And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick rags or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
Mela, feeling a sharp pain, winced beneath the willow tree. Horos, the stalwart stallion whinnied, he too sensing a great tragedy in the world below. Mela stared into the crystal river flowing from the third level cliffs where only healers lived. She laid her white palms upon the surface of the stream and read.
Time alone here in the small hut tucked in serene seclusion beneath the cliffs had conditioned her to feel vibrations. The slightest heartbreak would whistle through the willow, stir the waters, and awaken her heart. Often the other more experienced healers would smell the fear first and rush to respond before Mela could. But her skill at reading vibrations was strengthening and there were times when she was first to know.
This was such a time.
She whistled alerting the healers that lived along the river that she would take this call. With a quick wink she summoned Horos and mounting with a single motion pointed the stallion toward the descent at the base of the cliffs.
Mela clung to his neck her wispy white hair billowing behind her back that bore the healer’s insignia, the willow branch and three butter lilies. The guardians of the descent motioned her on reading Mela’s eyes and wishing the healer god-speed.
Stone Black saw stars, dozens of them, flickering and flittering around a piercing halo of light that mocked him from a dark cavern above. A muffled hum flushed his senses and seemed to almost sing a threatening tune as he fought to recover his wits.
“Get up. Stone. Up!”
The words crawled to him through a dark tunnel that wound in a hopeless circuitous path from a distant horizon he couldn’t quite see. Stone wiggled his fingers bound in the leather regulation gloves.
“Goddammit, Stone. Get your ass up!”
Stone blinked and slowly understood. The mist rose illumining the raging eyes of Slug Rupert looming over him, drool smeared over sneering lips. Slug had been his trainer forever. He had discovered Stone on the playgrounds of East Harlem. One morning on Slug’s trek to the gym just off 134th Street he saw Stone cornered by a gang of three bucks holding chains near Striver’s Row. Two minutes later it was Stone who sauntered off leaving the bucks wrapped in their own chains bleeding and broken in the gutter.
When Stone Black heard six he tensed and for the first time in years saw Melinda dancing through the cracked kitchen window on Locust Street in Bushwick. Stone had often stood without disturbing the silhouette that glowed in candle yellow on the peeling wall. It was all they could afford back then. But oh how he had loved her. It was his custom to surprise her in the early evening when he left the gym. But he always hesitated before entering. He loved to just watch her practice, standing on point, her arms curved and caressing a dream.
When Stone heard eight, Slug threw ice water on his face and he knew he couldn’t get up. For twenty years he had gotten up. For twenty years he had watched others struggle on the canvass. At nine he knew he couldn’t see. His left eye was swollen shut and his right stung like shit. And when the referee shouted ten all he could see were dark clouds gathering above his head.
Stone Black was not a quitter. After his parents both died in a subway accident on his tenth birthday, he had bounced around from shack to shack sleeping where he could, hustling and learning to fight. Those quick hands had made him a name on the streets and then Slug offered him a job. Through it all he never quit.
But the echo of ten in that dilapidated hole in East Harlem demanded immediate surrender. Stone Black lay there on the canvass, drenched and spent. Nothing was left. Melinda was once again nothing but a speck on history’s train and he could no longer see her dancing in the kitchen window on Locust Street. He called for her as he lay gasping but she was long gone. And when the vision left him this time he knew he was done.
“Damn bum. I lost $55.00 dollars on him tonight.” Slug Rupert threw the towel at his assistant and left the gym bent and twisted like his soul. The last thing he had told his men was to throw Black out in the alley.
And they did.
Stone figured it out near the end of the third round. Nick (Crater) Baloushi, the middleweight champion of New York City was dropping his left just a little. He would throw a thunderous right and leave the door cracked just a whisper. But Stone saw it and knew. He knew this was his chance, the dream that would win him the crown and give Melinda hope that he could actually be somebody. He was still an unknown in the city, just a kid off the streets, but he had Melinda and he had this dream. And nothing would stop him tonight. Nothing.
