Everyone was waiting for the fight.
Us boys played Wiffle Ball in the pink-light of a fading July evening while the men leaned against their cars and talked. They wore khakis and white t-shirts with cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves, Viceroys and Camels and Pall Malls. Now and then, one of the dads came into the street where we played, maybe threw a pitch or took a swing. Mostly, the men talked and smoked and drank beer. All their houses looked the same, three bedroom ranches built on slabs, a patch of green for a yard.
As for the fight, most of the men liked Patterson, but favored Liston to win. Patterson was a gentleman, the kind of black man who knew his place in the world. Liston was a thug—imprisoned twice, he carried a gun and kept connections to The Mob—the kind of black man they wouldn't want to meet on a darkened street.
After Liston put Patterson down, he'd fight Clay next. Cassius Clay, the kind of black man they hated, mouthy and flashy, maybe a little crazy. Not Liston's crazy-mean, but his own crazy-crazy.
That would be some fight, the men agreed. They couldn't wait for Liston to put Patterson down so he could go on to put Clay down.
Except Richie Griewank's old man. Old Man Griewank favored Liston over Patterson, but liked Clay over Liston. Old Man Griewank, little guy with a flat face and straight black hair, trimmed trees for a living, liked Clay's brag and swagger. Said he imagined Clay would be the best, maybe the best ever, just you wait.
Big John Ludy—cleaned and dug septic tanks, drove his own truck—said, Get the fuck out.
The men smoked and drank their PBRs.
Mike Ludy, Big John's boy, hit a grounder to short. I scooped it up and threw to Richie at first. He'd have made the catch and Mike would've been out, except Mike, heavier by twenty pounds, plowed into him and knocked him to the pavement. Bloodied his nose and busted his lip.
Richie's older brother Ted ran in from right field and pushed Mike in the chest—Ted, a high school dropout, living at home and trimming trees with his old man. Mike, just a sixth grader like Richie and me, but already as tall as Ted, pushed back. Ted popped him in the face. Mike swung and missed, and Ted popped him again.
Big John Ludy set his beer on the fender of Jake Blosser's '58 Chevy. He said, That ain't right. That's a man on a boy.
The other men wouldn't look at Old Man Griewank.
Big John walked into the street and elbowed his son aside. Us boys backed away. Big John rolled up his sleeves, motioned to Ted, and said, You wanna hit someone, hit me.
Ted looked scared, but tried a jab. Big John blocked it with his forearm, then slapped Ted with his open hand. Ted tried again. Big John blocked again. When Big John backhanded him, Ted started to cry.
Old Man Griewank threw his cigarette to the ground. He called out to Big John, He's no man. You lookin for a fight, fight me.
I stood next to my dad, a butcher by trade, hands like hammers.
Old Man Griewank stripped out of his shirt and rolled his shoulders, loosening up, like boxers do before a fight. He tried a couple of phantom punches.
Big John grinned.
Bloss leaned against his Chevy and hollered,Will you guys knock it off?
Jim Wiedemeir said, Hell, let it play out.
My dad steered me inside. We turned off the lights and watched through the window. It didn't last long. When it was over, Richie and Ted helped their old man inside. His boy Mike next to him, Big John taunted over his shoulder, Let me know when you want some more, Griewank.
I didn't have to be told. I knew this meant the end of Wiffle Ball.
I said, I hate Big John Ludy.
My dad said, Don't worry, someone'll fix his wagon some day.
Then he turned on the radio. We sat at our kitchen table and listened. The year before, Liston had knocked out Patterson at two minutes five seconds of the first round, making Patterson the only undisputed heavy weight champion to lose his title in the first round. In this, their second fight, Liston got him at two minutes nine of the first.
Now, it was on to Clay for the Big Bear. That's what the sports announcers called Liston, the Big Bear. They called Clay the Louisville Lip.
My dad finished his beer and Camel cigarette. He gathered his empties and dumped his ashtray. A few hours, he'd be at work, breaking down beef quarters into steaks and chops. He'd leave for his cutting room about the time Old Man Griewank and Ted left to trim trees, Big John Ludy set off to clean septic tanks, and Bloss and Wiedemeir headed to their factory jobs.
I asked my dad what he thought, Clay or Liston.
He stared out the window into the dark and quiet street. Finally, he said, I don't like Liston, but I favor him to win.
It wasn't right how Liston had humiliated Patterson, but I had to favor him, too. No way could Clay stand up to Liston's bulk and soulless brown eyes. No more than Old Man Griewank could stand up to Big John Ludy.
I'll be pulling for Clay, though, I told my dad.
My dad said, You can pull for him.
I went to sleep wishing Wiffle Ball wasn't over for the summer and wanting Clay to win. I imagined his jabs splitting skin and his right crosses breaking bones, even if he didn't have a chance with Liston cutting him off when he tried to dance, banging on him in the clinches, and connecting with that big left hook.
BIO: Gary V. Powell’s short stories and flash fiction have been widely published, both online and in print, most recently at Connotation Press, Literary Orphans, Molotov Cocktail, Thrice Fiction, and Carvezine. Several of his stories have placed or been selected as finalists in national contests. His first novel, "Lucky Bastard," released in December 2012, is available through Main Street Rag Press at http://www.mainstreetrag.com/GPowell.html.