The Metamorphosis of Love

Allie Marie stood at her kitchen sink washing dishes, thinking of Henry and his strong, rough hands. Why he had quit college and left her was a mystery. They had been perfect. He’d written her wonderful, complicated poems and cooked her spaghetti dinners. Like all college students they were poor, but somehow he always scraped up enough money to buy a bottle of decent red wine when she came over. And the sex was great. They had no inhibitions back then and would often share a joint and have sex for hours.

After the dishes, she put in an hour on her exercise bike. She no longer dated and her job as a desk clerk at the Richmond Holiday Inn bored her to death, so she needed something. Her thing was to turn on some mindless talk show and bicycle as if her life depended on it. She made up weird scenarios in her head, half out of boredom, half to motivate herself. Okay, say you have a kid, a son, and if you don’t do three more miles, he has to die. If you put this bike on a 50% incline setting and can last until the next commercial, Henry Soul will call and tell you he never stopped loving you and wants to get married in one month. She had the kind of imagination that let her believe these scenarios were really real and so, she peddled away and seldom lost these strange bets with herself.

Meanwhile, way on the other side of town, Henry Soul worked a speed bag mercilessly inside a virtually unknown gym called The Gold Club. His trainer Mack Davis barked encouragement at his boxer as he wrung his hands around an old gray towel. After about fifteen minutes he told Henry it was time to jump rope, as if he didn’t know. They had followed pretty much the same routine for over two years. As Henry turned the jump rope into a blur, barely picking his feet up, Mack told Henry he was a stone cold killer and promised him he would get bigger fights soon.

After a particularly bad day at the Holiday Inn, Allie Marie gave in and took out an old shoe box from the top shelf of the closet. She selected one of Henry’s old poems at random and read it over and over. She popped a cherry wine cooler open and although she seldom indulged herself like this for fear of wearing outthe magic, she read every single one of Henry’s poems and letters. Then cried. Then went to sleep.

Henry felt more surprised than anything when he heard his jaw crack. He was sparring with a guy 20 pounds heavier than himself, a guy named Randy Taylor. Randy had tattoos up and down both arms and had always seemed a bit unstrung to Henry when he’d spotted him around the gym. But Mack thought he would be a good challenge for Henry, since none of his three fights had lasted more than a single round. He’d taken some real shots, but endurance had never really come into play.

The hospital visit went by in a blur. Due to the severity of his injury, they immediately shot Henry up with Demerol. The only thing he remembered was going out for a milkshake at Friendly’s with Mack after his jaw had been wired shut. Despite Henry’s love of boxing, training was hellish enough that a few weeks of reading, television and rest seemed just fine.

Allie Marie typed a reservation into the computer at her desk. She halfheartedly thought of quitting her job for the millionth time but considered her other options: a waitress, a salesperson, a temp; and knew there was no escape. The one thing about this job was that although it was mindless and degrading, at least her suffering was private.

The first two days off from training were a dream. For the first time in a long time Henry bought the paper and leisurely read through it as he drank coffee. This is what normal people feel like, he thought earnestly. He lazed around in his boxers, watched movies and popped Codeines. After two days, he got desperate enough to pick up an old Anne Rice novel his mother had given him years ago. After a few pages he took an extra Codeine and lay on the couch thinking about boxing.

He had won all three of his fights within the first round. All of them had been frenzies—he had taken some good shots, particularly to his nose. Mack had told him with his hand on his heart that there were professional boxers who would have lost their legs if they’d taken a shot like Henry did about midway through his last fight. His biggest dream was to get on a major card in Vegas. All those lights and sleazy glamor; he saw himself as the tough gritty Southerner who would knock out some big city fighter, perhaps a local, and wow them all. A shot for the middleweight championship was a bit ambitious even for his fantasies. He was no Sugar Ray Robinson, but he had quick hands, a better-than-average jab, and a lot of heart.

On the third night, Henry decided even though he couldn’t chew, he would go out to dinner. There was a restaurant attached to the Holiday Inn that had a decent buffet with three different kinds of soup and ice cream. Having eaten only canned soup for the last couple of days, this seemed like a novelty.

Allie Marie had the choice to go over and eat at the hotel restaurant for half price. She seldom took advantage of the discount because she felt uncomfortable eating there, like she was still working. So she usually brought a sandwich and a thermos of something warm and ate right there at her desk, or if someone else was around and she felt decadent - she’d go open one of the vacant rooms and watch cable T.V. as she nibbled her sandwich. On a Tuesday night after a particularly boring weekend she decided she really felt like some nice hot soup. She had ran late that morning and only had time to grab some fruit, which just wasn’t going to cut it. She told the other Holiday Inn employee, a manic depressive by the name of Larry, that she’d be no more than 20 minutes and headed for her soup, minestrone, she decided as she walked.

Henry wanted to laugh. He did laugh, but because his jaw was wired shut, there was only a gurgle of sound as his chest shook and the lines around his eyes turned downwards. Allie Marie. Wow she looked great; she carried that same air of quiet, simple beauty that had overwhelmed him back when he first saw her walking by the student center. He would have yelled her name and whistled if he could. Instead he walked up right behind her and just stood there. When she turned around, bowl of soup in one hand and a linen napkin in the other, he noticed quite vividly the way her face changed, not into a smile exactly, something deeper, it seemed to just let go, as if any stress or loneliness that had accumulated since they broke up simply flushed from her face in a single instant. Whoosh!

