Fat Time

His fear sinks and settles at the bottom of the ocean. The road winds through a succession of curves, all around him a sad countryside of black trees. I’ll keep an eye out for opportunities to be surprisingly better. Why, you never know. Limbers up, snapping punches into silent space until his arms and legs and chest and back are warm with his own sweat, his thoughts racing ahead to the blow that will put Burns on the canvas for the count, a moment that blooms in a bright flash inside his skull. So raise a glass and say a toast. He stands up from the desk to shake Johnson’s hand, a thin upright man in his sixties, his dark brown hair sprinkled with gray at the temples, accentuating his youthful appearance, his eyes lively and keen. In November, the Burns camp convenes a press conference in Big Deal’s splendid office, with all the pomp one might expect, Burns himself noticeably absent almost six months after the signing of contracts, Johnson, covered in sweat from a day of training, marinating in doubt, moody, curt, irascible, his discontent larger than the distance between this continent and Burns. Of and not of water, he stands there on deck under morning sun, light reflecting from every wave, dazzling sparkle. He almost broke his leg running. Shaking hands with the promoter, Johnson has no words to say in response, so he simply takes a seat in the chair in front of the desk before Big Deal invites him to do so. So that’s just what I will do, Johnson says. Ease up, boys. Something in me has to go out to you, for your generosity of heart. I’m fortunate beyond measure for the lesson, because when I visit your museums and see the numerous specimens of prehistoric man’s art, your boomerangs of many varieties, your stone axes from various states, the many implementations of musical instruments and cookware and utensils, and the many other examples of Paleolithic and Neolithic man’s skill in art and craft and construction, why when I see all of that I simply envy you all. What are you scared of, little boy? Of course, nigger boxers are indeed of a limited caliber and lack science and skill, so there is no escaping the laws of probability. Johnson listens to each hard melodramatic word. The servant wheels over a silver cart laden with bottles, decanters and tall tumblers. Don’t forget we’re playing a man’s game. Behold, Johnson says. Just look at you. You are for the world. Already counting waves before he can answer the first question put to him. Cheer up.  
Each night he tries to direct his energy toward sleeping, but he can hear his entire being working, heat building under his skin, more than flesh can hold, steam shooting from every pore. But what if you lose? His corner did all they could to resurrect him after each round, pouring cold champagne over his head and massaging his muscles with boiled cognac, doing their best to force the air out of his bones, and calm his wheezing. He opens his mouth to speak, but they want more than he can give.  
One night, Johnson steps out of a bar and finds the fashionable servant waiting for him. Johnson is silent in the face of their taunts and questions. The moon fills the dark with something even darker. Gentlemen, he says, I’m here to fight. The barber thinks for a little while, then he picks the razor up off the floor, cleans the blade with disinfectant, and proceeds. Understood, he says, but I’ve always been like that. Do not be afraid of hurting me. Indeed, I’m the lesser man of many of you here. That should come as no surprise. He pours Johnson another whiskey and one for himself. At town center, he receives a welcome deserving of a man of his considerable fame and position beyond any concerns of race, voices ripping up the winter (July) sky. How kind that would be, he says. The fight will never happen, he tells himself. Now that Johnson’s head is bald and clean, the barber brings his razor to Johnson’s face and sets to work, blade sliding along his long throat in measured increments, and up to his chin, where it ceases to move. Burns loses all sense of this way or that, fast or slow, up and down, and for what will be the final time, goes clattering to the canvas. I’ll write that down, Big Deal. His glance returns to the man again and again. Cuts a striking figure, almost better dressed than Johnson himself, except that nothing fits as it should. For this reason he travels with a music box – any tune will do – to drown out the noise of his body. The world whittled down to what he can see from bed through the cabin window. Why, feel free to take up as many invitations as you can stomach. He gestures with his hand. Blood on blood, he hits one of the odd creatures with the knob of his riding crop and kills it dead. Johnson listens and takes in their questions with interest. Many ships since then. A certain man like me, he says, has to find himself in the company of a crowd, bump shoulders with other people. Tommy will never show. Once you get little Tommy in the ring, please make a good show of it for those motion picture cameras. That’s right, Jack. Adams
 
Stylish, dressed to the nines, Johnson starts up the slanted gangplank towards ship deck one June day followed by a retinue of journalists and well-wishers, his jacket and pants the best cut and cloth, his collar high and tie crossed and buttoned, his shirt bright and shining like a shield, the socks that sleeve his calves and ankles woven from rare African silk, and his feet shod in high-button shoes cobbled from Tuscany leather. Aren’t you a sight? Damn you, Tommy. Then for the rest of the round I socked him in both eyes and on the chin. Johnson orders another pot of coffee.  
