The Christmas Boxer
There was snow on the ground in November, as there always used to be in those days, in 1923, and the man called the St. Paul Thunderbolt sat in his undershorts in a doctor’s office when he was told exactly when his life would end, and how, and why. “You should’ve come sooner,” the Doctor tells him.
“I don’t like these offices,” the Thunderbolt answers.
“If you’d have come earlier, we might’ve been able to get you better.”
“If I hadn’t come at all, then I wouldn’t know anything was wrong.”
The Doctor wrinkles his nose, not understanding.
He looks back at the Thunderbolt as he puts his clothes back on, not yet realizing that there won’t be any more speaking. And then without another word, the Thunderbolt leaves, back out into the snow, back to the way it’s always been, for him, and the way that he’s always loved.
The Thunderbolt had never heard of Bright’s disease before, but he has now. He doesn’t tell his wife about it, though, he doesn’t tell either of his sons, and he doesn’t tell his daughter. Instead, he goes home and shovels snow from his driveway, a former heavyweight champion turned car salesman, and he thinks about when it all went wrong. No, not his kidneys, or the Bright’s disease, or the decision that he made a long time ago – better to burn out, and all that – but instead he thinks about his other decision, the second one, and the business that he now runs. He thinks of the hard times, the dishonest partners and the crippling debt, and as he does, he shakes his head and regrets every single minute of the second life that he’s had.
He shovels more snow.
And the snow reminds him of what’s going to come.
It reminds him of Christmas, and it reminds him of magic.
The Thunderbolt is a large man and not someone that would ever be described as sensitive, but this is something that he believes in, this Christmas magic, and as he thinks about it more and further, he knows then what he’s going to do. He leans the shovel against the house and goes inside to eat dinner and ask his children about their day and kiss his wife and even though he’s there, in the dining room, in their small two-bedroom house in the St. Paul suburbs, the Thunderbolt is really now somewhere else, somewhere far away, in his thoughts, in the small piece of future that he has left. And after dinner’s over, and his wife starts on the dishes and his oldest son shows his younger brother and sister the new slingshot that he’s made because his father wasn’t able to buy him a new one, the Thunderbolt slowly stands and watches them for a moment, his children, together; then, he goes to the old rotary telephone in the study, and he makes a call.
“It’s not possible,” Jack’s voice says on the other end.
“Of course it is,” the Thunderbolt answers him, undeterred.
“You’ve been out too long. You won’t be the same.”
“Yes, I will.”
“You can’t even train.”
“I’m the Thunderbolt,” he says. “So, I’ll be ready.”
And then he hangs up.
The next day, the Thunderbolt wakes and goes downstairs with his coffee, and he sits on the couch. He stares out the window at the snow as it continues to fall and pile in the yard, and all three of his kids wake up, and they see it, too, and they yell and rush out to play. And as they do and he watches them, he feels again the magic that always comes when the snow does – the magic that only comes when the snow does, in this part of the world – and this is the way that he’s always known that he would see the future, in his home, and staring out at his happy family and the falling snow, and so now he does.
He sees the opponent that’s chosen, and he sees the fight.
He hears the people screaming and yelling his name again: “Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt!”
He’ll feel the pain when the first blow connects with his disease-ravaged kidneys. Then he’ll remember the meeting he had with the attorney that he paid $125/hour who told him that when he died, the debt from his car dealership wouldn’t be passed to his wife or children, and when he remembers that, he doesn’t feel the pain anymore, or his kidneys, he just feels his heart.
The Thunderbolt has fought at Madison Square Garden.
He’s defeated champions such as Tommy Gibbons, Gunboat Smith, and Battling Levinsky.
But this, his last, would be his greatest fight.
He would knock out Bill Brennan, he knew, and the ref would raise the Thunderbolt’s mighty hand, and the men and women who had come to that stadium in Omaha would cheer for him, one last time: “You’re too good for Minnesota,” they’ll tell him, after the fight, and then the Thunderbolt will tell them again all that they don’t know about him, and all that they don’t know about good.
The Thunderbolt will cash his check and use the winnings to buy everything that his children asked Santa Clause to bring them for Christmas – a baby grand piano and a train set, as the Thunderbolt’s son would recall, many years later – and the Thunderbolt would live to see the smile on his children’s faces when they came down the stairs to find the presents wrapped and waiting under the black spruce that he’d cut from their backyard. But he won’t live much longer than that, because after that morning, that last morning of true, true magic, that morning of pure and perfect Christmas, with Minnesota snow falling and falling and falling outside the window, the way the Thunderbolt always loved, he’ll call his manager again and he’ll whisper into the phone, “Come pick me up, Jack, I’m dying,” and then he will, and he’ll depart, back into the sky, back into the clouds, leaving behind the life he never wanted to leave. “Will I be remembered?” the Thunderbolt will wonder, moments before he goes.
Then he’ll look at his wife, his children, next to him in that hospital room where he’ll expire, and he knows that no matter where he travels next, he’ll never forget that Christmas morning, that last Christmas morning, that best Christmas morning. And even though he’s cold now, he’ll feel warmth again, he’ll feel the magic that’s brought by children and by season, for any who want to share and believe in it, and the Thunderbolt will finally know, for the first time in his life… it doesn’t matter if he’s remembered.
Billy Miske was loved, while he was alive.
He was loved…
He was alive.
About the Author
Christopher Cosmos was raised in the Midwest and attended the University of Michigan as the recipient of a Chick Evans Scholarship. He is an author and Black List-screenwriter whose debut novel, ONCE WE WERE HERE, was published on October 28, 2020, and is now available from Arcade and Simon & Schuster. More information can be found at www.christophercosmos.com.