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Authors: Angelina Mirabella

The Sweetheart (7 page)

BOOK: The Sweetheart
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SIX

I
nside that bag, you learn after returning to your room, is a book entitled
The Price of Salt.
While the title reveals nothing to you, the cover is decidedly more explicit: a young woman sits canted, legs crossed at the ankles, lips curled into a slight, mischievous smile; behind her, an older woman reaching out adoringly; in the background, a lone, excluded man.
Scrolled across the top, leaving nothing to the imagination, are these words:
The novel of a love society forbids.

You wondered why Monster treated the book like contraband, why he feared Joe asking questions about a dime-store novel. Now, Leonie—Gwen!—you have your answer. When he asked you if you liked
that sort
of book, you thought he meant
detective stories.
(To be fair, the cover of
Halo in Brass
is subtler than most. No girls lounging together, no “odd” or “warped” or “queer” in the title.) Under other circumstances, you would spend the next few hours replaying the events with Monster Henderson, looking for meaning in the gift. The newly dubbed Gwen Davies, however, is too focused on adopting this new persona. You throw the book on top of your nightstand, strip back down to your suit, kick off the silly heels, lace up the boots, and stand in front of the mirror, your balled fists resting on your hips.

Here we are,
you think.
Gwen Davies and the Green Goddesses
.

This clicks your new name into place with a satisfying snap. Despite your earlier protests, you are now glad to be rid of your old one. A new woman has emerged from the shell of the pitiful girl from Philadelphia. Where is Leonie Putzkammer now? Serving eggs and sausage to salesmen? Spending another Saturday night in front of the television with her father? Holed up in her room in want of any kind of love, forbidden or otherwise? No, that girl's
gone, gone.
It hurts my heart that you can say good-bye to her with such haste and so little care. But that's just me. As far as you are concerned, this is exactly as it should be. You came here because you wanted to be somebody else. And now, you are.

•    •    •

You will not win your match against Mimi. Joe makes this abundantly clear to you on the drive to the arena. It will be a best-of-three match, with Mimi winning the first and third falls. Your only goal tonight, he tells you, is to make them
want
you to win, and for that, you must build some goodwill, some underdog lovability. He parks the car next to a defunct old cannon in the lot adjacent to the armory (the site of Bonnie's career-halting injury) and clamps his hands onto your shoulders.

“Timing is everything,” he tells you. “Play the game, and your time will come.”

Your match is the first on the card. You are standing in the doorway of your dressing room, staring at your boots and trying to settle your swirling emotions, when the announcer calls your name: “Ladies and gentlemen, making her first appearance in the squared circle, a young lady with a mean dropkick and a face that will drop-kick you in the heart, put your hands together for
Gwen Davies
!”

Here it is. You've read it on the mimeographed wrestling cards and heard it in a trio of voices (Monster's bass, Joe's tenor, and your own alto), but now, it fires out of the PA system like it's straight out of heaven, propelling you down the aisle and through the crowd of winks, raised eyebrows, pats on the back, and what might be encouraging words if only you could hear anything but your own interior voice:
work loose, level out
.

And then, you are through the ropes and into the ring for the first professional match of your career. One look out at the crowd—the hands cupped over the mouths hooting and hollering, the showers of embers produced when the spectators clap while holding their cigarettes, the tiny whirlpools made in the cups of beer as the men who hold them stomp their feet—and you feel Leonie returning. Who are you kidding? These are hard-core fans who will see right through you. They will know you are a fraud, and they will call you on it. You wave quickly and retreat to your corner, overwhelmed to the point of near paralysis.

“In the opposite corner,” booms the announcer. “The girl you love to hate, Screaming Mimi Hollander!”

Mimi—resolute, pitiless—emerges and strides toward the ring, pounding her way across the floor. Red-faced men bark at her. They hurl their plastic cups of beer; she swats these away like flies. One goes so far as to spit on her boots, and she reflexively shoves him back down into his seat. When Mimi finally climbs into the ring, she stands in its center, rounds her substantial arms to bring her fists together, knuckles kissing knuckles, and lets loose her hallmark scream.

