Just now word has
come, his mother is dead. The guilt from the grief he has caused her is so
sharp he wants to roll up in a ball on the ground and scream. Where can he do
that—in front of the gruff old man in his new home, in front of the pigeon
decapitators in his old? He looks so cool and powerful on the outside—sometimes
three-quarters of his weight class at amateur tournaments withdraw the moment
they lay eyes on him—but inside, the self-hatred is chopping him up.
Like that thing
with Duran. He loves Roberto, he can almost picture him as an older brother
walking beside him down Rockaway Avenue to kick some ass and steal some birds.
"So mean, so———mean!" he says, reveling. "An intelligent
animal!" He goes to Albany to watch Duran's second fight against Sugar Ray
Leonard, on closed-circuit theater TV. What's this, the killer surrendering to
the pretty boy, the animal whimpering "No más"? Back in his room, he
cries. It's me! All those years Duran was champion before I started liking
him.... I ruined him. I ruin everything. He fell apart because of me.
And then: Don't I
fight like Duran, don't I bully people in the ring? If Duran can cry "No
more," can't I? Where's the old man right now? Is he sleeping? He kicks off
the sheets, the air cold against his sweating skin. Cus, where are you? Is this
it? Fear is a beast you must keep feeding fresh kills to keep it quiet, in the
ring, outside the ring, it's all a ring, the beast must have new conquests to
stay silent.... Suddenly the old cherry floorboards are thumping, the old
man—who sleeps a floor below him—is awake; Mike is up there, dodging a jab,
ripping the dark with uppercuts and hooks, flattening someone, giving the beast
a snack to hold it until daylight.
What is it with
girls? Funny, he never wants it to last. It's almost like in the ring: He only
wants to break down their resistance, bend their will to his, conquer them and
move on to the next. A girl says something that hurts his feelings, brings all
his old fears about himself rushing back. Watch this, he tells a friend. For
days he buries the hurt, pretends to flirt, makes her fall in love with him.
Very good, now she's ready. He sneers at her and walks away.
His first four
amateur fights, they have all said yes very quickly, tumbled to their backs,
arms open, at his feet. The old man has dozed through the night, not a thump,
not a single thump through the ceiling. Now comes the fifth one. in Scranton,
Pa. Mike punches, the guy falls—no, wait, the guy is getting up, throwing
punches! Mike knocks him down again, the guy gets up again. My God, I cannot
dominate him! His arms forget how to strike a man, his legs forget how to
sidestep and spring. The bell rings, he sags onto the stool. "My hand is
broke," he says. Atlas, who was still around then, squeezes his hand to
check; he doesn't flinch. "You're letting yourself fall apart." hisses
Atlas. "You have to control your feelings!" Mike wades back into the
ring, throws a punch; the guy topples again, the guy gets up again! To
everybody in the crowd Tyson is winning easily, but he clinches and holds, the
whole world whirls before his eyes. "I can't go on," he says, panting,
before the third round. "Get out there!" shouts Atlas. Suddenly Atlas
senses it—he might go down! Atlas ignores the rules, leaps onto the apron,
screams, "Don't you do it, don't you dare do it!" Tyson hangs on, wins
the decision, closes his eyes, hugs his trainer and says, "Thank you, thank
you, thank you."
Oh, God, will it
be a whole life like this? Feed the beast, feed the beast, miss a single
feeding and the beast eats you.
The big white
house is silent. How can the old man sleep? Does he know some other way to
little boys in Atlanta. Someone's putting cyanide in Tylenol. Months pass and
everyone else forgets it, but it eats inside him, burrows into the soft place
that never had a chance to toughen, so young was it paved over.
Today he's in one
of those moods that people who haven't lived his 16 years can't understand. He
stayed out late last night, past curfew. Cus barks at him. He mutters back. Cus
shouts. Tears fill Mike's eyes. Cus wraps his thick arms around him and hugs
him; oh, it feels so warm, so good. Mike begins to stay out late on purpose, so
Cus will scream at him, so he will cry, so Cus will hug him once more.
Then Cus dies.
Fights it with every ounce of his will, sweats like a horse and arches off the
bed. It takes three men to subdue him. But he dies.