It's Hard To Take The Mask Off

Submitted into Contest #123 in response to: Write about a character who always wears a mask (physical or metaphorical).... view prompt

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Drama Fiction

He could taste the salty blood as he lifted his fit but large frame from off the ropes in the corner of the ring and shake his arms about, trying to get the strength he needed to finish his opponent off. His legs felt like jelly but taking a few deep breaths while the referee held his opponent back he got a second wind and knew what he would do. Dancing around on tiptoes like a nimble gymnast he went in hard with an uppercut to the right side of the other guys face. He could tell that it was a perfect punch, it felt smooth on his glove and the tall Afro American suddenly collapsed like a sack of potatoes falling on the canvas. On the way down his head wobbled as if just sitting on his shoulders, unattached and he flailed around as if he couldn’t see properly with the amount of blood streaming from a cut above his eye and rushing through his brows – it was as if someone had squirted tomato sauce all over his face. The thud was loud. Jason leant down to him to continue his punching and had just got one in when the referee pulled him off and sent him to his corner.

And then the referee started the count. On seven he tried to get up – blood was streaming from his nose too and his eyes were like slits, bloodshot and starting to turn a blue and purple colour around the outside.

He had won – again. The referee lifted his arm up – “In a unanimous decision Jason Morten is the winner”. The crowd clapped loudly and he walked over to his opponent, now standing and wiping his bloodied face with a towel and said “Well done mate, it was a tough fight”, touched his on the arm and left the ring. He always liked to check that the guy he had pummelled was ok.

He was elated and the adrenalin was coursing through his whole body, fast and furiously. He started jumping around and fist pumping the air. “Mighty Morten” he called out and his adoring fans chanted it back to him, “Morten, Morten”…..

His agent walked with him to the change rooms. Reporters were clamouring to get an interview or at least some words on the way, and when almost at the door he turned around and answered some questions from them. “What does it feel like to be number one still Jason?” “Your right hand is called ‘deadly’ and you proved that tonight but how does that description sit with you?’ “What’s next for you Jase? Will you be going overseas again? Are the whisperings of America that we’ve heard true?” “You seem quicker on your feet than ever at the moment – are you doing any training differently now to before?” and the questions just kept on coming. Just as he had turned to walk through the door someone from the crowd yelled out “Why aren’t you interested in the cage fighting Jason? I heard that you could name your own price?”

“No comment” was the reply they got. The reporters had pushed and shoved each other jostling for a good spot and now that he had finished answering all the questions and his agents told them “That will be all for now thank you”, they quickly dispersed, racing each other to be the first back to the office.

Once inside the dressing room Jason’s manager turned to him saying “Great match tonight. You showed them that you’re still on top – no one messages with Jason Morten, ain’t that the truth?” and he rubbed his client on the shoulders in a show of affection and respect.

“Yeah you’re right there Frank. No one messes with the ‘Mean, menacing Morten’ and then he added, shouting it…. EVER!!”

Frank left him to shower, walk to the next room for a rub down from one of the trainers and relax his muscles after the gruelling match, telling him “Don’t forget to come to the party Jase. They put it on for you and there will be some big names there who want to rub shoulders with the big tough Jason!”

“Yeah, see you there Frank”.

The party was the usual thing – lots of people, contacts, some influential, others just rich. The ‘up and coming’ rubbing shoulders with the likes of world famous boxers, models, actor and a lot of other big ‘names’.

Jason had been baled up in a corner with the type of person who would probably sell his granny if it made him richer. He never missed an opportunity to try and influence Jason to ‘cage fight’. The main carrot that he dangled in front of Jason’s still swollen nose was that it would make him an even richer man than he was.

“Look Cal I have a manager, a very capable one who looks after me. I am doing alright too. You never know, when I’m too old to fight in the ring and lose my killer punch, I’ll come looking for you. Ok?” and he walked away.

“Hey great fight Jason” someone called out to him. “I thought you were going to kill him in the end”.

