The Prizefighter and the Bucket – Ellie Cottrell

PROLOGUE

The cock crowed. His voice piercing through the swollen air, hanging bruised and thick in the dark. His sharp feathers ruffling noisily in the quiet yard as they slept. He crowed again, singing to the stillness in his brash voice.

Then, the bucket. Precisely aimed, maliciously thrown; clattered to a halt on top of the startled bird.

Amparo reached for the clock beside him, and growled at its face in the dark. Two thirty. Again.

The bird was broken.

 

CHAPTER ONE THROUGH TO END

The next morning he awoke unrefreshed and aching from the night before. Grated at the rude awakening from what was sure to be the unrepentant bird, he washed his face in the basin. Glaring into his own dark eyes in the mirror, he chastised himself for the anger, the bird was a champion fighter, not – despite his wife – dinner. Amparo was a tall dark man with a thick shock of curly hair, and big muddy eyes. He was patient, and often a little quiet. The bird was not. He was not huge for a prizefighter, golden with a knoll of red and licks of white and black. He was brutish and determined, but not always right. But he was the athlete. And Amparo was not. So he would get the first breakfast of the day.

Amparo groped his way downstairs, trying ineffectually to convince his eyes to open fully. He put some corn and beans in a bowl and took it outside to the bird, his stomach grumbling at him. As he opened the side door, the bird began to crow again. At the top of his lungs he serenaded Amparo, followed by a song of expletives from the upstairs window, where Ren had thankfully run out of things to throw. The bird strutted around before conceding to breakfast, and Amparo went back inside to get dressed and ready to leave.

Ren found him back in the kitchen, fussing with some wadding and a cardboard box. She stood disheveled at the door, her nightdress falling off, her long red hair tied back with an unsuccessful piece of string and her eyes heavy but bright, and fixed on him. She padded softly across the floor and draped her arms around him, laying sleepy kisses on his not yet dressed back. He was almost finished, and he would need to leave soon. She put on some coffee, and sat down at the table, still watching him perfect the box, punching careful air holes in the lid, and fastening some string to the sides. He went outside, and returned a moment later with the brazen bird. He plopped him, slightly unamused into his new den. He was rather larger than Amparo had remembered and it was a tight fit to mash his sharp feathers into the box, but the bird settled quietly as he sealed the lid. He threw on his rusty green shirt, took up a bag off the table and grabbed the string of the box; hoisting the bird into the air with a loose squark. He looked at Ren, and threw her a sigh and a smile. She smiled good luck back at him and he disappeared out the door.

It was fiery outside already, and Amparo hugged the shade on his way to the bus, regretting already his lateness and lack of water. He made it just in time, and swung into the crowded bus as it pulled out of the terminus into the busy traffic. He clambered over bags of vegetables, parcels, and people to the last seat at the back of the screeching beast. It let out a cough as he sat, and perched his box carefully, silently, at his feat. He slept for two hours, head nodding with the buses rhythmous bounds. He awoke to the sound of traffic and the sun burning his arm as it hung out the window. He was almost there and so far the bird had kept himself concealed and quiet. As if hearing his mind, it chose that moment to fling a huge howl out into the bus; waking anyone left sleeping, and befuddling the the tiny lady sat beside them. Amparo grabbed the box, and waded his way to the front of the bus, jumping off just as the bus turned a corner, leaving its remnants staring after him.

*

Amparo had arrived at the big hexagonal building shortly before his scheduled time, so he perched on the kerb for a cigarette with the bird and its boisterous chatter. He enjoyed a moment of calm with himself, and let his mind go quiet. Throwing the butt in the gutter, he paddled into the sweating building, a haze of bodies everywhere about him; damp and incessant. Making his way down a small entryway he came out into the cacophonous hall. He was recognised instantly, and a flick of a hand signalled to him ringside. He was met with handshakes and loudness.

He stepped into the pit at the side of the ring and loosened the ties on the box. His eyes glanced over at the opponent, to the scarlet streaked sand, and back to the bird. The bird let out a low chuckle as he was lifted free, and stomped about the sand insouciantly. Amparo swiftly attached the mandatory razor from his bag to the birds feet; unlike most of the others, he only needed one.

The birds were introduced to each other, and the volume in the room went instantly skyward. Hollers came from all corners at once, turning the air thick. From above the pitt the men in white vests lead the dance. Indicating with careering limbs in an unknown language as bets were made and paid for, and nerves were tensed. The opponent was ready. Swiping his feet over the bloodied earth, he stood determined and glassy eyed. Amparo placed the bird into the ring to the sound of silence whispering across the room. The bird scratched at the earth a few times and cocked his head with an arrogant mutter. He looked back towards Amparo:

Come join me in the ring my friend. 

*

Amparo rubbed his hands down over his face and collected himself before pushing open his side door. The house was silenced and empty as he entered. He clunked the bag of feathers and feet into the bucket on the table, and put some water in a pot on the stove top. Ren would be pleased. At least there was dinner.

 

THE END

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