The following week, the well-dressed servant shows up at Johnson’s camp with a missive from Big Deal. He is careful to keep his hands close to his sides, for a man destined to be champion does not need railings to help him ascend to deck. The first quality of a man is the elevation of his style, the purity of his speech and his selective discipline. Satisfied, Johnson sits back down in the chair and tilts his chin up. For whom am I fighting if not the world? Jack, Big Deal smiles, I ask only one thing of you. Johnson will not show Big Deal what he is thinking. He can only fall asleep by degrees, in fixed increments, and by this method gets what little sleep he can. Johnson studies Big Deal’s smile. He studies the paintings mounted on the walls. Nor must that man display a serious face. Johnson is careful to look Big Deal in the face before he starts to speak to the reporters. He floats above the world, afraid but unwilling to suffer the damaging consequences of his failure to regain himself and speak to this needy audience of natives who demand words from him:
My brethren, I am no more than a simple and conventional spokesman, who has but a few sentences to say to you. A nigger has to eat too. He looks to heaven in prayer. Amused, Johnson flashes his gold tooth at them. Sentences circling him, he continues to sit before Big Deal’s desk and listen courteously to the magnetic recording as the afternoon goes on and the light grows long, thankful for this light that straps him in place in this chair restraining his violence until the recording comes to end. Did I answer your question? The road starts to ripple under him before erupting into the sky. They start to walk away, only to be accosted by correspondents, all talking at once. Later at the cemetery, the pallbearers lower the waterproof casket modeled in the form of a boxing glove down into the earth on lengths of silken rope. You can count on me for that, Johnson says. Ocean in his head, salt in his sentences. Maybe not. Johnson makes out the servant moving in the gaps of the crowd, now here, now there. So it is that life has stuttered and made it necessary for him to travel to Australia for the second time in less than two years. Why, Jack, you should be happy. They strike a series of aggressive poses while the camera operator cranks the handle in timed circles, the camera shaking and groaning, the entire machine lit with noise. I have picked up a fashion or two, but only the amusing ones. He overhears them while he eats. Every action, every event, however small and seemingly unimportant, has its purpose and justification in Johnson. I won’t point the accusing finger. Then Big Deal starts to talk to all of the men assembled there. A waiter puts his check on the table and goes away, a kind of violence. Mr Johnson, that is surprising since many of the Negro papers say you are an embarrassment to your people. With good reason the white man imposes restrictions on the lowly black, brown and yellow races. He moves, and Johnson moves to follow behind him along the beautiful road that eventually widens into an immense lawn, the office, as Johnson discovers, a small white house placed at the very center, the single room inside much larger than Johnson expects it to be, as if by some trick of perspective, a conjurer’s stage set. That should be enough, Johnson says. He gives Johnson a smile that Johnson returns without hesitation. Yeah, Johnson says. The answer does not satisfy them. Johnson hearing it all, tucked into his chair. The man becomes a sort of landmark for Johnson. However, fate conspires that I fight this animation of African stock, Jack Johnson.  
