BY MICHELLE MAGEE
THE PROFILE PHOTO ON his Facebook page was well out of date, purporting to be a fitter and more complete version of Mark, like before he had started to cave in on himself. He was posing topless in a muscle man pose with two young children by his side; the list of interests on his page was endless: Boxing, Motorcycle racing, Song writing, Mountaineering, Muay Thai, Jiu-jitsu, Cooking. It said he was learning French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Now his skin hung on the bones of his cheeks, and he was consumed from the inside out. His only adventures were motionless and dark.
A faded Celtic flag sagged on the wall above the balding, neglected sofa where he lived. The duvet was crumpled and heavy with sweat and sadness. Everything looked yellowish-brown and faded or engrained in dirt. On the opposite wall a rectangular scar marked where the TV used to be, leaving the white flesh of the chipboard wallpaper uneasy against the suffocating nicotine walls. A stench like a clogged pub toilet seemed to cling to everything like an invisible glue. He was immune to the rancid yellow air, thick with ammonia which seeped through the letterbox and caught the postman in the back of the throat.
A tiny school tie which was noosed into a perfect little knot lay covered in ash on the table next to a brimming ashtray. He stubbed out another roll-up, distracted by thoughts of more potent drugs while his veins cowered under the yellowed hospital band around his wrist; he didn’t see the point in taking it off. Ann, his mother, had grudgingly given him a loan of a tenner which he inevitably spent on cider. It might give him the courage to finally reply to Elen, the beautiful Eastern European nurse with whom he had been chatting online. He stared at his phone for a while, as though he were concentrating on a riddle, then he put it down and gently picked up his dad’s old guitar.
Mark liked to tell people he could play the guitar, and he believed it, just like he believed he was a boxer. The truth was he could play the first few lines of a very limited repertoire – Hotel California by the Eagles and a few Elvis songs that his dad Jimmy used to sing. Mark had aged along with his father over the years, and at thirty-eight he looked older than Jimmy did when he died. The tattoos on his arms were verdigris green and illegible, like a picture on a deflated balloon. His yellow, spoon-shaped fingernails curved over the tips of his tobacco-stained fingers as he strummed the guitar which he had ‘tuned himself’. The notes were all wrong, out of synch like a dubbed film.
Feeling warmer now, he allowed himself to think of Elen; he wanted to send her a message. Her Facebook picture had an other-worldly shimmer to it; she was blonde haired with flawless, bloodless skin, and her perfect eyes looked up at him with a vacant expression and a catalogue smile.
“Luv you stickin’ by me like this keep thinkin’ ur too good for me,” he typed, and he really meant it.
“A luv u babes u no that. Are we still meetin’ for a coffee later?” she replied, almost instantly.
“Am sorry babes I canny. A hiv the weans. Won’t be long now I promise,” he apologised, wondering where his kids were. Probably with his mum or his sister he thought.
He knew he couldn’t keep up with these excuses and he wanted to let himself imagine what it would be like to actually meet Elen. It was a very public display. Grinning, he thought how Kara’s big fat arse would be jealous at how happy he was without her. How ugly she had become after what she’d done to him and the kids. Rage fuelled his shame and vice-versa as he descended into a numb oblivion goaded by more pills and the obliging cider.
His flaccid body lay on the weathered sofa like a rabbit lying on the side of the road after a crow had pecked its eyes out; his soul slowly escaping through the bloody holes. Flies moved through the putrid stillness with ease, suckling on his sticky resentful skin as they pleased. It was dark but the room was no darker than before. The carriage clock was stuck at a minute to twelve. The only light in the room came from his phone which notified of a message from a friend:
“It’s a fake account mate,” the Facebook friend had signed it off with a laughing face emoji. Before that, Mark had sent Elen another message:
“Sweet dreams beautiful, we will be together soon,” and he really meant it.
Elen never replied.
© The Boxer, 2023, Michelle Magee
Michelle Magee is originally from Clydebank although now lives in Ayrshire with her fiancé. She works in HR for a mental health charity and is studying part-time towards an Open Uni degree in English Literature and Creative Writing.
Michelle wrote The Boxer as part of her course, and she is delighted that Tangled Web Magazine is publishing it.
She is not currently writing anything else although would love to write a novel in the future. Michelle plans to finish her course and see what else comes out of that.