Uncle Jimmy was the country counterpart to Tonya’s parents. Jimmy was an outdoor type with a stomach matching the size of his one-ton pickup tires. Typical evenings were filled with his banjo pickings and occasional friends visiting to add in their musical two cents. Her first few visits to his home were filled with vile memories of angry geese and overconfident roosters. Like his brother, Tonya’s father, Jimmy would sit on the porch in his chair and laugh when the animals would give Tonya and the other children a hard time. He would say that everyone needs a wild goose chase story to be called normal.
It was Friday night, and the only thing to do in the barely existing town was to sit in the gas station parking lot and convince truckers to honor the request of a horn honk. It was the perfect beginning to a long weekend from school, except the one-ton did her a favor and refused to start. She threatened it, choked it, and eventually flooded it. All the usual tricks failed to get it to turn over. She even got out and ran around it three times and kicked it in the rear bumper twice, testing Jimmy’s peculiar theory of vehicles needing motivation. He would have to rescue her…again.
The fading sun gave its last ditch effort to light the world as Tonya walked along the mowed path to the house. A few lights cast frozen shadows in the house. She checked the various rooms and turned her attention to the classic red barn. The stars were fighting for their place in the sky as Tonya strode along the driveway to the barn chewing on the words she would have to say. Moving shadows behind the window blind lured Tonya to the barn door. Her hand froze inches away from the primitive latch.
She heard heavy breathing followed by repetitive thuds. Fear mounted in her throat, smothering her delicate breathing.
A heavy voice inside spoke, “What have you done with her?”
“It’s because of you that she’s gone!”
THUD, THUD, THUD.
“Why did you do it? She gave you plenty of chances and you blew it.”
Something crashed into the wall, shaking the door on its hinges. It was quiet for a moment before Tonya could gather herself. She recognized Jimmy’s voice, but didn’t know who he spoke to. Her shaking hand tried to lift the latch without a sound. The metal had lost most of its heat from the blistering day, but none of its voice.
At the first sound, Tonya knew she had blown her cover and turned to run but the outward swing of the door knocked her to the ground. She face-planted into the grass and a rough hand grabbed her shoulder and flipped her over.
Jimmy loomed over with large, dark bags under his eyes. “Oh, it’s you. How long have you been here?”
Fear stole the words. He asked a second time before she gathered herself. “Not long. What’s going on? Is someone in there with you?”
“No. Unless you count ole’ Jack.” She could smell the whiskey on his breath as he pulled her to her feet. They returned to the barn with Tonya a step behind.
The old smell of horses and hay did little to mask the odor coming from Jimmy. He walked over to the desk where an open bottle of whiskey and a shot glass stood at attention. After wiping his forehead with a towel, he poured a shot and downed it before turning to Tonya. “Ever see that photo there?” He pointed behind her.
Tonya studied it before recognizing the familiar glint in the man’s eyes. “Is that you and Aunt Peggy?”
He came and stood by her. “Yeah. That was back when I could see my toes. Peggy was quite the looker back then too.”
The couple stood next to a tall truck. “Is that the one-ton?”
“Yep. That was its first day on the farm. We got a good deal on it due to the starter issue.”
She forced the words to come. “That’s why I came to find you. I was going to go to town but it won’t start.”
“Oh, I’ll take a look at it in a bit.” His mind was absent as he relived some distant memories. It was strange not hearing his patronizing speech on self-reliance.
She tried to let her eyes wander the room, but the punching bag gently swinging from a long rope held her attention. She caught it and settled it into place. The brilliant red that once graced the outer shell had been reduced to a pale, dilapidated imitation. Duct tape wrapped its core, holding the filler in place. The recent activity on it wiped off dirt and dust in groupings. Her fingers felt the deep depressions from the heavy blows.
She faced Jimmy. The glint highlighting the corners of his eyes was missing. “Is everything okay?”
He wiped his nose with a handkerchief. “No. Yes. I don’t know.” A silent moment passed. “Have you ever had a go on one?” He pointed to the bag.
“No. Don’t you just hit it?”
He shook his head and motioned to turn around and face the bag. “Got any rings on? Good. Now, show me your fist.” Tonya held up her fist and he fine-tuned her thumb as her fist go rock solid. “Always keep your wrist straight, otherwise it’ll break in a heartbeat. Got it?” She nodded. “When you punch, don’t hit the target; hit passed the target. That let’s you get more power behind it. Instead of punching someone in the nose, smash their brain into the back of their skull.”