“Yeah but it’s not a good look if you kill ‘em” he called back and plenty of people laughed.

He was ready to leave the party – he could only mix and mingle and look as if he was enjoying himself for so long. He had laughed and smiled at the right times and now his jaw ached. When he won is first fight and attended a party afterwards, he found it difficult to pretend he was having fun but as time went by he became really good at it – he wore the mask well and only took it off at home. 

The drink he had been carrying around with him the whole time he had been there, hardly touched, he placed on a table -  checked to see that he had his car keys and called out to whoever was listening “See you. See yer Frank”.

As he opened the large wooden door to leave, someone he had met a couple of times but couldn’t remember the name of, quickly caught up with him and told him that there was a party boat on the weekend, loads of fun and they would love to see him there, and then called out to him. “I didn’t see you at the last one but there were over two hundred people on the launch, so must have just missed you”.

“Yeah” was his reply.

Jason sat in his car. The leather seats still smelt like new and the dashboard was perfectly clean. He didn’t care about the way this car looked, how the upholstery smelt, the engine purred or even that it could do speeds of up to one hundred and fifty miles per hour. It all meant nothing to him. He loved his old car, reliable and comfortable. It had been his Dad’s and when he got killed it stayed in the garage until Jason was old enough to have lessons in it.

“You can’t drive around in a car that looks like it’s ready for the tip” his manager told him. “You’re a name now; a ‘somebody’ and you have to look the part. We’ll go out together and see what you like, ok?”

It wasn’t ok but Jason knew that it was all part of the deal he made after he won his first fight, and subsequently the second; after the third….he was suddenly a name on everyone’s lips that was a part of the boxing fraternity. He saw his name in the paper and the requests for interviews on the television and radio came flooding in. Everyone wanted to know, talk to and watch the new phenomena, belting the daylights out of his opponent.

He didn’t expect it to go this far. It started with an audition to see if ‘you had what it took’ to take up boxing, organised by the local gym. It was a way of keeping some of the rougher kids off the streets for at least two nights of the week – the other five they could carry on with the trouble they caused and the graffiti they sprayed everywhere.

Jason wasn’t going to enter but was persuaded by his mates. “Go on Jase, you’re so fit and nimble on your feet – you never know where it could lead to if you get chosen”, so he did give it a go. But he had never felt comfortable with all the attention, how it really wasn’t him, all the pretence, lies and the façade he kept up.

The only reason he wanted to do well was for the money. His mum needed money after his dad died. He hadn’t left her anything – over time he had drunk away any savings he ever had. The rent was months behind and his mum had been put off from work as she was often sick.

The first fight he won easily and he was persuaded to fight again. He just kept on winning and was told he was a natural and could go as far as he liked.

Frank, his manager heard about this boy who could be the next world champion and snapped him up! The lure of making enough money to keep his mum’s head above water was enough to make Jason sign. He didn’t care about the limelight, the fame, the girls who threw themselves at him or any of that stuff; and it just became more intense after each fight he won.

He started his shiny black car, the smooth engine hardly making a noise and put it into drive. It was about a twenty minute drive to his Mum’s house. It was where he grew up - quiet neighbourhood, small houses, neat gardens and an air of normality that he felt when he was here. It was as if a part of him got left behind on the canvas, along with the aggression, the excitement and the liniment tainted air.

He let himself in and walked into the fresh smelling kitchen. There was his mum sitting at the table in her wheelchair, cup of tea in hand and a great big smile on her face at seeing her only son – she was just relieved that he could walk in without any telling signs that he had just fought in the ring. She hated him boxing and he knew it. They never mentioned it ever when together. It was as if it wasn’t a part of their lives when they were in each other’s company, and now that he lived back at home it was as if boxing didn’t exist inside these four walls.

“Cup of tea love?” she asked him, knowing the answer before it came out of his mouth. They would sit over a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits quite often and it was nothing for Jason to consume at least two cups, sometimes three if they were playing cards together or just lost in the conversations they had.

