Sweet Lou

I'm a student at Temple University pursuing a degree in English and in Media Arts. I enjoy watching Avatar: the Last Airbender, doing mediocre covers of folk songs, and getting upset when the 76ers ... [+]

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
The reporter knew the first rule of journalism: never let go of the mic. He learned the sacred rule while watching a peer concede her interview to a drunkard with a good grip. Still, he threw over the mic when Sweet Lou reached for it. Maybe it was the din of the crowd, the smell of booze on the air, or the dark of night that broke rule number one; maybe it was the man that now held the mic that broke it. In any case it was fear.
‘Sweet’ Lou Swinton stared into the Channel 4 camera, mic in hand: “I’m the bulwark, I’m the curtain wall, I’m the stone he’s gonna break his knuckles against; my skin is bark, my bones are steel, my blood is mercury. Little people make big money and forget the kind of blood that’s in their veins; I’m the DNA test, I remind them where they came from, I send them back crawling. He better hope that his arms can carry him home, cus once I break his damn legs-”
The screen went black for a moment before cable news once again intruded upon TV’s the world over. Linda began the post-censorship commentary with a forced smile, “Oh, aha, Tom, I guess Censorships and Morals works fast, we’re back on.”
“Championship fighters aren’t known for their propriety, Linda,” said Tom.
“You aren’t kidding, Tom, you can’t say those kinds of things on TV. We go right back to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to our correspondent, Armand Waites. Armand?”
“I hear you, Linda.” Waves of people shifting in the dark outside of the stadium filled the background of Armand’s shot. Occasionally a streetlamp would reveal someone bouncing off the hood of a slow-moving car or would light the mouth of a man scalping among the crowded lot.
Linda spoke again, now off-screen, “You’ve covered Lou for a few years now, do you share his confidence in this upcoming fight?”
“Yes, I do,” said Armand, “as much as it is possible to share his confidence in himself. Sweet Lou isn’t one to be anything but boastful, and he has earned that right. His record stands at nineteen wins and one loss, his lone defeat coming at the hands of the man he is set to face tonight: Tiago Silva. Since that loss, Lou has gotten quicker, stro-” fans shout-singing the Star Spangled Banner drowned out Armand’s voice, “and he has a chin that he says should be sponsored by milk. Calcium. He says his iron chin is a product that has been in development since middle school fights in the lunch line. He’s a hometown kid, this crowd is going to get him fired up, Linda. Back to you.”
“Thanks, Armand, that crowd looks like it could fire up a corpse. The International Fighting League 226 title fight begins soon, 10 pm eastern standard time. Interim Champion ‘Sweet’ Lou Swinton looks to unify the belts as Tiago Silva seeks to prove that no rust has stained the championship gold during his brief hiatus from the sport. Stay tuned, more after the break.”
The crowd fell in around Lou and the reporter. Security, which was in place to protect fans from Lou rather than the other way around, formed a red-rover-style line to keep them at bay.
The reporter leaned into Lou’s mic, “Can you say more about your opponent? Tiago has said that-”
“I am the king, Silva’s going to bow,” said Lou. “If you think I’ve got more to say then you haven’t been listening,” Lou threw the mic over his head and pushed his way into the throng.
Lou had Tia in his arms. When they got into the back halls and away from the public he nuzzled her, cheek on head, “Are you excited?”
She rubbed her eyes and nodded, “Yeah.”
“You look tired.” Tia, swaddled in Lou’s arms, clutched an old doll that he had given her when she was born. Lou bought it for her before he had made any money from fighting, bought it with the tips he earned at the carwash and during night shifts as a bartender. She had new toys now, but only ever carried this one. “Too tired? It’s all that school, too much will rot you.” He splayed out his hand and used it to massage her scalp, mussing her hair and squeezing her head, “You know what’s on your head?”
“What’s it doing?”
She laughed and pushed his hand away, “Starving.”
“No, he’s getting all full. You’re in daddy’s world today, there’s a lot to learn.”
“Can I get down?”
“Affirmative, but it’s a long way to land.” He set her down with the obligatory rocket-ship sounds: landing successful. They held hands and walked.
Tia stayed in the locker room. Lou and his cornermen stood at the entrance of the tunnel; at the end of it the world waited for him.
The lights went out, and the whistle of a mic hushed the crowd. A single blue light lit the fighting ring. A woman sang, “Oh, say can you see, by the....” Lou couldn’t hear it, just the thumping in his chest. The crowd cheered as the song ended. He heard his name. “Showtime.” Don’t trip.
The flag he carried on his back-- 3 vertical stripes, blue-yellow-blue-- billowed like a sail as he skipped through the tunnel, between the fans, to the octagon steps. A man in gloves stepped up to yell something into Lou’s ear. Lou nodded, but didn’t know what was said, everyone in the arena was screaming.
Cup check? Check. The gloved man rubbed petroleum jelly along Lou’s brow and cheeks to prevent cuts. Lou felt another set of hands-- through his hair, along his arms, up his legs, down his torso-- checking that he wasn’t oiled to avoid grabs. Thumbs up from the woman that checked him. More whispering in his ear from the gloved man. Mouth guard? Check.
Lou crawled up the steps on all fours and stood again in the middle of it all: everything that was. He wished for earplugs. He spun and threw a crescent kick for the crowd’s delight, and was rewarded with their shrieks. He paced the cage.
Silva came out next, but Lou didn’t see or hear him. Lou felt as though he saw nothing until the two touched gloves and the referee yelled, “Fight!” After that, Lou saw Silva’s elbow swing at his head, and then he saw black.
The reporter stood outside of a locker room door and pointed to it with his reserve mic, “Inside sits Lou Swinton who has locked the doors and refuses to open them to event staff, his cornermen, and even reporters. It appears the bruising that ‘Sweet’ Lou received has turned him sour-”
Other channels were less kind:
“This is a Daniel Cormier situation: what you have is a phenomenal fighter, a natural born killer, forced to face his kryptonite. Swinton will never be the true champion until Silva retires because-”
“That fight was over after, what, ten seconds? Five hits? I’ll give Lou credit, he took that first elbow like a champ, but-”
“That fight was embarrassing, disappointing, foreboding-”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Lou retired tonight-”
“Disgusting, illuminating, confounding-”
“I’d be embarrassed to be the second cousin twice removed of a champion that loses like that.”
Lou had cleared out his locker room and barred the doors. He sat on the floor, his back on the wall.
Tia felt around his eyes, prodding into the swelling tissue with her fingers. It took awhile for her to stop crying when she saw him, but the man with the swollen face was her father, just rearranged: his cauliflower ear and stooped posture compounded in ugliness with his newly split lip and bruised eye. He let her hold the ice to his eyes, and she giggled at the sounds he made when she pushed too hard.
They sat together on the floor as she held the ice and clutched her raggedy doll. Lou’s paychecks brought new toys with them, but she only cared to carry that one.