Before the scream ends, Mimi is hit in the chest by a flying object, something black and square, about the size of a satchel. She picks it up by the handles—it
is
a satchel!—twists the metal clasp, climbs up on the turnbuckle, and sprays the crowd with its contents. Marbles fire out of the bag like bullets, landing in beer cups, ricocheting off metal chairs, and smashing painfully into the bony parts of men, women, and children.

“That'll teach you!” she shouts at the crowd.

You have no real interest in trifling with this woman. But the referee signals the start of the first fall, which doesn't leave you much choice. Everything that was true for Bonnie is true for you, too. If you want to win over the crowd, you will have to perform.

There is no choreography to the match, no script: only a predetermined outcome. You begin in ref's position, pushing each other back and forth across the ring as if sawing logs. Before you can think of a maneuver, Mimi sweeps your leg out from under you.
Work loose, level out
. You land on your back and roll away before her boot meets your stomach. Mimi backs into the ropes to spring into you, but that gives you just enough time to deal a forearm blow. It is more exhibition than power—you barely make contact—but the veteran performer knows how to sell it and she flies backward into the ropes.

A congratulatory whistle slices through the indeterminate screams, and you draw power from it. Suddenly juiced, you manage to get airborne and land one of those mean dropkicks (now
this
has some ferocity to it) into the chest of the returning Mimi. The strike yo-yos her back into the ropes, where she remains for a satisfying second, long enough for you to see her expression change—
That's all you'll be getting this fall, fruit fly
—and before you can get out of the way, Mimi slams you face-first into the mat.

While you lie there, dazed, Mimi straddles you, and before you know it you have been headlocked, rolled over, and covered for the count. After Mimi climbs off, you work your way onto your hands and knees, and then, eventually, back onto your feet. You are down, but not out. Sore, but injury free.

The next fall begins much like the first, the two of you locked against each other until Mimi falls back into the ropes. But this time around, you fire an emerald boot at her head. Mimi simulates disorientation, hamming it up and dragging it out long enough for you to climb onto the top rope. It is your moment, and you intend to seize it. Once you are up there, however, you begin to think that you have made a terrible mistake. You were propelled into this position solely by your Rocca memories. There has been nothing in your training to prepare you for what you are about to attempt, and very little chance that you are going to pull this off. But you can't very well climb back down. And now, your balance has become precarious, so if you want to avoid an embarrassing and painful spill in the wrong direction, you'd better go ahead and do it.

So do it, Gwen: take the leap.

Once airborne, elevated above the fans and hurling yourself toward a lone yet savory victory, you are aloft for a mere second, but it is long enough to look down at the crowd in its various poses: arms in the air, mouths open, hands cupping mouths, all thrilled. Before you even begin your descent, you are already plotting how you will return to this great height.

You land squarely on Mimi, toppling her over and pinning her to the mat. Once the ref makes it final, you return to your corner, clutch the top rope with one arm, and pump a fist into the air with the other while the crowd cheers. They love it. They love you. And you love them right back. Already, you are developing the appetite that will be your downfall. I know this, and yet, I take nothing but pleasure in remembering this moment. Go on, Gwen. Keep pumping. We may as well enjoy this while it lasts.

When the third fall begins, you quickly maneuver Mimi into a headlock, trying in earnest to choke the wind out of the woman.

“Let up, will ya?” hisses Mimi. It seems you want this fall and the victory so much that you have temporarily forgotten Joe's orders. It takes this directive for you to come to your senses and comply. When you do, Mimi puts you in your place by resorting to a catfight tactic: grabbing you by the hair and yanking you forward over her shoulder. Before you can get up, she deals a retaliatory kick to your jaw, and you startle at the crack and the subsequent pain. Instinctively, you cup the side of your face with your hand. You're not sure what just happened, but you can tell that it's serious.

Mimi bends your other arm around your back. “It's over,” she whispers. Fine by you; you are now as ready as she is. You drop to your knees and fall to your side.

