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One Above and One Below

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This used to be a show ring.

I know because my mom used to ride her broken thoroughbreds here, trying her damndest every week to get a first place showing. We needed the money, she needed the pride. I’m like her, too – and my pride comes first. When they tarred over the ring, added seating and walls and turned this place into a skating rink, I was the first girl to try on blades and sweep around screaming with my hair blowing like blood and fire in the stream.

That was when the sky turned purple, and suddenly everything changed.

***

You’d expect an apocalypse to be violent and ugly. For most of us it wasn’t that way, but it was harder, colder, like snapping a bone in a hard fall. It was permanent winter, with months of brown muddy gloominess without the sweet green benefit of springtime’s beauty.

The world’s ideas about safety changed, and the most important things seemed to be staying warm and cheering up, and ignoring the weird, terrible feeling a person got watching the stars swim around like little fish over your head. It felt just miserable enough, day in and day out, to make people want to watch chicks hit each other.

****

I found my team all over. One girl was used to belong to a traveling circus and worked for pennies and peanuts until they closed down the tent shows. Another one lived in a back alley all her life and had no shame over shoving the enemy out of the way. Another of them kept a ragdoll in her gear bag, the only evidence she had that her dead mother had once lived.

The cold took its victims, you see – rarely now, but viciously before, without precision or care.

My favorite was a girl called April. She had half her head shaved and a tattoo of Olive Oyl on her bicep with the legend ‘saved’ underneath it. She was smart enough to double as our business manager when we went out on the road and tough enough to be our lead. She was an amazing defensive tackle and could take your head off when the game called for it.

But she’d come to me at night, looking for a mother confessor. Sometimes she’d complain about the cold or the pay, or how slow the trip between towns could be. Other times she’d lay out her life’s troubles for me like flawed jewels and nearly beg me to help her sort them out.

Her main problem was her boyfriend, who had a job with another league in another town. He was a popular star (for a boy, she bragged), but he had no loyalty to her, and strayed with impunity. It disturbed her. She commented upon it so frequently that she couldn’t deny its haunting her mind, even when she pretended she didn’t care.

“He shoots sex up like a drug,” she told me. “He doesn’t care if it kills us, or him.”

I’ve always been good listener. This is probably why I attended Marie’s graduation, Sarah’s baby shower and Ellen’s funeral. I held everyone’s secrets but they had no particular interest in mine, which was why April was going on and on over our steaming hot pancakes.

I knew her well - the girl looked tougher than rawhide but her mascara-colored tears were falling like raindrops. She hated and loved him – someday she’d be over him. But at the moment she was soft as a pat of butter at heart – melting over, dripping and boiling, all blubber. I’ve seen her on a dance floor, unselfconscious and loose-limbed, a little bit wild and a little bit lonely, and on skates, her nails like talons, cutting and clawing like a wild woman. So I talked her down – told her he’d be true, or he’d learn to heed her warning. Maybe she’d find someone better in the process; men weren’t necessarily a dime a dozen in our time but they weren’t going extinct any time soon. So I told her to string him along. Fed her some pancakes and told her it’d be fine. I found out later about the dark deep reason why a girl like that would spend her time standing in front of a jukebox in a dive bar on a Monday morning in the middle of Duluth, singing to the Stones and dancing her own private dance; because there wasn’t anything better for her to do at nineteen, because when all you had was your own life to lead, and the sky was bright violet, and the world was cold and violent and the stars kept swimming like a flock of Dorys there wasn’t anything to do but smile and shake it up.

“So,” she said. “Are you like, down to ride or do I need to buy another bus out of town?”

“I’ll do the driving,” I sighed. “We need to be in Dubuque by twelve.”

She snapped her baby pink gum and glared through her pointed lining. The rain was pouring down in sheets and our coffee’s gone cold. “I dunno why I keep running after his ass. It’s not like he notices when I stop.”

“Because if you get him,” I said, “you’ll never want him again.”

She rolled her eyes at my advice and ordered a piece of pie.

**

We each dealt with fame in a different way. One girl bought diamonds and a pair of skates that shot sparks when she pressed on ‘em. Another bought a house on stilts that scraped the skyline; it was so tall that she swore she could see the blue sky again. I hoard my money, afraid they’re gonna try to take it all from me.

Well, they can try to take everything away from me, from us. I fully dare them to come and try. We’re at the same palace all week, night after night, spinning round with blood in our mouth, winning titles and applause. We’re tougher than most, and we’re always looking for a new challenger.

Call us the Violet Violence.