I lost my whole life in a walrus’s mouth. In one second, one gulp of air, I realized my destiny and lost it at the same time.
You get born. That’s pretty much the hardest part of all this because you have no control over it. Swish, swish. (That’s me swirling my martini around in celebration).
After that, things get easy if you got a little smarts. Smarts is knowing which animals to put together in the ring. If you want to have a fight with a chicken, you don’t put in an alligator. You put in a chipmunk. Got to be fair to have fun. Chicken versus chipmunk. That’s a popular one. For that match I charge $12 a head, and have the beers at two for $10 or one for $6. The sign out front: Chip v. Chick.
Mmm. Makes me want chicken and chips for lunch.
Who’d you rather be: the one picking the fights or the one fighting? Gag always squeaked she’d rather be the fighter. She’s right, she knows life. I wish I could set her up in a place with flowers on the curtains. The fighter is done after one fight, win or lose straight slam, done. Swish, swish. Simple. The one picking the fight, who knows how long they’re in it for. They’re in a fight too. A different kind. Longer, less concentrated glory.
Who’d you rather be in a fight: the winner or the loser? Gag always squeaked she’d rather be the winner. She’s wrong here. For that, I made her bring in the mail even though that’s what I pay her for. She better learn. You’d rather be the loser because you can only lose once, then you’re done. The winner has to fight another fight. Who knows when, who knows who. They have to keep going.
Gag is Gas-Assed Gail. My assistant. Gag, whatever you like, more like. I let her do whatever she likes. I’m paying her to tell her not to bother. But she’s good to have around. Not like that, gutter-head. Some people are breezes. Gag is, so she’s around.
She tells me that I got to pick the match for next Tuesday.
“Next Tuesday,” I told her, “is already picked.”
“What is it,” she asks.
I told her she was a good for nothing turd wad then I got her some lunch.
Next Tuesday is the reason I had red stripes put up outside. Red stripes were invented by God for next Tuesday. If these red stripes went to a psychic, the psychic would tell them their destiny is next Tuesday.
Do you ever feel a pain in your heart from the weight of destiny? Sometimes it steps on me. One wrong move and your destiny could be unfulfilled. That sounds permanent to me and not any kind of option. That’s what we’re all hustling against. Trying to side step that kerfuffle.
Next Tuesday, there’s a tour group staying next door and I need to have a good match. Not just good. It’s got to be swish, swish. The sign out front has to have such a match on it that this tour group just stumbles in and empties their pockets.
It’s a goal of mine to make piles of money, but that’s not my destiny. I’m not sure what my destiny is other than S-U-C-C-E-S-S, but I get a funny feeling having piles of money will help me. Help’s good.
Gag keeps asking me about next Tuesday. I don’t know what to tell her. I’ve got nothing set up.
“You could play the turtle,” she says.
“I have it picked already, I told you,” I say.
“Nah,” she says, “you don’t.”
How does this female know me like that? Keep ’em close. I get her some pudding.
“Now,” I say to her, “when you say ‘play the turtle’ do you mean hide my head in the shade of my home to avoid the embarrassment of not having next Tuesday picked, or do you mean I should literally play the turtle?”
She starts explaining but I just jump over her like hopscotch.
“Because if,” I say, “you mean I should play a turtle in the match and I’m just going to assume you mean snapping then I’m going to have to remind you of the last time when we spent an afternoon and evening watching a crab sidestep a walking plate.”
“We made good on the beers though,” she says.
“Yeah,” I say, because that’s true.
Luckily, I had had the presence of mind back then to price the beers lower than usual. The fight was a painting but at least the patrons decided it was worthwhile to stay for the cheaper beers.
“Sometimes you have to impress people. You need more than a turtle,” I say to Gag.
I’m disappointed I have to explain this stuff. Your assistant should basically be you only less prolific or as present.
“How about the coyote,” she says.
“He’s dead,” I say.
“All coyotes dead?” She asks. She might even believe me if I told her yeah.
“No, just mine is,” I say.
“Oh … I saw a thing online,” she starts to say and after she finishes I feel like if I could go back in time just a little to when she started this sentence I’d already be hugging her so we’d be cheek to cheek as she spoke the little egg that hatched the glory of next Tuesday. Gag birthed a glory.
What she says sounds like this: “I saw a thing online about an octopus you can get that has venom like a snake and a stinger, but the stinger is in a weird place.”
Now at first I didn’t see the full shining light of Gag’s idea for a venomous octopus with a stinger in an odd place. I’ll admit it. But once I did I got Gag another pudding. She didn’t want it.
I said: “We can’t put an octopus on dry land.”
Do you ever think of yourself as the dumbest? Spinning a web, that’s how I think. I spun and spun ’til I came to the conclusion that it was swish, swish. The fight would be in water and one of the contenders would be this venomous octopus with a stinger in an odd place.
