Loser Leave Town – Harry Thomas

I’m standing in the middle of the ring with my World Heavyweight Title in my hands, cutting a promo to sell my dominance. I’m standing here saying how I’m bigger and badder, how I can beat anyone in the locker-room. In the middle of all this, I can almost pretend I’m on top of the world. All I have do is imagine that there’s actually stage lighting on me, imagine that there’s a crowd here instead of just a few rednecks, imagine that the building we’re in is an arena and not just an old VFW hall.I keep talking until Kyle’s music cues up, interrupting me. He comes out from behind the curtain at the end of the aisle — with his Cruiserweight title slung over one shoulder — and cuts this monster babyface promo. Kyle says he’s tired of hearing big men like me run their mouths off, says that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog, says that I may be bigger and badder, but that I’ve never beaten him. He says that he wants a shot at my title, that he’ll put his belt on the line for a chance at mine: title vs. title, winner take all, no disqualification, loser leave town.

He’s walking down the ramp while he’s doing this, and by the end of it he’s in the ring, in my face, trying to look tough even though he barely comes up to the middle of my chest. Then he takes his Cruiserweight title and throws it on the ground between us, pointing down at it while yelling at me. I’m thinking damn, nice touch and almost forget to slap him across the face. It’s not even a punch, it’s a slap. I backhand him, bitchslap him the way he told me to. Backstage, planning out the match, Kyle was adamant that I actually hit him, that everyone be able to hear the smack of skin on skin.

Like the boys always say, there’s so much to hate about Gulf Coast Pro Wrestling, you have to love it. The circuit starts at home in Mobile, Thursday nights. Every other week it’s the Western leg, cross I-10 to Slidell on Friday, over to Lake Charles for Saturday night, then that ass-kicker of a drive back home on Sunday. If we’re not on the Western leg, we’re on the Eastern: Pensacola Friday, Apalachicola Saturday, two hundred some miles home on Sunday. Last week it was the Western leg, and the best tour I’ve ever had with the company. I think I got paid nothing in Slidell, fifty bucks for the Mobile shows, maybe forty in Lake Charles. All of that minus gas, minus food, minus hotel rooms, which still cost even if Kyle and I are splitting them.

My hand is the size of Kyle’s whole face and he’s still holding his microphone when I hit him, so it picks up the sound and carries it through the VFW Hall. He jumps back, selling the move and staggers into the corner. The bell rings to signal the start of the match and the basic idea here is that Kyle is going to hit all his spots, all the moves that the crowd loves to see, and I’m going to no-sell them, make him look like a joke.

I’m Tower: Seven foot one, three hundred and twenty pounds of power. That’s what they call me anyway. My finisher’s called The Towerfall. Kyle came up with the name. I kick the guy in the stomach and while he’s bent over I stick his head in between my legs, lace my hands together under his stomach and roll his body up the length of mine in what’s hopefully one clean motion, so his legs are around my head and his crotch is in my face. If he’s not an asshole he’s selling for me by this point, waving his hands in the air, staring down at that faraway ring surface with his eyes wide, and that’s when I fall. Seven foot one, three hundred twenty pounds, I just let it all go, fall flat on my stomach, dumping the guy on his back. For the guy taking it, it’s your basic flat-back bump, but from that height it hurts like a motherfucker. Onstage, in front of — okay, we’re never in front of more than a hundred people tops, but who am I? Eighty, fifty, twenty people in a Legion hall or high school gym still feels like a crowd to me. And if there’s a crowd, any crowd at all, we do the show. I take the guy on The Towerfall and hope the crowd boos. If they boo, I’m doing my job.

Kyle charges out of the corner and dropkicks me, and I knock his legs away instead of jumping back like it hurt me. He scrambles back into the corner and onto the top rope while I laugh, and when he comes off the top with that twisting corkscrew moonsault, I catch him in my arms mid-air and feed his momentum into a powerslam so hard it leaves the ring rocking. I’m laying on top of him on the mat, one big hand on his small chest, but he kicks out at two. Of course the story is that this pisses me off. So now I get mean.