He had trained hard for this night. At 190 lbs., he looked like a granite cliff, chiseled and glistening beneath the hard lights of the Sunnyside Coliseum on the corner of Queens Boulevard and 45th Street. For a few minutes in the early afternoon in the year 1948, he had sauntered down the aisles of the 2400 seat arena waving to the early arrivals. Stone was confident. He sat on the edge of the ring and let his fans gather round. He wore a black stretch boxing brief that accentuated sleek abs that ran like parallel iron rails supporting brick oven pecks.
“Damn right I can take him. Baloushi’s all talk. I’ll let these do my talking.” Stone Black leaped to his feet and hit an imaginary speed bag, his hands a blur while he danced lightly on black Ringside boxing boots.
A local reporter stuck the microphone in his face. “You know Baloushi’s never lost here at Sunnyside. He’s got a big following. The bookies got you at 10 to 1.”
“I don’t give a damn what the odds are. Look at me. I’m beautiful. And I’m gonna whup his ass tonight. You’ll see.”
Several young ladies thrust torn scraps of paper in his face. Stone winked at them and signed quickly. Without turning back he sashayed out of the building leaving everyone gossiping in disbelief but secretly admiring his Bronx machismo.
The fourth round began with Stone catching a fistful of attitude from Crater who decided it was time to go. He had late night plans with the boys at Danny Boys Irish Pub and this two-bit boxer was holding him up. Slug screamed at him to keep his gloves high. Still, Crater found him pulverizing his opponent’s abs with a flurry of lightening bolts.
Stone wondered why she hadn’t looked at him when he left the apartment on Locust Street this morning. She knew it was the big fight and still she wouldn’t look. She just waved her hands curtsying behind a stiff back. If he could have just seen Melinda’s eyes. But she wouldn’t look. And it hurt him as he dodged the bullets flying at him in the ring beneath the Sunnyside strobes high overhead. But he had seen the champ’s weakness and he figured it was just a little bit longer. He would do it again. He would throw that reckless right like he was riding on Bucephalus charging toward the Granicus River.
Melinda had known it wouldn’t work. The fiery Stone Black had won her allegiance at first. His dashing flair had blinded her. But life on Locust Street had taken its toll. Stone was never there, always fighting in some greasy backwater gym. Never amounting to much. Winning but going nowhere with his little victories. She couldn’t bear to tell him as he walked off with his morning bravado for another big fight.
“Goddammit, Stone. Duck, you son of a bitch. He’s gonna kill you!” Slug knew he had a champion but if the boy didn’t do something quick he would be pulp on Crater’s glove.
Stone had figured it out. He was just waiting. And when the door cracked he would strike. Crater began taunting the kid. “What’s the matter boy, getting tired? You look like shit. How about we just take a break and sit awhile and talk things over.” Crater laughed and threw his right. And the door cracked and the tiniest fissure of light welcomed the bleary eyes of the challenger.
Stone dodged the comet blasting past his head and then swung with all his might toward the champ’s exposed chin. He heard the crack and knew Crater’s jaw was broken. The champ’s eyes jittered like pinballs and then he fell forward with a thud on the mat. The arena stared in silence as Stone Black loomed over Crater taunting him. Slug screamed at him to get back up. And then the audience erupted, disbelieving approval rolling down like golden thunder from Mt. Olympus on a kid from nowhere.
Late that night, when Stone stood at the window on Locust Street he knew that this would settle things for good. Melinda would know that he was the real thing now. He would bestow the glittering silver belt upon her and kiss her gently at first and then wildly as he swung her in the air. But as he hesitated at the window he didn’t see her shadow on the wall and he wondered why she had not met his eyes when he left earlier that morning.
He found the note on the kitchen table. He read it five times and then went to his desk in the living room and pulled out a needle. The drug whispered to him with falsetto words that lulled him to a dull disbelief. He dragged the glittering silver belt to the bed where they had loved and dreamed together. His eyes beginning to see the edges of an unwanted truth, he fell back on the bed, laying the belt beside him where Melinda used to lie and cried himself to sleep.