Gold by Jim Bates

Wearing a pink tank top and tights, Lindsey Copeland danced out of her corner into the center of the ring. Her opponent, a kid named Frankie she knew from her seventh-grade art class, approached her confidently. She could see him smirking and she knew exactly what he was thinking. You’re going down, little girl. Or something like that. He was a bully in school and thought he was tough stuff. Too bad for him.
            Lindsay was fighting in the first round of the first fight of her life. Without stopping she danced right up to him and belted him square in the forehead. Even though he was wearing a boxing helmet, his head snapped back and tears came into his eyes. He blinked them away but it didn’t help. She grinned to herself. Just like Uncle Sid taught me. Take ‘em by surprise.
            In a matter of seconds, she hit him twice more, a left in the stomach and then a right cross to the jaw. For a skinny, wisp of a thing, Lindsey had muscle, and her punches were like being hit by cement blocks. They were also unexpected, and Frankie stood stunned before reeling into his corner.
            The ref put her hand on Lindsey’s shoulder to stop her from stalking him, “Hold it a minute, sister.”
            Lindsey looked at her. Her name was Skeeter, a well-respected former boxer, retired now for nearly ten years.
            Skeeter winked. “Nice couple of shots there.” She raised Lindsey’s arm. “The winner! Technical knockout.”
            The crowd of about fifty or so cheered and applauded. Then Skeeter guided the young boxer to her corner and said to her uncle. “Well done, Sidney. You’ve got a good little fighter there. See you in the next round.”
            Uncle Sid helped Lindsey out of her gloves and gave her a high-five. He grinned. “Excellent work. Next time remember to keep your right up a little more. But that first left jab to the forehead was awesome.”
            Lindsey spit her mouthguard into her hand and said, “Thanks, Uncle Sid.” Then she took a long drink from her water bottle. Her heart was pounding, adrenalin running through her like a freight train. Man, that was fun!
            Uncle Sid wrapped a towel around her shoulders and prepared to lead her out of the ring. She glanced at Freddie’s corner, hoping he was okay. He was. He had his gloves off and gave her the thumbs-up sign. Good. She liked to box; she just didn’t want to hurt anyone. Not too bad at least.
            She was fighting in the U12 class, twelve years old and under. It was a round-robin tournament, and she was the only girl fighting. She was sure all the guys thought she’d be a pushover. Ha! Too bad for them. Talk to Freddie. He still looked a little crossed-eyed.
            At five feet two inches, Lindsey was tall for her age. And skinny.
            You’re like a broomstick,” her Aunt Claire had told her when she’d first come to live with them a year ago. “I’ve got to put some meat on those bones.”
            So began meals of pancakes and eggs in the morning, roasted chicken and mashed potatoes at noon, and roast beef and gravy and garden-fresh string beans at night, or some variation thereof. Lindsey ate it all, happily, because she was always hungry. But she never gained an ounce.
            Uncle Sid smiled six months later when his wife complained about their niece’s lack of weight gain. “Don’t worry about it, Claire.” He turned to Lindsey. “Show her what you’ve got.”
            Lindsey proudly flexed her arm, showing off her newly developed muscle.
            “See,” he winked at his niece and gave Claire a one-armed hug. “It’s all muscle.”
            “Humph!” Then she grinned good-naturedly. “Well, I guess that’s okay, then.”
            She really did want her niece to succeed, because, after all, her life hadn’t been a bed of roses up until then.
            Claire’s mother, Brittany, was a sales rep for a medium-sized publishing house. She was a free-spirited woman who traveled the country meeting with clients and was only home maybe twenty percent of the time. She’d had Lindsey when she was thirty-five, telling her younger sister when she told her she was pregnant, “I think I’ll give it a try. You know this mother thing.”
            Claire was aghast. “Brit, you can’t approach being a mother like that.” She’d raised three sons and knew what it took. Plus, all the time she’d been raising the three boys she’d had a full-time job doing bookkeeping for Willard’s Construction, the company her husband, Lindsey’s Uncle Sid, worked for.
            “Sure, I can, little Sis,” Claire had said, uncorking a bottle of wine. “Watch me.” She’d poured two classes. “Here’s to us.”
            Claire had dealt with the demon alcohol off and on for years until she’d quit on the day after her thirtieth birthday. That had been twenty years ago. She picked up the glass and poured it down the drain. “No thank you.”
            They were in the kitchen on the twelfth floor of Brittany’s townhouse in downtown Minneapolis. Brit paid dearly for the million-dollar view of the Mississippi River, Saint Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. Which was a shame, Claire thought, because her sister was hardly ever there. To say she had a wandering spirit was putting it mildly, just like a shoestring relative of theirs, Axel Clappert, who, rumor had it, had headed west to California during the 1849 gold rush, never to be heard from again.
            Claire poured a glass of water. “I wish you’d reconsider.”
            Brittany guzzled her White Zinfandel and poured another. “I already have, Sis. The light is green for go.”
            Claire had had all she could take. “Well, fine. It’s not you that I’m concerned about,” she said, walking to the door. “It’s your unborn child.”
            Brittany laughed. “My child?” She drank from her glass and walked toward her sister, swaying slightly. “You mean my daughter, don’t you?”
            Claire’s eyes went wide. “Daughter?”
            “Yeah, sis. I’ve been checked. It’s a she. I’m calling her Lindsey.”
            In spite of her anger toward her oldest sister’s irresponsible behavior, Claire had to smile. After raising her three boys, it’d be nice to have a daughter in the family.
            It was good she felt that way, because she became a surrogate mother right off the bat, driving downtown nearly every day from her and Sid’s home in Orchard Lake, twenty miles west of Minneapolis.
