerman, or a mentor to young fighters.
He didn’t smoke or drink.
Well, mostly Kid didn’t smoke or drink. He still had probation for the bust-up in the bar. He still had to go to alcohol counseling. He still had to check in with a social worker every couple of weeks.
If he could win a big fight, he’d smoke a cigar. He’d drink a glass of champagne. After a recent sparring session, he showered, got dressed, and left the gym.
He stood on the subway platform, waiting for a train. He wore a dark nylon workout suit with a white stripe down the arms and the legs. He wore new white running shoes. He had a scarf around his neck to keep warm, and a watchman’s cap pulled tight over his skull and ears. He wore his eyeglasses because lately his eyesight had been going. The glasses sat crookedly on his big, broken nose.
A group of kids walked over.
—You lookin’ at me?—
Kid didn’t answer.
—Who you lookin’ at? the ringleader asked.
Still Kid didn’t say anything. He was a ring-fighter. He was not like his brothers. He was not a street-fighter. He was not interested in trouble. Kid didn’t think of himself as a tough guy. He remembered what Billy Faherty always said:
—You’re just tough enough.—
—When in doubt, Billy added, get on your bicycle. Run. Move. Scatta! Get out of there!
—What’s your problem? a third one of the kids asked.
It was late. Kid should have left the gym long ago. But he stayed talking to people. He was lonely and he wanted to see family and he thought one of his brothers was going to show up at the gym and they would go for a meal together in downtown Brooklyn. His brother was a deep thinker. He liked to talk, too. This was a result of his accident. He nearly died in a fire. Now he was philosophical about it. He was writing a book.
—I got no problem, Kid finally said to the punks near the subway station.
—Who asked you?—
—You’re my problem, the ringleader said.
—Cut out his pockets, one of the punks said.
That’s when Kid Coole ran.
He was not fast but he was quick. He could run a sprint. But he was best over the long haul. He had more stamina than brute strength. His twitch muscles were very fast. Outside the ring, he had nothing to prove. He didn’t even approve of fighting outside the ring. So he ran away from them.
They chased him for a block or two outside the subway station, but then gave up. Kid walked ten blocks to the next subway station, paid, got on, and took the subway to Penn Station.
He caught an Amtrak north to Sticks.
As the train rattled alongside the Hudson, Kid looked out at the dark night. He imagined the river. It was out there, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow. It was always flowing. Sometimes it flowed south. Sometimes north. It was that kind of river. It’s a river that is not really even a river. His own life was like that. Because he boxed for a living, it was presumed that he was a street fighter like some of his brothers. But he was not. Like the river, he bent. He flowed. He moved along.
—Calling the Hudson a river is a misnomer, Billy Farts told him. It’s an estuary. The Hudson estuary.
He sat back in his seat on the train and looked out the window, trying to see the estuary through the darkness. He barely saw its surface, reflecting light. He inhaled. Exhaled. He breathed deeply. What was their problem back there at the subway in Brooklyn? Then he remembered. Oh, yeah. It was me. I was their problem. They did not like me. They wanted to do me harm. But they did not know that I make a point of staying out of harm’s way. Some people like to mix it up. I am not that kind of person.
His own problem was more complex than the street punks’ problem which was with him. Let Kid put it in a nutshell. Do I fight two more times and hang up my jockstrap? Do I keep fighting? Maybe do ten more fights. Do I keep fighting until I am an empty shell? I am tired. It is late. He closed his eyes. He stretched out. He was small, though. If he stretched out, he was still in no one’s way. The conductor would not ask him to pull in his big feet because someone might trip on them. He told himself everything was fine. It was fine. But Kid tasted something in his mouth—on his tongue. It was fear. He tasted the fear like it was an after-taste from a bad meal. He smelled anger, too. The anger rose inside of him, ugly and hot. Now he wanted to go back to Brooklyn and kill those punks. But, instead, he closed his eyes. He breathed. Inhaled. Exhaled. Deeply. Kid thought about his next fight. He thought about life after boxing.
—Perhaps I’ll become a gardener.—
Then he laughed.
Kid laughed for the first time in a long time.
It made him wonder about his Aunt Ella. She was the only person who made him laugh. But he had not seen her in ages. He wondered how Aunt Ella was as he drifted off to sleep on the train.
Kid slept on the couch after falling asleep while the late-night news was still on. The two of them—Gladiola and Kerry—were in the kitchen arguing again.