Gag’s full name isn’t really Gas-Assed Gail, it’s Gail Amazing Grace. And I’m in love with her. Don’t think she knows it. When you’re in love with a fruit fly and you’re a spider things can get a little tricky.
Right now she’s saying, pestering, more like, that she wants to go to the city.
“Just stay here,” I tell her. Honestly, the way she buzzes about.
She doesn’t respond.
“Let’s talk more about this fight being in the water,” I say. “A tank I’m thinking. We’d need to move the bleachers to the other side of the property. That could be some work.” I hate water so I’m not having any part of that and Gag’s a dainty pair of wings, she’s no good for hard labour.
“You’re not going to the city,” I say again to her, “we got to figure out how we’re bringing this fight to the water.”
“I have this thing,” she finally says to me, “called L-I-B-E-R-T-Y, and I’m going.”
When she spells things out like that she’s going to the city and I’m going with her.
I follow Gag, actually follow, as there isn’t any side-by-side walking. Gag travels faster than me.
“Where,” I ask her.
“Over that hill,” she says.
She keeps saying that and then scooting ahead.
She needs to see everything two or three times in order to take in its meaning, to soak up understanding of what that thing she’s looking at is. To learn, I guess is what I’m trying to say. Me, I don’t need to see anything. I see it already in my head. You could keep me in the bucket my whole life and I would still see and know just as much as you would.
Gag’s going ahead then doubling back to me then going ahead again. Each time she comes back I tell her what I’ve been thinking about building the tank.
“We’ll find someone to build it,” she says.
“You’re sweating from just moving forward,” I say, “it can’t be anyone of your kind.”
She doesn’t answer, just goes ahead again.
When she comes back after inspecting something she says: “Not your kind either.”
We get where we’re going to at the same time because Gag waited for me. It’s some kind of a church. I’m not surprised, the way she lectures of course she got it from somewhere, and here it is.
“That hill really took it out of me,” I say, “I’m not going in.”
“Haven’t you heard of inspiration?” she says.
This female kills me. Who lets an assistant boss them?
I can’t stand how superstitious she is. Or how she always smells like soap. I don’t know what it is about that smell but I don’t smell it with my nose, I smell it with my stomach and it makes me feel my conscience.
I wait for her outside the church. It’s not going to see any part of me. They’ll be no me at that party.
We’re eating strawberry sandwiches later.
I’m thinking of something I saw outside of that church: twinkle lights. There’s something about twinkle lights that remind me of Gag. Maybe because they make me feel light, not so heavy and evil, like how I used to feel before.
Before Gag came around I thought that my touch could kill. Because when I would touch an animal before a fight, I swear every time that animal would die. Then Gag came around and told me that was nonsense, and she must have been right because I’ve touched plenty animals before a fight since and some of them have survived.
“I like ’em,” she says now about the twinkle lights after I hunted them down and found them.
We put up them up over the red stripes out front. More to lure in the tour bus.
Over the strawberry sandwich she says, “Can I tell you what I heard in church?”
“No, darling,” I say to her, sometimes I call her that but she never picks up on it or she chooses not to.
I couldn’t listen to what she had to say just then because of the fight that night: Duck versus Goose. No, really. I know it sounds pedantic but we paint the duck blue and the goose purple and because they’re such an equal match the fight goes on forever. Patrons buy more beers, they get drunker, the fight seems more exciting, so they buy even more beers and it’s so fun and they drink so much, they can never remember the fight, which is good because it’s really not that good. It’s my most popular pairing. I only charge $5 a head and beers are $3 each. The sign out front only has to say: D. v. G. and everyone knows what’s up. We rake it in. Swish, swish. And at the end of the night I treat myself to Peking Duck, or goose. Tastes similar. We never use pregnant animals, just in case you were wondering.
Well tonight, just before I had called Gag “darling” because I couldn’t listen to her talk about church, someone told me that the duck had flown away during the first quarter and so just a purple goose was in the ring, pecking at some grass in a corner.
Oh, it is annoying when the animals flee.
“Didn’t we clip it,” I yell to the night. Its wings, I was talking about.
Turns out Gag forgot to tell the guy who normally does it. “Oops,” she says when I tell her, “sorry.”
“B-U-T,” she added, “there was a good reason I forgot.”
She had forgotten because she had been asking the guy to dig a huge hole on our property. She had been organizing the building of a pond, that’s what she had wanted to tell me that she had figured out in church: that a pond would be better than a big tank.
I sing when I first see that pond. To me, it’s a lake almost never-ending.
We put the bleachers in a U shape around it.
My aqua arena.
We make it shallow and clear so the patrons can always see the action happening below.
I’d put the order in for the octopus the day before the pond was finished.