            Pretty soon, it was clear that Brittany was more than willing to turn over bringing up Lindsay to Claire. Sleepovers at her aunt and uncle’s became long weekends which became a week, then two. Then a month. Then an entire summer.
            Finally, Sid said to Claire, “Why don’t we just have her live with us full-time? She could go to school out here. She’s already got a bunch of friends.” He smiled at his wife and gave her a hug. “She could be the daughter you never had.”
            Claire laughed and kissed him on the cheek. “She already is.”
            Sid grinned. “My point.”
            At first reluctant, Brittany finally relented. “Go ahead,” she finally said after relentless pressure from Claire. It was the summer Lindsay was just starting fourth grade. “It’s for the best.”
            Years later, Claire would always remember how happy both sisters seemed. For entirely different reasons. Brittany wasn’t cut out to be a mother. Claire was. And she loved her niece. Even to the point of indulging her desire to become a boxer.
            “I just don’t get it,” Claire told her when she’d first broached the subject. “Why boxing?”
            “Why not?” Lindsey pointed at her uncle who had just come home from work. “Uncle Sid did.”
            Which was true. Sid had boxed right up through high school and into college when he’d hung up the gloves for good, saying to everyone he was sick of getting beaten to a pulp. Plus, he was starting to get headaches and boxing wasn’t helping them any. Plus, he’d met Claire.
            “I don’t mind you boxing,” she’d told him. “I just mind seeing you get your ass kicked.”
            She had a point. Truth be told, Sid had more enthusiasm for the sport than skill. But at least he was smart, smart enough to listen to Claire anyway. He quit soon after.
            But he still liked the idea of fighting, especially the one-on-one aspect of it. He watched fights on YouTube and when Lindsey joined him in watching, he didn’t think anything of it. Claire didn’t mind–too much. However, occasionally she shook her head and muttered, “I don’t see the point.”
            But there was something in Lindsey that attracted her to the idea of proving herself in the ring. She watched a lot of women boxers and had Uncle Sid teach her the rudiments. So, when her high school announced over the summer that it was going to field a boxing team, Lindsey begged and pleaded to be allowed to join. Uncle Sid was overjoyed, Claire less so.
            But she reluctantly went along saying, “As long as she doesn’t get hurt.” She poked a finger in Sid’s chest. “Train her well.” To Lindsey she said, “I only want you to have fun. When it’s not fun anymore, tell me, and that’ll be that.”
            “Okay,” Aunt Claire, Lindsey had said. She was thrilled.
            Over summer she’d trained with Sid and by the time fall came around, it was apparent she was a natural. She was fast on her feet and skillful with her punches. She caught the eye of her coach, Soren Blackstone, a history teacher and former boxer himself.
            He took her aside that first month and said, “There’s a tournament in Minneapolis in November. Talk to your folks. I think you should be in it.”
            She’d talked to Sid and Claire and uncle and they’d agreed to let her box. She was ecstatic. She’d won her first round.
            The second round was against a kid named Bucky. He was tall and thin like she was. He was also as skillful as Lindsey and hit her hard four times to every one of hers. Fortunately for Lindsey, one of her punches bloodied Bucky’s nose and the fight was stopped. They bumped gloves when it was over. “Sorry about that,” Lindsey said, pointing to the towel Bucky was holding up to his nose. It was turning red.
            In spite of the blood, Bucky grinned. “That’s okay. It was fun.”
            Lindsey went back to her corner and drank from her water bottle thinking that Bucky seemed like a good guy.
            Sid gave her a high five. “Way to go Tiger. You’re in the finals.”
            The next day, Lindsey found Alex Young. He was a short, muscular kid who hit Lindsey without mercy. She took every hit and gave him more back, punching with four or five left and right jabs to every full-blown swing. She also kept moving. In fact, she wore him out. By the end of the third and final round, after boxing for nearly six minutes, Alex was exhausted. Lindsey could see it in his eyes. He even had trouble holding his arms up. Finally, the moment she’d been waiting for happened. He dropped his guard. Lindsey hit him with a hard one-two punch to the head that sent him stumbling backward. He fell into the ropes and pitched forward, falling to the mat, too tired to get to his feet. She’d won.
            Lindsey was awarded a gold medal on blue ribbon for first place.
That night at home she sat down with Sid and Claire. They were celebrating with pizza and ice cream. When she was finished, she said,
“You guys, I’ve been thinking.”
            “About what?” Claire asked.
            “About the next tournament?” Sid asked grinning. “You’re quite the fighter, you know.”
            Lindsey smiled. “I know. I love boxing.”
            Claire could tell something was up. She reached over and rubbed her niece’s shoulder. “What up, honey?”
            “Well, I have to say that I like boxing. I just don’t like hurting those guys.”
            “It’s part of the sport, though,” Sid said.
            I know. It just doesn’t seem right.”
            Claire looked at Sid. “We promised to let her decide.”    
             “I know.” Sid looked at Lindsey and smiled. “Do whatever you want, sweetheart. Your aunt and I will support you.”  
            Lindsey smiled, relieved. “Good. Here’s what I’d like to do.” She told them and when she was done, her aunt and uncle couldn’t have been happier.
            Lindsey continued to box. She also became an assistant coach and helped Soren Blackburn train hundreds of boxers. She went to college and got a degree in physical education and teaches at Orchard Lake High School. 
            She has a gold medal she keeps hanging on the wall in her bedroom to remind her of that one tournament. The tournament when she not only won, but met her future boyfriend Bucky who became her husband and then father to her two girls, both pretty good boxers themselves. 

Jim Bates lives in a small town in Minnesota. His most recent collection of stories “Dreamers” was published in May 2022, by Clarendon House Publishing. Additional stories can be found on his website.



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