"That hurts!" I tell my brain—time has stopped ticking; a heartbeat lasts an hour—"I should fall down." So I roll over, scraping my knees on the canvas, and tag my bulbous partner, who rumbles forward with his mouth open like a gasping salmon, throws a few punches, takes a wallop to the gut and goes down as if shot.
After two two-minute rounds—the big boy and me getting the worst of it from the Friendly Mauler and the Cave Man, a small, quick, toothless, gray-haired 40-year-old Aboriginal (though, of course, the pros are pulling their punches), my partner and I are ready to say "No m�s," but Brophy strides to our corner. "You're doin' grite, just grite," he says, and persuades us to give it one more go.
Round 3 lasts a hundred years. Still leading with my chin and remembering the rather distressing adage Kill the body and the head will die, I burrow into the thicket of the Cave Man's elbows and ribs and try my flurry of stomach blows again. He is unimpressed and taps me apologetically in the face, and I go down once more, this time crawling to tag off with Tiny.
When it finally ends and I realize that I have survived with only some bruising around the breastbone and a slight wobble in my nose, I meet the Friendly Mauler again at the center of the ring. He hugs me, tells me, "I didn't think you'd really get in there and fight" and compliments my lion's heart. Good old Fred Brophy calls it a draw.
Out in the night, strangers approach, beer-handed, with congratulations and awe. "Good on yer, good on yer," they say.
Music is playing from a tent somewhere. Under a tapestry of Southern stars, the boxer dances home.