My heart hurts sometimes from all the things I don’t have. And you know what, Ibuprofen doesn’t do anything to solve it.
Sometimes I think there is a parallel world where I’ve made all the right choices along the way and fulfilled my destiny and am just sitting back in love with the world, and myself, and everything. That world doesn’t seem so far from this world, seems like every fight brings it closer.
You know, heart hurt is how you know you’re on your way to wherever you’re wanting to get to.
I’m watching Gag hovering near the pond.
“That your favourite place now?” I call out to her. My voice carries over the still water.
“Mmm-hmm,” she calls back.
Turns out, this dang octopus is going to end up costing more than we bring in over two fight nights with small animals.
“It’s the octopus that’s costing us,” Gag squeaks.
“No shit,” I say.
So I sell off some stuff.
It hurts, it hurts. Like they are pulling off my legs. I sell all my shoes: My Blue Velvets, my loafers, my rain boots, my sneakers. Leave myself with my canvas “boat” shoes. That’s it.
Gag puts them all on eBay and we watch the bidding war with relish, which makes me feel a bit better. I love a fight I didn’t organize.
“It’s okay, Spider,” she says, “you kept the best pair of shoes for yourself. They’re just getting seconds of you.”
I do believe she is right. The shoe sales gives us the funds to order the octopus. It comes the next day. We put it in the pond.
“It’s not that big,” Gag remarks staring solemnly into the pond while our octopus does its own solemn staring at something at the bottom of the pond.
I have someone poke it with a stick to make sure it is alive. It is.
“It’s big enough,” I say.
“For what,” she asks.
“Eh?” I say back, distracted because I’m imagining putting some plastic spikes on the octopus’s head.
“What’s it big enough for? Who are you pitting it against?” she asks.
I haven’t thought that far ahead.
“I told you already,” I say to her, “you just forgot.”
“Nah,” she says, “you never told me.”
“A walrus.” I say it without thinking.
Gag gets excited. Honestly, I have never seen her so excited for a pairing.
I’m about to tell her I was kidding, when she pecks me on the cheek.
“That’s genius,” she yelps. “Genius as anything,” she says to herself and she drifts away, probably to tell someone the news. To get the sign out front ready.
Octo. v. Wal.
If Gag likes the idea so much, well that means something to me. It has to be a walrus in that aqua arena.
I have five days to get one. That’s an okay timeline. Especially around here. Once I got a parrot in two hours. And when it arrived it was red, which was no good because it hides the blood, so I exchanged it thirty minutes before the fight for a yellow one.
I used to feel like I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. Like I was pretending to be successful, like I was on my way to being successful and it was going to happen one day. But in the back of my mind I felt like I was lying to myself. I felt like the truth was that I was never going to get what I wanted. I felt like the truth was that I was nothing and was always going to be nothing and that was a fact like water’s wet is a fact and that fact wouldn’t ever change. I just knew it. I’d look at other successes and though I could see that they were successful and how they were successful, I had not a single idea or clue as to why they were, or what they did to get that way.
That type of thinking can bring you down low. I was on the verge of giving up. I couldn’t take much more failure. It was around then that I came up with the idea for the Thrill Bucket. In some ways, I wasn’t surprised when I got the idea, because I’d felt it breathing down my back my whole life, I just never thought I’d turn around and see it there.
I was watching two birds fight in the sky over a fish, or maybe it was a scorpion or a mouse. They were going at it, shit it was Super Bowl up there. These were champions and it was a high-level fight. I pretended that if I were going to bet, I’d bet on the one who was using his claws as well as his beak to fight. But then the other one did this thing with his head, like a quick side to side FWAP and the other bird flew off the thing they were fighting over. And it was over. I sat there stunned, wasn’t expecting that outcome. I would have lost my money. I thought of all the people who would have lost their money too, if they thought like me. And lots of people do think like me because I think pretty normal. I was just lucky enough to be thinking not so normal when I saw those birds fighting. Right time right place kind of thing.
Plus, in those days I had desperation for an idea like this shrouding me like a thundercloud, clawing at my throat like thirst.
So that probably helped.
“What’s for dinner,” Gag asks me a few hours after I had had the walrus idea, whined more like.
“I don’t know,” I say, “I’m still trying to find a walrus.”
It’s taking longer than I thought.
My guy just told me he had unloaded one to a zoo and so I’d have to wait. Not an option.
Octo v. Wal. would bring in enough funds for a big change to happen. And my soul needs this. This is a soul mission, my destiny we’re talking here. And this guy is telling me he can’t get me a walrus?
“Hungry, hungry,” Gag whines over my shoulder while I sweat a nervous mist. I’m sprouting sweat flowers.
Me and Gag split everything, well more like I split everything with her, because she doesn’t have anything to split. I split my home with her, my electricity, and my food. She doesn’t eat much most times. But she eats triple at dinner. She says it’s because the day has “got to her” by that point. Gag doesn’t drink a drop of alcohol and she hates cigars, so I guess dinner is how she unwinds.