Kerry told her mother that Gladiola was worthless. An embarrassment.
—You’re a ‘ho’, mommy.—
—I ain’t no ‘ho’, no how.—
—You fuck anything that walks.—
—’Ho’s charge money.—
—You’re a dumb-fuck ‘ho’, who don’t know no better than to do it for free. You are an economic catastrophe, mommy.—
The daughter had gotten her eyebrow, nose, lip, tongue, stomach, and the lip of her vagina pierced and studded.
—You got more tattoos than the tattooed lady at the circus, Kerry said to her mother, and you’re telling me about a couple of piercings.—
Then Kerry stood and walked away, right as her mother was going to talk.
Kerry went to her bedroom on the ground floor in the back of the house. She smoked pot and thought of calling a motorcycle gang member to whack her mother. Maybe kill that worthless scumbag boxer sleeping on the couch, too. But instead of calling the motorcycle guy to whack her mother and Kid Coole, Kerry fell asleep from the pot.
Deirdre flew into Miami from the rain forest in Brazil. That’s where she lived with her husband Jiao and the kids. Oona and Sam lived in Florida, one near Tampa, the other north of Miami. They met at the Miami airport and flew to New York. They had all come together for the birthday party.
Eileen was thirty-five years old. This was her birthday party. Sam rented a conference room at the Ramada Inn near Kennedy Airport.
None of the brothers—other than Parnell—had shown yet. Quite a few of their brothers had said they would come to the party. No spouses or boyfriends were at the Ramada, except Mary Grace’s boyfriend, Tony Bones, a legitimate businessman from Bensonhurst.
Tony wanted to talk to Kid about one of his friends in Brooklyn handling his career. Tony said he knew how to fix Kid’s situation with the Commission. Tony could get Parnell reinstated. Kid was not interested.
—Billy Faherty is my manager and trainer, and Mike White is my assistant trainer and cutman. Ralph Half-Dog is spit-bucket. Well, Penny Half-Dog these days. Until Ralphie gets better.—
—Penny Half-Dog. What the fuck kind of name is that? And Billy Farty, Bill Farts, Tony Bones said. What the hell kind of name is Farty? Is that a real name? Does he fart a lot? What does he do for you, Kid?
—Having Billy as manager and trainer is a conflict of interest, Tony said. The New York State Boxing Commission will frown upon this innocent behavior once you become a champeen of the world. Billy Farty is in no position to represent you and train you at the highest levels of the sport. This requires professionals.
—Billy is a professional.—
—I mean people who know how to handle money and events. People who have contacts. People who understand contracts. People who know other people who know other people. The wheel turns. My people would not let you lose a fight to some bum in Utica, New York.—
—Schenectady, Kid said. Billy believed in me when no one else did. Now it is my turn to repay the favor.
—Please, please, please, Tony Bones said, gesturing wildly with his lit cigar. Let’s not get sentimental. We’re talking business not romance. Loyalty is great. But you’re missing paydays. Your career is slipping away because of your loyalty to Billy Farty who, with all due respect, I honor as a trainer, Kid, but as a manager? Come on. As a manager Billy Farty has his head up his ass. If you had a real manager, you’d be the lightweight champeen of the world today, not this fighter at the end of his career, sipping Coca-Cola at his sister’s birthday party in Queens.—
Tony had his opinion. Kid had his own. But you couldn’t argue fine points with a guy like Tony Bones.
Mary Grace announced that she and Tony Bones were engaged. Everyone oohed and ahhed. They kissed her on the cheeks. They congratulated her. Kid tried to shake Tony’s hand. Instead, Tony gave Kid a bear hug. Then he shook Kid’s hand by squeezing it too hard.
Kid pulled it away.
—Jesus, Kid, you shake hands like a dead fish, Tony Bones said.
—I’m shy about people squeezing my hands, Parnell said.
—You guys are all nuts, Tony said, laughing.
Mary Grace came over and flapped her arms around Tony’s big shoulders.
—He’s my fiancé now, she said, kissing Tony.
Kid could tell that she liked saying the word fiancé. She stopped calling him Tony or her boyfriend. He was her fiancé. Mary Grace would not call her fiancé Tony Bones even when he introduced himself that way.
—Hi, he said, I’m Tony Bones.—
—My fiancé, she added. Anthony Puglia.—
The other guy was awkward. He faked a jab. Kid doubled up. Kid came over it, counterpunching. But the other guy was waiting for him. Other guy threw a big right.