Kyle’s a cruiserweight, he’s tiny. One of the fast guys, the high flyers, all that off-the-top-rope-to-the-arena-floor triple-twisting, spinning, diving stuff. What he does is light years beyond the punch/kick/slam crap I run through in a match, but at the end of the day, Kyle’s tiny. Five eight maybe — maybe — and all the protein shakes in the world can’t get him much above one-eighty. Plus, I live with the guy. He’s my boy. So the other day, in practice, I put my arms out, put them down under his back. I took part of the Towerfall for him, cushioned the blow.

He was pissed, too. For real. That’s how Kyle said it the other day. The ring wasn’t done ringing from the sound of me slamming his back into it, and he was already up and yelling: Don’t you fuckin’ dare take my bump for me. That’s what he kept screaming at me, in the ring right after it happened, in the car on the way home.

I toss Kyle off the ropes, put a boot in his face when he runs back at me. I pick him up off the mat, wrench him up in a full nelson, bounce him around like a rag doll while his feet windmill and don’t touch the floor. But he won’t submit. So I toss him into a corner, set him up for a big running splash. As planned, Kyle moves, and I slam into the turnbuckle, then act like I hurt myself. While I’m staggering around, Kyle comes off the ropes, tries his swinging neckbreaker.

Acromegaly, that’s not even what I had. Acromegaly hits after puberty, when something in the bones and joints is fused, so people who have that get the big hands and feet, the oily skin, the fucked-up voice from super-sized vocal cords, but hey, they’re still basically normal-sized. When kids get acromegaly, they call it gigantism. First time a doctor said “gigantism” to me it felt harsh but honest, like they’d skipped the mumbo-jumbo and called a spade a spade.

Kyle gets me halfway around in the neckbreaker before I kick out of it, grab him from behind, and suplex the hell out of him. The way this works of course is that the other guy jumps for you, helps you get him up and over your head and back down to the mat, but I’m not used to doing it on someone so light. I hear Kyle groan as we hit, and the crowd’s booing me so I know we’ve got them, and under the noise I ask him if he’s all right. I tell him we don’t have to do this. I tell him I’ll do the unthinkable, tell him I’ll change the finish, put him over, let him go out as a champion.

Fuck you, he tells me. Fuck you. Quit holding back.

My place is just a one bedroom, but neither Kyle or Nicole could hold down a job that actually pays, so I let them move in. It was supposed to be temporary.

Nicole is Kyle’s girlfriend, or El Gato if you’re a GCPW fan. Nicole’s got black hair and a tan, and she kicks ass like a man so The Boss thought that people might think she was Mexican. A few months ago, after a year or so of them sleeping on an air mattress in my living room, Nicole got The Call. That’s what we call it, that’s what we’re all waiting for: The Call. The Call from Connecticut, from the big leagues, from the guys with the money. The Call saying you’re ready, The Call saying that you’re good, The Call saying that they want you to come up, want you to start juicing if you’re a boy, want you to get a tit job if you’re a girl, want to put you on TV, want to you to actually start making a living doing this.

Nicole was in a surgeon’s clinic four days after the phone rang.

So we go on with it, me just punching and kicking and throwing Kyle around until he rolls out of the ring, where there’s even less padding for him to take my bodyslams on. Before we started tonight, I told Kyle he was a better wrestler than me; I told him that I’d do whatever spots he called. Kyle said this match wasn’t about him, that it was about me. He said he was going to sell like crazy for me, put me over as the king hell bastard of all heels. So — to do me a favor, I guess — he won’t quit calling sick spots, stuff he knows I don’t want to do.

Kyle is the Kabuki Kid. The gimmick cracks me up because Kyle’s more redneck than I am, but there he is every show — with white face make-up, red lips, blue hair pulled up in a top knot — popping the hell out of the crowds and looking like the whole country of Japan had a head-on impact with those Goth kids you see at the mall, the ones smoking clove cigarettes over by the Cinnabon counter.

Kyle’s finisher? It’s a top rope hurricanrana, this Mexican wrestling move where he jumps off the top turnbuckle, wraps his legs around his opponent’s head and then does a back flip while he’s still attached to the guy. I think it’d kill me if I ever tried to take it.