To each their own, I’ve always believed, except for when it’s in contradiction to what I believe. But Gag’s large meals at night are fine.
I haven’t had time to get anything to split though. And her whining is pressing on me.
I’m getting this walrus. Can’t she forget about her belly for once and understand that’s why there’s no dinner?
I huff and stop searching and catch some dinner for us.
While we eat, Gag stares at me.
“What?” I ask.
“You look tired is all,” she shrugs.
“I’m doing all the work for Tuesday, is why,” I remind her. “Our biggest fight ever.”
“The tour group is going to love it,” she gushes.
“Love what?” I bark. “We don’t have a match, just one animal.”
“Didn’t you think of that when you got the octopus,” she points out and then had to dodge a hit coming at the side of her head.
Mad that I had swiped at her, even though I never would have made contact, she leaves.
Probably to stare into the pond like a vacant dumbo.
Well good riddance.
I’m sick of caring for my own assistant who does absolutely zero assisting.
“Hope you fall in and drown,” I call in the direction of the pond.
I push my dinner away and stare at the floor until I fall asleep.
Gag wakes me up the next morning.
“I found a walrus,” she says.
“What do you mean,” I ask. Nobody just “finds” a walrus. You order one, buy one, trade one in, etc.
“Well I figured out where we can get one before Tuesday,” she clarifies.
“That’s the same guy I talked to,” I say after she tells me, “and he said he didn’t have any.”
She shrugs. She must have charmed him.
“You know the catch,” was all she says.
“Yeah,” I answer, “it’s going to cost more.”
“I thought about that too,” she says.
Gag thought of everything last night. She was a surprise sometimes, even for me and I’d known her for her whole life.
“What did you come up with,” I ask. Not having much hope.
“We’ll sell my collectibles,” she says.
“Your what?” I ask.
“I’ll show you,” she says.
I follow her to the far end of the property, on the other side of the pond.
There’s a little mound with a cave there that’s hers apparently. I never knew about it before.
She keeps looking over her shoulder at me like I’m not really following her. I keep assuring her I’m following her because watching her neck swiveling around is making me nauseous.
“My collectibles,” she states again once we’re in the cave.
There’s about seven dead animals in there. Piled up.
“What the hell,” I say.
“Trophies,” she says.
It’s a pile of seven dead animals.
“What the hell,” I say again.
“From the fights,” she says. “I’ve been saving them.”
“But I eat the ones that die,” I say.
You ever so confused you feel like you’ve forgotten what the colour black looks like?
“These are the winners,” she says.
“But the winners…” I trail off because I still am spun.
Gag explains that she’s kept tabs on the winners from fights from long ago, the winners who retired, knowing that they must be entering old age, and has been waiting for them to die. Then when they do she arranges with whoever is around for whatever deal, she never said, to haul their carcasses here to this cave.
Gag says it’s taken a lot of work. Not just finding the old winners who were close to dying but to arrange to have their bodies stolen from their homes without their family knowing.
“No kidding,” I say. Not sure what else you can say to that. The bodies are rotting and it stinks in the cave. I start to leave.
“But they’re magic,” she says. “These are the ones who won.” She says that word like it’s a gem she’s found on her tongue.
“I don’t know,” I say.
Because I don’t.
She thinks she does.
“This paw,” she says and points to a mess of decomposing fur, “has magic in it.”
I’m a factual being and this isn’t factual talk and it’s making me impatient. Where’s the science? Where’s the sale here?
“So, okay, it’s magic,” I say to her. “How do you get it out?”
“Get it out?” She repeats.
“Yeah, how do you use the magic?”
“You just stand around it and you suck it all up,” she says.
“Like osmosis,” I say.
“Like who?” She asks. “Never mind the H-O-W. I’ve been saving them. I was going to wait to get to ten and then put them on the market, but they’re starting to go bad and we need the money now, so you can have them and all the money that you can get for them. You’re better at all these things than me. But I just ask that you refer to them as ‘collectibles’ when you’re selling them.
“And,” she continued, interrupting me as I’m beginning to wind up and tell her what I think, “you can only sell them to someone worthy,” she says.
“And,” she interrupts me again as I’m about to speak, “the way you can tell if they’re worthy is if they’re nice and good. Then they’re worthy of the collectibles. If they’re like you.”
Then she blinks at me and I want all of her to myself always. I want her forever, I want her to never stop being, you know. Just to stick around with me. I already knew I loved her but this is different. What kind of female offers you up a pile of absolutely rotting flesh and it makes your heart soften? That’s a rare something.
My heart aches like a song you love.
I don’t want to tell her that no one would ever buy her collectibles so I just say I could never take them and that I have another way to get the money.
