They drank in silence. When the woman returned, Tully rose and went out. He crossed the dark street to his hotel and limped up the stairs. On the bed in the dim light, hearing coughing from across the hall, he knew he had magnified Ernie Munger's talents. He had done it in order to go on believing in his body, but he had lost his reflexes -- that was all there was to it -- and he felt his life was coming to a close. At one time he had believed the nineteen-fifties would bring him to greatness. Now they were almost at an end and he was through. He turned onto his side. On the won linoleum lay a True Confession and a Modern Screen, magazines he once would not have thought could interest him, but in reading of seduction and betrayal, adultery, divorce and the sorrows of stars, he found the sad sentiment of his love.
Tully had met his wife at Newby's Drive-Inn, a squat white building covered with black polka dots in the center of an expanse of asphalt shaded by mulberry trees. Despite the staining berries that had dropped on his yellow Buick convertible, he had gone there to see her every night. A carhop in tight black slacks and white blouse, she had presented a spectacular image. He could not stop thinking of her. Expensively dressed and winning fights, he felt he had to have her, and he was a proud husband, especially when she accompanied him to the local bouts, on the nights he went as a spectator. Entering the auditorium on his arm, wearing knitted wool jersey -- orange or white -- or low-cut dresses held up by miniscule straps, in high backless shoes and with her long auburn hair piled on her head, she had roused the gallery to tumultuous shouting and whistling. He had come to expect it, walking in carrying her coat. That period had been the peak of his life, thought he had not realized it then. It had gone by without time for reflection, ending while he was still thinking things were going to get better. He had not realized the ability and local fame he had then was all he was going to have. Nor had his manager realized it when he moved up to opponents of national importance. That knowledge had been mercilessly pounded into Tully in a half dozen bouts as he swung and missed and staggered, eyes closed to slits. Then he had looked to his wife for some indefinable endorsement, some solicitous comprehension of the pain and sacrifice he felt he endured for her sake, some always withheld recognition of the rites of virility. Waiting, he drank. After six months he fought once more and was knocked out by a man of no importance at all. Then he began to wish for someone who give him back that newly-wed wholeness and ease, but it was a feeling he could not find again, and he knew now that his mistake had been in thinking he could. That was how he had lost her -- by looking for it. Without her he could not get up in the morning. He lost his job at the box factory and found another driving a truck. After he lost that too, the truck on its side in a ditch along with a hundred lugs of apricots, he lost his car. Now he brought an occasional woman to his room, but none of them could give him anything of his wife, and so he resented them all.
Since the receipt of the ominous papers referring to him as the defendant, as if his marital shortcomings had been criminal, Tully's only knowledge of his wife had come from her brother, Buck, whom he had met again one night on El Dorado Street between two shore patrolmen. A third-class petty officer, he appeared to have been strolling with the thirteen buttons of his fly open. Tully had hurried over and asked what had happened to Lynn. The patrolmen had ordered him to leave, an argument ensured, and Buck, between displays of defiance and submission, told him that Lynn was married to a Reno bartender. At the time the news had shaken Tully, yet he could not completely believe it. On these melancholy nights when he felt that only reconciliation could salvage his life, he believed she could not love anyone but him.
Shoes squeaked by outside the door. Reviewing old uncertainties and mistakes, Tully gazed down at the magazines. Finally he reached for the Modern Screen and propped himself up with his head between the rods of the bed. On the magazine's cover was an extravagantly smiling starlet in a bathing suit with a penciled dot over each breast and a scribbled cleft at the crotch. The coughing went on across the hall. It was time to change hotels.
(excerpted from the book Fat City by Leonard Gardner)