Post Road Magazine #24

Flutter Flake

Ross Barkan

Picking up his two cans of Diet, he waits near the curb, same as every day, an impediment to the world. They hover like small moons reluctant to understand his gravity, though they do, slipping their eyes into the subdued light of their phones. If we don't see, we don't see. When in doubt, check email.

Rain and wind, four twenty-four, my watch says four twenty. Four. Oh, I'm thirsty.

A woman too New York to even register on the landscape—black hair black leather coat thin living carcass soaked in makeup tights designer shoes designer sunglasses no sun a cigarette habit still lodged in memory—tightens her grip on an e-reader, pausing between paragraphs to breathe and pick at a tiny pocket of skin at the corner of a carmine thumbnail. The bus is nowhere. She tightens, glasses darkening, though not really. She imagines them dark, so dark, so it's only her and the text, Twitter, et cetera. Her feet ache for the fucking bus.

He cracks the can, snapping it open like that, like the old days, snap snap hear that music, boy. Snap underneath the bridge, popping suckers for a quarter, getting sucked, blood coating the upper lip. Don't bleed too much, boy. You flutter. Don't bleed. That's what Angus James said and Angus James is the smartest cornerman you ever known, ever will.

It goes down light on his throat, he makes the tingle real, so real he has to stop and shimmy just a bit—look at the rain. Light and sideways, passing eternally down, right onto his shoetops. No need for a shoeshine. Thank God, thank God. Thank him.

One of the young men join her, the youth around here, those who wouldn't know Flutter from fucker, champs from daisies, champs from tomato cans, champs from everything. They wouldn't know. He scratches at his face the same almost brown it always was, almost not quite. A.rab fucker they called him once, and things worse, though he is neither.

He has sideburns like a rockstar, flushed fat face kind as Santa, brutal as Satan, depending on who is talking. It always depended on who was saying what and when and Angus James said never say anything you'll think about in the morning. Angus James found him down below, the Jimmy Street underpass, found him smoking hooboys. Called em that cause when you were done you said hoooo boooooyyy.

She nods a little, an incipient grin inching up her face like drool. The youth pats her on the shoulder. Flutter wants to pat, too. He edges the other way, into the bus stop's glass corner, into where Angus James used to fix his ass up from time to time. No rain gets him, that's the way it should be, no rain, good overhang. Diet tastes real smooth, good for the thighs Angus James said, thrumming down his throat like one a Zee's oh shit bass lines.

To his eyes, it's a cancerous growth on the horizon line, black and amorphous, bigger by the gutted second. It stops at the corner.

June 1972 twenty-three and two twelve wins by knockout June 1972 twenty-three and two twelve wins by knockout June 1972 Angus James giving him the word, he was gettin the challenge, his motherfuckin challenge, Flamin Fox hisself is rumbling into Iowa City and he wants your ass and you're gonna beat it right? Right, Angus James, right. His silver tooth smiling its own smile.

Closer, headlights blasting the premature dark, it's not twilight. The woman and the youth look up, whispering at each other's ears, rain smoking off the pavement ahead of them. In the store back in the brown recesses of the walkup a radio hisses like a half-assed apocalyptic warning. Shattered news bits, war here, terrorist there, make their way down and out to the bus groaning up to their intersection. He watches the light in that way that's not so much watching, more brain than eye, letting the vague light trickle into him.

June 7th, Flamin Fox Freighter comin to I.Oh.Wa City, to you, boy, stepping off that airplane lookin at you. Knocked down Mali a year earlier, no one touching him. No one gonna touch him 'cept you, says Angus James. Want you dreamin his death, boy. Want you.

He starts the second Diet, letting the first can roll out of the bus stop.

Flutterin Flake and Flamin Fox, no one coulda invented a more God-ordained matchup. Nobody. And if any media fucker asks you if you copied Flamin's name you say no you was Flutterin Flake since the day you was born on account of how you fluttered those little goddamn legs of yours.

Since the day you was born, knockin out babies, knockin out kids, knockin out men.

Diet tastes good, Diet goes down. He wipes his lip, discombobulates his face into a smile that cuts at the woman. She evades, eyes in the phone, in deep. The youth touches her, laughter, rain smoking off.