Because I do. Her speech about the winners having magic gives me an idea. Because I have magic. That’s why I’m so good at things. Blessed, but not in a religious way.
I could win a fight. Just one. Because luck does for sure run out, even if you are magic.
I would put myself in a match. Make the ticket price $18 a head, beers $7 each and make up the money for the walrus in one night. The sign out front: Spider v. Red Ant.
And when I’m done I will have chocolate covered ants for dinner. That’s for certain like how for certain it is that Gag likes strawberry sandwiches.
Eat whoever loses, the spider has to fight.
“I don’t want you to fight,” Gag says to me that night. “We don’t need the walrus,” she says, “let’s just use the coyote. The water is shallow enough.”
“I told you,” I say to her, “the coyote is dead. Probably in your pile somewhere.”
“No he’s not,” she says indignantly, like I’d accused her of stealing it.
“We’re going to get this walrus.” I say.
“Why, why, why,” she wails. “What does it matter? There’s a pit bull next door I bet we could borrow. I doubt that octopus is even that bad, that pitty next door could put it down.”
But I want that ferocious walrus.
That walrus is stuck in my head like a wedge in a doorjamb.
My Fight Night.
Gag suggests we spend as much time as possible with the collectibles, soaking up their M-A-G-I-C, is what she says exactly. So we’ve been in here all day. Sitting and staring at each other from around the pile of animals.
“Shouldn’t you be training,” she asks like I didn’t know I should be and wanted to do that more than sit with her and her “collectibles.” That female asked me to come here, so here I sit plugging up my nose with these fumes. Got the decomposing molecules of other beings plugging up my pores.
What’s in her brain, anyhow?
I study her across the glazed over and maggot covered eyeball of a beaver. She’s humming something and reading the paper.
You ever just want to be in someone’s brain to know what they’re thinking and to know exactly how they operate so you can know if they’re true or not? If they’re real, I mean.
Sometimes, do you think these things around you are just how you see them, and not how they really are? So they aren’t being them, they’re just being how you want them to be? And so they aren’t true, and then that makes them no good to you? Aw, I’m not making any kind of sense. I get that way when I’m nervous.
I only fought one creature in my life and it was a pig of a creature, a real low-life good for nothing blood sucker and I put his lights out so fast I never had to think about my moves and so that fight is no good to me as research. Can’t remember and study something that happened over the span of three or four seconds. I’m not even remembering what happened, I’m remembering the last time I remembered it. You know?
It was a fight the first time I met Gag, but not a scuffing kind. Just a brain fight. A fight of wills.
She was just a newborn baby basically and already giving me a hard time.
“I’m looking for an assistant,” I had said to her, “you interested?”
“Dunno, Mister, I got a lot of other things to do,” she said to me.
I remember being jealous of how she looked around at the field and the sky. I didn’t like anything else getting her attention but me.
“Don’t you ever call me Mister,” I said to her. “That’s rule number one. Misters aren’t people with smarts, they’re the kind of people that just respond to the mail, you know? If it’s in a letter, they’ll do it. You could write them a letter saying to cut off their hand and if the right person had sent that letter then that Mister would cut it off.”
Gag agreed to not call me Mister but then she got all caught up in watching a bird and then that annoyed me again, even more than when she was looking at the sky or the field without a point. I’d never been so annoyed by one single being before. And that part inside me, that part that always knows and speaks the truth, told me that only an equal can truly annoy you and that that must mean that for the first time in my whole life, I had met my equal. And when you meet your equal, you got to try your best to keep them around. Making someone your assistant is the best way to do that.
“I haven’t learned anything yet,” she had said to me. “How could I assist you, you’re going to end up assisting me.”
She is the smartest, prettiest thing I’ve ever met. I want her as much as I want this walrus right now.
Gag asks me what’s a six letter word for cat.
“Hush up, I’m thinking of the first time I met you,” I snap at her.
“Again?” She asks. “Aren’t you sick of it?”
“You sick of strawberry sandwiches?” I ask her.
That shuts her up.
So back to little Gag: She was contemplating becoming my assistant even though she didn’t know one thing about the world yet, let alone how to bring in mail, and call people or use the internet, and I was in front of her waiting for her answer, just knowing that some change was going on in my heart and knowing that once that change happened there’d be a “click,” if I had to describe it in one motion, and there would be no going back.
Present-time Gag interrupts my thinking by saying, “Look, this word isn’t right here, but it fits so I’m going to put it anyways, you know what word it is? Your favourite. I’m putting it in. D-E-S-T-I-N-Y.”
I watch her writing the word in, feeling that click in my old heart again like it was a young heart again, even though I don’t think I was ever young. Born old, yep.
