I took my coworker to a job tonight that was about an hour away from where we work. It was also after hours so it was dark. As we were driving this long winding road where someone could easily get killed and not be discovered for years afterwards, I remembered that I did not share my ghost story with you. I entered the NYC Midnight contest. It’s a fiction writing contest where they basically give you the genre you have to write in, the location the story needs to take place, and an item that has to be included in the story. I’m not much for competitions. Actually, let me rephrase. I’m not much for writing competitions. I rarely, if ever, enter them because I love writing so much and, in my own mind, I am good at it. I don’t really feel like I need validation because it makes me happy to do it and if people don’t like what I write or how I write, they can choose to not read it and it’s ok because readers don’t pay my bills. I wish they did. I wish I did have to rely on readers to get paid, but as it stands, I am just another starving artist and I’m cool with that. Anyway, back to the story. The genre that was sent to me was “ghost story,” the location was “a boxing gym,” and the item that had to be included in the story was “a neon sign.” Sound fun right? I am a huge fan of writing prompts. I think that’s why I chose to do this contest. Writing prompts are not only fun, but they push you out of your comfort zone. So the following is the story that I wrote for the contest. I won’t know anything back until September so we will all be waiting, but I will update when September rolls around as to the status of the story. It’s called “The Blue Mouthpiece.” I hope you enjoy.
I closed the obituary I was reading for the thousandth time, carefully folded it and put it back in the front pocket of my purse the same way I did yesterday, and the day before, and last week, and every day for the last six months. I tied up my shoes and readied myself for the workout I had scheduled with Joe. Every day at 4pm, I would go to Joe’s gym. Joe would be waiting happily to see me like a puppy who hadn’t seen his human all day. It was the same thing every day. I walk in. He says, “You’re late.” I say, “I’m always on time.” We laugh and he throws me a jump rope to warm up with. I knew today would start no different, except today was the day I would show him the folded paper in my purse. I walked down Broadway toward the gym. I could see the flashing neon light of the liquor store next to the gym. The closer I got, the more I wanted to turn around and go home, but today was the day I would tell Joe the truth. I slowed as I reached that neon sign. If things went the way I planned, I would not see that sign again. Nor would I see the gym anymore. I couldn’t. I passed the liquor store and was standing in front of my final destination. The door was black and dirty and looked like it had been beaten up. When I walked in, I passed the office door and smelled that familiar dusty smell that haunted my nostrils for the last half a year. I ran my hand along the wall feeling the cool bumpy ridges on my fingers. The hallway opened up into the gym itself. There was a boxing ring in the middle with a blue mouth piece laying in the corner, a speedbag hung on the wall, and a heavy bag on the opposite wall. Dust had caked up on the hardwood floor. I looked at my footprints from yesterday and could see the faint prints under the dust from the days before.
“You’re late, Amelia.” Joe said just like I knew he would.
“I’m always on time,“ I said with a smile and put my hand up to catch the jump rope he threw to me.
I loved his face. It was the face of a boxer. His nose had been broken one time too many and had an obvious curve to it. His high cheekbones gave him a serious look even when he was in good spirits. He was wearing a grey tank top and black shorts. His dark hair and blue eyes were what drew me to him the first time I saw him four years ago jogging in the park. I had that day burned into my memory. I had every part of him memorized. I memorized the way his sweat pants looked when he would leave for a run. I memorized the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he smelled when he had been sparring all day and sweat had taken over as his cologne. I knew if I didn’t tell him, he would stay there forever. He would wait for me to come see him every day and if I didn’t tell him today, I knew I would continue to come see him every day. I would continue to lie to him. I would continue to let him believe everything was the way it was before that last fight. I sat down on the bench next to me and laid the jump rope and my purse carefully beside me.
“Come sit.” I told him.
“What’s wrong? I don’t like that look. I’ve seen it before.” He said.
Joe knew me all too well. I reached in my purse and pulled out the obituary I had so painstakingly been carrying around with me for months. I handed it to him and listened as he read the story of his death.
“Joe Perozzi, 34, died suddenly on January 14. He was known to his opponents and friends as Joe ‘Pop the Clutch’ Perozzi. He passed away at St. James Hospital after an unexpected blow to the head during a sparring match at his well-known neighborhood boxing club, Joe’s Gym. Preceded in death by Grandfather Patrick Perozzi. He leaves behind his parents John and Maria Perozzi, two brothers, Mark Perozzi and Mathew Perozzi, and his fiancé Amelia Fitzgerald.”
Joe stopped reading and handed the paper back to me. He looked around the dusty, empty gym that used to be filled from dawn until dusk with boxers and neighborhood kids. The place no longer held the beating of jump ropes on the floor and fists on the speed bag. I could tell he finally noticed the dust that had settled on the floors and the equipment. His gaze landed on the corner of the boxing ring on the blue mouthpiece. It was the same one he was wearing the day he died. I couldn’t bring myself to move it and I couldn’t find words to say. I still wasn’t ready to say goodbye. He looked at me with love and acceptance and sadness. He looked into my eyes, but he didn’t speak again. I held his gaze as he slowly disappeared, leaving me all alone like the first time I said goodbye to him months ago.