Summer  2005

Steven Huff


Steven Huff Steven Huff's first book of poems, The Water We Came From, was published in 2003 by FootHills Publishing. His recent chapbook, Proof, was named Editor's Choice in the 2004 Two Rivers Review Chapbook Competition. He lives in Rochester, NY.

The man who would one day be known as Latch was born Alain LaChance, one of fourteen children in a French-speaking family in central Quebec. Arrested fifty-one times by his sixteenth birthday. In fact, he got arrested on his birthday; and this time they locked him up for good—until someone, a judge or a priest, could figure out what to do with him. It happened that a Canadian ex-boxer-turned-holy-roller, named Hard-Neck Schutz, decided that the best way to handle savages like Alain LaChance was to put them in the ring, and let them get the hell beat out of them, then talk salvation into their busted heads. Reform school gladiators. Authorities were offended at Hard-Neck's gall, but were ready to try anything on the bored, drunken brats who were filling their rural jails.

But Alain didn't reform. When he put on the gloves he beat the spuds out of every Quebec kid that came his way, and soon was Whelp-Weight Champion (a category invented by Hard-Neck himself for his kid fighters) for all northern Quebec, and was punching his way south. He became Lash LaChance on posters. His average opponent fell in three rounds.

It was 1959, the end of the first decade of TV, and when these Christian boxers got a slot on Canadian prime time, the public thought they were going to see a polite version of the awe-inspiring Friday night fights that Gillette broadcasted from Madison Square Garden in the states in which, usually, two black guys whaled the hell out of each other. But this was Canada, and these were boys, Christians at that. Maybe they'd raise a bloody lip at the worst. However, when Ragin' Roy Hawkins from Windsor, Ontario, faced Lash LaChance, people jumped to their feet in living rooms all over Canada in horror; Lash bashed that kid until he lay splattered like an upended casserole.

Switchboards jammed at CBC. People wanted the head of Hard-Neck Schutz., who himself went after Lash as soon as the boy stepped out of his shower. He'd told the kid before the fight to cool it down. This is TV, kid. You gotta be nice. But Lash had seen his big chance to be noticed by a real promoter; to hell with Schutz and his Jesus fights for meals and Cokes. But now the ruined Schutz whipped Lash LaChance all over the locker room with his belt. Lash couldn't seem to land a punch on tough old Hard-Neck, and so he got whipped bad and kicked out into the night alone with only a towel around his butt. For weeks he roamed Montreal, shop-lifting, living by his wits.

It was now clear to Lash that fists were a thing of the past, same as horses and butter churns. You had to get automated. He acquired a gun. And soon he was swiping TVs left and right. He became known as Latch LaChance for his lock-picking talent. Latch had never learned good English, but he knew what his new name meant. In those days TVs were heavy buggers. But they fetched a good buck if you didn't drop them down somebody's stairs. It was a hard life, dangerous. But for the first time Latch felt free.

One night he went into a dark apartment on the English side of the city, a residence he'd been watching, where he was pretty sure no one was home. But inside he heard the unmistakable voice of that big-time American TV preacher, the one that filled all the stadiums. He crept ahead and saw an old woman asleep in an overstuffed chair; or at least she seemed to be sleeping. Latch laid his head on her breast and couldn't hear the slightest breath. He sighed and crossed himself, then reached over and changed the channel. It was time for the fights. It was round three of a match between a tough Newfy and a Quebecois, beating each other to mush. Blood running, teeth jarred loose. What a battle. Latch whooped.

He heard a clicking sound, and turned to see the old woman roused in her chair. She'd picked up the gun he'd carelessly set on the floor when he'd listened to her heart, and now she was sighting him along the barrel. "Turn that channel back!" she said.

Latch sort of understood her. But he was excited; he pointed at the boxers on the screen. "I fought too," he said in French. "I was like them. A fighter!"

The old woman pulled back the hammer. "Turn it back to Billy Graham."

So, Latch thought. It has come to this.



Steven Huff: Fiction
Copyright © 2005 The Cortland Review Issue 29The Cortland Review