At twenty-three Robert is young and excited and violent with life, massive head on massive fighter’s shoulders and hair curled close to his head with regular perms. At twenty-three he knows he will never make it as a professional prizefighter, but he’s competent, tough and wiry, and – most importantly – has the sense of drama that sells a fight, that lifts two men beating each other bloody into art, into spectacle, into tragedy. He loses more than he wins but he fills seats, packs houses, draws a crowd. It’s a rough life but he loves it, loves the roar and the lights and the kids clawing their way up past him on their way to the top.
The boys march up and down the streets, black rubber coats slick with rain, carrying signs twice their size that bellow
They get paid by the fixers for fighting the weather and the cars, but Robert always tips them before he goes into the ring, for luck, for their raw voices screaming his name, for the love of handing out money to people who still love it. When he goes down they are there with towels and encouragement and pride. If he loses he is still their fighter; there’s always another fight, and another chance for glory.