Summer Shorts: Gloves Off

Love games – flash fiction by Erin McGrath


A bell rang – something was about to happen. Polo-shirted men leaned and gestured knowingly at one another, shaking the rosewood beads around their wrists, their thick fingers wishing for cigarettes. Savvy girls in tight, shimmering inverses of the macaroon-dresses popular in daylight angled their torsos away.

She was alone in the seats Xing had reserved for them, too near the ring. Possibly she would be bled on, or feel a spray of sweat, like a sneeze, diffuse on her forearms. At home she never would have thought to watch two men muddle each others’ faces, but it was pointless to be ethical when the city implicitly endorsed the opposite.

One of the boxers had been forced into retirement in two other countries, but the promise of carnage was what filled the seats. Bloodsport might at least distract her from the fact that Xing’s wife had just come home from a women’s golfing camp with a renewed interest in the marriage and asked for his phone’s password.

She regretted having skipped dinner to look good in the minidress she’d sausaged herself into, and now there was no food for sale but tiny hot dogs soaking in troughs of dishwater.

Xing was texting her to go home. Boxing is barbaric, he said. He’d bought the tickets in a flurry of excitement weeks ago.

The crowd shifted; a glossy man entered the ring. He looked like a young person aging poorly, although white people mostly looked older to her now, including herself. The man’s gaze was corpselike. He probably had a lot of lovers, though. She believed Xing when he said he’d never slept with anyone but his wife before, because he was not really rich and had an awkward haircut which he refused to change because “that’s how my pictures look.”

Cell phones shot up, were moved down by security guards, and then drifted back once the guards moved on. The other man had arrived, and with him the pressure in the room plummeted. She was a pacifist, in theory. She felt dizzy. It was the hunger, probably nothing, but she ran outside, apologizing to the spectators.

As she stepped to the curb to summon a taxi, she realized she hadn’t brought any money. Luckily, one of the bouncers spoke English and bought the crumpled tickets for 200 yuan.


The ayi hadn’t come since they’d squabbled over wages. Styrofoam boxes had leaked neon grease onto the collection of design magazines that constituted her efforts to learn Chinese, and McDonald’s wrappers sullied a sheaf of admissions applications she was filling in for schoolchildren. Questionable employment could be classed, along with an affair with an emerging businessman, among the ‘new experiences’ she sought. She threw away some of the containers and phoned for a delivery cheeseburger.

The doorbell rang early. Her runty Pekingese, a gift from Xing, ran in an ouroboros of excitement.

She was relieved, as fear of unknown pain crystallized to known pain, when the wife appeared. She was surprisingly young, and, though elegant, gave the impression of rawness tamed by a successful match.

“Are you sure you have the right address?” She asked the wife, who carried something behind her – surely not a weapon.

“Do you know what three things a woman needs in her life?” she asked, hanging in the doorway. Her voice had a luxurious smoker’s rasp. “Beauty, money, and children. I hope someday you can have one of those.” Her gaze was as cool and flat as the pugilist’s. “So, how much was he giving you?”

“This apartment.” She waited for the woman to take a swing at her, or at least calculate how many units of private kindergarten tuition were being wasted.

Instead, she laughed, a studied arpeggio. “That’s all? You sold yourself for this rathole?”

“And this dog.”

“Poor little thing.”

She moved aside and tossed a stack of cardboard into the room. “Well, pack it up. I’m evicting you.”

They both looked around, taking inventory of the boxes and mess, the more delicate things they’d have to unentangle. The dog barked madly, and from behind the wife’s head bounced the rash-red helmet announcing that the cheeseburger had arrived.

Erin grew up a mountaineer and now lives in the Fragrant Hills outside Beijing. Among other unpaid activities, she keeps a blog of vegan resources at

This story was an entry for Beijing Cream's Flash Fiction for Charity competition