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Alfred spars against a more experienced boxer at the gym. Alfred keeps missing him, as the other boxer ducks away from his jabs. Finally, with ten seconds left in the sparring round Alfred lands a beautiful punch—the best he has ever thrown. Mr. Epstein comes into the gym to watch and compliments Alfred. Mr. Epstein pays for Alfred's lessons and on the way home mentions that Alfred did not take his advice to give up boxing. Epstein also says that Alfred seems much quicker and more energetic at work, and he offers to teach Alfred how to use the register. Alfred continues improving as he spars with others in the gym. Finally, Mr. Donatelli sends Alfred downstairs to Dr. Corey to be fitted with a mouthpiece.
On the morning of Alfred's first fight Aunt Pearl is surprised that he is not going running and even more surprised to learn he has the day off work. She asks if he has been fired or if there is something wrong and he says no. Finally he reveals that he has a secret and will tell her later. Around ten o'clock Henry shows up, and they go to the gym. Mr. Donatelli is waiting for him and makes sure they have Alfred's amateur card and the mouthpiece. Donatelli sends Alfred and Henry in a cab up to Spoon's place. They look at all of Spoon's books and watch television until Spoon comes home. Spoon says that he is going to school at night to get his masters degree and suggests that Alfred go to night school to finish high school. He offers to help Alfred find a program if and when he is ready. Spoon's wife, Betty, cooks Alfred a steak. After Alfred eats he and Henry take a walk, and then Betty shows Alfred to the bedroom to take a nap.
They wake Alfred up and get into a cab. At the ring, Alfred meets Donatelli who tells him that Henry will stand in the corner during the fight. They get Alfred ready for the fight, dressing him in a new terrycloth robe with his name on the back. Alfred waits while the other boxers have their matches, and finally it is his turn. Immediately, Alfred's opponent, Rivera, punches him in the mouth. Alfred comes to his senses and dodges the next punch. Finally, getting his rhythm, he dodges Rivera's jabs and lands his own. The fight continues, slowly and in the same dodge-then-punch manner, and the crowd boos. They fight until time is up and all the rounds are over, and Alfred wins by a majority decision. Just before the final bell, Rivera lands a punch to Alfred's groin that leaves him half-conscious. Donatelli whispers something to Henry about winning not being enough.
Alfred comes home, and Pearl is shocked to see his face. She tells him that she found out from Mr. Epstein that he had a boxing match that night. He says that he did not tell her because he was afraid she would try to stop him. She says: "You getting to be a man, Alfred. I stop you from one thing, you'll do something else." She says it is too bad he has to do something that involves men beating each other up, but he responds that he does not know anything else. Aunt Pearl tells Alfred about a stage show she wanted to be in when she was seventeen. She could not sign a contract because she was underage, and her mother would not sign for her because "stage shows were sinful." Alfred is surprised to hear the story and asks Aunt Pearl what happened afterward. She explains that she met her husband and had their children, but that he died before they were all born. Aunt Pearl is crying, and Alfred tries to comfort her by saying that her husband would have been very proud. He also understands that all she wanted was a chance to try to be something. At the end of the conversation Aunt Pearl asks Alfred if it felt good to win, and he says no. She asks if he is going to quit now, and he says no.
Chapter 13 demonstrates Alfred's advancement to the point that he is actually in position to be a contender. Alfred's hard work has demonstrated his commitment and dedication, not just to Mr. Donatelli and the others at the gym, but to Mr. Epstein as well, who as a gesture of trust and reconciliation pays for Alfred's lessons and trusts him with more responsibilities at work. There is a sense that Alfred is slowly finding, or creating, a place where he belongs, and this place is full of people he can trust and whom he can rely on for help—a sharp contrast to those people who attempt to get him entangled with illegal and/or dangerous activities.
It seems as though the world has stopped for Alfred's first fight. He does not go running, does not go to work, does not even get up to eat breakfast. Henry, Spoon, and Mr. Donatelli monitor and regiment his entire day, ensuring that Alfred gets the food, rest, and support he needs. They are all nervous as Alfred approaches his first bout—they all know that his performance in the ring reflects on them. They do not care so much whether he wins or loses, but whether he shows courage and integrity, the qualities that Willie Streeter lacks. Alfred even receives a robe with his name on the back—a symbol of how far he has come.
Alfred's Aunt Pearl surprises him that night. First she finds out about the fight, then tells him she knows she cannot stop him, and finally reveals to him that she once had farfetched dreams of her own that she would have given anything to pursue. This moment between Aunt Pearl and Alfred is perhaps the first time the two have related as peers or as friends. The tone of this conversation is not one of a caretaker to a child, but rather it is of two people talking about their dreams and desires in situations that are not so dissimilar. Aunt Pearl is perceptive in predicting that Alfred did not enjoy the fight even though he won. He agrees that this is true, and perhaps this is what Mr. Donatelli meant when he said that sometimes winning is not enough. Aunt Pearl expects that now Alfred realizes that he does not enjoy fighting even in the best-case scenario that he will give it up. Alfred, determined as ever, says he is pressing on.
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