Rise Of The Rollergirls
The darkness held. Inert layers of nothing. Vast, unwalled absence. No thoughts beyond awareness of a thought, an remote acknowledgment of near-zero. The darkness held. And that’s how it was.
From inside the vacuum, a new thing. A thought: color. It was happening fast, this thing called color. Color was a word. I am aware of this word. I am aware that I am aware of both words, color and I. The I was still trapped inside the nothing. The color was red.
Dandy Lion was splayed out on the track shaking and jittering as red ran from her mouth and nose. Dandy was the newest skater on the Bustin’ Blossoms, basically untested but hopes were high. People would talk about her. People would pay to see her. From the tryouts at Rockmoore Mall, through spring training right up until the moment someone’s elbow drove Dandy’s nose up into her skull, she rolled with total conviction, total committment. Her first fifteen minutes of track play tonight against the Salad Shooters were something to behold.
She took her place on the line, head down, elbows up, one skate arched and ready.
The instant the buzzer sounded, Dandy let out a sound, a horrible shredded keen. No one, not even her team, had heard such an awful thing. The last echo of the buzzer faded across the track but no one moved. And Dandy pushed off like a cannon ball. Her skates punched holes in the silence. She was past the first turn when the crowd, what there was, simply exploded. They rushed the track, pushing aside folding chairs and dumbstruck volunteers in “SECURITY” t-shirts.
Someone on the Salad Shooters screamed, “Come on, ladies! Fucking roll!” Fifteen minutes later, Dandy fell. She didn’t know
she was lost.
She thought she was shopping like a grown-up. The clothes seemed rich, exotic, adult. She ran her small hands across the sleeves of silk blouses that were ten sizes and twenty years too big for her. She nodded approval or frowned disapproval with dramatic excess worthy of a silent film. Her head hurt and one eye was crusted shut
Her one good eye stared though the rain-smeared windshield, fixed on the tri-cornered hood ornament. Her hand pumped furiously on the erect penis that protruded from the parted zipper of the drunk banker’s silk pants. He had one foot, clad in a Ferragamo cap-toe, braced against the dashboard. One hand tore at his own thin hair, the other clawed at her sick, diminishing breasts. Aerosmith boomed from the stereo, so he couldn’t hear
But all she could do was cry. God, he actually went down on one knee and held up a little jewelry box containing one tiny-ass fake-diamond ring. With conviction that seemed far away just now, she had always thought of those little boxes as tiny coffins or jails in which a woman stowed her independence, the ring a perfect symbol of her imprisoned womb, which, it turns out, was pretty goddamn fertile after all.
There was Ron’s stupid, honest face right next to their booth at The Olive Garden. Ron, making this grand gesture like he was Ryan Fucking Reynolds and she was Sandra Fucking Bullock and this was Rome Fucking Italy. And she sure as hell sort-of saw this coming from the moment that piss-stick showed a blue plus-sign. His family was from Iowa or Indiana or Illinois some hayseed place full of corn-fed horseshit. Someplace where people got married. People stayed married. They bought life insurance. They sold it. Yes, she sort-of saw it coming down the pike so she surely wouldn’t be surprised, she wouldn’t lose her cool and she could bring to bear all of her postmodern me-do macho, and expertly rebuff this attempt to invade her one-woman island. So why oh Jeebus why was she crying? She realized she still had a breadstick in her hand. All you can eat. Shit! Say something. Stop this!
Before she could say anything he spoke, closing his eyes so he could remember what he’d written. Oh, God. He actually wrote something down. For me.
“Allison,” he began, “I want you to know that I love you. I can’t remember if I’ve said that before or not but I love you. And so I got this ring.” He opened his eyes and looked at the little box with a mixture of shame and hope that cut into Allison like nothing she’d ever felt before. “It’s from the Penny’s in Highland Mall and it’s kind of stupid, I guess, but I still love you, Ally. I have for a long, long time.” Hoo-boy. Here it comes, she thought.
She had an inkling that she loved him for a long time, too. Since last year, actually. The company had flown her all the way to Van Nuys for manager training. Full-on management meant she was more than ankle deep in pantyhose. She was in the shit for realsies. A realsies paycheck for once in her life sounded pretty good. An apartment with more than one room sounded pretty good. Cat food cans that had an actual color photo of a cat on the label and not just a drawing. That sounded pretty good. Management training was rumored to be a bitch but Allison figured if a raging dumbass like her boss Tommy Bodkins could work his way up to management, then anybody – anybody – could do it. She would kill this thing. She would kill this thing and drag it back to Tommy Bodkins and then Bodkins could go officially fuck himself.
Ron was so happy for her. He wanted to see her plane ticket to Van Nuys and he held it up like communion at high mass. He bought her flowers and a card that showed a Photoshopped kitten in a teeny business suit standing on a calculator. She didn’t want to tell him, but no one had ever bought her flowers before. She’d gotten roses and chocolates and even a tennis bracelet that all but literally demanded an undefined something in return. Usually sex or forgiveness. These flowers right here and now were for her. For her.
