Ashes

KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KI—

He fucks whores.

He cranks out push ups.

He jogs in the morning past shuttered shops and locked gates and snarling dogs straining at their bars. In the afternoon the scum in the streets will melt and the trash smell will mix with the desert air, and then the dust will fall so heavy and flat as the sun bakes the Earth that there will be no smell at all.

The emptiness, blue and brown. Rattlesnakes are out there. He likes to ride his motorcycle out there. Cars leave plumes of dust like you see on TV.

Ash.

He’s back.

Day one:

He hits the gym and spars a couple rounds with a middleweight, a local, a kid about to make his pro debut.

Coach talks as he wraps Ash’s hands. “Kid’s fast. Pick your shots. Don’t be a headhunter. You American?”

Ash holds his hand out in front him, blue eyes on the strip of yellow cloth going round and round his wrist. He speaks good Spanish with a gringo accent.

“Kind of going it on my own.” Still staring at the hand wrap, deep down somewhere inside himself; like always, it’s always like this, he’s always—

“Got lots like that in this town,” says Coach. He finishes up on Ash’s left hand and pushes it down, cupping his fingers for the right. The men sit opposite each other in folding metal chairs.

“I’m gonna tell you two things,” says Coach. “One: don’t bring any trouble to this gym. I don’t care if your game is guns or drugs or what, but this here is a clean place. Got it?” He meets Ash’s eyes before going back to his hands. “You do that, you can train here all you like. I saw you warming up. I saw you shadowboxing when I come in from lunch. You know what you’re doing, but you are rusty, hombre.” Coach shoots a glance back over his shoulder.

“Second thing: that kid over there has got a left hook from hell. You’ll hit the canvas before you feel the punch.”

Ash flicks up his eyes, face a mask. Across the gym: the Mexican middleweight. Like Ash, he sits in a chair opposite his coach. Like Ash he’s getting prepared, clearing his head, feeling for pockets of rage, gaming the visuals, finding the zone. Fluid, it’s all fluid when you do it right…

…that kid over there speaking in Spanish with his coach, all hushed tones and dark features, olive skin and open aggression back towards the white man, the gringo who at present is pushing his hands into his gloves and waiting for them to be laced. Shirtless. Sunburned. Scruffy. He has a heavier build than the Mexican, a longer reach.

He stares through you. He’s good with knives, guns, screwdrivers; improvised weapons for his traveling altar of death. Staring…the stink of the predator all over him, at the apex as he

takes in the old posters on the walls, glory withered with time; the framed photos…the sun stealing fugitive through the wire-mesh over the high and small windows into this blooded and bleeding place, the concrete and its dust. Ash breathes it all in like he’s not quite sure if he’s come back from the dead, so long has he been away from this side of the Earth—and again in this place, in his mind, it all comes back to this:

Barn-door shoulders. Sledge-hammer fists. Kill. Yeah. But strong guys like Ash can be their own undoing. They swing for the fences and let anger cloud their vision; they enter the tunnel, where guys like the smaller Mexican, patient and detached, know well enough to bide their time and to breathe; to laugh at their own mistakes and to pick their shots, to get inside the defenses of the bigger man, tiring him, working the body before evading yet again, and again;

confuse him, mock him with dodges and maneuvers; refuse to meet him in his galloping offensives, those snorting, spitting, growling assaults that surely enough over time will wear him out, collapsing his spatial awareness and interrupting the mind-body link.

You forget to be present, you’re done.

Coach laces Ash’s left glove, hastening to add a final directive with a quick peek back over his shoulder.

“If he manages to get in close, weather the storm and get out. Listen to me: Keep him on the outside. He gets on the inside, and before you know it he’s got you covering up and wondering where the next shot is coming from.” Coach’s eyebrows rise in unison with the standing motion of the two men, Ash with his gloves out in front of him and Coach with his hands on his gloves. “That left hook on the inside.” Breath smelling like coffee. Searching eyes willing him to understand. He bobs the gloves in place, dual punctuating movements. “Do not let him on the inside.”

The middleweight and his trainer approach, Ash and the Mexican exchanging nods–

and then all at once they’re climbing into the ring and standing in their corners and leaning forward for their trainers to feed them their mouth-pieces, eyes locked on each other the whole time.

An electronic buzzer on a little table pushed up against the ring gives the ten-second warning.

Coach reaches through the ropes and smacks Ash on the ass.

“Welcome to Tijuana.”

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