Boxer drove up the coast in early spring. Cherry blossoms starting to come out. They reminded him of when he was a child. Of a time when he lived in a cul-de-sac with these trees planted one in front of every house on the public berm. The residents waited in anticipation each year for them. They made the street look like a marshmallow dream.
But spring was unpredictable. As fast as the blossoms came, they would leave again. In a storm of wind and rain. A fleeting moment that only made them the more beautiful. Beauty in transience. It was local knowledge you should sell your house here in the spring because the blossoms added ten thousand dollars to the sale price.
He remembered once riding his bike and skidding out on a slippery bed of fallen pink and white petals after some rain and crashing into a BMW reversing from its driveway. The driver was mortified. Exited the vehicle swiftly to check on how much damage had been impacted by the child’s body on the rear panel of the car. Finding Boxer slid under her wheel and crying. More in shock than pain.
As this memory dematerialised in his brainy, brainy, brainy, Boxer was snapped back into the present and refocussed on the road that was peeling away underneath the wheels of his car as he headed north.
While he was pleased to have formed such a vivid memory, it concerned him how easily his mind could slip off and away. Particularly when he was controlling a couple of tonnes of metal travelling over a hundred kilometres per hour.
This was not the first time he’d found himself drifting away in the past few months. But it was potentially the most dangerous. On other occasions he had resurfaced with a nurse waving her hand in front of his face telling him it was time for his appointment, an usher at the cinema clearing up popcorn from the carpet after everyone had left, and a bus driver pulling on his arm and telling him he had to get off—it was the end of the route.
It was a symptom of the concussion, the doctors told him. They hoped it wouldn’t last any longer than six months, but, neuroscience could be a little foggy and unsure of itself on the matter of head trauma and injuries.
Boxer pulled over at a petrol station. He wasn’t supposed to drive for longer than two hours at a time. And he didn’t want to get a headache. He filled the car with unleaded petrol, despite having plenty to reach his destination. It was something to idle a few moments away. Then he turned the car into a parking spot. He grabbed a caffeinated drink from the fridge, taking the second from the front through pure muscle memory. He laughed to himself and revelled in the fact his body still knew who he was, even if his brain forgot sometimes.
He went about the station in search of his aunt’s favourite sweets. He noted to himself it was always polite to not turn up empty-handed. She would appreciate the thoughtfulness, although she would insist he shouldn’t have. He found the hard caramels and bought two bags so he could chew on some for the rest of the trip.
Boxer walked around outside and kicked some stones about, feigning penalty shots between parallel trees. He ignored an urge to check the baseball box scores on his phone because that would have defeated the purpose of the break. Before he got back on the road he did check how much further he had to drive and he caught an alert that the Red Sox had beaten the Twins, 4-2.
Boxer arrived late afternoon. He gave his aunt the sweets and she smiled and said she shouldn’t be eating sweets at her age. She showed him to his bedroom. There was a single bed. Set of drawers. No desk. A large window that looked towards the sea but couldn’t quite glimpse it.
She asked how the drive was and made him assure her he had taken regular breaks and apologised for how small the room was and that there wasn’t a desk but he could always use the dining table to write: seemingly all in the matter of a minute as he tried to set his suitcase down and impart on her that he was very grateful she was letting him stay.
Despite her care and concern, he knew she wouldn’t treat him as a patient, which was why he had accepted her non-specific invitation following his injury. He was here to get away from the city and its noise and its lights and its distractions. Recuperation was part of it. Decompression was perhaps a better word for it.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked.
“Just a glass of water, if that’s ok,” he replied.
“Of course it is. You can have a soft drink if you like? I just haven’t put them in the fridge is the only thing.”
“Water’s good.” Boxer assumed she wouldn’t have any ice. Or if she did, it would be old and shrunk and freezer-burned. On the very rare occasions he had ever witnessed her eat takeaways when he was a child, she always ordered her drinks without ice. She had sensitive teeth.
“I’m sorry that I won’t be in tonight.”