Pin. Fall. Match. The ref lifts Mimi's arm to the sky while you gather yourself, defeated and wounded, your heart throbbing painfully in the right hinge of your jaw.

•    •    •

Once you've returned up the aisle—Mimi ahead of you, Joe behind—and the three of you disappear into the dressing room, out of the audience's view, Joe spins you around.

“Let's see,” he says, cupping your jaw in his hands. This doesn't cause you any more pain, but still, you flinch. “Yeah, I was afraid of that. Nice work, Meems.”

“Sorry, Joe, but she choked the bejesus out of me.”

“I can pop it back in,” says Joe, “but I got to do it now, while it's still hot.”

“Pop it back in?” yells Mimi. “Don't be such a goddamn cheapskate. Get the ring doctor in here to do it right.”

Color creeps into Joe's neck; he doesn't raise his voice, but his fury is palpable. He does not like to be second-guessed, especially by Mimi. “I'm not paying that hack to do something I can
do right
all by myself.” He turns to you; his voice softens. “Okay?”

You nod, unsure of your options, and take a seat.

“Open wide,” says Joe, wriggling his fingers. “You're going to want to tense up, but try to keep your mouth as slack as possible. Got it?”

You open your mouth as best you can and try not to go rigid.

Joe hooks both thumbs into your mouth, fits them behind your back teeth, and presses down on your mandible. The pressure is merciless, unyielding. You attempt to focus on something outside of this moment, try to relive the feeling of weightlessness you'd had earlier that evening when you'd been aloft and confident of the pin, but all you can feel is the overwhelming pain. Finally, Joe fits the condyle into the TMJ with a loud and startling pop. He removes his thumbs, wipes them on his jacket, and rests his hands on your thighs.

“That's it. No walk in the park, but at least you're back together. I'd take you home, but I can't leave before the card is over, so I'm going to bend the rules and let your opponent here take you back. Just try not to let anyone see you both get in the same car, okay?” He gives your thigh a quick pat, and then he is gone.

“Don't bother changing,” Mimi says. “Just grab your things.”

•    •    •

An hour later, when you return to the grounds and open the door to your room, a blast of stale, humid air socks you in the face. You have never been this hot in October. You flip on the light and sink onto the bed, your hand still encircling your chin. The heat, of course, is the least of your problems; your whole face throbs. Moments later, Mimi, a pair of shorts pulled over her wrestling suit, lets herself in. She is carrying a bowl of ice and a bottle in a brown bag. “Do you want to get into something more comfortable?” she asks. “We're going to get you good and drunk, and I doubt you'll want to do anything once that happens.”

Here you are, late at night in a room with a bed, a bottle of whiskey, and a woman who can knock the average man to the ground. This has all the trappings of the monkey business you've been instructed to stay away from. You would like to change out of your suit—the elastic in the legs cuts into your flesh—but making yourself vulnerable in front of Mimi is out of the question. You wave your hand and shake your head.
No.

“Suit yourself.” Mimi unscrews the cap to the booze and thrusts the bottle toward you. “Let's get this into your system.” When you protest, she wraps your hand around the bottle's neck. “Drink,” she says, releasing the bottle. “Trust me on this one.”

You comply. This is your first swig of whiskey, and the peppery, almost chemical taste makes you cough.

“Again,” says Mimi, searching the room. “You got a washcloth or something?”

You point to a set of hooks and take a reluctant second sip while Mimi finds the washcloth hanging under a towel and loads it with ice cubes.

“One more,” Mimi says, and after you take it, she takes the bottle from you and gives you the ice pack. “Now hold this up to your face.” She tilts her head a bit, gives you a long, soft look, and wrinkles her mouth into a kind of smile. “Lie down. Try to let your mind go a bit.”

Again, you wave.
I'm okay.
You're decidedly not okay, but you have no intention of letting your mind go to any degree. Instead, you sit on the corner of your bed, pressing the quickly dampening rag to your face.

BOOK: The Sweetheart
13.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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