I see Dad when he eyeballs the Tombstone, staring at him like he’s already pinned him in a corner. They dance around each other like feral cats waiting to pounce on a rat. Even though I can see Better now, I don’t get what they’re doing. They look like they’re play fighting.
“What’s happenin?” I ask Aunt Nolie, who’s followed me up closer to the ring.
“The Tombstone is throwin’ a few jabs.”
“What ’er jabs’?”
“Well, see, a jab ain’t usually a hard punch, but it lets the other fella know yer in the game. Jabs kinda make the other fella pay attention. They’re holdin’ their gloves up by their heads ’cause in boxin’, ye gotta protect yerself at all times.”
The Tombstone jabs, trying to get Dad’s attention. Dad’s smiling like he’s watching a funny picture show. Aunt Nolie tells me more. The Tombstone throws another jab, then a straight right, but Dad easily ducks under it and comes up with a left hook to the jaw.
“Well, lookie there, he’s done it,” says Aunt Nolie.
The Tombstone went down fast, laid out flat on his back, out like Lottie’s eye. The fight is over before the first bell had a chance to ding. Dad had been paying attention alright.
The Ranger folks, some who like Dad and some who don’t, hoot and holler that one of their own just beat a stranger, a foreigner on Ranger soil. My dad is a hero.
Dad doesn’t brag though. He smiles without his teeth showing while he stares down at the bloodied man. The referee counts to ten. The Tombstone twitches his eyeballs. Knowing he’s not dead, the referee raises Dad’s right hand up in the air and declares him the winner.
Walking home, I think about how good it was to see Dad do something good like that, something Better than drinking Pearl beer and ignoring me.
The next morning I ask, “Were ye scared Dad?”
“Naw, I ain’t afraid ’a nothing. Besides, that pissant couldn’t fight the gnats off his butt.” I laugh at the picture of the Tombstone trying to swat gnats off his hind-end while wearing bandages on both hands.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story