“It’s not a problem. I will grab your wifi password though so I can watch something.”
“I’ve tried a hundred times to get the internet working on my computer. The man who installed it has come back twice and he tells me there is no problem. He does a test and says there are no connectivity issues. He gets it working and then a couple of days later it won’t connect again.”
“Maybe you are accidentally turning the wifi off on your computer.”
“I don’t touch or click anything. But the password is on the fridge. Maybe you’ll have more luck with it.”
“Let me try it now and see.” Boxer connected his phone to the wifi on the second attempt after he accidentally punched in the password wrong. Maybe a three rather than a four in his haste to enter the characters. When this happened, his aunt presented it as evidence there was something wrong with her internet connection, rather than simple human error. “I’ve just got fat fingers,” he said in response. Then he opened his aunt’s computer and connected it to the network and swiftly searched for a news website to prove it was working. A headline on persistent violence in the Middle East appeared.
“Well it doesn’t do that when I try and use it,” she said.
“So where are you going tonight?” Boxer changed the subject, aware there was little point in arguing why or how the internet did or didn’t work. All that mattered was it was working now.
“I have book club. Hopefully people have actually read the book this time. Seems like half the ladies only turn up to drink wine and gossip.”
“I was always under the impression that’s what a book club was.”
“Don’t be cheeky. Last time we could only talk about the first half of the book because someone hadn’t finished it but was enjoying it so thoroughly she didn’t want to know what happened at the end. Said it would ruin it for her.”
“Spoilers are the worst.”
“Then she should have read it. And everyone just said, yes, that’s fine.”
“Sounds like a very woke book club, not wanting to shame anyone for not finishing the book.”
“Then what’s the point?”
Boxer mostly enjoyed the obdurate lens through which his aunt saw the world. Although he wondered what the others said at home about her. She thought it laughable that anybody believed man had ever stepped foot on the moon: had intimated he question everything when he produced a science fair project on the landings as a child that she attended. And was highly sceptical about contrails, purporting a range of nefarious possibilities, always very pointedly labelling them, chem-trails.
“You need to sort them out.”
“But I don’t want to be the fun police.”
“You just want to talk about the book.”
“Oh, I don’t mind the wine.”
“Are there any men in your book club?”
“No, it’s just the girls.”
“I’ve never known a man in a book club.”
“Well, there must be one. In this day and age.”
“You find him then. It seems to be an exclusively female phenomenon, the book club. I wonder why that is.”
“I can bring it up tonight.”
She would have found it impossible not to share her various outlandish theories with the group at some point, Boxer thought. Although it wasn’t something she would ever lead with or define herself by. She was an old-school conspiracy theorist, if anything, certainly not one of these new-age ones that believed every single person in some position of power was placed there to protect and defend the lifestyles of a global paedophilic corporate elite.
“Could kickstart some conversation. Especially if they haven’t read the book.”
“You could come to the next one. Break the mould. I’m sure the ladies would love to have a real writer attend.”
Boxer wanted to flinch at the sound of the words, real writer. He struggled right now to see himself as such. He always told himself, a writer is simply someone who writes. And he wanted to still desire and strive for success. But he also understood the cost of this. What is a book if no one reads it? There was an anxiety in ambition and a form of peace in hopelessness.
“Depends what the book is,” Boxer said, not wanting to expose the probing self-doubt that had become hard-wired into his nervous system.
“That sort of defeats the purpose of book club. We are supposed to be expanding our literary horizons.”
“The first rule of book club—”
“I’ll tell you this for nothing though, we won’t be looking at any of your writing. Don’t want any of the old biddies having a heart attack.”
It wasn’t the first time he’d pondered the possibilities of what people said about him in relation to his own perception. He found it simultaneously intriguing and terrifying to imagine the versions of himself that existed in the minds and lives of people he knew, and those they shared these myriad versions with. Before settling on the conclusion: ignorance is the ultimate bliss.
“No, let’s keep everyone alive and well,” he said.