He let out a small chuckle. “Go on, give it a good one.”
Tonya tightened her fist as he taught her and hit it. Her knuckles took on a rosy pink as the slight sting tingled up her arm.
“Nice. You sure you’ve never done this before?”
She blushed and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Her curiosity blurted the question before she could think, “Did you ever get in a fight?”
“I’ve been in a few. You can’t grow up with older brothers and not know how to fight.” His laughter shook his belly. “However, I guess I shouldn’t hide this from you any longer.” He walked to the desk and opened the top drawer and pulled out another picture frame. He handed it to Tonya. “That’s me and my sparring partner, Stu Collins. We were in our early twenties then.”
The photo showed two men standing in a boxing ring with their gloved hands over their heads.
“We were the local favorites and fought in every tournament we could afford to go to. Those were great times; prize fighting and lots of press coverage. It was hard to have a decent meal without some bozo proclaiming our recent fights to us and everyone else in the diners.”
“I never knew you were a boxer. How long did you box?”
“I met Peggy.”
“Did she make you quit?”
“No. She watched from my corner. She was always there for us, watching our opponents for any weaknesses. It wasn’t until Stu and I fought in the big city that things changed. We made it into the final, but I didn’t want to fight my best friend.”
He turned his attention to the punching bag and walked up to it.
“I tried to get out of it, but the officials wouldn’t give him the win without a fight.” Tonya stood behind him as he squared up to the bag. “I couldn’t focus on the fight. All I could see was his laughing face and big smile. That was when the bell rang.” He pulled up his fists into guard. “I met him in the middle of the ring. We danced, but neither of us wanted to swing first. We knew each other better than ourselves.”
He circled around the bag while speaking.
“He began with his favorite combos and I returned the favor.” His fists were a blur in a quick succession of blows to the bag. “We started making contact. He landed a few jabs and bloodied my nose. Nothing major connected for the first round. Peggy waited in my corner. She was concerned for us both. She loved us both. She told me to keep my guard up and wear him down some. The bell rang and brought us to the center of the ring where we exchanged blow-for-blow.”
He was silent as his eyes pierced the bag. Despite the man’s size, his fists remembered their former speed as they connected with the bag, sending shock waves through the rope to the rafters above. Small bits of dirt fell as he hammered away at the bag. Tonya took a few steps back as the rope protested. He stopped punching and steadied the bag.
“I’ll never forget what Peggy told me after the second round. She said he was gassed and wouldn’t last the next round. ‘Jab, jab, move. Jab, jab, move. Do this and catch him with an uppercut to end it.’ I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I’d never knocked him out before and the next round started before I wanted it to. When he came out of his corner, his hands were sagging and I knew I had him.”
Jimmy brought his fists up. With a step to the right his left hand flew out twice and tagged the bag and he ducked and stepped around the bag. As it swung on the rope, he kept the distance to an arm’s length. As the bag swung towards him, his left hand popped the bag twice before he launched his body upwards led by a mighty right hand. The force of the strike lifted the bag up and back. It came back down and a loud snap sent the rope flying to the rafters while the bag crashed to the ground.
His voice was flat as he spoke, “Stu went down the same way. Just like Peggy said he would.”
Tonya was silent as the dust particles chased one another in the air.
A small smile hinted to her, “You see what you made me do.”
“Me!? You’re the one that hit it.”
His belly bounced with his laughter. “Well, is it too late to meet with your friends? I can fix this tomorrow and then I’ll give you your first real lesson in boxing.”
“You want me to fight?”
“No. I want you to be able to defend yourself and not depend on anyone to come to your rescue. Plus, it’s fun. What do you say?”
“What if my parents find out?”
“With me in your corner, they never will.” He raised a fist and Tonya bumped knuckles to him. “Let’s get that ole’ truck going. The night is still young.”
It wasn’t long before the rusted exhaust garbled to life and the echo of the motor sang to the overweight motor-head. Jimmy slammed the hood and waved Tonya off, shadow boxing his way back to the house.
The memory ended as Tonya wiped a tear. Her fingers tightened around the hair dye as she stood and slammed the locker door shut and went to find a mirror.
TO BE CONTINUED…