November 19th, 2020
Two BearsFor too long, far too long in Jane’s opinion, the two men stood, arms clamped to shoulders, grunting and heaving like alpha bears locked in a struggle so perfectly balanced that neither would win through sheer strength, or tactical cunning, only by outlasting the other’s supply of interest, and taking the bout through forfeit. Jane sighed and looked around at what had been, some half an hour ago, or more it felt, a street thick with people cheering and whooping, some with glee, some with fear, as the fight rolled out through the double swinging doors and took a stance in the middle of the road. Now empty, and damp from a drizzle that had sent most of the punters back indoors, the street seemed smaller, and less important than it had when they’d come steaming out for the main event. Now it was prison walls, where before it had been a stadium. For the last ten minutes she had been asking herself why she stayed, but something about the contest had her hypnotised, the sway of the two bodies as they rocked together, pulling and pushing with intricate, minute movements that the each enacted and counter-acted in a effort to win an inch of space, to find the shift in balance that would give them the upper hand, to bring their opponent down to the cobblestones with a shuddering thud and stand, exhausted but victorious, their eyes alive. No champion had revealed themselves as of yet, and, as they tottered, she wondered if they ever would. Since the last of her fellow crowd members had quit the scene it seemed as if not a second had passed. Perhaps she’d stumbled across a back-alley time-loop, left behind by a secret agent of the future in a career-ending accident. On closer inspection, however, it was possible to identify the small changes in position, the intricate edits in weight that kept the grappling duo moving, locked together as they were. That, and it had started raining again, on then off and now on, a light mist that soaked the warriors through and chilled the spectator through to her skin. A particularly loud grunt brought her out of her musings, and she shook her head, droplets flying from her fringe which poked out from under the hood she had pulled up when the rain had first begun. She felt the hood, it was sodden. She felt the top of her head underneath the hood, wet too. She shivered. She watched the two men sealed in each other’s grasp. The pub doors swung open and someone came stumbling out, squinting with some surprise at the struggling duo on the floor. Jane watched the figure as they rocked on the the balls of their feet, taking in the scene, then looked up and made eye contact with her, standing, arms crossed, on the other side of the street. ‘They okay?’ She shrugged. ‘Huh…’ They stayed at the door, fumbling at the zip of their coat, their feet playing a balancing game of little steps as the body above veered back and forth. ‘What- What are they…’ they trailed off. She shrugged again. She was trying hard to remember, but something kept distracting her, like an frustratingly soft ball of foam bouncing on her mind she struggled to focus her thoughts, to see the place they’d come from, hear the voices, the argument that had spilled through from the back room, the faces that had laughed and gasped as the two men went rolling through the bar, knocking over chairs and people, who spilt drinks and swore. The sound of smashing glasses, the smell of the draining beer, the breath of one, or both, of them as they passed within inches of where she stood, one foot on the rail, leaning over to pluck a slice of lime from the box on the other side. All forgotten in the haze of glasses she had drained in an effort to calm her aching mind. With the rest of the excitable population she had made for the door to watch the ensuing conflict, staring around to see if anyone else was enjoying the potential violence. There were plenty, she found, some more obviously than others, waiting for cruelty. A good gut punch, some tight bends, eyes blackened, noses running with blood, disorder and disturbance to shake off the similarity of this day with the last. Like a pack of leering chimps they thronged in a tight circle around the action, those at the front acting as a ring of holding markers, the street floor transformed into a canvas. No corners, no judges, no bikini-clad girls holding placards, just your everyday feint and dodge, that’s what they wanted. Five minutes into the sweaty ruckus and enthusiasm was dropping fast. People went back to their drinks, sloped off inside where it was warm and dry. The bartenders kept pouring and one by one, the crowd filtered away, until it was just three left, individuals locked in their own game of last-man-standing. Then two. Then Jane, left on her own, sluggishly taking in the shivering mound that now lay before her. What strength she felt, from seeing them lay themselves low at her feet. She was their queen and they, her mewling pups, performed their barbaric game for her amusement. Thirty minutes after she became the sole spectator, and this new somebody had rolled outside to share in the spoils. ‘What are they fighting over?’ ‘Me,’ she called out, in a spur of self-satisfaction that she instantly regretted. ‘Huh…’ and they were gone, wavering down the street into the night. Strange, thought Jane, watching them go, I lied. It didn’t seem to matter, the two on the ground hadn’t reacted, and neither looked likely to give ground in the near future, so she walked away, smiling a secret smile, knowing that the victor’s spoils would soon be on a bus that sped splashing through puddles and past city lights, carrying on its top deck the queen of a mouldy side-street where two warriors lay.
©2007-2021 Benedict Esdale