It hit Kid on the top of the head, to the right, near his temple. Kid was out on his feet. As soon as the other guy landed the big hit, Kid reeled backwards.
His legs got rubbery, and he felt like puking. Kid had no idea where he was, but he knew he was in some kind of survival mode. He tried to clear his head. But he couldn’t shake it. Instead, he got on his bicycle, circling the ring and his opponent. Kid knew he couldn’t win the round. All he wanted to do was survive it.
Then he juked right and left.
Nothing fancy, he told himself. You will be lucky if you get out of this round alive. Keep it simple, stupid, Kid said. Well, he didn’t really say anything. No words were in his head. Only this funny music.
Fortunately, the other guy, Tyrone Brighella, a Marine from Quantico, was not a seasoned fighter. He didn’t know how to put Kid Coole away.
When you get knocked out or take a heavy blow to the head, the commission suspends your license for 90 days. You have to have a brain scan to see if the rhythms of your brain aren’t off. Kid hated being slid into the scanner. It was like being on an alien spaceship. He got claustrophobic. But he’d had several of them by now. Usually they sent him to a place on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.
Going back to New York, Kid was beaten up and swollen. His head hurt like you would not believe. It felt like he fractured his skull. Like an ax was planted there. He couldn’t believe that the judges awarded him the decision. He hadn’t earned it. He didn’t deserve it. But a win was a win.
The crazy music in his head would play a different tune. The rhythm of his feet will match the beat of his gloves.
Kerry woke to a crashing sound. She figured that it was her mother drunk or maybe one of her mother’s drunken boyfriends. Kid was deep in sleep on the couch, but even he woke up from it. He got up and headed toward the back of the house, but could not figure what was going on.
The noise came from Kerry’s room in the back of the house behind the kitchen. Kid figured that one of her wild boyfriend’s was freaking out from crack or ecstasy. Behind the door, Kid heard snorts and cries, he heard Kerry screaming wildly, but the door was locked, and he couldn’t get inside her room immediately.
—Mom, mom, Kerry cried. Mommy!
Kid broke open the door with his shoulder.
A deer had jumped through the bedroom window. Now it bucked and ran, knocking over dresser and chairs, breaking a mirror, sending CDs and a player flying.
Gladiola came running into the bedroom only to face the bloody, crazed, scared, injured deer.
—Help me, mom, her daughter pleaded because she was pinned in a corner, naked except for a blanket which she held up to protect herself from the rampaging deer.
Gladiola ripped the blanket violently from her daughter’s hands, came up behind the deer, and she tossed the blanket over its head.
Quickly she tied the blanket securely over the deer’s head, and the animal seemed to calm down.
—Open the fuckn door, she shouted at Kid, motioning toward the downstairs bathroom.
Kerry’s mother lead the animal into the bathroom, talking gently to it the whole time, not letting go of the beast.
—Call the police, Gladiola said.
Kerry put on some clothes.
When the police arrived, she showed them where the animal was. Her mother had it near the tub, still talking to it gently. Kid stood next to Gladiola, watching this with dumbfounded awe. He was not really a country person despite all the years he had spent in Sticks and Leathe.
The deer was calm now as Gladiola talked to it.
A vet eventually arrived and sedated the animal, and then lead it away.
One police officer told Kerry how lucky she was to have such a cool mother who knew what to do with a wild animal in the house.
—Hey, Kid, another cop said.
—Hey, he answered.
—Any fights comn up?—
—Yeah, I got somethn somewhere, he said, desultorily.
—Do you remember when mom stopped drinking? Deirdre asked her brother Parnie.
—My memory isn’t good, he said.
He recalled a pivot he made that allowed him to slip a punch and then counter with a punch of his own. He didn’t remember towns where he fought or fighters he got in the ring with. He remembered jabs. Hooks and crosses. He remembered a knockout in Troy. Then another knockout in Troy two weeks after that. He remembered a K.O. in Rome, New York. Two weeks later he knocked out someone in Utica. Then Syracuse. Kid would always remember Schenectady.