Johnson leaves behind a storm of mourners swaying and rocking and moaning in a minor key inside a church where heat pours in through the open windows in rolling carpets of steam, and where light itself congeals into heat, cleaving to the benches and floors, and to the clothes and skin of all of those assembled, who sing as is their wont, song forming white shapes that hover and hold in the air. And so it is that I am certain that Mr Johnson welcomes this opportunity to get Tommy into the ring and test these racial claims and show them to be the untruths that they undoubtedly are. The champion says that you’re only doing it for money. Surely he is bored. The two men face off in the center of the ring, Burns’ trunks noticeably lighter in color than Johnson’s. Lucky for Johnson that the servant takes his assignment to heart. No, for he rouses himself to his feet with only a second to spare, revived by a simple truth, that the man with everything to lose minds it the most. Good sir, Johnson says, please use all of your force. He stumbles falls rises back to his corner, the whole world plunging down into darkness as he plops into painful exhaustion on his stool. This nigger Johnson will be defeated, but hopefully without serious injury. It’s better not to understand too much sometimes. Looking closely, he sees at the very center of the canvas a small book lying open on the grass. But I have not traveled alone, for the only true voyage is not for new landscapes and new horizons, but to get the eyes of another to see the world with your eyes, to get a hundred others to see what you see, a thousand. Why, Jack, you look practically white. Big Deal goes on to say that, in point of fact, Johnson would naturally have a need for action, would want to embark on deeds at variance with the modest local customs and enchantments. And other neglected particulars.  
The next morning, he sits down to breakfast at the best restaurant in town, the pride of the city. He has less than one minute to use his highly civilized brain to intellect a solution. He rises up from the chair and stands looking at his admirers, the razor pinned to his chin. As he soon learns, intercontinental travel takes him apart. Big Deal talking, comfortable and cool. Once outside, the correspondents stare at him for a moment before starting in with their questions. For my part, I am fairly well, adequately and solicitously looked after. Jack, you’re welcome to join us for a hunt anytime. Gives up and settles back in his seat with a lit cigar, coffee and the morning paper. With paper fans the mourners wave the shapes into motion. Making haste, the angel whispers instructions into his ear. By means of a special carrier, the champion has sent a magnetic recording for them all to listen to. Let my example be vivid to you. I should stop there lest the yearning kill me. His mouth closes around his teeth. Truth be told, one kangaroo hunt was enough for me. What choice do I have?  
Hungry for contact with his own kind, Johnson starts to frequent saloons, pool halls, bordellos and clubs when he is not training, Johnson relaxing for a few hours in the wonderment of good company, playing cards and dominoes in rooms lit with smoke and booze and dirty words, men and women alike putting on dog and pulling to pieces, smiling right into his eyes and speaking all at once on a wide range of subjects, issuing challenges – Smell my finger – with exaggerated ease when Johnson slips down at a piano in song, leaning so low over the instrument that his face seems about to drop onto the keyboard. – any place public or private where he breaks meat and bread, Johnson blithe and happy for an entire week at one party after another enjoying the dense textures of the local foods, everything so intensely what it is without garnishment, pickling or spice. Johnson listens to Tommy’s big talk, listens for what happens in the silence between one word and the next. Once he knows what he needs to know, he sets up camp at Botany Bay with his handlers, where he enjoys a mug of coffee (brewed strong the way he likes it) with condensed milk each morning before he starts training. He takes one deep breath and sucks the entire room into the vacuum of his lungs, sits there blank and alone, the whole world gone white in sheets of silence for a minute or two until he releases the breath and restores the restaurant and patrons. Wow, Burns says. The correspondent winks at him.  
My Dearest Hattie,
I want you to receive on Christmas Day, you and all the family, my warmest and most affectionate wishes, together with all my love. Now he goes moving away from the establishment unwanted and wild through the dark and the light, bends and stoops himself inside his Aston Martin. Any excuse for a celebration. Then on the other side of the frame, Burns ducks under the top rope. Big Deal has each man stand on a farm scale to record his weight, then with the greatest aplomb and care uses seamstress tape to take other bodily measurements – height, muscle size, the length of the arms. New questions. I can say a true thing or I can say nothing, he says. He watches it move in slow motion from one corner of his window to the other and back again. The white man seems to relish in challenging Johnson with questions he knows Johnson doesn’t wasn’t to answer. His joy does not cease to dominate the ship as it leaves port and reaches open sea, a black San Francisco shimmer on the horizon. You newspapermen shed a rosy glow over life. A nigger through and through. But, Jack, why be a complete prisoner?  
