By Thomas Bruch
Jessie Bushman’s back grazes the top rope of the ring, making it vibrate gently in contrast to the violence all around. Her hands, mummy-wrapped and fitted with two red gloves, are pinned to her abdomen. She’s trying to breathe.
Jessie is in a cavernous shed next to Ruth Lake Country Club west of Chicago — her first round in her first fight as an amateur boxer. Tall lights shine in four corners of the shed lighting the ring, elevated just above the ground-level chairs.
Her opponent has been ordered to the opposite side of the ring by a referee with a crew cut and thick mustache. Jessie’s inhales and exhales are short, terse.
She’s getting a standing eight-count from the referee after four consecutive blows to the head. The first punch, a right hook that connected on her left chin, knocked Jessie off her footing.
She staggered slightly, her right foot awkwardly crossing her left. Her arms dropped and her body became a vulnerable offering. Jessie extended her arms, but her opponent plunged through the halfhearted defense and mashed Jessie’s head three more times with two hooks and a loop.
This story was written by a University of Illinois journalism student in Professor Walt Harrington’s Literary Feature Writing class taught in collaboration with The News-Gazette. Funding for the class, which was taught at the newspaper’s headquarters in downtown Champaign, came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation. The story was part of an occasional series titled “Slices of Life” that ran in the newspaper’s Sunday Living section. All the stories in the series are also collected in the book “Slices of Life.”