He had memory in his muscles and bones, through his skin and throughout the network of his veins. His memory snaked through his body in the lymph or it clustered in his limbic system, at the brain pan, in the back of his head and down his neck into his spine. The memory lived in his blood. Memory pumped through the body, blood to bone, bone to muscle, muscle to ligaments. This was what that body of memory told him:
—We come from a big family on Long Island. My mother was a beautiful woman. Our father was a difficult man, especially if you were one of his sons. My sisters remember an entirely different person than the sons remember.—
Strange how the body of memory had a voice almost like his own.
—I got in trouble when I was young and I was sent upstate. It was not a reformatory. Mr. Patterson helped to get me into a special school for troubled kids.—
Parnell stayed in the mountains.
When he retired, Kid would get a condo in Atlantic City. He’d walk on the boardwalk. See Whatshername, the dancer. Remember the feathers in her dance. Remember Pee-Aye. Remember the floor show. Maybe Kid would remember the old days. It was not important. He’d rather have good health than memory. The body of memory wanted wellness more than details, health and heartiness rather than knots of dendrons filled with names of labels on cans, cereal boxes, people’s names, the names of the living, the names of the dead.
For the moment, Kid preferred Sticks and Leathe. The mountains were what a fighter needed to be in his element. That was what went wrong with that stripper from Atlantic City. She did not understand the mountains, only the ocean. Her thing was the ocean, and that’s all right. Everything in its time and place. But he was a mountain person, at least as long as he was a fighter he preferred the mountains to the ocean. When he retired, he’d get a condo in Atlantic City. But he would always keep a room in Sticks. He could never be away from the mountains for too long.
His sisters were drinking and getting loud. They danced around Tony Bones to a Madonna song called “Music.” Tony got annoyed. He pushed them away.
—Knock it off, he said.
They went back to drinking beer and whiskey and eating birthday cake from Carvel’s. They had rented the room until five o’clock, and it was only twelve minutes after three.
The music stopped and the girls sat around the table. Now they were talking about old boyfriends. They discussed local boys they had crushes on. Then they discussed the cutest male cousins. Each sister had a different cousin she had a crush on. As they spoke with each other, their voices blurred. It created one big voice that Kid couldn’t understand. It was just like when they were kids. They would sit around the dining room table. (This was before Mr. Patterson took Kid upstate to get help with his temper and getting in trouble and skipping school and fighting.) They were crowded together. There were at least eleven of them. But the number could go as high as eighteen people if all of them visited home.
Nearly everyone spoke at once. A few were silent. They were invisible. Kid’s mind was blank.
It was still blank.
There probably was some damage in his head. Kid had lost some memory. But if he couldn’t remember what he lost, did it matter? Who cared? He had a body of memory. They were not thoughts but pictures and feelings that were packed into his muscles and his spine.
When Kid was a boy, he remembered reading about a great Mexican fighter named Salvador Sanchez, who was going to become a doctor after he retired from boxing. But Sanchez was killed in a car accident. All of Mexico mourned him. Parnell still remembered how he felt when he learned that the great Salvador Sanchez had been killed in a car accident. Salvador Sanchez—the invincible Salvador the fighter—was dead. It broke Kid’s heart in a million pieces even though the Mexican fighter had died years before Kid knew this fact. It was reading about him in that book which upset Parnell Coole.
He was not planning on a medical career unless it was as an orderly. He was good with a mop.
Kid had a slight thickness in my speech. It was barely noticeable. His voice was a little thin. He seemed to whisper more than he talked. There was the faintest lisp. Yet, ask his sisters, he was always like that. They would tease him as a child and call him Al Pacino or Michael Corleone because of the whisper. They would mock the lisp, talking like drag queens.
Every couple of months Billy Faherty made Kid see a neurologist in Duchess County. His cat-scans were good. He didn’t have any reflexive damage. If anything, his reflexes were better now than when he was a young fighter. Kid never was fast on his feet. Billy said that Kid Coole had good twitch muscles. He was not a sprinter. He was a long-distance runner. Kid was a reflexive fighter. His speed was with the counter-punch. His speed was with deception, not outright bursts of it. He was tricky, hard to figure, never where you thought he might be. He slipped punches by a centimeter, and then he countered.
Their mother died alert. She was active until the end. Her age was listed as being in her nineties. She fell down a staircase while visiting one of Kid’s sisters in Brooklyn. Mom had not been to Brooklyn in thirty years.
The old man had pugilistic dementia. Their father did not know anyone or anything.