*
 
Johnson stands looking at the Jim Crow diner that has refused him service. The summation of the human race, to hear them tell it. Big Deal breaks into a laugh. I will place no claims on any admission you make within these walls. Good that you do. He leaves the establishment of choice with a light head, that upward swing of emotion, which indicates that he is feeling his life fully, the smell of tobacco, whiskey, suckling pig, fatback and jerky, perfume, and picked-up phrases on the breath. I have no opinion about that. Did you hear that, Jack? Alone in his cabin, he recalls the first time he took to sea almost twenty years ago, as a malnourished eleven-year-old stowaway suffering all one could suffer in the airless boiler room of a steamship. In fact, I’m putting my money on you. And believe me, he says. His breath blows his eyelids open whenever they try to close, so it is that he goes on seeing in the darkness, dreaming what he must. Give me a white man and I will fight him. One by one, they introduce themselves to him, old names that they have somehow held on to, that they refuse to bury. He has started a campaign encouraging officials to decorate Johnson with an honor. Johnson holds the whiskey in his mouth so that he can feel his teeth, each and every one. Indeed. The barber tugs once, twice, even a third time, but he can’t move the razor. He knows that the whole world is watching and waiting. As you know, I follow a daily hygiene. I am wrong to invite you. Tommy, look at these arms, these feet, they do not wear out. The two pugilists break through the ink and rise up fully dimensioned on Johnson’s table. Johnson sits there, heavy and silent and sick, his entire body trembling with the force of everything rushing all around him. Longs to set fire to it. Waits for the man to quit the house before he starts speaking to Johnson. The sight sends him into a state of growing excitement. In first consideration, it is important to remember that I have already defeated each and every white man who was deserving of a challenge to my title. For years after he will have cause to remember these burned pages and forget where he is. And so summoned, an angel haloed with stars descends from the chandelier. What gives man the greatest pleasure is success. Listening to the body, the mourners know the pattern, the responses and the breaks, seed sense and memory into an image that flowers into a full cinematic frame, the wide golden grin through which all time wants to escape. What Tommy thinks is what he thinks. Wrong.  
Image © Wikipedia Commons   Does what he must do day after day on the light and heavy bags, then stages stunts for the locals who come to watch him chase jackrabbits or wrestle razorback pigs and saltwater crocodiles into exhausted submission. What can he do with fifty birds moving in the clear sterile sky? The champion is granting you a fight. (Assuming that there is still air out there. Now they know: Johnson is at the magnetic center, where every occurrence of significance on the continent for the next six months will both radiate from him and be drawn in motion back to him – nothing random or accidental. No word passes between them.  
