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THE DARK HORSE

By Barry Lohnes

Young Harold Wiggington, nicknamed ‘Junior’ by friends and family members, leaned over the white Philco A.M. radio, adjusting the tuner amidst squelching from the tinny speaker--he worked the dial with sensitive fingers, first clockwise gently, then counter. He paused to listen, hitching up his Levis, which he did often, because Junior Wiggington was built like his father; with wide shoulders but a hind end ‘no bigger than a double cheeseburger,’ a friend of the family once quipped.

Wiping his runny nose with a sleeve, Junior grasped the tuning dial with a thumb and forefinger, ever so slightly. Then he lifted the radio and turned it forty degrees or so until the squelching ceased. Over the airwaves boomed familiar voices of boxing.

‘. . . you know Howard, boxing fans are talking about young Floyd Patterson having the opportunity of becoming the best Heavyweight ever, considering he hasn’t been beaten. . . . ‘

“Daddy, come on out here quick--I’ve got the fight,” Junior expounded, lowering his voice to soften a “by Jesus” that was not for his father to hear. “I got the Portland station.”

‘ . . . yes, Jim, tonight Floyd Patterson has the chance to prove he’s one of the best, but boxing fans say this young Swede is dangerous with that right hand--’

‘--but Floyd Patterson is not Eddie Machen, Howard--’

‘--that I agree, Jim, that I agree . . . .’

“Daddy, please come out, the fight’s about to start.”

‘Well, Jim here we go--the fighters are in the ring and the crowd is excited.’

‘Yes, Howard, it is a partisan crowd--people like the young American champion, Floyd Patterson. He’s a real gentleman . . . .’

Harold Wiggington Senior stepped into the room so softly that Harold Junior was in the process of lifting his head to call him in again, not hearing his father’s slippered feet. The father polished vigorously his horned rimmed glasses with a bright white handkerchief.

“I’m moving as fast as I can, Junior,” he said softly, smiling at his son. He sat on the divan, and put his feet on the matching Ottoman. “I’ve just finished writing a policy for our neighbor across the avenue, while I poured my evening cup of tea.” He gazed on his son, smiling like a proud man. Then he pulled the strings of his silk regimental bow tie. Sighing, he unbuttoned the top button of his oxford shirt. In his lap he placed well tended hands. “Now the Smiths will have nothing to worry about,’ he added, pride in his voice.

“Homework done, Junior?”

“Yes Daddy,” Junior answered obligingly, thumb and fingers glued to the tuner, fearful of losing the station.

“Good, Harold, success is based on hard work and you’ve got a good start, providing you pick friends of good character.”

‘Ready for round one, Howard. Both fighters look ready, though the young Swede, Ingemar Johansson, looks to be deep in thought while the World Champion looks eager to get down to business.’

The station broke for a commercial: ‘Where there’s a man, there’s a Marlboro--filter, flavor, pack or box.’ The jingle bounded into the room, oscillating with static.

“I wish they wouldn’t advertise tobacco, Junior,” his father said gently, running a thumb over his clipped mustache.

“I know Daddy,” the boy replied rhetorically, bored by the thought of another lecture on tobacco.

“After all, our bodies are temples of the Almighty.” he added, pushing his glasses to the bridge of his nose with a forefinger. Then he resumed petting his mustache.

Both listened as the fight began, excited by the roar of the crowd: ‘Floyd Patterson is fighting from his famous peek-a-boo style, looking to either side of his glove to throw a jab. The big Swede is just pushing Patterson away with his left hand while the Champion peppers him with stinging jabs.’

“Come on Floyd,” Junior whispered. “You can do it!”

‘Yeah Jim, Johansson isn’t showing any aggressive spirit at all--the man is just pushing off with his left hand--it may be a short night for the young pugilist from Sweden.’

“Boxing certainly has changed, Junior,” his father said. “It’s not like when I boxed in college,”

“Everything changes, Daddy,” his son replied, staring at the radio, hoping to end the conversation.

“Indeed,” the father smiled, glancing at the photographed portraits of his parents, looking tranquil in gold-toned black and white, brass frames hanging from the pastoral wall paper. He looked through the portal into the kitchen, noticing the remnants of a tuna and string bean casserole on the Formica table. He thought for a moment about his dear wife Agnes, putting up a covered dish for them while she attended the Women’s Guild meeting at St. Mary’s. He belched slightly, mumbling “excuse me.” As he looked at his slippered feet on the leather hassock, he pondered his good fortune--health, job, and loyal family in a white clapboarded Maine town. Everything a man could want. “Yes, I prefer the American,” his father added. “But part of me roots for the underdog--you know Junior, the dark horse, so to speak.”

They listened for the triumph of Floyd Patterson.

‘It’s a hard right and Patterson is down! shouted the announcer. ‘I don’t believe it!’

‘Oh Nelly!’ the other announcer shouted, dragging the oh, for all it was worth.

“--Jesum criney!” Junior yelled.

In an instant Harold Senior stood.

“Kill that Nigger cocksucker!” he screamed, cranking a fist toward the ceiling.

Harold Junior spun around, letting go of the radio, staring at his father, who sat down, wiping his hands on his trousers. The radio emited a whining sound, as if from another dimension.

“Now that ending wasn’t expected, was it Junior?” the father asked softly, face turned magenta and glazed with sweat. He stood again. “Well, I guess I had better get the casserole in the fridge before Mother gets home--a clean kitchen is always in order.”

Without Junior’s hand on the dial, the radio screamed disharmoniously. The boy’s eyes followed his Father through the portal, noticing his blushed neck and sloped shoulders. His hair splayed from where it parted in the middle, casting surreal, pronged shadows on the flowered, pastel wall paper.

(C)opyright 2007 Barry Lohnes All Rights Reserved

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