Pishwaugh and the Prizefighter


A story fragment from an unfinished tale stashed away in my writing journal. One of these days, I need to show it some love.

In a little while, O’Malley came back into the bar and took a stool. “It’s all fixed,” the little man said.

“What’s fixed?” Pish replied, regarding him carefully.

“The match. I’ve got it all worked out.”

The barkeep caught Pish’s eye and, with a nod, set two fresh glasses on the bar. Pish raised his and in a movement, emptied it, eyes damp. O’Malley made a small noise above his whisky, cupping the glass with two hands in the manner of someone warding off chill. The extra exertion seemed to work, as in a moment he brightened visibly and said, “Farth round. He’ll take a knee.”

Pish considered this news for a moment and thought that the odds were only slightly better. “Will he come out punching?” he asked.

The little man appeared perplexed. “He’s his father’s son, now isn’t he?”

Pish rocked his glass on the bar top evenly, aware of a rising damp settling in the hollows of his knees. “Will he use the jab?”

“Wouldn’t you, lad?”

“No.” This came out weakly.

O’Malley’s eyes were bright. “Seamus Pishwaugh! You don’t want a fight a’tall!”

Pish juggled the empty beaker on the flat of his palm nervously, weighing its heft, his gaze tracing the carved mahogany pediment behind some bottles on the back-bar. The publican moved into view brandishing another glass and, in the same manner as before, closed the fresh transaction.

As he poured, Pishwaugh slid his empty glass back across the bar. It was an unconscious movement but heavy-handed, and the glass clattered forward clumsily, careening for the well. Impulsively, both men shot out a hand to restrain it. Pish, however, lunged first and over-stood his mark, jostling the new round and upsetting fresh whisky onto the polished countertop.

Without a word, Mike swabbed up the spill with a towel from his waist and raised his bottle again with a questioning look. Pish nodded him off, feigning nonchalance. “The angels’ portion, Michael. It’s not for me to drink.”

Gathering his courage between a thick thumb and forefinger, he grew abruptly self-conscious and slowed to regard his outstretched hand in the manner tipplers use to demonstrate the state of their nerves. It did not wobble, but men’s seldom do. Yet, there was some comfort in it. O’Malley fixed the younger man with a level gaze and said nothing. Pish knocked the whisky back and turned on his stool, smiling.

“Are you sure you can’t make it the third round?”