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'Twas the Fight Before Christmas
Jack McCallum
December 26, 2005
A high-wire experiment in sports fiction, written in nine chapters, sequentially, by nine SI authors, wherein a fast-fading pugilist suddenly finds himself in the bout of his life. Read on....
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December 26, 2005

'twas The Fight Before Christmas

A high-wire experiment in sports fiction, written in nine chapters, sequentially, by nine SI authors, wherein a fast-fading pugilist suddenly finds himself in the bout of his life. Read on....

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And it dawned on me, maybe this was the same woman, having another blow-up with another Cavanaugh.

"I met him in Atlantic City," she said when she'd finally stopped sobbing. "I was working one of his fights as a round-card girl. He hit on me during the fight."

She told me how she was climbing through the ropes before the third round--"Not as easy as it sounds when you've got a big card under one arm, and you're wearing three-inch heels," she said--when Pop complimented her on her leopard-print bikini. "What can I say?" the old letch said while a cutman jammed a Q-tip into a trench under his left eye. "I'm a cat person."

I rolled my eyes while she forged ahead, recounting how Pop kept flirting through the middle rounds, even as he fell hopelessly behind on points. She was strangely flattered. When he asked for her phone number after the fight, she gave it to him. He was smiling as he went to get stitched up.

"We had some O.K. times," she told me. They'd dated a couple months, but his shtick got old fast. One too many times he'd gone through the motions of patting himself down, telling her he'd left his wallet at the gym, leaving her to pick up the dinner check. It reminded her of a sportswriter she'd dated.

"But you, sweetie--you're different," she said, reaching across the table and taking my hand. "You're a gentleman--no thanks to your old man. You hold doors for me, you don't forget your wallet. You're not gonna let him come between us, are you?"

I pulled my hand from hers and stood up. "I need time to digest this," I said. Even though Cheryl Sue's no genius, she understood that I wasn't talking about the corned beef hash.

I walked home through a rough part of town, half hoping some punk would try to take my wallet. My frustration at losing the fight--I'd trained hard and felt sharp--piggybacked on the confusion and hurt I felt at this latest ugly piece of news. What the hell had Cheryl Sue been thinking? Even if it was eight years ago, Pop was still no prize; I've seen better-looking gargoyles. Maybe her vision was impaired. That would certainly explain some of her wardrobe choices.

The walk home, followed by the hike up five flights, took the edge off my anger. But I was still feeling a bit off-kilter when I arrived at my apartment and saw the door ajar. I had company. Entering, I was thrown for another loop by the sight awaiting me: a fortysomething man arched over a yoga mat.

"Evening, Tommy," said Paddy Cavanaugh. "They call this one the downward-facing dog. Great for the spine."

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