The Street Ends Here

Steven didn’t know what to make of this stranger showing up, looking to throw leather just like that, first day, as if he were the next Hector Camacho, but he knew what Papi was going to tell him: “Thirty days, bro, no sparring thirty days.” Most lasted one day, never got past mirror work, Papi making them slide back and forth throwing jabs, yelling at them—“Come on, boy, unos, dos, tres”—until their eyes teared up, the pain in their arms letting them know it was a good thing nobody was throwing back at them, rubbing their elbows when Papi wasn’t looking, chugging water, sneaking toilet breaks, streetfighters, winners of one-minute brawls, backpocket box cutters, gunshots in the air, thinking they were boxers, knowing nothing about discipline, sweat, self-control, the Bronx full of them, too many to mention, too many to remember, graffiti memorialized, all of them, Papi said, nobodies.

This kid seemed different, coming downstairs from the locker room, uncoiling his hand wraps like snakes, putting them on the right way, hands outstretched, palms down, fingers out, loop over the thumb, each wrap drawn tight, then tighter with every course around, palm and wrist and thumb again, till the wraps were snug and clinging to his fists like casts. On the soft planks of the sagging wooden floor, varnish scuffed away, Steven shadowed, throwing his fists at the big Broadway mirrors missing silver, leaning against pocked plaster walls coated blue here, chipped white there, needing paint everywhere, his sweat beading, skin slick, muscles loose. The new kid was warming up, too, bobbing, weaving, snapping jabs, looking nothing like a kid off the street his first day at the gym.

The bell rang, the boxers rested with the rest of the crowd at the gym, but the new kid kept looking at the mirrors, staring, admiring what he saw, himself, arms roped with muscle, the kind you can’t get without a whole lot of weightlifting.

He turned to Steven.

“You sparring?” he asked.

Steven nodded. They threw gloves every day at Jerome Boxing Club. Other gyms in other places threw every other day, maybe twice a week, maybe not, but not at Jerome. The gym had a reputation, one it defended every year, every fight, every borough, every trophy in the display case by the front entrance proof of that reputation, lower-shelf trophies from smokers in back rooms and clubhouses, middle shelves from the Spanish Gloves and Empire States, top shelf for the Golden Gloves, and in another case just for the pros, photos of fists held high, smiling faces, number one fingers pointing to the heavens for the camera.

“You want to throw?” the kid asked Steven, glancing down, checking him out. “You look about my weight.”

“Ain’t up to me,” Steven replied.

“Who’s it up to, the old man?” the kid pointed at Papi.

Steven nodded.

“I know him,” the kid said. “What’s his name? He used to be at Times Square Gym.”

“Papi,” Steven said.

“Papi what?”

“Just call him Papi.”

The kid stepped close, too close, his face older than Steven thought, no kid’s face, little lines springing from the shadows of his sockets, dark eyes a little sunken. He looked like a middleweight, heavier than Steven but short, with rus