Johnson’s voice crackles up in black circling motion: I hit him at will, whenever I wished, but I never exerted my whole power on him. I asked him. That said, it seems to me that the larger public concern has been one of fairness. At no time did Burns have a show with me. And please count on me for whatever you need. I can go about with anyone. Six feet of man, muscled up perfect, game to the heart. Tell us, Jack, how was your journey? Then he catches an angle of far-off glitter, something red in the distance that impresses itself on his sight and attention. Burns said. A long time half-seated and anxious on the edge of an armchair like someone playing a game of musical chairs, or sitting upright and naked in bed, with his feet resting on the floor. The Hanover Giant finds the challenger easy to hit, landing blow after blow against Coonson’s face and head, but the blows have no effect, for his skull is too thick. Something exaggerated and base about him, put on, his hair far more candid than his costume, unfurling in soft black waves. Johnson goes back down under. Maybe he should. The words continue to grind at him. He winks at Johnson. I can’t tell you how fast Johnson made for the door. The Giant lies quite still as the referee starts the count. We both know that it’s good show. He hurries to his dressing room and slips out of his clothes and into his trunks. He does his roadwork bare-chested, letting the Australian winter multiply on his body. Once done, he touches a hot towel to Johnson’s face and lights a small fire on Johnson’s skin – Johnson has no words for what hurts – steam rising, his jawline etched in smoke. Remember me to all our friends. Even worse, he will never do anything to make other men happy. I believe I still have two feet, Johnson says. Big Deal places the mahogany cabinet on his desk, turns a crank, and soon Tommy’s voice comes rising up out of the black box. Thank you. Big Deal waves the servant away. Now, gentlemen, shall have at a few rounds? Let’s put all money aside, I told him, and fight right here, man to man, chest to chest. The Promised Land might be here. Hatless, jacketless, his breast pocket stuffed with pencils, Big Deal McIntosh sits with a relaxed attitude behind a huge desk littered with papers. What do you say, Jack? In years to come, whenever he views his victory over Tommy Burns in his thoughts, he will also feel the steady pain of the hot towel and see Tommy before him in the ring, his spine giving out, his jaw unhinged, Johnson absorbing into his own body every blow and insult that makes Tommy ache in the ring as if the other man were forever an outpost of his own skin. It’s none of my business, but – write this down – I for one stand against many of his assumptions, for I am my own man, and as such, I am no racialist. But a spell must be broken. When Johnson ducks, he ducks. Johnson decides on a whisky that has been flavored with a bit of honey and spice, very much to his liking. The journalists pass laughter from mouth to mouth like a shared cigar. One time I told him, Let me see what I can do to make your face look better. Just short of refusing, he declines the invitation to skin and cook his kill. In addition, I promise not to punish him simply because his motives are purely financial. He refuses to look into the glass face of the motion picture camera. The barber tries to honor Johnson’s wish, but the razor will not move. Can’t you see that he’s not himself? Mentally, he fights harder than Johnson does. Another question. You are in the wrong republic if the wallaby recognizes you. Johnson’s wit, good humor and all-around fun-loving demeanor inspire respect and affection among his hosts – Jack, what would you like to see? Damn your bitch heart. Well, look who’s saying it. He watches their faces change, mouths wide with wonderment at what they are witnessing. Gentlemen, know that I am an unbroken chain of purpose stretching back a thousand years or more to the original source, and stretching that source into the future for all eternity to come. Early one morning, Johnson takes long strides that carry him to a barber who has been recommended. He looks at Johnson for a moment, both timid and bold. The waiters serve him the best of what their chefs can offer, but the food stains his hands and gives him gas. Dream on, nigger. The barber trawls his broom along the floor until it is clean, then asks Johnson to settle into the chair. A wide field of uninterrupted grass backed by the horizon. That is no small matter in a barbaric land like this one. So who is there left to fight? I’m here to fight. Yours truly,
Jack
 
