The Ring (Excerpt)


There were a surprising number of cars in the parking lot at the gym Friday night when Amy and I pulled in. What were all these people doing at the city gym on a Friday night, for christsake?

I slouched in behind Amy, still royally pissed that I had to come with her at all. Amy had suggested I join her Tai Chi class (right) or bring a book to read (as if). So now I had two hours of excruciating boredom. At least if I was home, I could talk to Ben on the phone.

I wandered past the other classrooms in the gym. The squeak of tennis shoes on the hardwood floors came from the basketball court. I used to be pretty good at basketball, soccer too.

Music throbbed from another room, a shrill female voice saying, "Harder! Peddle harder!" A spinning class. The room was packed.

More music and rhythmic pounding pulled me to the far end of the gym. I walked down the hall and looked in.

The room was alive with strong-looking women. Some were dancing around duffle-shaped bags pummeling the hell out of them. Others jumped rope so fast the rope was a blur. A Latino girl batted at a small, light bulb-shaped bag hanging in the doorway. She glanced my way and smiled, missing a beat. I blinked. It was the girl from the cafeteria the other day.

I backed away and walked a little further down the hall. What I saw through the glass wall nailed my feet to the ground. In a boxing ring two women with helmets and huge gloves boxed. They danced around each other, rocking from one foot to another, hands tucked in close to their chins.

A black woman called from the side of the ring. "Come on ladies, mix it up! Stop fighting like a couple of girls!"

The arm of the one in bright red shorts shot out, nailing the other woman in the side of her helmet. She staggered back.

"Gloves up, Chris," the woman called from ring side. Chris gave a small shake of her head, then regained her balance. Dipping one shoulder, she hooked her other arm up, slamming her fist against the taller woman's helmet.

"That's more like it. Good job!" the woman said. "That's enough for now. Give me fifty crunches and hit the showers." The two women removed their helmets. The taller woman gave the other one a slap on the butt.

"You lost?" Startled, I spun around. The black woman stood there smiling.

"Tall and good reflexes."

"Uh no," I stammered. "I mean, yeah I guess. I didn't know there was a boxing ring here."

"Yep," the woman said. "This is my boxing ring. I train the toughest girls in the Rockies."

The woman crossed her arms over her chest, looking me up and down. "You like what you saw in there?"

I didn't even bother to pretend. "Yeah! I mean, I didn't know women could box."

The two women got up and toweled off. When they turned towards the glass I saw they weren't much older than me.

"You train girls my age to do that?"

She laughed. "Best age to train. Teenage girls got lots of anger they need to get out. They're just itchin' to hit something or somebody."

She stuck her hand out. "Name's Kitty. Kitty Olsen."

Her grip was like a vise. "Mardie," I managed to squeak. "Mardie Wolfe."

"Proud to meet you, Mardie Wolfe. Come on back and let me show you around."

On the drive home, I smiled into the dark, tapping my foot like a maniac. I loved the smell of sweat and leather in the training room. I loved the sound of the small hanging bag going bip-bip-bip, bip-bip-bip, and the dry slap of the jump rope against the floor. Mirrors and movie posters from "Girl Fight" and "Million Dollar Baby" ringed the room. Most of all, though, I couldn't stop thinking about how strong and focused those girls looked up there in the ring. Dancing around each other with those big gloves on and jabbing at each other's heads and arms, they looked like they could give a shit about what other people thought.

Amy's voice interrupted my thoughts. "Feels like you're about to bust. What are you so excited about?"

I glanced over at her. "Did you know there's a boxing ring at the gym?"

"Sure I do," she said. "I thought about taking lessons but I went with Tai Chi instead."

"There were girl boxers in there," I said.

"Yep," Amy said. "They have classes for both guys and girls."

We pulled into the garage. Amy turned off the car, pressing the remote to close the garage door.

"I think boxing would be so cool," I said.

"Maybe you could sign up for lessons," she said. "I take Tai Chi Tuesday nights too, and I've been wanting to try the spinning class on Thursday nights."

"We can talk to your dad. I can't promise he'll say yes. But if you ask him nice, he'll be more inclined. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

Right.

This is how it went the next night at dinner:

Dad: "Boxing lessons?! Why do you want to take boxing lessons?"

Me: "I don't know, Dad. I just do."

Dad: "I don't think so, Bug. Boxing is too violent. I've never understood why anybody would want to do that to themselves. Besides, I'm not about to let some guy hit my daughter."

Amy: "Mike, the men and women train on different nights. They never box each other."

Me: "You'd let Michael if it was him who wanted to box."

Dad: "That's different, Mardie."

Me: "Different how? Because he's a guy?"

Dad: "Well, yes. Look, I'm glad you want to do something besides sit around and watch TV. Why don't you join the girls soccer team at the school? You used to love soccer."

Me (trying really hard to be nice): "I've done soccer, Dad. I want to try boxing."

Dad: "What about lacrosse, then? I think they just started a girls lacrosse team at the high school, didn't they Michael?"

Michael shrugs.

Me: "I'm not Michael. I don't want to play lacrosse."

Dad: "Michael, what do you think about this?"

Michael (stuffing his fourth piece of pizza in his mouth): "I don't see what the big deal is. It'll be good exercise, get her out of the house."

Me: "Let me just try it, Dad. You're always saying I need to develop new interests. You can even come watch if you want".

Amy: "Never hurts these days for a female to know how to defend herself, honey. I almost took lessons myself."

Dad (big sigh): "All right, all right. Guess I'm out numbered. You can try it, Mardie but you have to get your grades up".

Yes! I gave Dad a quick hug and took our plates to the kitchen. Boxing was going to be so cool.

Little did I know…