"Grab that bag there" Steve tells me. Just like he said he would, he's moving out. All his stuff is cleared from the basement as he prepares to leave home, get a flat with his girl. He will rent for a while, I'd say, and then he'll probably buy something. He's been working a long while now. Good job, just started part-time university. Nice suits. Not bad for a few years out of school. He just says it's time to leave, with Mum and Dad struggling to pay bills, and Dad refusing the dole. He isn't dramatic.
He doesn't look down into his room with a last nostalgic gaze. He just smiles, gives Mum a hug, shakes Dad hand, and walks out.
On the porch, Mum cries. Dad holds up his hand in good-bye. Sarah holds the last remnants of a hug in her arms. Ason and brother is gone. Rube and I travel with him, to help him unpack what's left of this stuff. The flat he will live in is only about a kilometer away, but he says he wants to move south.
"Down near the National Park."
"Fresh air and beaches."
We drive off and it's only me who turns around to see the rest of the Wolfe pack on the front porch. They will watch the car till it disappears. Then, one by one, they will go back inside. Behind the fly-screen. Behind the wooden door. Behind the walls. Into the world within the world.
"Bye Steve," we say, when all is unpacked.
"I'm only up the street for now," he says, and I reach for a semblance of recognition in his voice. Anything that sounds like It's okay, lads. We'll be right. We all will be. Steve's voice sounds nothing like it though. We all know that Steve will be okay. There's no irony in the word for him. Steven will always be okay. That's just how things are.
None of us embrace. Steve and Rube shake hands. Steve and I shake hands. His last words are, " Make sure Mum's okay, right?"
We run home, together, in the nearly-dark of Tuesday evening. Rube is waiting for me as we run. He pushes ne, The next fight loiters around, like a thief, waiting to thieve. It's five days away.
Each night, I dream about it. I nightmare. I sweat.
In my dreams, I fight Perry. I fight Steve and Rube. Even my mother steps up and beats the hell out of me. The weirdest thing is that every time, my father is in the crowd, just watching. He says nothing. Does nothing. He simply watches everything go by, or reads the classified looking for that elusive job.
On Saturday night, I hardly sleep at all. All through Sunday, I mope around. I barely eat.
Like last week, Perry picks us up, but he takes us to Glebe this time, way down the end.
All is the same. Same type of crowd. Same guys, same blondes, same smell. Same fear.
The warehouse is old and creaky, and the room we sit in is nearly falling apart.
Before the doors kick open, rube reminds me. "Remember. Either the other guy kills you, or Perry does. If I was you, I know who I'd prefer it to be."
I nod. The doors. They're open.
Perry shouts again and after a last deep breath, I enter the crowd. My opponent awaits me, but tonight, I don't evern look at him. Not at the start. Not at the pre-match talk by the referee. Not ever.
The first time I see him is when he's in my face. He's taller. He's got a small goatee.
He throws punches that are slow but hard. I duck and swerve and get out of the way. No suspense now. No wondering.
I take one on my shoulder ad counterpunch him. I get inside and throw a jab into his face. It misses. I throw another. It misses.
His giant hand seems to shake me first, then land on my chin. I hit him back , in the ribs.
"That's the way, Cam!" I hear Rube call out, and when the round is over, he smiles at me. "Even round," he tells me. "You can drop this clown easy." He even begins to laugh. "Just imagine you're fighting me."
"You afraid of me?"
"Well beat him anyway."
He gives me a last drink and I go out for the second. This time it's the crowd that swerves. Their voices climb through the ropes and wrap around me. When I'm on the canvas, they fall over me like a stream, making me get up.
The third is a nonevent. We both get tangled up and throw punches into the ribs. I hurt him once but he laughs at me.
In the fourth, he tells me something at the start. He says, "Hey, I had y' mother last night. She's pretty lousy, ay. Pretty dirty." That's when I decide that I have to win. There's a picture in my mind of Mum, Mrs. Wolfe, working. Tired to the bone, but still working. For us. I don't lose my mind or go crazy, but I get more intense. I'm more patient, and when I get my chance, I land three good punches in his face. Whe the bell rings fro the end of the round, I don'' stop punching him.
"What the hell happened to you?" Rube laughs in our corner.
I answer, "Got hungry."
In the fifth, I go down twice and the guy they call Thunder Joe Ross goes down once. Each time I hit the canvas, the crowd urges me to my feet, and when the bell rings and the decision is announced, they clap, and coins are thrown into my corner. Perry collects them.
I've lost the fight, but I have fought well.
I've risen to my feet. That's all I had to do.
"There." Perry gives me every cent when we reach the dressing room. " Twenty-two bucks eighty. That's a good tip. Most losers are happy with fifteen or twenty."
"He ain't a loser."
The voice belongs to Rube, who is standing behind me.
"Whatever you say," Perry agrees (not caring if it's true or not), and he's gone.
When it comes time to Rube's fight, the crowd is extra sharp. Their eyes are glued to him, watcing his every move, every mannerism, every everything that might indicate what they've heard about him. Word has traveled fast that Perry Cole's got a hot new fighter, and everyone wants tosee him. They don't see much.
His fight begins with a massive left hook. The guy hits the ropes and Rube keeps going. He rinses the guy out. Whales him. His hands launch into his ribs. Uppercuts, one after the other. Midway through the round, it's all over.
"Get up!" people shout, but this guy just can'. He can barely move.
Rube stands there. Above him. He doesn't smile.
The crowd sees the blood, andthey smell it. They look into Rube's fire-stomped eyes. Fighting Ruben Wolfe. It's a name they will come to see here now for a long time.
Again, when he climbs out of the ring, they smother him. Drunk men. Horny women. They all rub up against him. They all try to touch him, and Rube remains as he is. He walks straight through them, smiling out of obligation and thanking them, but never losing the concentration on hi face.
Sitting in the room, he says to me, "We did good today, Cam."
"Yeah, we did."
Perry gives him his fifty. "No tip for the winner," he says. "He gets his fifty anyway."
When Rube stands and goes to the toilet, Perry and I have words together.
"They love him," he explains. "Just like I thought." A pause. "You know why?"
"Yep." I nod.
He tells me anyway. "It's because he's tall and he's got looks and he can fight. And he's hungry. That's what they like most." He grins. "The women out there are begging me to tell 'em where I found him. They love fellas like Rube."
"It's to be expected."
Excerpted from FIGHTING RUBEN WOLFE (c) Copyright 2003 by Markus Zusak. Reprinted with permission by Scholastic. All rights reserved.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe
- hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
- ISBN-10: 043924188X
- ISBN-13: 9780439241885