The motion picture camera captures Johnson’s entry into the ring, his flesh (under the natural light) a single unbroken tone that resonates darkly against the pure white dominance of the ropes and the flat blank surface of the canvas. I see you in every window, I hear you in every song. Of course I’m happy to see you all, Johnson says. See Burns in the shocked light. That, gentlemen, is the whole tragedy. Jack drinking it all in, Sydney floating through him, even if he has seen it all before, done it all before. A group of reporters announce their presence, then take up posts at one table after another, watching but allowing him to eat unmolested. As well, he is seeking the good offices of influential friends for the same purpose. Your chances are good. Then he feels motion under his feet, a slight tug, dark pressing in and rooting him down, a blank obscuring where objects in the distance lose their edges, one shape merging into another. He makes sure that no one catches another glimpse of him until weeks later when the ship docks in Sydney. Johnson a camera himself between rounds, scanning the crowd to pick out unusual faces. There in its pages, he confronts some parody of his name and character, Coonson, in a bold foretelling of his prizefight with Tommy Burns, christened as the Hanover Giant in the story. I require it of you. Here in the darkness of this room and in the darkness of many other rooms from both his past and in the future to come, he will be unable to make sense of the silence. Oh muses, oh high genius, help me now. How has he been finding Australia, finding his people? The servant turns and starts to walk, and Johnson follows him, a bit dim and unsteady, going on for some time, thirty minutes or an hour, not that he is counting, the servant starting now up a steep path overgrown with weeds, the darkness thick with the smell of putrefaction, the servant moving quick and agile up that difficult incline with the ground dropping away beneath them. The pastor clears his throat, looks directly into the motion picture camera, and begins the eulogy. So we’ve all heard plenty from Tommy Burns, Big Deal says from behind his desk, his speech a little thick, his hands locked behind his head. But I ask that we put off my visit until after the fight. Johnson’s gaze becomes lost in the intricate tangle of bodies puzzled into patterns as far as he can see. He experiences the hallucinatory impression that he is arriving on the continent for the first time, since so much is a mirror of before. But why not take it one step further? And if you whip me I will give you the belt. He allows the razor to release from his skin and fall clanging to the floor. He has found people such as these every single place he has traveled. The man stands beautifully correct in a tall black hat and a superior frock coat. He has himself, only himself, as a testimony of his own glory, his own fortitude and his own reason. ‘Much widened, perhaps winged’
– Walter S. Early bird after the worm, he plans to reach Sydney before Burns. Will he be counted out? Coming to Australia has taught me that. You’re on all men’s lips, he says, and, what’s better, on all women’s. He is touched. I want money and plenty of it. But the rational man is also a spiritual man. Please hear me out. What was I thinking? In short, some of my accusers feel that I only seek to inflict cruelty on this Negroid beast, like a man kicking a lowly dog. Puts out his hand in greeting, trembling when Johnson takes it into his own hand. The man who cannot set himself down on the crest of the moment, forgetting everything from the past and about the past, that man will never know what happiness is. He is nervous but becomes clear enough. He’s right. Big Deal goes on to describe it as a getting-away-place. He seems unbothered by pigeons pecking at bits of bread around his feet. Many customers have passed through already, tufts of hair sprawled across the floor like fish caught in a net. Hope is good for business. He shouldn’t have come out of his cabin. So it is that, energized by his new knowledge, the bell for the second round finds him running hard out of his corner and connecting with one hard blow to Coonson’s stomach, all it takes to bring his ape-like opponent crumpling and unconscious to the tablecloth. I say that I’m nothing yet. The shoes worn down on the outside at the heels. Jack, will you give a concert while you are here in Australia? Whenever Johnson unlimbers a blow, he also shoots one into the air against an invisible antagonist. The footage stops just as the police enter the ring. Jack, he says, I am greatly struck. But his simulated battle comes to an inglorious end when he tries to mimic one of Johnson’s movements and falls off the fence. Many of you have asked why I would sink so low as to engage in a contest with a representative of one of the inferior races. It’s all news to him, but Johnson says nothing and does nothing, simply sits and lets the coffee go cold. Of course you must. During one visual survey, he spots a colored man sitting on a fence and from there watching the fight with set eyes and open mouth. When Johnson sways to avert a blow, the fighter also sways on the fence in the same direction and at a similar angle. Speak what you like here. Few men of your rarity and stature would be willing to carve a portion of your day and suffer the insult of having to put up with the many silly demands of these inferior provincials. A little bit of education can mess up a nigger worse than bad alcohol. At the ring of the bell, Coonson and the Hanover Giant step out of their respective corners, Coonson led by the two belts of his lips, his teeth sticking out like fists, and