Not that weight classes mean anything in our kind of wrestling, but me and Kyle, we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. Actually, we’re just opposites, period. I’m a super-heavyweight heel, he’s a monster face, the Gulf Coast Pro Wrestling Cruiserweight Champion. It doesn’t make sense to book him against me, even if it is all fake and we’re helping each other out. Me and Kyle together? We’d just look stupid.

That’s how I knew Kyle had gotten The Call. Not because he told me, not because I eavesdropped or anything. The Boss just called me over one day, told me that me and Kyle were going to have a match.

Kyle never even told me he was leaving.

Kyle has me throw him into the metal steps outside the ring. He has me gorilla press him above my head and drop him neck first on the iron security railing. While I’m pulling him to his feet, Kyle tells me to put him through a table. This is off-book, more than we’d talked about when we put the match together, and I punch him in the face again, actually make contact. I tell him no as he flat back bumps on the floor, howling. While he’s writhing at my feet, I catch his eyes for a second, see the look in them. Fine. I lift up the ring apron, dig around under there, find a folding table and pull it out.

You might think a five-foot-tall six-year-old would’ve tipped somebody off, but my parents were always all Well, he’s just a big boy, my Dad all half-shy and half-proud about it like I was proof he’d done some breeding and then some. Me? The last thing I ever wanted to think about was my body. No matter how fucking bad my knees hurt, I was the last person on earth who was ever going to draw more attention to myself by stopping to ask what was wrong. It was my teeth that finally did it. Flossing. This one night, I’m eighteen, about to graduate high school, I lean over to fit my face in the bathroom mirror, and my teeth don’t match up anymore. They just don’t touch. I’m flossing, and there’s no contact, no part where you wince and have to jab the floss between the teeth, down to the gum. Mom and Dad damn near went broke keeping me in braces, and here were these spaces between my teeth, these holes my body decided to grow itself.

The crowd goes fucking nuts when I get the table. People are screaming, fucking screaming at me, leaning over the security railing and bellowing at me: Fat fuck, asshole freak. Someone’s drink, their half-empty Coke or beer actually bounces off my back, and I’m so mad at Kyle for calling for this spot, so mad at myself for going along with it that I’m not even entirely sure, but I think some woman spits on me. For real. Spits on me. I’ve never had a better day at the office.

Two weeks after the tit job, Nicole was in Connecticut, and Kyle was alone on the air mattress in my living room.

Kyle broke his nose in a match a while back, and of course he didn’t go to a doctor about it, so now when he breathes it sounds all ragged, even when he sleeps. Especially when he sleeps. My place is small, and the walls are thin, so I used to hear him and Nicole out there all the time. They tried to be quiet about it, but I still heard. Now that Nicole’s gone it’s just Kyle I hear when I’m laying in bed, just Kyle out there taking care of business, regular as clockwork, once a day, just before bed, his breathing getting all raggedly and then calming down, tapering off. The noise doesn’t keep me awake, but I can’t sleep until he’s quiet, until I can lay in my bed and picture him laying out there on the air mattress, his stomach and sides rising and falling regularly under the thin sheets.

I stomp on Kyle a few times, get him back up to his feet. In the lockup I notice that Kyle’s nose is bleeding, but I don’t bother to ask again. I just lift him up, slam him through. His body shatters the table top, just disintegrates it; the table’s whole and complete one second, and the next Kyle is lying on the hardwood floor covered in blood and particle board. I brush my hands off like I just touched something disgusting and get back in the ring.

The Tuesday after Nicole left, I made a point of getting up early, getting Kyle out of the house. We drove around for a while, and I ended up taking him down to the bay, to the U.S.S. Alabama, this old battleship they made a floating museum out of. My dad used to take our family there when I was little. Back then everything on that ship dwarfed my sister, made her cry, but it all seemed to fit for me. The consoles were the right height; the doorways seemed built to frame me. I went home and dog-earred the little souvenir book my Dad bought for me.

