Harry knows how to get the lad moving. It’s not the physio’s fault, she’s only a girl, and she’s used to dealing with old people. But Harry knows how to get the lad moving. He’s worked out the basics of the moves Tony’ll need when he gets back in the ring. Oh, it’ll be a while, he knows that, they don’t have to keep telling him. It’ll be a while.
The same picture keeps reeling out in his head. Tony face-down in the ring, the older man standing panting above him. Ambulance men pushing through the crowd, the shine of the boy’s blue satin trunks under the ambulance’s bright white light. The red chairs and grey carpet of the emergency waiting room. The hands of the young doctor holding a beige file with their surname on it. At first he’d thought, whatever the doctors say. But the doctors don’t know Tony. The this-therapist and the that-therapist going on and on, month after month, with their jargon. They don’t know Tony. And they don’t know him.
Tony’s room at home, training gear all over the floor and Marie sitting there crying, stuffing it into green rubbish bags. Marie’s face when he says it was an accident, just bad luck. He closes his eyes. Marie out in the back yard, smoking, with one arm huddled hard round herself, the other held up by the side of her head as if someone’s going to hit her, while he stands at the kitchen window with a cup of tea going cold in his hand.
Every afternoon, back in Tony’s room, away from the staff, he heaves him up out of the wheelchair. He’s still pretty solid in spite of that milky stuff they feed him with. He locks his own body in behind, his knees wedged in to keep the boy standing. They’re almost the same height. In the mirror, Harry’s square little face, Tony’s Worzel Gummidge head.
He moves his leg forward and back. Tony’s leg goes with it.
“Look, son,” he says, “look at yourself, that’s it, see?”
The legs go back and forward.
“Float like a butterfly,”
and he lifts Tony’s arm, curves it forward in a punch, punching at their own joined heads in the mirror.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!”
He thinks, he almost thinks, he sees the mouth move.
“What the fuck,” he says, “What the fuck were you doing, son? You took your eyes off him. Didn’t I teach you better than that?”
He rubs his head against Tony’s cheek.
“Mate,” he says, “mate, didn’t I teach you better than that?”
* This piece first appeared in Wet Ink 14, March 2009