Allison truly did not know what to make of any of it.
She breezed into the Van Nuy’s Hampton Inn like she was Sandra Fucking Bullock on her way to meet Ryan Fucking Reynolds – her first actual business trip. The corporate card Bodkins had given her felt heavy and important as she flipped it across the sign-in desk. She nodded with what she thought was professional, managerial detachment as she was informed about the Hampton’s parking, pool hours, free continental breakfast and do-it-yourself waffles. Even she was surprised at how much she was buying in to her new role as manager. “Right, waffles,” she said, “Say, is there any place a gal can get a drink around here?” she asked looking up and down the lobby. What the hell is wrong with me? she thought. Did I just call myself a gal?
The clerk, a drowsy Pakistani man with silver eyebrows, didn’t notice or care what she called herself (gal or otherwise) but pointed, as he had countless other times, at a laminated placard right next to the Discover credit-card applications and Van Nuys Chamber Of Commerce brochures. “There is a Chilli’s, they have a bar, one block east behind the Firestone and the Hampton has it’s own bar, Rumors, which is not open at this time.”
The Chilli’s was quiet and nearly empty, knocked flat after handling a dinner rush. Allison saw a four-top, empty plates and four listless patrons – businessmen probably from her own motel – stuffed full of meat, fries and beer, waiting out a check. A busser had already started stacking chairs in the smoking section, something you really shouldn’t do until the last customer is out the door. Another busser waited nearby with a mop and scunge-tub full of water and Ez-Kleen. You can’t miss the smell of Ez-Kleen, like fried copper and pine needles. That shit will sting, so you gotta wear gloves and God help you if it get in your eyes.
The bar still had a few stool-warmers chugging forget-me and glassily watching sports on one of the no less than three monitors over the mirrored backsplash. The bartender, a muscle-packed Mexican kid in a green apron brightened as Allison slid in to the spot by the register. “What can I get you?”, he asked slapping down a green coaster decorated with a chubby red pepper. “We close in twenty minutes but I think that’s enough time to get drunk, don’t you?”
“I can do it in ten, ” Allison said. “Hi, my name is Carlos,” he held out his hand and smiled.
There it was. All set out.
Okay. Carlos seemed nice enough. She’d seen a zillion guys like him at just about every place she carried a tray. Perhaps he had seen a zillion girls like Allison. Probably. She knew she was good-looking. Tits were well above the equator, hale and hearty. Sort of a pre-fatass Kelly Clarkson. The bartender stole glances. Or pretended to. She flirted, checking his keister. Or pretended to. She wasn’t an ass-girl but guys liked it when you checked their butts. Guys shouldn’t have nice asses. That was for girls.
For reasons that were important and necessary at one time in history, she had become hard, tough. Men loved that about her, almost as much as they loved a girl who was formless and obedient. They liked trying to tame her, she thought. They liked that she could drink. They liked that she fucked like a dude: fast and selfish. Some liked that she went away in the morning, but some found this threatening and unnerving and she was sometimes accused of being cold or aloof.
But Ron had been the one to unnerved her. And not by pulling some love-gangster bullshit, either. He was the doofus that brought pizza to her apartment right before Battlestar. He unnerved her by talking to her almost as if he thought she were someone else, using a generous, easy familiarity that made her wonder if he really didn’t think she was someone else he already knew and he was just too much of a slow-wit to work it out. No. Honestly, that was not it. He talked to her as if he weren’t thinking of himself.
On a frozen December night, he came to her apartment with a medium Meat Lovers’ and Paddy-Kat had gotten out. Ron helped her look for the brainless creature because he was worried about that stupid cat about as much as she was. And he gave her the pizza for free because he was sorry for her stupid feelings, even though they found Paddy-Kat hiding in a storm drain. Ron coaxed the jumpy cat with a slice of pepperoni. She invited him to come back when he was done delivering pizzas. He came back at two in the morning, so tired he could barely keep himself upright in her apartment doorway. He had a can of Friskies for Paddy-Kat and some cold cinnamon sticks. He asked to use her bathroom and fell asleep on the toilet. He hadn’t even gotten his pants down. When Ally found him, she draped a beach towel over him and turned off the lights.
Carlos did not know any of this about her. When Carlos looked at her, he saw whatever he needed to see. He saw himself banging her. He saw his ex-girlfriend. He saw something to talk about tomorrow with the two busboys slopping the smoking-section floor. When she looked at Carlos, she saw every guy she ever knew: just one undifferentiated, generic guy that summed up absolutely nothing. Neither existed.
She went to sleep by herself that night on the strange queen-size at the Van Nuys Hampton Inn. Big day tomorrow. She didn’t know she was smiling, but she was.
Text and images © Andrew Auten – All Rights Reserved.