Punch Drunk

He could feel his fists clenching automatically. The first sign of the desire that was swelling up within him, a physical reaction accompanied by vivid memories of his own time in the ring. Flashes of a long surpressed satisfaction found in the first flurry of thudding punches – a distillation and simplification of everything he was into one pure and comprehendible moment of action.

It had been a bad idea to come along tonight. Already he was feeling oppressed by the triggered ressurgance of everything he’d spent so long training himself to manage without giving in to the impulses which used to dictate his entire life.

He should have guesssed what his reaction would be. No, he’d known what his reaction would be, he should have accepted the truth rather than ignoring it for the sake of self-indulgence. For six years he’d lived out everything he was as a fighter, touring pubs, barns and carparks to serve an audience of barrel shaped drunks who barked at the entertainments of bare knuckle boxers. A form of sanity, he’d always told himself, a release for that large part of himself that he couldn’t manage internally as a violent expression to an approving crowd.

He remembered the force of that life with crystal clarity – how could he have fooled himself, even for a second, into believing that he’d conquered that drive for release in and from himself? No amount of therapy, self help books, meditation and positive thinking could drown out his nature. He could only even restrain it with almost obsessive focus.

Within the improvised ring of hay bales the night’s first fighters were enthusiastically dancing around each other. Neither of them yet rattled into punch drunkenness. It was a poor bout though. They were big men, solidly capable of doing real harm, but they were both playing roles. Neither of them willing to stop looking like a fighter for long enough to lose themselves in the glorious release of the moment, if they even knew what that would feel like. The crowd could see it, see the restraint and paranoid control. No one was here to see a parade of controlled skill or style. They came to see what they wanted for themselves, an absence of control, an unthinking release of all there was to give. They wanted someone like him, someone who wanted to be as consumed by the violence as they did themselves in their unmentioned fantasies.

A few token cheers went up as one of the fighters gained the upper hand, a chain of punches to the head sending his opponent staggering away in confusion. Drunken expression more than anything, even with the blows this was still a bout managed by fear and self image. Steve realised he was on the boundary, leaning forwards into the ring, muscles tensed. One step more, one punch and he would be free again. Liberated form all the bullshit ideas about control he’d covered himself in so he could walk down the street without guessing at who was judging him. They’d applaud him for it too. They’d welcome him back to the violence, not caring how or why he’d returned but eager to sink themselves into the chaos of it.

He held himself back, forcing his fists to unball with more strength than he’d ever put into using them.

He had to leave. He had to gulp down fresh air and let his head bathe in silence. He had quit. He had spent years trying to find control for a reason. If he could get far enough away from there then he’d remember what it was, sweep away the heavy fug of almost drunken addiction. For now though he just needed to run, to sprint away from the beautiful promise of stepping back into that ring.

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks.

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