Olympus Circa 2016

Entry by: jaguar

16th August 2016
Grant grunts from the armchair in a faint echo of Andy Murray’s efforts. Raises his lukewarm beer alongside Max Whitlock holding a gold bauble aloft. Gets all teary when second placed Louis Smith is medalled. ‘Only silver after giving it his all,’ he says.

Fran turns away before she snaps back at him, keeps her sigh internal as she spots the trail of crisps that didn’t quite make his mouth. Her mood lurches downwards as she tries to ignore the wriggling worm within her heart that’s eating her love for him away.

It was once so different. Her first glimpse of Grant down the gym, gleaming with endeavour, his lopsided grin snagging her, drawing her closer. She ignored him to begin with because that’s what you did but there was a gravitational force that radiated out from Grant, a sense of wholeness. He was the first at their gym to compete at county level, the first to make the national team, the one all the other boys wanted to be but none of those achievements impressed her.

What struck her most was the way he picked his opponent up after he’d knocked them all down. How he always walked to the other side of the boxing ring and told them he’d been lucky, what a worthy opponent they’d been. Even as they spat out blood Grant's kindness dusted off their self-belief and handed it back to them. When Teddy Ryan won the heavyweight belt he told the world he would have given up if it hadn’t been for Grant. Even after Teddy surpassed Grant in form he knew he couldn’t in generosity.

That was about the only happy memory from those later days when Grant's ability to dodge punches went missing, when his sure connection fitted and sparked like faulty wiring. At least they were together, solid and safe in each other by then. The kids helped too – Grant never misfired with them because he’d always let them win.

But Fran stopped going to support Grant's fights, she couldn’t bear the beatings he took. Even worse was Grant's realisation that his opponents weren't trying that hard but they were still winning. Fran thought the few that knew Grant from the old days would have thrown the fights but there were too many others queuing up behind them.

Boxing was all Grant had ever known, as much a part of him as his skeleton and now it was broken and fragile. Retired at thirty-two Grant was stranded on the top of a mountain staring into the unknown.

‘Did I get it all wrong? I thought life was doing your best, stretching every sinew to be extraordinary. Now I’ve sagged like old knicker elastic. Now I’m a nothing at all.’

Fran couldn't convince Grant that wasn’t true. She spent hours telling him what originally attracted her, how his success had been quite off-putting but his kindness convinced her. She even lied a little – said she never liked the high life, the taste of champagne, the expensive holidays. She said they made her feel dowdy and cheapened somehow. They were better off sipping tea from a thermos on the allotment.

Grant shifts his weight from buttock to buttock, making the chair beneath him give an inhuman cry. Fran can’t remember the last night he managed to come upstairs to sleep. Ever since his diagnosis he's become a human slug, one long slime trail from the kitchen to that godforsaken chair. The faintly cheesy smell makes her feel sick even before she realises what a state the room is in.

Fran yanks the curtains open, forces a creaking window wide. Grant flaps at the sunlight as if he's a vampire overtaken by the day. ‘Get up!’ She shouts at him.

Grant blinks and stands, rocking slightly the way he used to weave to avoid his opponents. ‘What’s the matter?’ He holds a fleshy white hand out to her.

Fran swallows and takes his hand. ‘See them?’ She gestures at the runners' tiny figures on the TV. ‘Do you see them busting guts? Do you remember how it felt to be chasing that kind of target?’

He squirms, squinting at the screen. ‘Sure I do. It was my life but I can’t bear thinking about it now I just can’t do it anymore. You know that.'

‘Who’s to say they’ve got it right?’ She nods again at men hurtling round the track. ‘Looking for one moment of glory out of four years of hard graft. But you could aim lower. You could try for lots of little golden moments in each day?’

Grant looks down at his protruding stomach and snorts. ‘What’s the point of little things? You want the blinging trophy not a feeble pat on the back.’

‘Do you remember when you used to tell your opponents how worthy they’d been?,' she says and he nods in reply. 'Why did you do that, Grant?’

‘Make them feel better about losing. Make them think they could win the next time.’

‘Give them a reason to carry on even though they didn’t win this time.That’s what it’s really all about – not giving up.’

Just for a split second the sixteen-year-old fighter looks out at her from Grant's overjowled middle-aged face and gives her that lopsided grin. Just for a moment she thinks he's still a winner.