The two of them are alone, and the seamy steam and the thick sweat of the locker room can’t keep them from each other. Not anymore.
There’s two of them: the taller, stronger one is Jessica O’Malley, the daughter of the legendary Ron ‘the Powerbox’ O’Malley. She sprouted up from soil steeped in the business, her father a heavyweight champion wherever he went—North America, Japan, Mexico, Europe. His matches against the likes of Stan Hansen, Big Van Vader, the Garvins, the Funks, and countless others still stood as a monument to the legitimacy of professional wrestling, and he even had the honor of retiring the iconic Ivan Kolotov and the first Great Oni. She was his good luck charm, a beloved little girl with long chestnut hair and mahogany eyes, used to evening gowns and lipstick by the time she was fifteen. Her eyes still mist over when she recalls her six-foot-eight (she now stands only a foot shorter than him) father lifting her on his shoulders and throwing the great, sculpted column of his arm into the air as the magazine men’s flashbulbs went off. That’s when she decided to do for women’s wrestling what her father did for men’s wrestling, training hard every day and watching old wrestling tapes until she fell asleep in the evening. These days, she can pass for a model; hell, she’s only twenty-eight! But the ring continues to call her, and she steps through the ropes every chance she gets.
Her eyes glitter and her glossy, red lips curl to find opponents like Suzumiya Mahashi. Granted, Mahashi’s only a rookie, but she puts her body on the line each and every time, making up for her lacking knowledge in amateur wrestling with the graceful, reckless way she hurls herself over the ring ropes, with the artistry and bravado to somersault through the air to crash down on tables and the like. What a knack for showmanship! Where O’Malley wears a simple, sugar-pink Speedo with elbow and kneepads to match with long, standard wrestling boots to the ring, Mahashi contrasts her golden Japanese skin and dragon-green eyes with attire best suited for a dog-fight: silvery piercings across her eyebrows and earlobes, ripped jeans a size too small for the wide curves of her hips, battered combat boots with thick rubber treads, and simple, black elbow-pads matching her simple, black sports bra, all of them emblazoned with a Nike ‘swoosh’ logo. She even dyes the short, silky crop of her messy, spiky hair an arctic blue! It’s not that she isn’t talented or beautiful, but she perfectly portrays a snobby punk character.
Just as Jessica’s eyes mist with thoughts of her father, her heart flutters when she remembers that note she wrote her, the note she memorized, the penmanship all jagged and nervous:
To Miss Jessica O’Malley:
I know I’m just a silly fan, I know I’m just eighteen and haven’t been to college or anything, and I know people think women’s wrestling is a joke (mud-wrestling, Jello-wrestling, bullshit like that), but you put on the best matches night after night after night! I saw you catch Gail Kim’s moonsault and swing it into a body-slam, and I’ve never seen anyone do that! It may be too much to ask to train with you, but I’m going to work hard and wrestle you some day. I want to be just like you someday, and I’d love any help you can give me.
Your biggest mark,
Jessica wrote back, and soon the letters followed, the tryout tape followed, the training sessions followed, and the first matches followed, along with the eighteen year-old’s own set of fans. Granted, she only stood five-four to O’Malley’s five-eight and she hadn’t really been in the business all that long, but as soon as she began wrestling O’Malley, the arenas always erupted.
They might never erupt again after tonight’s match.
No doubt, the fight was particularly difficult, since both of them have a particular penchant for showing each other up. After all, the women’s title happened to be on the line that night, and the male wrestlers in the back nudged each other in the sides and wondered how long a cute couple of cutlets like them could manage in the ring—twenty minutes, it turned out. Twenty minutes wherein Suzumiya Mahashi and Jessica O’Malley hit each other with powerbomb after powerbomb, suplex after suplex, countering hold after hold after hold after hold. They intended to steal the show that night, to steal the thunder from the Alec Harlow/King Jumbo main event for the heavyweight title, but—alas—fortune conspired against them.
O’Malley went for a lariat, hoping to step behind the young girl and thrust her lean bicep into her opponent’s throat (a move easily accomplished time and time again, protecting them both as the one drove the other neck-first into the mat), but something wrong had happened this time. Around minute fourteen, when O’Malley’s chestnut hair flowed like a flag behind her and the Japanese girl’s icy azure hair streaked sweltering crimson, when glittering sweat coated both their slender frames and the air was coming harder and harder and the fans were cheering more and more and more: that’s when Jessica made the first real mistake of her career, driving the stiff heel of her vinyl athletic boot down onto Suzumiya’s delicate toes, snapping them all in one fell swoop.
It wasn’t fake. Not at all.
Jessica’s emerald eyes widened, then, for she knew something had gone wrong when she heard a wet pop followed by a meaty crack, when she felt glossy vinyl and soft skin, but not the weighty bars of bone. The crowd knew it, too, since an astonished gasp fired—nearly in unison—from the seventeen-thousand-seater arena as the teenager folded at the knee and went down screaming. Even the ref knew it, leaning over to her with bulging eyes and arched eyebrows, patting down his zebra-colored shirt as he yelled over to her to “End the damned match!”
Not that Suzumiya would listen, of course, not even when her mentor ran her blood-red thumb across her throat, insisting that they both end the match immediately before something worse happened. Dumb rookie—Mahashi instead gave the double nod for the moonsault-into-a-bodyslam move—a real crowd pleaser, but one which really beat the hell out of the performer’s feet. Jessica remembered the first time they showered together, after the slender slip of a teenager leapt leopard-like from the canvas mat to the top turnbuckle, back-flipping into the taller, stronger, older woman’s waiting arms; she had peeled away her worn combat boots by their heavy rubber treads, ripping away her socks to reveal puffy, pink soles beneath her small, aching feet. Even at one hundred percent, the move was a difficult, painful one, and Suzumiya Mahashi was not at one hundred percent after her toes snapped like tiny twigs beneath her mentor’s athletic boot: she cleared the turnbuckle, crashing her left knee directly onto the concrete and thrusting her suddenly split forearm into splintering ribs. The crowd arose in horror, their howls filling all the air but the sobs Jessica could hear from her star pupil.
A hasty pinfall outside the ring instead of the elaborate submission victory the girls planned out backstage—one, two, and three. Suzumiya’s calf and foot dangled from a thin mess of skin and cartilage beneath the growing redness on her jeans, flopping uselessly beneath the hot spotlight, her shapely leg irretrievably broken.
Sure, the matches are fixed, but the results are real. When Jessica undid her crying opponent’s laces in the back and eased away the tight boot from her black and blue ankles and saw her thick cotton knee-socks drip crimson at the toes, the two understood it more than ever: more than a hairline fracture, but a complete break, maybe even compound, since the toes flopped lifelessly from Suzumiya’s foot. That’s when her green gaze met the barley brown of her ‘defeated’ opponent’s, and they seemed to say the same thing—bone breaking the skin, a complete divorce between bone and foot, months out of work, months without pay. Neither girl could tell who cried more when the emergency doctor began wrapping the wet, stiffening cloths about her ankle, began separating the purple toes with thin barriers of paper maché.
The worst was yet to come: that same doctor who had constructed the cast and fought all but the promoter, Jessica, and Suzumiya to a different part of the dressing room was also the same doctor who weighed the limp mess of the former high-flier’s split right kneecap, watching it sway and twist with her calf’s weight and the teenager’s jangling screams. “No good,” he had shaken his head, wiping the sweat from his forehead and flinching with every teary whimper. “It’s too far gone. We’ll have to remove it.”