Thinking about meeting Gag for the first time now, I’m realizing something I never thought of before: there was nothing specific she did that made me love her. It just exists like it’s been there forever, like looking at water and knowing its wet.
I’m ready for the fight. I don’t need any training, any of the magic from these dead creatures.
“Turn the twinkle lights on over the stripes,” I tell Gag.
Put me in that ring, I tell myself.
The Red Ant’s people come over and tell me he’s not willing to fight. Don’t say why.
“No way,” I say to his people. “This sign is up, people put their bets down. This is happening, he backs out now he better either pay me what I would have made with a full house,” (I’m hoping for this one) “or he better have someone ready to take his place.”
Turns out he does have someone ready to take his place. His brother. But his brother is twice his size.
“Nah, nah, nah,” says Gag when she sees the brother. “You can’t fight that. That’s not fair,” she says to them. “That’s not what we agreed on. We agreed on him.”
She’s referring to the absent Red Ant who’s my size almost exactly.
“Well, he can’t do it,” his people say. “And we don’t have the money for a full house refund so this is it or we’re walking.”
Where is honour? Not here, but I knew that risk.
I’m still feeling the glow I was feeling in the cave, maybe it is M-A-G-I-C, and I hear myself saying I’ll do it.
Gag starts wailing.
The Red Ant’s people shake my hand. The bigger brother looks me up and down and lifts his head up like he’s my boss and I lift my head up like I’m his boss.
I’m running laps later on when one of Red Ant’s people starts accosting me.
He’s yelling so close to my face all I can see is nose.
“What, what,” I yell back. “Get away, what’s wrong with you?”
He’s screaming that I’m a murderer and I won’t get away with it and all that stuff.
What is this male talking about? He’s got me confused with some movie, in real life I didn’t murder a soul.
Turns out on the way home from our meeting, someone came up and ended the Red Ant’s brother’s life. His head got bashed in.
“But it wasn’t me,” I keep saying to the guy in front of me. “I want this fight to happen, it wasn’t me.”
Maybe this is some ploy to get the brother out of the fight, for whatever reason those Red Ant people don’t want this fight to happen. I refuse to believe this death happened.
The guy takes me over to the body of the brother. It’s true, his head is bashed in, goop like a halo around it. His expression still looks mean like he did after we made the deal, like he never saw what hit him coming.
Staring at the goop, I get a funny feeling that Gag did this. Not personally, but like she arranged it somehow.
“So what,” I say. “The fight’s not on?”
“Oh, the fight’s on. Red Ant is going to kill you himself.”
“So he can fight now.”
“A man’s got to pay what he owes, and he owes you a killing for this. I mean to say, you being dead is what’s owed,” the guy says.
“Okay,” I say.
So we’re back to square one, except now I’m fighting an incensed guy. I’d much rather fight an unemotional biggie than a guy who thinks I just killed his brother.
Good god, Gag. You messed up.
I want to give it to her good over this, but she’s pacing and fluttering about and I don’t even want to waste any strength trying to get it out of her how she did it, fighting is just as much about mind strength.
So I just do some training exercises like I’ve seen other fighters do.
Some workers come in and out asking how to set that up and this up, because usually I’m the one out there when the patrons start coming in.
Soon there’s the buzz of a full house and it’s fight time.
Gag’s vanished. Didn’t even wish me good luck.
When I go out in the arena, the stars are out full force and there’s a hum from the crickets. Once, Gag found a sparkly piece of fabric on the ground. The sky looks like that. Silver specks from somewhere else.
Red Ant is staring me down. He’s huffing like he just ran all the way from the moon.
I do some hops, getting limber.
There’s cheering but I can’t tell who for. But what I can tell is that it is indeed a full house. Everyone came to see the owner of the Thrill Bucket fight.
I knew it. I knew it. I knew this would rake it in. I’m a bit famous.
Now don’t get heady, I scold myself. Focus, focus. Watch his legs. Get all Mohammed Ali on his ass. Dodge, dodge. Then hit, hit until he sees the stars of the universe behind his eyes.
All I have to do is win this fight. Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die. Don’t you waste that money.
Where’s Gag? I don’t see her. Usually she sits right there to watch the fights. Dainty all times but fight times, then she tears at the air like a vulture in a pile of intestines.
There’s her little spot, and it’s empty. Where is that female?
The bell is about to ring. I give my ready nod.
I was the one who taught the fighters to do that ever since that one time the bell rang and one of the fighters wasn’t ready and he got an arm clean taken off. The fight was over right then and there. Refunding tickets was a good way of learning how to run things.
Red Ant gives his ready nod and we’re going.
The fight lasts three rounds, or quarters as we call them here, and we’re toe-to-toe even, both beat up but about the same, then right when I think we’re about to break away from each other I get a good grip on Red Ant and I can end this fight with one good twist. Everyone knows it, including Red Ant who is looking up at me, waiting for me to do it, knowing he’s out of options.
