After the Golden Times
I was passing Lefevre Hall in search of a cup of coffee and the afternoon paper when I heard the shouting.
Someone had finally beaten Jacques.
During the Golden Times, I would have been seeking merriment instead of coffee, scuffling billiards for the sake of conversation and drink, pausing to take in the girls. But that was before Gentrytown’s golden goose, the foundry, had burned. The fire destroyed the foundry, and with it, the Golden Times.
Afterwards, Gentrytown had grown meaner and more primal. The fights replaced the brass bands and the cabarets. Drunken spectators cast down grubby money, cheering when their guy won, cursing when he lost. They loved champions and ignored losers.
Everyone loved Jacques.
The men loved his company as much as they feared and admired and envied him. The women’s love of Jacques was more primal. His lack of grace outside the ring only heightened their attraction. It wasn’t charm that won their affections; his brutal efficiency and spotless record did the trick. Jacques broke no smiles, only noses and cheekbones and hearts.
Jacques’ fists worked in concerted fury, driving the fight out of his challengers. I swear his body was a conduit for the savagery of the nine hells, not only beating down his foes, but also taking a part of their soul.
Before I stopped going to the fights—my friends, and thus my good times, disappeared when my money ran out—I often watched Marie watch Jacques as he planted bare-knuckled blows into the ribcage of his over-matched opponent. His physical supremacy mesmerized her.
Between rounds, Marie often glanced at the other women in Lefevre Hall, smug in the knowledge that she would tend Jacques afterwards. Still, the other women waited. That Marie had not been the first to sit next to Jacques fortified their patience.
Without the fights, I saw less of Marie and none of Jacques. Staying away didn’t keep the rumors from reaching me that Jacques had cast aside Marie for another.
More shouts broke my reverie and scattered the images of those nights at Lefevre Hall.
I found Marie weeping along the rubble-filled stream behind the hall. A few mascara-black tears tumbled from her eyes but washed away no sorrow. Her right arm hung limp by her side, a small pistol in her hand. Jacques lay on his back, his hands resting palms up as if pleading. His face looked all wrong, as if it had been hastily assembled and painted black and blue and red.
“They beat the hell out him. I didn’t even get a chance,” she said.
Water pooled upstream of his body, swirling in little eddies before spilling over his chest. Nearby, on the bank, Jacques’ pale blue hat, like a piece of the sky fallen to earth, lay beautiful in the golden afternoon sun.