When I took Kyle, I ended up telling him all this, jabbering about it while we were in line before I bought both of our tickets. Kyle kinda half-listened to me at the beginning, but a quarter of the way through the tour, his eyes were glazed over, faraway-looking. And of course I was bigger this time around, my head banging on the doorways, my hands not believing how far away those consoles seemed when I stood over them. As the perky naval ROTC girl was reeling off figures about tonnage and displacement — numbers I still had memorized — Kyle leaned over, asked me if I thought it’d be cool if he dropped his belt to Xavier St. Clare, then seduced Xavier’s valet Tawny away from him and got her help in chasing the title.

It made me so mad: mad at myself for taking him to The Alabama, mad at myself for saying the things I said about it, mad at myself for forgetting how Kyle is. Ask Kyle about growing up in Florida, and he’ll give you a Top Five list of the best matches ever wrestled in the state. Ask him about his family, he’ll tell you his dad was a face, his mother a heel. Ask him how he met Nicole, he’ll tell you about Mexico, about going down there to study Lucha Libre. Tell him you thought the show on any given night was good, and Kyle will spend an hour dissecting all of its flaws. Agree with him, say it sucked, and he’ll spend the next hour telling you what was good about it, who hit which spots right, whose gimmicks are working. Poke and prod Kyle all you want, try to scratch the surface, and you just fall deeper into the show.

I ask the ref for a house mike, get one, start talking trash, telling Kyle I didn’t even break a sweat whipping his ass, which is ludicrous because I’m panting into the mike. It takes me a few minutes to catch my breath, so I lumber around the ring, feeling stupid and trying to look dominating. When I can talk again, I’m calling Kyle a pussy, calling him a loser, calling him weak, calling him a faggot.

Faggot is my cue to turn around, to realize that he’s recovered, to realize that what the crowd’s been screaming about is Kyle, The Kabuki Kid, miraculously recovered, bloody but up, up on the top rope, ready to hit me with his signature finishing move, that top rope hurricanrana.

Girls really like Kyle. Young ones, old ones, boys under twelve, too. When Kyle hits the ring, you can hear a high-pitched squeal, the sound of all the women and children cheering. You can hear them because their boyfriends and their dads are quiet when Kyle comes out. Men aren’t huge Kyle fans. Because he has blue hair and ponytails and wears makeup to the ring, a lot of them think he’s a faggot, call him a homo, make fun of their wives and girlfriends and sons for rooting for him. Stupid rednecks. Kyle’s not queer. Even if he was, I imagine it’d just be another thing about his body that he didn’t like, another thing he’d hold tight and grit his way through until he got it into shape, under control. Like his abs, which he declared war on last month. He says they’re not cut up the way he wants them, so now every time we’re in the gym half of Kyle’s workout is abs and obliques, crunches till he cries.

Me? Lying awake at night, listening to Kyle breathe isn’t doing anything. My sex life is pretty much just normal people asking if everything is bigger and then giggling. How do I explain that it could be big enough to dent the front end of a Ford with but that it’d still be attached to me? Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not a monster. There’s lots of people no one ever wants to look at, and I’m not one of them. People tilt up their heads and look at me fine, they just can’t imagine themselves standing next to me.

Kyle comes off the top, lands on my shoulders, facing me, wraps his thighs around my head, falls back, flips back to turn me over in the hurricanrana. But I don’t flip. I don’t jump for him, and the weight of his body, even draped on mine and falling backwards isn’t enough to turn me over. The crowd’s screaming, wanting to see me take the hurricanrana, and we deny them. Kyle unfurls his body down the length of mine, and I just stand there, laughing. I walk around the ring with him like that, the back of his head bouncing off my thighs. I show off how small and weak and helpless he is, and by that time The Boss is coming down the aisle, The Boss and all the boys, they’re pushing a dumpster in, pushing it right to ringside and lifting the lid, screaming for me to slam him in.

Kyle did tell me that he loved me.