“No!” a female shouts from the crowd. I look up and think it’s Gag. Red Ant struggles in my grip but I have him locked in, even if I’m not looking.
It’s not Gag, it’s Red Ant’s lady. She’s holding up a baby.
I’m probably looking at the reason he didn’t want to fight. Looks like a newborn. Maybe it was born this morning even. I look around the arena. Gag’s not there to tell me what I should do and I don’t have my walrus.
I snap Red Ant’s neck.
I don’t care if you’re a father or not. Money doesn’t care. Next Tuesday certainly doesn’t care. Next Tuesday only cares about the winner, and that’s going to be me.
Gag appears next to me like my shadow. I realize she wasn’t in her spot because she was in the arena behind me. I get the funny feeling that if Red Ant had had me in a death grip like I had him in, Gag would have flown up and found a way to end things before they got final.
She’s crying and stuff. “We made the money,” she says.
I think that’s my favourite sentence. Swish, swish.
All I want is peace. I just want peace of mind and I want to stop struggling. I don’t know what is it in me that makes happiness always over there. After the next thing and then the next. Why can’t it just be here.
I am sick of never being satisfied.
Gag is fanning me, and it feels nice. But I’m already thinking that we better get the best walrus there is out there.
I want this walrus to give the octopus a run for its money. Longer fight, more beer bought, more money made. And me and Gag closer to getting that thing we both want. S-U-C-C-E-S-S. Well, it’s what I want. But if Gag knew exactly what it meant to have that, she’d want it too.
This fighting thing used to be fun. This Thrill Bucket used to make me happy. You know how you know when you’re really happy? When you get lost in time. When you don’t even notice time, or even better: when you want time to stop. Now, I’m so aware of time, every minute feels like it’s whispered in my ear and I’m not really here I’m just waiting to get what I want, using what I used to love as a means to an end that might never, ever come.
I better get the best walrus there is out there.
How do you pick the best walrus for fighting? I’ll tell you:
What’s it paddlers look like? Better make sure they’re slippery and whole. Don’t pick any that have holes in them. They have to be good swimmers.
Make sure they have strong teeth. Have someone tap them with their fingernail. If any of the teeth crumble, well that’s bad. Don’t pick that walrus. If you want your walrus to have an even bigger advantage over its opponent you could have their teeth sharpened. I might do that with the one I pick, since it is going to be fighting an octopus with venom and a stinger in an odd place.
Make sure it’s got a good layer of blubber on it. Slap it a few times in key places like the belly, head and rump.
Get it to do its battle cry for you. Battle cries are important in fights, half the game is mental. I poke its nose to hear it.
When I pick the right one, I feel completely satisfied. “Wrap up that walrus to go,” I say.
Then I turn to Gag. “Take me to that church,” I say to her.
Now that I got my walrus, I want to think over a few things. Get my mind prepared for Tuesday, which is the day after tomorrow. I need a new environment to think my thoughts over, since I have never had any thoughts like this before.
“What are you thinking of?” Gag asks me.
“I’ll tell you after,” I say.
We go into that church and the silence is so deep and the ceiling is so high that my thoughts just fly out of my head and hover above me until I separate them all out, wave away the ones I don’t want, put the ones I do want back in my brain, rearrange them, and come up with an idea so good I get down on my knees at the end of church.
“You’re thanking G-O-D,” affirms Gag.
I am. Swish, swish. If the rain is coming, I promise I’m not going to drown.
The very first fight I paired was a poisonous frog versus a crow.
The crow tore at the frog’s throat, the frog died pretty much right then and there and the crow died thirty minutes later from the poison it ate up.
I was watching from the sidelines, nervous as a virgin, watching that crow suffer a slow death.
As its shining feathered body was wracked with pain I worried the patrons would hate me down to my soul, burn down my business, and never spend another penny on anything I put my name to.
But they loved it. They screeched. They cheered their beers as he died. I wobbled, unsteady, unused to this kind of happiness, into the middle of the arena and checked both animals’ heartbeats. The crowd grew silent while I closed my eyes and felt for pulses.
I sliced my hand in the air horizontally to indicate that there were none. The crowd erupted again.
I tell Gag over lunch about the idea I had in the church.
My idea is THE TRIO.
“The trio,” she repeats between bites.
She’ll forget the name of it by sundown.
THE TRIO: handpicked for glory like a grape.
THE TRIO: Walrus versus Venomous Carnivorous Octopus versus Pit Bull (hairless).
That’s right. A fight of three creatures. Never been done.
“I’ll charge $30 a head, beer is going to be $7 each. No double deals.”
“Make it $7.50,” chimes Gag. She knows this gospel.
Sign out front: Pit v. Wal. v. Octo.
I like Calamari.
