Chapter 16 Summary
Tonight’s fight is against Griffin, and he is raining blows on Alfred’s face. Alfred’s eyes are swelling and his nose is full of dried blood. Donatelli, Martin, and Henry are all hollering at him to press Griffin, but Griffin evades every jab Alfred throws: “By the end of the first round, his face feels as if it has been stung by a hundred bees.”
In the corner, Alfred tries to explain how fast Griffin moves and how fast his gloves are, but no one understands him because of the ice bag on his face.
Alfred hears someone in the crowd laugh, and then Griffin is once again “tapping away at his chin, his eyes, his mouth, his nose.” The bell rings and Henry tells Alfred that his only chance to win is to go for the knockout. Griffin finally misses a punch, and Alfred musters his strength for the next time Griffin misses; when it happens, he throws his entire weight into a short right uppercut that stops Griffin where he stands.
Alfred swings a hook with all his strength at Griffin’s jaw; pain shoots up his arm and Griffin falls limply to the mat. He twitches once and is still.
Others cheer, but Alfred feels sick and wants to apologize to his opponent; one of Griffin’s handlers tells him not to feel bad for landing a lucky punch. Griffin has to be helped down the ring steps. Martin and Donatelli are concerned about Alfred’s eyes (they are swollen, not damaged), and Henry is in awe of Alfred’s “beautiful hook.” Alfred can think only about the “dull, meaty thunk” of his glove on Griffin’s jaw, and he cannot sleep.
He leaves the apartment early so he will not have to discuss the fight with Aunt Pearl, and he avoids everyone until he has to go to work. Lou Epstein congratulates Alfred on his second win and offers him the day off, but Alfred wants to stay.
Alfred struggles to concentrate and Epstein sends him home early. Alfred feels better outside. He is stopped by Harold and Lynn, standing in front of a school with their leaflets. Their attitude toward him has changed; they think people will admire a boxer and ask Alfred to get involved with their new recreation program. Alfred says he does not have time anymore but promises to consider the idea.
A bell rings and the children are dismissed. Alfred walks on, thinking about “skipping, laughing children,” and then he thinks about James, standing in a dark corner with his packet of white powder. He hears the crowd screaming at him to kill Rivera and sees Griffin “flopping over like a rag doll.” It is too early to go to the gym, so he goes to a movie.