his arms so lengthy that his knuckles drag against the tablecloth. Carefully guides his razor along the top of Johnson’s head, hardened skin taking the scrape with a metal resonance that echoes out into the street, causing a slow curiosity, observers drawn to the door of the shop in responsive admiration, dozens of gawking eyes locked in one gaze, although the watchers appear to be afraid to enter the shop. The ceiling easily thirty feet above the paneled floor, all the more impressive for its fresco (some battle scene), the entire room blocked in flowered chintz wallpaper serving as the background for an extensive collection of quickly recognizable paintings after the old masters, all the furniture cheerfully upholstered in bright colors. Nothing is urgent, although of course, I will make you all proud. How much can a penny buy? He feels a certain surprise when the waiter returns a few minutes later to tell him that Mr Hugh McIntosh’s servant is outside waiting for him, that he should finish his pot of coffee and come right away. Indeed, Big Deal says. That you are doing the colored race more harm than good with all of your blatant cavorting around with white women, with your pomp and dandyism, and your other extravagances. Gents, do you think this Negro took up my offer? How do you plan to stay out of its way? Be that as it may, I guess I must make do and suffer your absence since the very thought of you fills me more than another’s presence ever could. And now they urge more food on him but he declines, tries peeling some outlandish fruit, his fingers useless against its rind. Even so, I do not draw the color line, although I would be the first to confess that the sight of a black man displeases me. The thought of you doing so fills me with longing. They think Tommy can win, so let them go thinking that. But Jack, Tommy has quite a punch. Your natives must have been men of genius to turn out such fine products. For the nigger whether fighter or layman is a peculiar creature. It’s not a sport for an American. But you know, first you must come down and spend a few days in my house. Good. Assuming that the world beyond his cabin still exists.) The smell of ocean may never leave him. You see, that’s just what I mean, Jack. The trousers tattered and a bit too long. Find that yellow streak that you talk so much about. He’s no different from the rest of his kind, dreaming white. Only a real stand-up guy would do that. His audience emotes in one loud sound, part murmur, part moan. (He has gutted many a hog in his time, wrung the heads of chickens.)
At last, he says, smiling, I have found my true métier. Soon Coonson is all over the champ with backhands and rabbit punches and low blows and knees to the stomach and kidneys, gouges to the eyes, elbows to the neck and chin, until he brings the assault to a convincing conclusion by lifting the Giant off his feet then flinging him to the canvas. Music accords us beauty, but sports make life. He tries to speak a sentence that is too long for his tongue, so instead, removes the cigar from his mouth, then stubs the tip out on the newspaper lest his own body turn to ash. How do you beat a beast that doesn’t bleed? Three days immobile in bed, all that zealous water out there, all those expectant waves, words like drown and shark tucked close to his lungs. Lately returned from the East Coast, Mr McIntosh has requested his presence at the office. I stand here before you now. (The coffee and the hour after the coffee.)
Some time ago, he had been told that promoter Huge Deal McIntosh had left Sydney to meet with investors abroad and would not return for another month or two, but that fact is contradicted when Johnson leaves the restaurant and finds a dark skinny man standing just outside the doors of metal and glass. Then he looks at Johnson. Even goes kangaroo-hunting – proving that when in Rome he can do like the Romans – mounted high on snorting horseback, four hard hooves and four galloping hounds at his service to pursue and corner prey. Soon they arrive at the top of a hill, the night high and clear with an endless sprawl of stars stretching above a great crowd that has gathered in wait for Johnson, men and only men, dozens of them, all completely naked, no boundary in that red light between him and them. I bless each and every one of you and send my fond wishes. So he smiles under his bowler hat, even if he chooses not to wave goodbye to the crowd assembled on the pier. White jacket, white shirt, white bow tie, white pants, white patent leather shoes, straw hat, he’s looking down for any hint of ground beneath them. Would you be meaning your fellow race of Negroes? No he did not. To a man, they hold their hands over their eyes to better see Johnson in the bright field. Big Deal sits back down. They go at each other in the center of the table. You are everything I thought you would be. Indeed, sir. Surely his body is all the better for it. Now why would I do that? Once his strength is restored – a hushed word of thanks to the Most High – he takes to the deck, and the correspondents take to him. The servant clears his throat and draws McIntosh’s eyes to him.