When his father was still mentally well, he told Kid that everyone forgets things. They do not remember a name or a date. What mattered was if you couldn’t remember what things were for. You couldn’t tell the difference between a spoon and a jack hammer. Kid had no trouble in that department. He had never picked up a jack hammer and expected a glass of tea to be drunk from it. He never wiped his ass and tasted the chocolate on his fingers. He knew where he was and who he was. He just did not have many words in his head. He was blank in the word-department of his brain. But his body had memories, aching thoughts of what he had done with himself through all those fights and all that sparring leading up to the fights, all that vigorous training, all the roadwork and gym workouts, the endless hours of sleeping and sleeping some more.
Kid spoke with one of his older brothers about his memory. The brother told him not to worry.
—It’s all right, his brother said.
His brother Mickey suggested that Kid take ghinko. Mickey Mack told him to build a memory palace in his mind. He said that Italian missionaries did this in China after Marco Polo went there. The priests taught the emperor’s children how to memorize Chinese characters.
—I walk into the vestibule of the palace of memory and look in a closet. It is filled with old coats, hats, baseball gloves, golf clubs, sneakers, winter coats, rain slickers, and tennis rackets. It smells of mildew. I sit inside of it in the dark. Then I get up and walk into the other rooms of the palace of memory.
—In the living room I sit on the couch. My mother makes me a tomato and cheese sandwich on Jewish rye with Gulden’s golden mustard. I taste the pepper and salt on the tomato. The tomato came from our neighbor’s garden. It is a beefsteak tomato, red and juicy. The juice runs down my chin.
—I watch television.
—A baseball game is on. A player is hit by a ball as he runs from first to second base. He crawls to the base but is tagged out. I find the second baseman cruel. Years later when I am introduced to the second baseman I refuse to shake his hand.—
—Remember the Bee Gees? Oona asked.
They did. Who could forget the Bee Gees? The sisters let their recognition become known by screaming at the top of their lungs. His sisters were small but very loud creatures. They danced around the table again.
—Dancing at Lughnasa!—
Everyone laughed at this remark.
The music they danced to was by The Coors.
—Women, Tony Bones said. Then he added: Irish women are all nuts. But they’re beautiful.
He shrugged his shoulders and lit a cigar and drank Scotch from a tumbler. The ice chinked on the side of the glass.
Kid tried to return to the palace of memory.
It occurred to him as he sat in a conference room of the Ramada Inn that he was twenty-six years old. He was getting to be a very old fighter. He needed more rooms in the palace of memory before he forgot everything. When his older brother told him to do this—to create the memory palace in his mind, not his body—he first thought about an old funhouse at Coney Island. He imagined Steeplechase or Luna Park. These were places that were there long before he was born. Kid never knew them. But his aunts and uncles and older cousins, plus his three oldest brothers, talked about these palaces of fun. His trainer Billy Faherty spoke about Steeplechase, and Mike White, his cutman, told him about Luna Park. The old-old fighters would tell him, when he met them at fight-writer dinners in Times Square, that they had their early career fights at the Coney Island Velodrome, and they fought there the same way Billy and Mike let him fight in Troy and Rome and Syracuse, building up a record for the big fights in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or New York.
The palace of memory was more a house than a castle. As much as Kid tried to make it grand, it kept coming back to a simple house. This house resembled the one they were raised in on Long Island. It had a cream-colored stucco exterior with green trim. Outside the front windows there was hollyhock growing. A lilac bush scented the yard. There was a great sycamore on the side of the house. But he couldn’t see the house in his mind. His mind was like a white sheet hanging on a line to dry. The mind was full of nothingness. Where he saw the memory palace was in his muscles and bones, the ligaments and the guts of his body, in the pit of his stomach, through his kidneys on his backside, down the arcing and curling muscles of his legs, the thighs and quads, the kneecaps and the calves. He didn’t really see the memory palace at all, though. He felt it inside of him, and he wondered whether he got his brother’s instructions all wrong.
The house was worn out from all the children who lived in it. Its floors were scuffed and worn smooth from thousands of feet wearing away the polyurethane and then the wood itself. Many of the windows were cracked or had missing panes.
His palace of memory was drafty. Its kitchen was musty and small. The rooms were damp. Lighting was poor, sometimes only a bare light bulb in the middle of the ceiling. There were not too many rooms and only one bathroom, on the second floor. The one bathroom accommodated eighteen people.
Kid saw an uncle sleeping on the couch of memory. The uncle smelt of stale whiskey and tobacco. His trousers and socks were still on him, but his jacket and shirt were draped over a chair in the living room. The snoring was loud and slow.
