It's all fun and games.
Until somebody loses their innocence.
Until somebody loses their innocence.
Hellbelly by Tom Leins
In Testament, most boys my age lost their virginity in a nameless cinderblock cat-house run by an old lady named Luanne. It was halfway down the dirt track that bisected Old Testament and New Testament like an ugly scar. Someone had painted the phrase liquor in the front, poker in the rear across a rotten plank outside, but I didn’t get the joke until Curtis Corliss explained it to me. He said his Daddy took him there on his thirteenth birthday, and paid for him to fuck a woman who was almost as fat as Horace Pigg.
Things worked out differently for me. I lost my mine in the back of Norman Gorman’s bile-coloured Crown Vic, with an oily rag in my mouth and the cheap, greasy metal of his tag-team championship belt pressing against my lower back.
My Daddy was one of the first wave of fighters to throw his lot in with the Testament Wrestling Alliance. This was back when Mr. Flanagan ran it out of a high school gymnasium using a borrowed wrestling licence. Daddy fought under the name Mondo McGraw, and he was just about the most popular guy in town—for a few years, at least. He was also the first man in the bar and the last one to leave. His body became swollen with drink. Towards the end of his stint in Testament, his huge belly hung over his canary-yellow trunks like an obscene threat.
A lot of guys of that era disgraced themselves in some way, and ended up getting shit-canned by Mr. Flanagan. Daddy was different, though. He just kinda faded away, melted into the background like a drunken ghost.
Mr. Flanagan let me hang around the auditorium long after Daddy stopped turning up. I sold t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other merchandise. It just about broke my heart to see my Daddy sat outside on the tarmac, bumming smokes off fans, but Mr. Flanagan made it clear that I wasn’t to talk to him on fight days if I wanted to stay involved. By this point, Daddy had lost a foot to gout and had a well-worn wooden stump in its place.
My favourite wrestlers back in those days were the Gorgeous Gormans, a tag-team that feuded with a pair of carnies called the Chainsaw Brothers. Neither team were actually brothers, but the Gormans were supposedly second cousins, which was close enough. They were called the Gorgeous Gormans on account of their long blonde hair, despite the fact that Garry had a mouth like an exposed turnbuckle and a face that was scuffed up like second-hand canvas. Norman was the more charismatic of the two, but even he had the creased face of an old man.
The Gormans were cool guys. They let me travel with them between TV tapings. Their car was an ex-taxicab, with ghostly patterns on the doors where the decals had been peeled off. Norman told me fight stories and that he was my Daddy’s biggest fan.
“When I was younger, I would have cut off one, maybe two, of my fingers with a rusty kitchen knife for half your Daddy’s natural wrestling ability.”
It made me proud. It made me grin.
When we stopped for gas, Norman offered to show me some of his new moves in the back of the car.
I later heard that the Gormans met in prison, while serving hard time for being caught transporting a minor across state lines.
Daddy didn’t find out until the end of the month: laundry day. He was checking the pockets of his pants for loose cigarettes when he found my bloody underwear crumpled into a ball. He sobered up quick—like he had just drunk a pot of scalding coffee—and then he hobbled down the block to use the Pacific Bell phone booth outside the Korean bodega.
Daddy tracked Norman down, moonlighting at a carnival freak show two states over, in a town called Hellbelly. The sky above the carnival looked stone-washed—the same colour of Daddy’s denim vest. He made me sit in the car with a bag of potato chips and his snub-nosed Colt Cobra. I wiped the grease off the window with the sleeve of my corduroy jacket and saw Daddy prodding Norman in his barrel chest. Norman spat in Daddy’s face and it turned into a slug-fest.
Daddy looked wobbly, like he did when he had been drinking, but Norman couldn’t knock him off his feet… foot. Eventually, Daddy grabbed him around the waist and locked him in tight. Norman stuck his thumbs in Daddy’s eyes, but Daddy twisted him into a belly-to-belly suplex and launched him into the gravel. Only Daddy got up. Norman looked limp, like a rag-doll that had been chewed by a dog.
When Daddy returned to the car he was breathing like a horse. Must have caught his forehead on a broken bottle, as his face was stained red with blood. He kept wiping it out of his eyes and the car was splattered with red. He scooped a half-empty bottle out of the glove compartment and drank it down like it was Gatorade. When his breathing slowed, he put the car in drive and rolled down the rutted track.
After a few minutes, he braked hard and nosed the car into the weeds next to the dirt track. He struggled out of the bucket seat and hobbled back towards the carnival without saying a word, leaving nothing but his bloody handprints on the steering wheel. I pulled the door shut and buttoned my jacket up to my throat. Then I retrieved the rest of the potato chips from the footwell.