Nineteen Seventy Two now tell me, mister uh, mister Flake, how old are you young man?

I'll be twenty-four come this December, Harold.

Young gun you are going to knock out the Fox? Do you think you have a chance? People across the land say the Fox can't be brought to the ground yet they say no one has a more powerful left hook in all the land than yourself.

They say lotta things, Harold, Imma do my best, get in there—You kill em Angus James says you kill em dead so dead hell ain't even a reprieve you hear me boy.

Flamin Fox Freighter versus the young gun at the dome, seven pee-em don't be late. Freighter heavily favored but some gamblers like the young gun, some prognosticators, too, he's got gumption. Look at the fella. Look at him ridin in here. Fear rolled in his cheeks, hidden like it should be. And the people, listen to the crowd, just listen, all together and gorgeous, absolutely in-can-ta-tory.

He wipes at his nose, catching a line of snot hung over his hand like a fishing pole. He licks it off, quick, looks down. The rain is up his body and the bus pulls in.

I, boy, I want you, boy, you protect yourself you fight like a god damned devil pulled from hell you fight for your lost meal you—And here we are, midway through round one, the Fox havin sport with the young gun weavin in and out graceful and in contro—oh, there's a right to the solar plexus, that will slow the young man down. Blow right through him, like fire hitting ice.

The woman and the youth disappear inside the yawning doors. It sinks lower, groaning under its own bulk, smoke and metal, nothing more. Eyes and noses pile out. Mouths too. He looks up and down, finishing the snot. He looks up and down and up and down and up into Flamin Fox Freighter, as young as can be, same moustache same scar below the right cheek same smile so strange and bright it could kill you on the canvas. Same mini fro. Same, same.

How ya doing, Flutter Flake, it's been a longtime.

I'm waitin at the bus stop what you think. What you doing out here, champ.

Thas right, good boy, you haven't forgotten. The champ's got to make his daily rounds, right?

I. . .I s'pose yes, he does. But this is my bus stop you need to go.

No one tells a champ what to do.

I'm. . .I'm tellin you, Fox, get out, you hear me. You want another piece I'll give it to you I'dda had you in the fight if my left hit you in the

neck beginning of round three I was this close—But you missed, boy. You missed hard.

I ain't a boy.

You was a man when the nation watched you and you became a boy again. The fuck you even do after I knocked you down? I did a lot, Fox. I raised a kid— You deserted a kid. I ran a business. You drove a bus. Bad.

I. . .I bought a place.

Foreclosed. You a piece a shit you belong at the bus stop.

I'm better than you, Fox, better than you.

Prove it.

I'm gonna fight you.

Sixty-five and he's gonna fight? You gonna fight the champ, now? Oh lord, I don't suffer fools. The champ does not.

You might still be young and I might look old but I'm a young gun always I'll knock you off your flat ugly feet. You god damned pack a shit.

Careful, boy, those are battlin words. Easy.

It's not fair, why you look that way? You should be a little bit. . .

Older? I'm the champ, I don't get old, boy. I stay young for the world. Pictures of me in every bar and memorabilia dump in America. I'm always young. That's why I wanted to be champ.

No, it's not like that.

That's funny, you funny. You wasn't funny then but you funny now.

Flutter Flake pulls his hand back and slaps at the closing door, fingers screaming on glass. The driver jumps and turns the big bus as fast as he can into the street. He hits the horn because he can. Flutter Flake leaves his bus stop, one foot in the gutter, brown water hugging his black shoe. He has lightning in his fucking fingers and he can't get it out.

He can't get it out, the fucking lightning.

Angus.

The woman too New York to pay attention pops in her earbuds and thanks god to be on the bus out of this shithole of a hood, she looks back at the bus stop.

Good, she thinks. That weirdo is walking away. Walk away.

And here they go, two ferocious warriors, Flamin Fox and Flutter Flake alliterating and annihilating, Fox dancing in, that left is getting in there, we've got the excitement here that we look for, but Flake is dazed, he's dazed, and Fox is hitting in there again and again and again—He can't get the lightning out.



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