—Your brother has to go, his father said to their mother.
—He’s a good kid, mom said. He’s having a hard time.
—Aren’t we all having a hard time, their father responded.
—He’ll be back on his feet in no time, mom observed.
His sisters listen as Deirdre talked about living in Brazil with her husband and daughters. When a sister asked what her husband did, Deirdre said,
She had not learned to speak Portuguese, and that was a problem because her daughters spoke it now.
All of Kid’s sisters were talking at once again. He couldn’t understand a thing they were saying.
But Eileen was quiet like he was. Her nickname was Mouse. She used to be a nun. Now she worked for a wiseguy downtown, making his espressos for him.
Mary Grace filled their ears with obscenities.
—So I said to this fuckn motherfuckn shitass dirtbag, I says, hey, motherfuck, you listen to what I’m fuckn sayn.—
When Oona suggested that her sister watch her mouth, Mary Grace said,
—Hey, where I live in Brooklyn, even the fuckn priests talk like me.—
Tony Bones laughed.
—She ain’t fuckn kiddin’, he said.
The manager of the Ramada Inn came in and reminded everyone to be out by five o’clock. Tony Bones put his arm on the manager’s shoulder and the man became very apologetic about disturbing the party once Tony had talked to him.
—I straightened him out.—
Tony Bones winked at Kid Coole.
He came over to the fighter in the family.
—Where’s ya fuckn brothers, Kid?—
Kid shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I don’t know.
—What do you know, Kid?—
Kid shrugged again.
Tony punched him hard. His punch was a straight right. It landed on Kid’s shoulder and it hurt. Tony was a big, muscular man. He laughed. He leaned over, being much taller than Kid Coole, and he planted a kiss on the top of Kid’s shaved head. Then he stood behind Kid and Tony Bones kneaded his shoulders the way Mike White did before a fight.
—You’re all right, Tony said. You mind your own fuckn business. You don’t yap-yap like the rest your family. You seem more guinea than mick. I want you to meet a friend of mine in Brooklyn. He could help the management side of your career. Let Billy Faherty handle what he knows, the training of a fighter. Let my friend do what he knows best. Professional management. He’ll create a financial future for you after you leave the ring. We’ll put icing on your cake. I can make this champeenship fight happen at the Garden if you tell me to do it. But you got to let us manage you instead of Billy Farts. He’ll stay your trainer. Otherwise you’re gonna be fightn smokers in fuckn upstate for the rest of your career, Kid.
Mary Grace came over and collapsed into Tony’s arms. She was drunk.
—Is my fiancé giving you a hard time? she asked Kid.
—I was telling him about a management opportunity, Tony said.
—The Kid won’t remember a thing you tell him when he wakes up tomorrow. Am I right, bro’?—
Kid nodded his head yes.
To Tony he said,
—Speak to your guys. I’ll tell Billy Faherty what’s going on.—
Tony Bones stuck the cigar into his mouth, making him look like Al Capone, especially as he kept a fedora on his head, even inside the Ramada Inn. He pointed both of his thumbs skyward and waggled them.
—O.K., O.K., he said, shaking Kid’s hand.
But Kid pulled his hand away almost immediately. Tony had an iron grip.
—How’s my fuckn fiancé? Mary Grace asked.
—O.K., O.K., Tony said, letting her sit on his lap.
Mary Grace pulled the cigar out of his mouth and puffed on it, and Tony said she was crazy. Parnell Coole drifted away from them and decided it was time to go home. Everyone was drunk, and he didn’t think any of his brothers were going to show. But just as he got to the door, Emmett and a bunch of the other brothers came in the door, so Kid put down his coat and stayed with his family a little longer.
The Rail is running Kid Coole as a serial from May 2015 through June 2016.
ContributorM. G. Stephens
M. G. STEPHENS is the author of nineteen books, most recently Occam’s Razor (2015), a collection of short poems. His other works include the novels The Brooklyn Book of the Dead and Season at Coole; the essay collections Green Dreams and The Dramaturgy of Style; and the memoirs Lost in Seoul and Where the Sky Ends. He recently completed a nonfiction work about downtown New York in the 1960s, with particular attention on the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. Recent writings have appeared in the current issues of Missouri Review, Notre Dame Review, The London Magazine, and The Hollins Critic.