By Brett Biebel
Maybe three years after the divorce came through, I asked Gloria if she ever thought about getting back on the old horse, and she said she only had room in her life for two men. One of them was me. The other was this guy she went to high school with, this guy whose parents named him Buddy Hooley, and maybe it was destiny or it could have been desperation, but he ended up a small-town professional wrestler. Did these underground shows in Dubuque and Waterloo and Marshalltown where he’d take dumbbells to the skull. Get tossed on thumb tacks. He used his real name and entered the ring to Weezer on account of some promoter said “Oh Boy” didn’t have enough bass, and he carried this cheap imitation Les Paul that always wound up smashed, and sometimes it was over his own head after the referee’d been knocked out or else otherwise kicked aside. Gloria said his signature move was called the “Big Bopper,” and it involved climbing up to the top rope and doing this kind of whirling splash attack with his body all perpendicular, and one night she watched him at this show in Mason City, or maybe it was Clear Lake, and, anyway, it was right along I-35, and they had Buddy in the main event against some guy who wore sagging pants and called himself Prince Cheese. It was a back-and-forth match, she said. Both guys used the razor blades. There’s blood on the canvas, popcorn, broken glass from a beer bottle Cheese stole from some asshole in the front row, and sometime toward the end Buddy starts climbing up to the top rope. Someone tosses him the guitar. Cheese is staggering around in the middle of the ring, and, come to think of it, Buddy’s woozy and off-balance too, only he’s perched up in the more precarious spot, and he kind of half-launches himself and half-slips and next thing you know he’s falling in the wrong direction. Going headlong toward the concrete. Gloria sees him land dome first, and she says there’s this sound like a ring toss, like a woodpecker, and he doesn’t move for five, ten seconds, and the last thing anyone sees is two of the other performers, these guys some people say were dressed like Ritchie Valens or maybe Elvis Presley, and they drag him out the back entrance while the referee raises Cheese’s hand and declares him the winner, and the crowd is stunned silence. Is nobody knows what the fuck. And they don’t see Hooley afterward either. Not for weeks. Not for forever, and he doesn’t do any more shows, and he never answers his phone, but Gloria says his voicemail still works, and she swears the message changes just slightly, and it’s not the words exactly but the sound, the cadence, the way it feels like he’s talking to her, and as far as she can tell there’s no death certificate, no county autopsy, and some people think the promoter buried the body out near the actual crash site, and some say it was all planned, all scripted and theatrics, and Gloria, she doesn’t know what to believe. She knows her phone rings sometimes. Number unknown. There’s nothing but static when she picks up. Heavy breathing. Rock n’ roll all soft and haunted in the background, and she wonders if it’s him on the other end, or maybe the promoter. She wonders what’s real. She looks at me, and it’s like the first night we met, and her eyes are green, and they look ten years younger, and she says, “Tex, I can’t wake up.” And “Everything feels like it’s part of the show.”
Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Chautauqua, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, will be published in December 2020 by Split/Lip Press. You can follow him on Twitter @bbl_brett.
Art by Michelle Johnsen, art editor
Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.