It was last weekend, somewhere between Lake Charles and Mobile. Kyle was crashed out in the backseat of my car, snoring and bleeding on the pillows I keep back there for him. He’d defended his title that night, and while the heel was occupying the crowd’s attention by arguing with the ref, Kyle fished an X-ACTO blade out of his wristband and sliced open his forehead. Kyle talks about blading being part of his craft, talks about a little blood going a long way to raise the drama in a match, but I wonder sometimes if it’s not that Kyle just likes it, because he always gigs himself deep.

Right about the middle of Louisiana, Kyle woke up, ate a few jumbo-sized Star Crunches from the bag of gas station junk food I bought and got on a sugar high, talking ninety miles a minute about how this is the best, how it doesn’t matter if we’re poor, how he wouldn’t trade this for anything. Me, I was thinking that Kyle owes me three months of back rent, I was thinking how sad it is that I could make a list of all the convenience stores between Lake Charles and Apalachicola that carry jumbo-sized Star Crunches. I was thinking that I might be more open-minded if I could sleep in the backseat for awhile, or hell, if I could even fit in the backseat for a while. But somewhere in his babble, Kyle slapped me on the back and said that he loved me, said that I just get him, that I understand.

Sure, I haven’t said a word about the rent while the pile of wrestling magazines and wrestling videos and wrestling t-shirts and wrestling action figures in our living room grows and grows. But that’s not the same as understanding.

This was the finish we talked about, the finish we all agreed to. Dump him in the dumpster, wheel the trash out. There’s supposed to be a mattress in the dumpster, a crash pad, some kind of padding. The Boss said so, he did. I kick Kyle in the stomach, stick his head between my legs, lace my hands under his stomach, and just before I roll him up for The Towerfall I look down, and there’s nothing. It’s empty. The dumpster’s empty, just bare metal, and I’m supposed to drop him in it, the height of his body, the height of my body, the height of the ring we’re in, down to the floor, down to nothing, to rusted metal and stinking left over trash stains.

Dump the trash, The Boss is screaming. Dump the trash!

Kyle’s waist is what gets me. It’s so small I swear I bet I could put my hands on his hips and feel my fingers touch each other over his lower back. More than anything else on Kyle, his waist makes me realize that underneath it all he probably was — is? — one of those guys who got to grow up and choose, who got to be anything they wanted to be, got to be something based on talent or aptitude or interest, not just the two or three things left to them because their size just flat-out ruled out everything else.

Five eight — it almost hurts just to say it, five foot eight — and he wrestles with three inch lifts in his boots. I’d bet money he told them he was six feet when he got The Call and I know for sure that if there was a way to stretch himself out he’d do it, no matter how bad it hurt. I remember seeing it in his eyes when Nicole came home with her new “twins.” Kyle was staring at them, not horny but jealous, mad that what’s wrong with her could be liposucked and implanted away. When The Boss runs down the card for a show, when Kyle hears that it’s another night of guys like me and not guys like him in the main event, you can hear him breathing hard out of his nose. You don’t even have to look over to know he’s grinding his teeth. If I was six six, he always says, they’d make me World Champion in a week.

Me, I was six six by the end of eighth grade.

Kyle, I tell him. Kyle, there’s nothing in it. There’s no mattress. There’s no padding, Kyle. Looking up from his crotch, his head’s slumped over. I can’t see his face. I’m not even sure he’s conscious, but I can feel his thighs gripping my neck, hanging on. He’s all I can smell and I realize that we’re never going to be here again, so I slide my hands up, just for a second, off of his ass and up to his waist, to the little shock of flesh on sweaty flesh and I squeeze. My fingers touch each other, overlap right over his lower back.

Fuck you, he says. Fuck you. Don’t you dare make me look like some kind of sissy.

_______________________

Harry Thomas was raised in Tallahassee, Florida, a place culturally closer to South Georgia than South Beach. He holds an MFA from University of Alabama and his fiction has appeared in Lodestar Quarterly, Best Gay Erotica 2004, and Six Little Things. Grievously addicted to school, he is currently at work on a PhD at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He can be reached at harryt@email.unc.edu.

“Loser Leave Town” first appeared in Lodestar Quarterly, Issue 12, Winter 2004.

Photo credit: “My Primos Mask” © Upeslases, 2006, 2010. Used courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.

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