In the time he was on the blacktop, Devlin saw, spoke to, and touched across the shoulder his younger self, a boy who thought fighting hardly more than the post-match reverie from a bar stool or the cradle of his father’s arm.
He might’ve been drunk, his older self, watching and thinking on his boyhood, grabbing for an easier time, less painful, less full of bare knuckles, the yelping gawkers blocking off traffic, the knuckled money and the slobbering and coughing.
This was a fair fight, and it was all but lost now. He made a rundown of his injuries from his place on the blacktop. Broken nose, split eyebrow, cracked jaw, a wheezing that pointed to his lungs and probably a few green stick ribs. There was a larger reason, a purpose for why he was in this position, but it was as clear as mud from this spot.
Sixty-thousand pounds from each family. The words train-spiked inside his head, worse than the ache. He made another mental note as best he could – possible concussion. Sixty-thousand pounds for a fair fight with his own cousin in this remote section of countryside. Folks from both sides of each family were at opposite ends of the stretch of blacktop road. They would stop any traffic, even county officials for as long as possible, until one man was left standing or until one of the two called it off. Everybody involved, down to the gawkers with traffic duty, were reliable because all of them had money invested. In Devlin’s case, it was a matter of easy money for his family. He, the King of the Travellers.
The man he fought today, a cousin from the Joyces, was a tattooed version of his younger days. The lifted face of Che Guevara inked across his right side moving like a reflection across the skin, his arms without a touch of fat, eyes steady. The boy was more than Devlin could take on.
He played through his previous five fair fights over and over, one elbow to the ground now and rising, though his chin still lagged. And while he recapped what he had done before, the loss came more easily in the here and now. Inside his head, he was still young. Not the granite fighter breaking a Joyce’s bones, but a boy pressing his fingers into the bicep of his father, drinking from the same glass, when fights were stories told with laughter and losing was part of a dead language.