“Henry? Henry Soul, walk here with me and let me put down this soup so I can give you a proper hug.”

Henry didn’t know what to do but smile. When she saw the wiring in his mouth she gasped.

“Hghrlo, Arghlie Muurlee,” he tried.

She stopped in her tracks, standing there by the soup bar, trying to make sense of the situation.

Henry gestured to a nearby table then raised one finger to indicate he would be a minute.

Allie Marie watched as Henry imitated writing with a pen to a waiter, conveying his need for something to write with. When Henry returned, he wrote that he was boxing now and had broken his jaw sparring. He paused for a moment, clearly deliberating, then added:

“I was a fool to ever leave you, sorry. I was messed up.”

She took his hand, wanted to say so much, millions and millions of words. But she couldn’t. Instead, she got up and brought him back a big bowl of minestrone soup. And so, with so much unsaid hanging between them like a not entirely unpleasant fog, they ate soup.

On Allie Marie’s next day off she drove to Henry’s apartment. He answered the door sleepily wearing boxers and a T-shirt. She greeted him with a kiss on his neck then couldn’t resist. She let her eyes travel theatrically down to the full-fledged hard-on Henry was sporting.

“And hello there Henry Junior, I see you are up bright and early this morning.”

Henry laughed through his broken jaw and pulled her in gently by the arm. Inside, Allie Marie proceeded to tell him a million and one things about her few years without him. She told him how boring work at the hotel was and how disappointed she felt that her degree hadn’t helped her get a better job. She told him her dream of running her own bed and breakfast one day. She even told him about her weird little scenarios on her exercise bike. That’s when she noticed.

“You’re thinking about sex!” she shrieked. “Henry! You were staring at my tits. Unbelievable!”

Henry certainly didn’t blush. He shrugged his shoulders and smirked. In one smooth motion, Allie pulled her shirt and bra over her head.

“Is this what you want to see you bad boy?” she teased.

Her C-cup breasts were firm yet bouncy as ever. Henry felt them adoringly and realized with a pang of frustration that he couldn’t use his tongue. Even having actual sex was probably not the best idea. He could hit his jaw on something and lose even more training time. Henry pointed to his jaw lamely, hoping Allie would understand. She kicked off her jeans then pulled Henry’s boxers down. Feeling like absolute teenagers, they used their hands on each other. The promise of future sex charged the air so powerfully, they both came in no time.

“Next time in my mouth,” Allie informed him in a thick voice.

“But right now, we are going to the supermarket then to a picnic on the beach.”

Henry consented with a final squeeze of her ass.

The beach was breezy and open. And perfect. There were very few people there even for a weekday. After eating a lunch of fruit juice and cold soup, Henry and Allie held hands and walked along the edge of the ocean, the cold water nipping playfully at their toes. From time to time Allie broke off to collect a few pretty shells. Without meaning to she asked Henry why they had ever given this up. He turned pale at this unexpected question, squeezed Allie’s hand, and looked at her thoughtfully, conveying that he had no pen or paper here but would write down his thoughts later. To show she wasn’t trying to break his balls, she bit his nipple lightly through his shirt. He goosed one of her breasts quickly in response and they walked on.

When Allie realized that Henry’s arms, and indeed her own were getting a bit pink, she insisted they return to her apartment.

There she delivered on her earlier promise, tasting the tang of the ocean on his warm skin. After some cuddling she brought Henry pen and paper and asked him to write why he had left as best as he could. He sighed. Allie Marie stomped her foot and said his name loudly.

He wrote:

Sorry Allie, sorry sorry sorry. It seems weird to me now that I did too. Believe it or not at the time I didn’t feel like I was leaving you. I was leaving school and you were part of that. I realized how everything there was bullshit. It sounds like an excuse but I guess you could call what happened to me a nervous breakdown. I know I’m not dumb but I can’t take that kind of life. I like the simplicity of boxing. I train like hell as much as I can. Then I get in the ring and have to knock out the other guy. I mean yeah there’s some strategy but it comes down to one thing: win. I’m pretty good at it too and have a manager and everything. It just feels right. How I came to it, leaving you like that was dead wrong and whatever I have to do to make that up to you just let me know. But even though it was wrong it got me to the right place. God Allie, God I hope you understand.

Henry handed the note to Allie and caressed her cheek once with the back of his hand. Allie had never seen him look so vulnerable. She read his words carefully, then read them again. Then again. It nearly overwhelmed her, how much he loved boxing. She saw without a doubt how his leaving really hadn’t been about her. She felt nothing but adoration for him, and a genuine happiness that he had found his thing in life. And she would be there right in his corner to share his victories and losses. Still, keeping in mind that he had deserted her for more than two years, she waited a long time to give her reaction. Well, she wanted to wait long time. She lasted maybe five minutes. Probably longer than a round of boxing she mused to herself. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, his absolute need for her to accept or at least try to understand his answer couldn’t be more clear. Not wishing to abuse this power for another second, she gave him the best yes she could. She closed each of his eyelids gently with her fingers, then kissed each one softly, very, very softly.

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