“But,” Gag says just noticing the third animal in the line up “now we got to get a pit bull,” she whines.
“You’re the one who put that idea in my head,” I say to her, “you said there was one next door.”
“I just made that up,” she says, “I didn’t want you to fight.”
“If we’re going to charge $30 a head, which is what we need to charge, then we have to have this pit bull. This is it,” I stress to Gag, “this is our destiny.”
“D-E-S-T-I-N-Y,” she says.
“Yep,” I say.
“All right,” she agrees reluctantly, “but I’ve never seen a hairless pitty.”
“Me neither, but they aren’t allergic to razors. We’ll shave it,” I say.
There’s a pit bull tied up outside the grocery store.
We’re just heading by, going to see a guy who said he knew where to find a pit bull, when we see it.
“There’s your pitty,” Gag says and points to it.
“Hmm. We can’t thief it,” I say after a few seconds of thinking.
“Yeah, we can. It’s F-A-T-E. We’re supposed to have that pitty. He’s supposed to fight in the trio.”
I’m impressed my assistant remembered the name of our business venture, but I’m even more impressed by her criminality. I must have rubbed off on her.
“Please,” Gag says, “let’s just take it, I’m tired of looking.”
“We have not even started looking, laziest thing I ever met,” I say but I’m already thinking of who to call to help me get this pitty out of here.
“Shave it like this,” she’s saying, dancing around the pit bull with an invisible razor.
Have you ever shaved a full-grown angry ass dog? No? Me neither. But Gag is acting like she has and she’s driving me out of my mind. Instructing.
“You don’t know,” I tell her.
“Start from there,” she instructs the poor thing doing it.
Neither me nor her are shaving this beast, and I am grateful for that.
One day I’m going to take her to that church, and I’m not going to tell her why, and I’m going to take her to the end of the aisle and just marry her turd self to me.
Done like dinner. Done like a disease’ll kill ya.
I love ya, I love ya. I just feel like yelling that at her. But I keep quiet. I don’t want to interrupt her shaving instructions. Her being a know-it-all is truly irritating, but who knows maybe she’s onto something. I’ll let her be.
Tomorrow is Tuesday.
We get the lights up over the red stripes.
The pitty is smooth as a lemon meringue pie top, sleeping in his cage. The walrus that I myself fought for is sleeping on a rock, and the octopus is somewhere at the bottom of the pond. They don’t have a clue what’s going to happen to them, the tour group don’t have a clue how much they are going to be entertained. Tomorrow, tomorrow, S-U-C-C-E-S-S.
Gag appears next to me, all bedtime like.
Tender, dark, and comforting my female sleeping next to me.
THE TRIO. Fight Night.
Tour group drawn in by the sign. All going according to plan.
Some goop head strolls by and casually says that everyone is saying that Gag is saying that I knocked her up. He says this like it is N-O-T-H-I-N-G. And he keeps strolling past.
Gag and me had only been together a handful of times so how could that be? I stand there in paralyzing wonder until the stampede of betting patrons brings me back to this world.
This new, slightly better world.
I hustle off to see about some final details. Worrying about how Gag’s going to get when she’s growing things inside of her almost as much as how this fight’s going to be.
We’re doing the pre-fight touch-up shave for the pitty to make it extra smooth for the water. Gag cuts its ear.
“BE CAREFUL YOU GOOD FOR NOTHING FLEA,” I yell at her.
She leaves in a hurry and I feel bad but the fight is starting any minute.
The pitty had the walrus by its paddler and was tearing it apart. Soon it would have it by its neck.
No, no, no, it was too early for this.
The octopus was over in the corner of the pond. It hadn’t done a single thing yet. Some patrons hadn’t seen it. I heard them saying they thought the sign had lied and that there wasn’t even an octopus in this fight.
I looked over at Gag and I must have had real woe in my face because she nodded at me once and then went whizzing past me towards the pitty.
She was going to do something to distract him. She was going to stop his attack. Then maybe she was going to rouse the octopus somehow. I remember thinking yes, Gag, yes.
“That’s her, that’s her,” I whispered to myself and I remember thinking: this female is my D-E-S-T-I-N-Y, my S-U-C-C-E-S-S, all I have ever strived for. Right there, with wings.
And she was mine.
I had won the fight of all fights.
She was just passing the walrus, getting ready for her attack.
The walrus opened its mouth and swallowed Gag.
When she disappeared I waited for her to come back.
But she didn’t.
Jane Awde Goodwin has sold groceries, knives, hotel rooms, furniture and cameras. She is currently working as a recording secretary in Toronto. Her poetry has been published in Room, Prism International, Geist, ARC Poetry Magazine, The Dalhousie Review, TNY, The Fiddlehead and various online magazines. She is currently working on a novel about two people in space as well as on a handbook that teaches you how to steal any item.