“I’m home now, so you don’t have to do a thing! How are you feeling Mum?” he asked the tiny lady sitting opposite him. Her white hair was short and framed her elfin shaped face and bright blue eyes. He looked at her face and thought how pale she looked tonight.

“You asked me that this morning” she laughed

“And what did you tell me? You said that you were fine but always felt better when you saw me first thing in the morning. But I am actually asking how you are really feeling Mum”.

He knew that no matter what, she would never want him to know how sick or tired she really felt. The diagnosis of her cancer two months ago had shocked them both. It was stage four and the specialist had told her the truth.. “There’s nothing we can do for you Mrs. Morton other than pain medication” and she had accepted this graciously.

Jason’s phone rang and he pressed the ‘answer’ button. “Jason speaking” he said “No I can’t make it to the party – I’m playing cards with a few mates. No, all above board – you know me!” Then he turned his phone off completely.

“Why don’t you tell them the truth love?” his mother asked him.

“It’s easier this way Mum” was his answer.

Each morning and night Jason would help his mum get into the shower – she was still fiercely independent and would wash and dry herself, dress herself and call Jason in to help her into her chair. When she had headaches he would massage her neck and then lift her onto her bed to rest. He had modified her room so that she could lift herself into bed from her chair if he wasn’t home.

When she couldn’t sleep Jason would read to her. At the moment he was reading ‘Alice through the looking glass’ – a childhood favourite. “Are you sure you want me to read a kid’s book to you Mum?” he had asked.

“Oh I loved that book as a child Jason”, so he went and bought it from the book shop and read some each night. When she fell asleep he would straighten her covers, turn off the light and kiss her gently on her brow. Then he would take out his own books – poetry was his favourite, and with the cat on his lap, transport himself to lands far away.

One day when he was sitting with his mother and cutting and filing her fingernails, she asked him if it would be easier for him to put her into hospital in palliative care. The thought had never crossed his mind and he was shocked that she would think of it. “Mum” he told her holding her thin hand “I would never do that. If it came to it, I would give up everything for you – you know that. I only ever did it for you in the first place.

“I know son. I just know how hard it is for you to juggle everything, work, training and looking after me “she told him wiping away her tears.

The week before his mum died Jason has broken two fingers during a fight. They were strapped up but would take a few weeks to heal. He was asked to go to the opening of a new movie that had been made about the life of one of the greatest heavy weight boxers of all time. He didn’t want to go and leave his mum but he got the next door neighbour to come in and sit with her while he was out, leaving strict instructions to ring him if anything happened.

 It was just dressing up, mingling with the ‘right people’ and being completely bored. He couldn’t wait to leave but knew he had to show his face at the after party – apparently it was the most important time of the evening!

“Hi Jase” a tall blonde lady called to him “see you at the party?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for anything” he called back.

The party was at the home of the actor playing the part of the boxing legend. He was an athletic and fit looking man, rich, handsome and soaking up every particle of adoration that came his way. The mansion was alive with lights, music and people. This was the place to be if you wanted to meet the ‘rich and the famous’ and Jason was one of them!

After about ten minutes of laughing, holding a glass of wine, posing for photos and pretending to be having a good time he slipped away, got into his expensive car and drove home.

The neighbour greeted him and then walked next door.

His main reason for boxing, his mother, was asleep in her bed. He tiptoed in and watched her breathing, knowing that it wouldn’t be long now until he would no longer be able to look at her gentle face. She woke suddenly and said to him in a quiet voice “Oh Jason. I’m glad you’re home”.

Five days later Jason’s mother passed away. She wasn’t in pain and it was peaceful - he way he had hoped it would be. It was the saddest moment of his life when he watched her take her last breath and his tears flowed like a river.

After the private funeral Jason came home and sat at the kitchen table where he had enjoyed all those cups of tea and chats with his mum, lay his head on his arms and sobbed.

His broken fingers were still in a splint and even when they were

 fixed he didn’t know if he wanted to fight again or not – only time would tell.

December 10, 2021 15:15

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